Talking with the Heads: A Sit-Down with Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz
May 20, 2011 • 4,692 views
The Talking Heads, for the otherwise uneducated, were a music group that began in the 1970’s and went all the way to 1991, combining elements of punk rock, pop, funk, art rock and avant-garde to create a unique sound that set the tone for sweeping changes in music during the late 20th Century. Four of the band’s albums have appeared on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, with “Remain in Light” listed at #128. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Upending the music scene through great, experimental songs like “Once in a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House” and “Psycho Killer,” the Talking Heads achieved worldwide fame and massive critical praise – perhaps more than any other band at the time.
Amazingly, Westport, Connecticut can count two founding members of this band as its neighbors. And last Friday, I had the delightful experience and incredible opportunity of interviewing Tina Weymouth, the band’s bassist, and Chris Frantz, the band’s drummer. The two are married and now participate in another band, the Tom-Tom Club, which has a considerable following of its own.
Weymouth and Frantz, both 60-years-old, are friends of Jack Klinge, a substitute teacher here at Staples High School, who told me about their interest in doing an interview for the paper and described them as “incredibly nice and interesting people.” Klinge couldn’t have been more right. Not only did I get to interview them, but I got to meet them and talk to them in their home.
Their grand, wooden house, tucked behind a glorious pond that stretches for hundreds of feet, is home to their studio, where the Tom-Tom Club rehearses material. Upon entering their house, it was surreal staring at the drum set and basses that helped compose some of the heroic songs that I’ve played hundreds of times on my iPod.
“We just finished up rehearsal,” Frantz told me in his soft, relaxing voice. As I made my way past their beautiful kitchen and dining room, abundant in magnificent paintings, we sat down on the living room couch and began talking.
Since I myself was a teenager, I felt naturally curious about their childhood. I assumed they both came from musical families, but it turned out to be quite the opposite.
“My father was in the Navy- we lived all over,” Weymouth said. “My Dad was an Admiral.”
“My father was in the Army and was buried at West Point- it was his wish,” Frantz added. “West Point’s a great place. I see lots of great kids there from tons of different backgrounds.”
Despite his parents’ lifestyle, Frantz wound up at Rhode Island School of Design, where he met David Byrne, the Talking Heads’ singer and principal songwriter.
“I met David Byrne through Chris, who knew him from RISD,” Weymouth noted, sipping on red wine. “I knew I wanted to go to New York, and with Chris.”
Weymouth insisted that she didn’t want to be in the band, but eventually gave in to Chris’ wishes.
“Chris wanted me to join, and I didn’t think it was appropriate. But I really loved what they were doing, so I joined. I picked up the bass because it was all that was left.”
She went on to credit Chris as her musical inspiration, saying that “being with a wonderful drummer really molds you beautifully as a musician.”
At this point in the interview, their pet beagle had jumped up onto Tina’s lap and stared directly at me. Although I wanted to play with the dog, I forged ahead. Frantz and Weymouth, who had gotten very comfortable at this point, were so warm that the interview began to feel much more like a casual conversation than a questionnaire. They were very humble people and refused to gloat about their awesome achievements.
“We just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Weymouth shrugged. “Success came in little increments.”
“Those were the days,” she nostalgically continued. “We brought the party with us everywhere we went. We were efficient. There was no texting and no email. There were crazy people involved, but we didn’t stress. It was a very cool time.”
I asked them what it was like to hang around such revolutionary bands as the Velvet Underground and the Ramones, and they smiled fondly.
“We loved Lou Reed’s lyrics, and we loved John Cale, the Velvet Underground’s violinist,” Weymouth recalled. “He was very musical and classically trained. We used to play with them at this place called the Ocean Club, where Patti Smith used to play. We played all over.”
“We played with the Ramones at CBGB,” Frantz said.
“Our goal as a band was to make it to ‘The Bottom Line,’ which was a venue for upcoming bands looking for record deals, within two years. It was an important place back then, but the system doesn’t work like this anymore.”
“Nowadays, a bunch of businessmen get together and look for a girl who’s basically Burlesque,” Weymouth said. “Having said that, I do like Lady Gaga. But it still is much more limited now.”
Curious about what they thought of the current music scene, I inquired whether or not there were any bands that reminded them of all that the Talking Heads stood for.
“Absolutely,” Weymouth said. “Bands from The Ting Tings to Radiohead are all our children.”
“I agree,” Frantz chimed in. “Also, bands like Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire are very inspired by us. There’s a band called The Management- MGMT- that you could just tell were very inspired by us, at least in their early days. LCD Soundsystem are influenced by the Tom-Tom Club.”
I then asked them about their legendary concert DVD, “Stop Making Sense,” which was shot over the course of three nights inside of Hollywood’s Pantages Theater. Directed by Academy Award winner, Jonathan Demme, it was filmed as the group was touring to promote their record Speaking in Tongues and is notable for being the first made entirely using digital audio techniques.
“There was little fixing on that recording- it is very much live and exciting,” Weymouth said. “But if you want to listen to it properly, you have to listen to the Eric Thorngren Stereo Mix. Thorngren was our sound engineer on records like ‘Little Creatures’ and ‘True Stories,’ and his version really has the punch. It’s much more beautiful.”
After terrific conversation, I knew the session was coming to a close. I finally asked them the cliché question: what advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
“Have a positive image of yourself,” Frantz said, leaning forward. “Have a positive image of who you are and who you work with. Work hard, don’t fantasize.”
“It’s like the Beatles,” Weymouth added as we got up from the couch. “They played hundreds of shows before they became famous. That’s what you have to do. Play at a bar in front of a bunch of drunks.”
Before I left, Chris went into his studio and handed me a pair of Vic Firth drumsticks with his name on the side. When I told my Dad, I could see the disbelief in his eyes. Then I told him that they were playing with the Tom-Tom Club at the Ridgefield Playhouse on June 10th, and we immediately marked the date down on our calendars.
It was truly a once in a lifetime experience to interview them – pun intended.