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 Home is where I want to be
Home is where I want to be
1977 - This is a Minimalist Headline (NME) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Miles   
DAVID BYRNE: "At first, people said we were real intellectual and only smarties would like us - but then all these kids came along and liked us and that proves they were wrong!"

Right now Talking Heads are the cult band in New York City, I went to CBGBs to hear them and half of the new wave bands in New York were in the audience.

They're splashed all over Punk, New York Rocker and Gig magazines, not to mention the New York Times and the New York Daily News. Personally, I think their "Love - Building On Fire" is the best single released in a twelve-month - even better than Television's "Marquee Moon".

Talking Heads: David Byrne, lead guitar, lead vocals, composer of all their songs. A hirsute, tense looking man who folds his arms, tucking his hands in as if he was in a straight jacket. When his hands escape, they play nervously with objects nearby. I have a tape interview of him rustling book matches.

His speaking voice is quite low - normal - but when singing it veers toward a high vibrato. Though he's taking lessons for it, this large but unstable range has been part of the charm of Talking Heads for their cult fans.

Martina Weymouth is the bass player. She is neat, petite, has close cropped blonde hair and dresses in Young Conservative sports wear. She wields a powerful bass which holds the group together since both drums and guitar are clipped and sparse.

Chris Frantz is the drummer. He talks in a slow, liquid, campy New England voice as if his vocal chords were hydraulically controlled. He gestures as though he were holding a martini in his hand. His drumming is brisk, terse and pared down to a minimum - a style which reflects his art school training and his interest in Andy Warhol and the Minimalists.

The band began at the Rhode Island School Of Design where they were all three studying. At first David and Chris were in a party band called The Artistics - playing Smokey Robinson and Lou Reed songs just for friends. Like Roxy Music, they have the art school sensibility but whereas Ferry got off on the Decadent movement, Talking Heads come from, the more cerebral tradition of New York minimal art: simple shapes and colours. David, in fact, didn't paint at all - he just used to type out
questionaires as works of art:

"Some were about the United States and some of them were about Love. Some of them you had to circle different things - " He gulps back his words - I figured he didn't want to talk about his work.

But art college wasn't stimulating enough for them. David dropped out and took a hippy trip around the States. Chris and David moved to New York City bringing Tina with them and decided to try and make it as a band. David: "When you're growing up, you always want to be in a band. Always in the back of your mind if anyone asked you what you want to be, you'd want to be in a band. It was always 'Well, that's a pretty long shot' so it was 'Well, I'll take the chance'.

"After rehearsing for about six months and getting some material together - we lived near CBGBs and we noticed that here was a place where few bands were playing at the time and very few people were coming to at the time. It was just beginning and at times there would be ten people in the audience. We thought it would be a fine place for us to get our thing together and find out what worked in front of an audience. Relatively quickly after that, there started to be more and more groups there - " David sat back sharply- as if he'd already said too much.

When they moved to Manhattan they expected to find a bass player relatively quickly but this wasn't to be so. Tina, who was thought of as a singer, was invited instead to join the group as bass player. It was one of the wisest moves they could have made since she plays a solid, hypnotic, repetitive line that supports the rest of them.

I asked them what influence their art training had on their music. David didn't think too much: "Pretty much normal things, like trying not to have any breaks - trying not to have any extraneous musical things going on that aren't necessary, that don't contribute - and try not to have everyone doing exactly the same thing if that's not necessary - "

It seems that playing their material live did more to influence David's writing than art school. "When I first started writing, my stuff was more, I guess, Structural, Structuralist, stuff like that. And a lot of it wasn't very uplifting type sentiments but then, after we played it, is was just so much fun playing it that I can't say negative things when I'm having so much fun. So I'm having to start writing songs which are more fun to sing, which coincide with us having fun singing."

An example of the negative sentiments David talked about is "Psycho Killer", the only song in their repertoire which dates back to Artistics days. "Psycho Killer,
Qu'est-ce que c'est?" (What is it?) - surreal non-sequitors.

"The Artistics was another attitude", Tina says. When they perform the number live David is galvanized into a twitching marionette. "My voice does sometimes get a
little high" he admits. He sure doesn't look as if he's having fun.

They have just added another member to the line-up; Jerry Harrison who used to be with The Modern Lovers is on their first album. I asked them how they had gone about finding a new member after playing for almost two years as a trio.

Chris: "There were a number of different musicians that we had come up to our loft to make tapes - not necessarily even for auditions. Like for example we had a cello player just to see how it would sound on a song - get an idea of what we were capable of doing with other people. We met Jerry up in Boston and later met a friend of him who also used to be in the Modern Lovers, Ernie Brooks, who said that Jerry would be interested in joining. So we really heard it through the grapevine that Jerry might be available."

David: "Just what we wanted. Someone who could play guitar and keyboards." They definitely needed someone because David was having to play full chords all the
time, doubling as both rhythm and lead guitarist. David: "The songs can have more dynamics. If there's only one guitar what can I do? But if there's more instruments there's greater variety of texture."

Right now Talking Heads are in the studio working on their first album just prior to a European tour supporting The Ramones. They have chosen Tony Bongiovi
to be their producer. Bongiovi has worked with everyone from Jimi Hendrix though Mitzi Gaynor to The Ramones and did Talking Heads single "Love - Building On Fire".

The future? Which direction is the band going in?

David: "Better songs. Better performances. More efficient."

- And the subject of future songs?

David: "Just try to be honest, contemporary and things like that without getting too obscure."
 

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