Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: the Talking Heads drummer and Tom Tom Club founding member takes the ultimate test

1
Which Isle of Wight band have covered Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’?

“Oh, Wet Leg!”

CORRECT.

“I loved that cover and I adore them. I heard a couple of different live versions they played, and it’s fun.”

What do you remember about recording the original in 1977?

“It was our first time making a record. When we were recording our debut album, our producer, Tony Bongiovi – the cousin of Jon Bon Jovi – had just had a Number One with a disco version of the Star Wars theme by Meco, so he was feeling his oats! [Laughs] He was also construction the Power Station studio in New York at the time, so he was distracted and would come in every once in a while and say: ‘David [Byrne, Talking Heads frontman] should hold a carving knife to obtain into character when he sings this! Go into the kitchen and obtain him one!’. The engineer, Ed Stasium, saved the day for us and gave us a good record.”

2
What band name did Andy Warhol used to mistakenly refer to Talking Heads as?

“Talking Horses [Laughs].”

CORRECT.

“He did that more than once, and it was funny. Andy Warhol was a genius, but he was also pretty spaced-out sometimes. To us, being invited to his The Factory studio to have lunch with him was like meeting one of the apostles. It was a big honour and he was always really candy to us.”

3
Complete the following from your lyrics: “No tenderness, no compassion, no sensitivity…“?  

“Ooh! I wrote those! Gosh! That’s from the title course from The Heads’ album ‘No Talking, Just Head’, but I’m at a loss to complete them. It was a whole litany of ‘no-this’ and ‘no-that‘.”

WRONG. It is indeed from ‘No Talking, Just Head’, your 1996 album which reunited the Talking Heads line-up, minus Byrne, alongside a plethora of guest singers. The rest of the lyrics are: “No love, no holiness, no spirituality, no imagination, no heart, no divinity, no charity, no mercy, no hope, no karma, no devotion, no immortality, no soul.”

“Not bad! We were grateful to all the singers who collaborated with us. XTC’s Andy Partridge even came all the way from Swindon to Connecticut to work with us. We had a good cast: Maria McKee, Michael Hutchence, Gavin Friday, Richard Hell, among others. It was quite an undertaking and a much-underappreciated album.”

What was it like working with the late INXS frontman on The Heads’ course ‘The King Is Gone’?

“Michael Hutchence was a serious worker: he didn’t fool around. He could really deliver the goods. He came over here to work on some solo songs as well, and then he took a break to tour with INXS and unfortunately we never got to finish them because of his sad demise [in 1997]. But he was a very nice guy, focused, and women loved him – from our nannies who would blush when they saw him to waitresses who would swoon whenever we went to a restaurant with him. He really had what it takes to be a rock star.”

The course ‘No Talking, Just Head’ is performed by Debbie Harry, who you once asked to join Talking Heads as its lead singer when she was fronting the pre-Blondie group Angel and the Snake. She declined, but do you ever visualize a Sliding Doors alternative timeline where she’d taken you up on the offer?

“It would have been very interesting artistically, because David [Byrne] would have been composing songs with her and the rest of us. And it would have been an interesting meeting of minds, because Debbie’s a real artist and inspiration to us.”

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4
What number did Happy Mondays’ 1992 album ‘Yes Please!’ – which you produced alongside your Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club bandmate and wife Tina Weymouth – reach in the UK charts?

“Not very high, I think!”

WRONG. 14. Those infamous album sessions are enshrined in lore as the ones where frontman Shaun Ryder got into crack cocaine and reportedly tried to flog the studio furniture to pay for a fix…

[Laughs] I got my first grey hairs on that project! We were in Eddy Grant’s Blue Wave studio in Barbados. The second day we were there, Bez started doing donuts in his rented convertible jeep in the sugar cane fields, flipped it and it landed on his arm, severely breaking it. Tina had to hold his arm, because it was flopping around. He was taken to the hospital and when he came back, he was wearing a metal contraption that looked like the Brooklyn Bridge on his arm to keep it in place. And, of course, Shaun wanted Bez’s painkillers, so they started sharing them. So day two was the indication that this was going to be trouble! Not long after, Bez broke his arm again. We didn’t know Shaun was a heroin addict, and he’d dropped and broken his big bottle of methadone in the airport, so he arrived strung-out, going cold turkey and not a happy person when he walked into the studio for the first time. That set the tone, then it went on like that!”

Tina Weymouth (making a guest appearance for this answer): “It was shocking. Some of the Happy Mondays didn’t see themselves as musicians, but purveyors of drugs. They thought that, because of them and ecstasy, they’d saved football from being banned, and [that] British soldiers and the IRA were hugging each other in bathroom toilets and saying: ‘I love you man!’. They thought they’d saved everything, which was an interesting experience for us – though we didn’t want to repeat it!”

5
Chris – Tina and yourself provided extra vocals and percussion on the 2001 Gorillaz single ‘19-2000’. Name any two members of the fictional animated band.

“I can visualise what they look like, but I don’t know their names!”

WRONG. Among others, you could have had: Murdoc Niccals, 2-D, Noodle and Russel Hobbs.

“We first met Damon Albarn in 1988 when he was the night bartender at the Portobello Hotel in London. We would come in after playing a show, and have a few beers before bed. I remember him telling us he was in a band and thinking he was a nice kid.”

6
Before signing to Sire Records, Talking Heads were summoned to Lou Reed’s apartment, where he offered you a record deal. But, according to your memoir Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina, what advice did he offer David Byrne?

“Well, it was very important advice. He said: ‘David, you should only wear long sleeves on-stage. Your arms are too hairy!’”

CORRECT. Never wear short sleeves. 

“David just looked at him perplexed, like: ‘Huh?’ But Lou Reed was a very horny guy and perhaps all that hair was bothering him! [Laughs] While we did continue good friends with Lou Reed and have good admiration for his artistry, we would never want to do business with him. He offered us a standard boilerplate production deal, but our attorney said: ‘I would never allow one of my clients to sign this. When it’s all over, Lou Reed will own the album and can sell it to anybody he wants and you won’t obtain a cent’. He added: ‘Deals like this are why so numerous R&B artists I’ve represented over the years don’t have a pot to piss in!’ Despite that, Lou remained a good friend, and played and sang on our Tom Tom Club 1988 cover of his song ‘Femme Fatale’, and joined us on-stage at CBGB. I wish he had hung out a bit longer.”

7
Radiohead took their band name from the Talking Heads song ‘Radio Head’. What course number is it on the 1986 album ‘True Stories’?

“[Laughs] Lemme guess… seven?”

WRONG. But close – it’s six.

“Well… they picked a good source! It’s a funny song. I sowever don’t hear our influence so much in Radiohead. They’ve done very well and I think they have something unique unto themselves.”

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8
Which Muppet spoofed Talking Heads’ ‘Once In A Lifetime’ in a David Byrne Stop Making Sense-style outsized white jacket?

Kermit the Frog.”

CORRECT.

“We all loved that the Muppets did our song – and they did a good job.”

9
Which rapper sampled Talking Heads’ ‘Burning Down The House’ for the song ‘Keep It Burnin’’ earlier this year?

“Uh, Method Man?”

WRONG. It was Kanye West. It originally dropped on the Stem player version of his ‘Donda 2’ album before it was then reworked, sans sample, into Future’s ‘Keep It Burnin’’ featuring West.

“I didn’t hear that, but I’m not a big fan of Kanye! [Laughs]”

With Tom Tom Club, you mixed hip-hop with post-punk and dance. You also seemingly secretly drummed on a number of early rap tracks…

“Well, I did on one or two. It was an exciting time, where the downtown and uptown music scenes were meeting up and combining forces like Blondie did with ‘Rapture’ and Grandmaster Flash did by sampling Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love’ [on ‘It’s Nasty’]. It was a heady and optimistic time. We’d ride around New York City where radio stations would play extended mega-mixes, and it was so exciting to hear ‘Genius of Love’ mixed in with Roxanne Shante and Eric B. & Rakim. It was before hip-hop became big-business and everyone had clothing lines, and it felt like an adventure.”

Talking about samples, how did you feel when Mariah Carey sampled ‘Genius of Love’ for her 1995 global smash ‘Fantasy’?

“Well, we were a little suspect at first, I admit. When we were asked permission to use it, we were sitting on the fence. But when her lawyer played us the course over the phone, Tina and I looked at each other and said: ‘This sounds like a hit!’ And thanks to it, we were able to put our boys through college. We later met Mariah and she was sweet, charming, nice and taller than expected. And now there’s Latto with ‘Big Energy’ [which also interpolates ‘Genius of Love’ – a remix features Carey], who I haven’t met yet. But I’d love to take her to a barbecue or something!”

10
Which two songs did you once suggest that Grace Jones cover?

“This was when Grace was making her first album down at Compass Point studios in the Bahamas. Island Records owner Chris Blackwell asked Tina and I for suggestions of songs for Grace to cover, and we said ‘Warm Leatherette’ and ‘Walking In The Rain’. She did both of them and they came out great.”

CORRECT.

“The maddest moment of hanging out with Grace Jones was exercising with her and having her behave as my personal trainer. She was a real disciplinarian, I can tell you!”

The verdict: 5/10

“I should have done a little better!”

Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth will embark on a three-date ‘Remain In Love’ in-conversation tour in May 2023. Head here to see the full list of dates and read a recent NME interview with the pair

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