A Conversation With Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club Drummer Chris Frantz

Few bands are as iconic as Talking Heads.  A band formed in art school, they combined a visual and artistic sensibility with NYC rock n’ roll to make a sound that was totally unique.  Drummer Chris Frantz, who along with wife and bassist Tina Weymouth, not only was a driving force behind the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted band but also led Tom Tom Club through a number of hits.  He has now published his autobiography, Remain In Love, and took some time to talk about it.

Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws conversation with Chris Frantz:

On why now was the right time for a book – I’ve grown to be a certain age.  I felt like if I’m going to… Well, I felt like I should be writing a book for quite a few years,  maybe 10 years or so.  I actually took a couple of stabs at it, but I didn’t really get the ball rolling until a few years ago, and II just felt like if I’m gonna do it, now is the time. There were things about my life and my life with Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club and Tina that I felt needed to be said because nobody was saying them. And  I felt like if anybody’s gonna say them, I guess it’s gotta be me. So I just went for it. But it’s not like a tell-all book or anything like that.  I consider myself to be a very fortunate guy, and I’m not mean spirited. So I didn’t wanna anybody to have the, I don’t want anybody to have the impression that it’s in any way a mean spirited book. It’s not. :50
On what it was that tied the CBGB bands together – Most of those bands were not born in New York City, with the exception of the New York Dolls most of the bands came to New York. Well, the Ramones were, for the most part, born in Queens. I guess what tied everybody together was a desire to be in New York City, knowing that New York City at that time, anyway, was the center of the cultural universe with Andy Warhol and John Cage and Philip Glass and Robert Rauschenberg. So many great artists living in New York. What it really boils down to is the need for creative expression. All these bands,  I feel like they had a really tremendous, tremendous need to express their creativity and that that sounds like kind of a pat cliche or something, but it’s really true. The bands at CBGB’s were in many ways very supportive of one another. I write in my book when, one night and when we were on tour with the Ramones the first tour we ever did, which was a tour of the U. K. and Europe. It was May of 1977. One night in Glasgow, Scotland we were opening for the Ramones, and just down the road at another theater, Blondie was opening for Television. All four of us got together in a pub after the show, all four bands and it was just amazing to us. Here we are. Look at us. Here we are in Scotland. There was a certain degree of camaraderie between those bands CBGB’s, and, there was competition also, but I think it was a pretty healthy competition. 5:18
“Once In A Lifetime”
On bringing Jerry Harrison into Talking Heads – We were all thinking about adding a fourth member to, as they say, flesh out to make it more professional sounding and also to enhance what we already had.  I felt like Jerry would be a good candidate because he was already used to playing with the Modern Lovers, that kind of idiosyncratic band, and dealing with an idiosyncratic lead singer who we loved. I mean, we loved the Modern Lovers and we loved Jonathan Richmond and to this day. It was after a trip. I was at home, my parents home in Pittsburgh, and one of my mother’s friends said, “You know, Chris, I have a nephew who’s in a band in Boston”, and I said, “Oh, really? What’s the name of the band?” And she said, “The Modern Lovers”, and I said, “Oh, which member of the band is your nephew?”, and she said, “Ernie Brooks. I think he plays the bass”. So she gave me earnings phone number. But before I could even call Ernie, I was back in  New York and sitting in a restaurant in the West Village, and I looked across the rest across the room and there was Ernie Brooks. I recognized him by his big Afro type hairdo, you know he had a really huge head of hair,  so I went up and I talked to Ernie, and I told him  I met his aunt, and he really likes his aunt. I told him we were looking for a member and he said, “Have you thought of Jerry Harrison?”  And I said, “We would love to get in touch with Jerry Harrison”. He gave me Jerry’s number, and that was how that began. Jerry was, quite frankly, heartbroken by the breakup of the Modern Lovers and that whole experience which came so close to being a success. The timing was just a little off and Jonathan was suddenly (thinking) loud music was evil. So Jerry was pretty much heartbroken by that experience and reluctant, therefore, to jump into another band. Also, he had enrolled in the Harvard School of Architecture and was beginning to study architecture. But we managed to lure him away. It took some doing, but we did it. 8:25
“Burning Down The House”
On the origin of Tom Tom Club – To us, Talking Heads was like the mothership, and we never had any desire to do anything outside of Talking Heads. But our hand was sort of forced when David was doing something and then Jerry was doing something and so our account and said “Chris and Tina you better do something”, so we did. It was thanks to Chris Blackwell because Sire Records initially refused. Seymour (Stein) said to our manager,  “I’m already doing two Talking Head solo albums. I can’t do a solo album for every member of the fucking band.” So our manager went to Chris Blackwell and he said, “Chris and Tina would like to come down and make a record, what do you think?”  Chris said, “Well, I can appreciate the value of a good rhythm section, have them come down and record a single and if I like the single, they can do a whole album.” So that’s what happened. We went down. We recorded “Wordy Rappinghood”, which was released, it was not released in America, it was released in the U. K. and Europe and Latin America, and it went to, like, top 10 in I think pretty much everywhere It was released. In Brussels, it went to number one, in Buenos Aries, Argentina it went to number one in the U. K. it went to, I think, number seven. All of these were higher than Talking Heads, higher chart positions than Talking Heads had ever experience and the sales we’re also more than Talking Heads experienced, but we never thought, “Okay, now we’re gonna leave Talking Heads and we’ve got this great success.”  No, we went back to Talking Heads, and thankfully, David and Jerry did, too. Tina and I had had sort of a, you might say, newfound confidence.  Particularly when “Genius of Love” came out in the United States, we had a genuine crossover hit. If only the other albums we did had some hits. 14:30
“Genius of Love”
On David Byrne’s decision to stop touring – The rest of us knew that this is not a smart move. And we did our best to convince him. I mean he didn’t even want to tour after Remain In Light  so we’ve been spending time convincing David to go out on the road for a long time. But now he’s got a great show on Broadway featuring Talking Heads’ songs…It would have been nice if he had been more fair but it just didn’t happen that way, didn’t work out that way. 17:56
“Life During Wartime”
On future touring – Just before this pandemic hit we had some secret, in quotes, “secret” gigs booked in the Midwest.  Sort of like a residency in various places. We thought it would be fun to do. We hadn’t played together for quite a few years as Tom Tom Club band, so and everybody was on board. And then the pandemic hit, and we just said, “Oh, maybe we can’t do this”,  and all the shows were cancelled, but we were gonna test the water to see if it was worth booking a larger tour. And we still might do that. What the heck? We still might do that when this virus calms down. But another thing Tina and I’ve considered doing is an electronic duo, which would just be the two of us and strictly electronic, drum machines and synthesizers and some vocals. We would call it “Chris und Tina”. It would be basically an indirect homage to Kraftwerk, and it would be a lot of fun for us and something that we’ve never done before. So we’re thinking about that 20:18
“Psycho Killer”
On the Talking Heads induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame –  I felt like this gives us some kind of closure finally. Because it had been like 18 years since we played together something crazy like that. It’s been another 18 years that sweet since we did that, so but I’m just happy that people are still interested in Talking Heads. And I think it’s very unlikely that David’s going to wake up one day and give us a phone call. you know it that just doesn’t seem to be part of his agenda. 22:45

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