Chris Frantz, London Jazz
Cafe, July 15th 2011 (Mike O'Connor)
Heads were a classic new-wave band bursting out of the New York CBGBs
scene and after playing Friars in 1977 came back eight months later
headlining. They went on to greater things and were commercially and
artistically huge. The band effectively disbanded in 1988 but were
inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
has forged a solo career, Jerry Harrison is a producer and Chris Frantz
and Tina Weymouth formed the Tom Tom Club in 1981 and celebrate the 30th
anniversary of the band with a UK tour this summer (I saw one of the
London gigs and amazing doesn't begin to cover it). We were very
privileged to have the thoughts of drummer Chris Frantz for the Friars
to Chris at his home in New York in June 2011.
thanks for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website.
You'd been together for
about three years by the time of your first appearance at
Friars in May 1977 with The Ramones. I guess you were part of the CBGBs
connection with you doing that tour?
Yes, and that
we were also on Sire Records, the same label as The Ramones. The label
head, Seymour Stein, asked us if we would like to do it (the tour) and of
course we jumped at the chance. It was the first tour we ever did and the
first time I had been to Europe and the UK. It was totally a very exciting
time with what they called punk music, but the Talking Heads was never
really what you would call punk. We had come from the same sort of
I guess there were what was
termed 'new wave' elements in there weren't there?
Yes. It was a great pleasure
and we returned to Friars Aylesbury in 1978 with Dire Straits.
Yes, a very unknown Dire
Straits supporting you!
We had been
playing a lot of 'divey' places in those days. Not every place though and
every place we played was you could say a step up from CBGBs!
CBGBs was a small old
Friars Aylesbury was such a clean newish place. All the staff were very
sympathetic, very courteous and treated us really well.
When you first played at
that Ramones gig, it was just before Talking Heads 77 came out....
Yes, in fact
just before Tina (Weymouth, Heads bassist) and I got married.
When you played that
headline show in 1978, we caught you just before More Songs About
Buildings and Food came out....
were early days for us, but certainly exciting times.
Certainly triumphant times I
Yes, I think
that's safe to say.
I remember around that 1978
tour, you played the influential Old Grey Whistle Test. Recently they have
released compilation DVDs and your performance is on there (Psycho
Killer), it's stood the test.
After the first album, you
moved forward bringing in Brian Eno as producer - was this a band decision
or was it record company influence?
It was definitely the band
that decided. We had lunch with Brian courtesy of Linda Stein (Seymour's
wife who was murdered a couple of years ago). Linda knew we wanted to meet
Brian Eno and during that 1977 Ramones tour, there was a point where they
went off to play in Norway or Sweden so we had a couple of nights off, so
we played a gig of our own in Covent Garden...what was it called...
The Rock Garden?
it, the Rock Garden in Covent Garden, this weird little honeycombed venue.
Brian Eno came to the show and Linda Stein was there with us and we
arranged to have lunch the following day at a nice English pub. That's
when we decided that we were both keen on working with each other. It was
a very good partnership for three albums.
Yes, the style of the band's
music evolving and Brian Eno to help shape it.....there was some fantastic
Yes, it was very fruitful!
That's a good way to put it!
The relationship remained for three albums....up to Remain In Light?
Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music and Remain in Light.
There's such quality about
those albums and a range of different influences you were bringing in...
first album, More Songs...., had been written already and had been
performed live. To a certain extent Fear of Music as well, but Remain in
Light, we wrote them all in the studio as we recorded them which Brian
encouraged us to do.
That was also the approach
you took with Tom Tom Club......
Yes, and we
still take that approach from time to time. As we speak, I am waiting for
the engineer to arrive...we have a few things we have done. Everybody
wants to hear our old stuff of course (Tom Tom Club), but you have to do
some new stuff to keep people interested! Usually, people say "oh, it's
not as good as their old stuff!"
I must admit I felt guilty
asking you a couple of weeks back if you did L'Elephant live! (from Tom
Tom Club's first album). Whilst I love Tom Tom Club, the first album
reminds me of a great time in my life.
It is a great
album! We're celebrating our 30th anniversary of Tom Tom Club and that
album and we're doing shows in July including the UK.
I will be there on the
Friday (at Camden Jazz Cafe)! Back to the Heads...the visual image
promoted by the band and the Stop Making Sense film, it was famously very
minimalist wasn't it?
It borrowed a
lot from the modern theatre guy Robert Wilson. In fact we used the
lighting director Robert was using at the time. It was not a coincidence
that it looked kind of like his work. The backdrop was deliberately or at
least appropriated from the artist Ed Ruscha from California who did
paintings and prints with words and photographs not unlike the ones in the
film. It was very original for a rock show. And it was a hell of a band.
That band went down in history!
What was the thinking to
getting Jonathan Demme to direct that show/film?
As far as I
know, it was a kind of coincidence. We put the word out that we wanted
someone to direct a film for us. We wanted to make a record of that
particular tour as we knew it was going to be memorable. We thought it
would be a documentary and we had also seen his film Melvin and Howard
about the guy that rescued Howard Hughes from the desert in Nevada and the
story goes that Melvin found and rescued Howard after a motorcycle
accident and brings him back to Las Vegas. Hughes then left a considerable
amount to Melvin in his will. The film is based on a true story. The movie
had received a lot of alternative acclaim and Jonathan was the only
person who responded to the feelers we had put out about our making this
film. The budget was low - we paid for the film ourselves. Although when
we decided to shoot a third day, we borrowed some money from Warner
Brothers, but basically the band paid for it themselves. Jonathan was a
very good sport and wonderful to work with as were the whole crew. He did
such a good job.
Yes he did - it was visually
and musically very striking....
cinematographer on that film was Jordan Cronenweth who had also shot Blade
Runner. So we were impressed that Jonathan got him in.
Really it had the production
values of a feature film....
What I like about it is the
fact it isn't a bog standard "here's the DVD of the tour", it was
something very different...
unusual and it was also very well recorded by the Record Plant mobile. It
was also the first concert film filmed on digital tape. That was something
very new for the time.
In terms of the visuals of
the band....if we look at Once In A Lifetime...a huge hit here and a very
striking video. What was the deal there as nobody in the band apart from
David (Byrne) is in the video?
know anything about a video being made. We were on a little hiatus at the
time after quite a lot of touring. David, at the time, had a well known
Los Angelino for his girlfriend, the choreographer Toni Basil (yes the
Mickey singer) and together they made that video. David presented the
video to the rest of the band as a fait accompli but nobody could argue
that it wasn't good so we said no problem, it looks great. MTV was a brand
new thing and this was one of the first videos in constant rotation on
I think Talking Heads are
remembered as much visually as musically - again, the Road To Nowhere
video was so creative....were they band ideas or mainly David's creative
band ideas and also David introduced us to a director called Steven
Johnson who later did Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer.
At the end of Road To
Nowhere we can see what eventually became Sledgehammer...
That went on to be Sledgehammer. But Johnson was known to us as the
director of Pee Wee's Playhouse which was a TV show featuring Pee Wee
Herman. It was a children's show about a grown up dressing as an excitable
child...it was all a little pervy! (laughs). He had a period of great
success and Johnson was the director. He came from an alternative film
The creativity of the band
moved forward with Speaking in Tongues, Little Creatures and True Stories
and the band seemed to come to an end. What happened? The final Naked
album came out in 1988 and then there was a three year gap before anyone
said the Talking Heads are no more.
Nobody wanted the Talking
Heads to end except for one person. We were able to forestall the
inevitable demise until that time (1991). For a long time, David wanted to
put an end to Talking Heads and be a solo act. We were able to convince
him....we had a great team of people working for us who wanted to keep the
band together. We had the best of both worlds - we had commercial success
and artistic credibility. Very few bands have that advantage and we did
and everyone wanted to see the Talking Heads continue except for David.
Someone said to him that his solo career would never take off until the
Talking Heads were no more. So he announced in an interview in the Los
Angeles Times that the Talking Heads were no more.
That was the first the rest
of the band knew about it wasn't it?
have that conversation with him, so it was news to us. We knew there was a
problem but we always hoped David would see the wisdom of keeping Talking
I have seen internet
conjecture that the last thing credited to Talking Heads, Sax and Violins,
from Wim Wenders' Until The End of The World, didn't feature you or
Tina, I suspect because only Jerry (Harrison) and David are in the video -
is there any truth in this?
We played on the song. The
song was recorded during the Naked sessions and not used. It was remixed
and used in the film. Tina and I were avid sailors and at the time we were
on a cruise on the Bahamas when it was announced that Wim Wenders wanted
to use the song in his film and we had to rush up and do a video. We just
said, David and Jerry can take care of that as we're busy cruising in the
It's as simple as that -you
played on the song and were unavailable for the video!
just as well as we had a marvellous time!
How do you see the legacy of
the Talking Heads?
I see us as a
terrifically influential band. Even bands who don't specifically reference
us, there are many who are influenced by us but don't say so. There are
some who were commercially successful like U2 or REM who were influenced
by Talking Heads. In the current day you have bands like Vampire Weekend,
Radiohead.....the legacy is that it's OK to write a song that comes from a
different place than traditional rock and roll. Not that we have any
disrespect for traditional rock and roll.....a leftfield approach (laughs)
With Tom Tom Club, you
started this in some Talking Heads downtime 30 years ago and you are still
going strong which is brilliant. The band has turned out to be very
influential. For example Genius of Love has been the starting point for
many hit records.....
It has, yes.
I remember hearing
Grandmaster Flash doing Genius of Love 30 years ago and of course was the
hook to Mariah Carey's one decent song.
there's a fairly up to date list of sample usage of our songs. Something
like over 50 that we know of...
That's a huge compliment I
Yes it is.
Genius of Love is one of those songs that still sounds great today. In Tin
Pan Alley days, they called them evergreen songs, that never went out of
style, it still sounds fresh.
With Genius of Love, the
video and the theme for the first album was all these Jimmy Rizzi
I met him
(Jimmy) at Joey Ramone's birthday bash. It's a benefit that Joey's brother
puts on and Jimmy was there.
You know straightaway it's a
Rizzi piece of art...
I heard you on Janice
Forsyth's show on BBC Scotland a couple of weeks back and she asked the
$64000 question.....you've been asked so many times about the prospect of
a Talking Heads reunion and you certainly seem up for it....do you think
it will ever happen?
I won't be
holding my breath. If it ever happened, it would be a happy day.
So presumably the reason
it's not happening anytime soon is really down to one person.....
You did get back for the
induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 though....
played three or four songs that night and it was really fun. We rehearsed
for a few days beforehand as we hadn't actually played for about 18 years
(laughs). We rehearsed and everyone had a good time and it was all cool
and that was that.
There is one thing I must
ask about given I have the opportunity to hear it from you.....The Happy
Mondays Yes Please album which you and Tina produced. That was when they
sent Shaun Ryder to Barbados to try to keep him drug free and he ended up
in a worse state..
It was a big
mess, but what jolly chaps they were.
No, I'm just
I got the impression that
from your perspective the whole thing was a nightmare.....
It was a
nightmare, it was kind of like Spinal Tap goes to hell!
Had you any idea what you
were letting yourselves in for at the time?
We were sort
of suckered into it, we didn't know their reputation at all. All we were
told was they were a hot new band from England who had enjoyed tremendous
success and we thought 'hot new band from England?', 'Barbados?' - lets do
Sounds good on paper doesn't
Yes, but we
didn't know about their addictions. We were unprepared but we found out
right away. Once we got together with them, we knew there were big
I'm led to understand that
when they took the tapes back to the record company there were no vocals
No vocals got
recorded in Barbados. We managed to get him into rehab at The Priory. We
came over to England and recorded the vocals as soon as he got out of
detox before he had a chance to get all fucked up again which he did, but
we got the vocals out of him before that. It's a pity because the band had
an interesting chemistry and Shaun is an interesting writer. It was an
interesting thing but their bad habits got the better of them and along
with the bad habits of New Order.... brought down that whole wonderful thing
that Tony Wilson had going (Factory). The reason we got involved is we
were big fans of Tony Wilson as a person, we had met him when he came to
our shows in Manchester where some of his bands opened for us. When he
came calling and asked us to produce this band, we accepted with pleasure,
but we didn't know.......
It is a matter of record
about Ryder's heroin addiction and his methadone breaking out of its
container en route to Barbados, but to fund his drug habit in Barbados, is
it really true that he started selling bits of the studio?
To trade for crack.
From a producer's point of
view, it must have been a complete nightmare!
I did get my
first grey hairs there! It wasn't just that either. The police had
previously imprisoned Jerry Hall for [allegedly] having a suitcase full of
marijuana. We were there just after that and the police called up the
studio which was Eddy Grant's studio, saying you'd better get your clients
under control there as we know what they're up to and we'll arrest them
and search the studio. It was a horrible feeling to say get your clients
under control or we're going to bust everybody! So we had that to worry
about also. It was pretty dreadful but we did get a few nice days at the
At least something
good came out of it! To finish, aside from Tom Tom Club, you also played
with Gorillaz didn't you?
Yes, on their
first album. The producer, Dan the Automator, called us up and asked if we
would be interested in putting on some overdubs if he sent us some stuff.
We knew who Damon Albarn was and was a nice guy so we did it, sent it back
and they used it. There wasn't a great deal of interaction between us and Gorillaz but at least people noticed we did something on there. It was a
high profile thing.
Chris, thanks for your time
and best wishes from all at Friars Aylesbury.
Official Tom Tom Club website
This interview and its
content are © 2011 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not
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