Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Aug 21st 2008 4:00PM by Andrew Dansby
But twitchiness and discomfort have served him well. They've resulted in more than three decades of music that rarely doubles back. Through his inventive work with the Heads and a variety of solo projects in addition to film, photography, art and running a label, Byrne comes across as a guy always thinking about the next thing.
Even when he doubles back, he doesn't. His new album is 'Everything That Happens Will Happen Today,' a collaboration with Brian Eno, who worked closely with Talking Heads during a particularly fertile period between 1978 and 1982. Byrne and Eno also released an album, 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts,' an innovative fusion of pop and "world music" (the latter a phrase Byrne despises) during that period. That was the last collaboration between Byrne and Eno until its reissue two years ago sparked their collaboration on 'Everything,' which -- no surprise -- is anything but a sequel.
These songs have a nice mix of some modern digital sounds with some stripped-down organic touches. Was that sort of the plan going in?
No, actually there was no plan going in. Brian had some music tracks that he had done and didn't know how to finish them. He'd tried to make them into songs but he wasn't happy with his attempt do to it. I said, "Let me have a shot to do it." There is a lot of acoustic guitar strumming on them, which I didn't expect from him. But it was a pleasant surprise. A lot of it was ... there's this company called Steinberg who makes what's called virtual acoustic guitar. It's, like, a piece of software that triggers these samples of acoustic guitars that sound uncanny. The instrument itself is something you associate with a personal, organic sound. Yet the perfection of this triggered software-based version -- which is using real instruments -- it simultaneously evokes something human and inhuman at the same time. I think Brian found that attractive. Besides, it turned him instantly into a guitar player.
Hearing that you guys were collaborating probably had a lot of people expecting 'Bush of Ghosts II,' but that didn't really happen.
Yeah, that would've been in a different way fun, but other people have done that sort of thing in the intervening years and they've probably done better than we'd have come up with anyway.
The vocal on 'Everything That Happens' underscores that old/new thing. Were you listening to some of those old choral writers like Thomas Tallis?
Oooh, you mean at the end? ... So that was one where I think Brian had the beginning of a melodic idea and he had that phrase, "everything that happens will happen today." And I wrote the rest of the song and thought, "That'll make a nice ending." At some point I started layering up harmonies and [laughs] kind of these Gregorian harmonies. As we passed things back and forth at one point it came back with a shitload of echo on it. [Laughs] Like monks were way, way in the back of the cathedral. I think we pulled back on that a little bit. But it still has a little of that quality.
So it really wasn't a case of two guys in the studio at all?
Oh, no, no, no. We didn't really work in the studio until the record was almost completely finished. It was more about passing files back and forth working at home on studio computers. And occasionally I'd go in to record some brass or percussion, and the same with Brian -- he would record drums or extra guitar stuff over there in London. But for most part we weren't in same room at all. We had kind of this tacit agreement that he was going to do music and I was going to do words and singing and vocal melodies. We'd keep that division of labor. If either of us stepped over into the other person's region, we were very careful to say, "Well, I couldn't resist throwing this out there, but feel free to take it away."
At SXSW two years back, you saw the CD going the way of the dodo within five years. Do you still think it'll be that fast?
Yeah, I think it's still going fast. The last big record store in downtown Manhattan, Virgin, is going to close this year. So what are you supposed to do? I still buy CDs. Not because I love the plastic. [Laughs.] But I feel like it's also a storage medium. The quality is higher than with an MP3. If I want to rip the songs that I'm going to listen to, I file the CD on my shelf. But I have the luxury of being able to do that.
Do you feel growing up in Baltimore has in some way shaped what you do?
I didn't grow up in New York, so I don't now what it's like. My assumption is for some people who grew up in New York or Los Angeles where they've seen it all and done it all by the time they're 18 years old – it's kind of hard to get yourself motivated. You already know everything you write and do well, it's like so and so's already done that. Whereas if you're in Baltimore you don't know all that. You haven't seen all that. You still have this bit of idealism. That "hey, I've come up with something that nobody else has done." Little do you know. [Laughs.] But you get to refine it and fail and make your mistakes in relative obscurity for a while, which is pretty nice.
I think I remember you once said in an interview you'd heard Prince only listened to Prince albums. Do you spend much time with your older stuff?
Hardly ever. When I'm about to tour, I'll listen to catalog stuff. "Should we do that song?" Or "should we do that?" Or when I'm beginning a project, when writing I'll go back and listen as way to find out what kind of stuff I do. Or what kind of stuff I've already done to avoid doing that again.
Are albums like kids? Do you have a favorite?
Um ... usually the favorite is the one you feel has gone unappreciated. You want to give that kid a little bit of extra help.
Are you referring to one in particular?
There's quite a few, actually. [Laughs.] Though there are quite a few that deserve to be unappreciated.
Do you treat music like a job? Do you get up and go to work.
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Like this one -- once I was clear about what it is and I can see what kind of universe these songs were going to be in -- I'd try to work for a few hours every day on them. I'd go, "No, no, I can't go out. Mom says I have to work on my song." [Laughs.]
We still seem to be in the throes of reunion fever, but your band is one of the holdouts. Do you look back at Talking Heads with anything resembling nostalgia? Discomfort? Glee?
Ohhh ... [Long silence.]
Like a yearbook photo?
It is kind of like a yearbook photo. To be honest, I don't think about it that much. Now that I'm about to embark on a tour I can reference stuff -- things I did on Talking Heads tours. What I learned from them. Things I felt were done wrong, things I felt were done right. It's just part of a learning experience, I guess. I do I have a little nostalgia for the very early days before we were cast into the public eye. There was nice period where you could kind of experiment and try different directions and different instrumentation or different kinds of songs. And you had about 20 people paying attention, but that didn't matter. You could feel your way around and there wasn't a blogosphere commenting on your every move.
So if that ABBA investor guy offered you $100 million to get the Talking Heads together, you wouldn't go out and sing?
Oh, my God. [Laughs] You know I'm just not interested in the reunion thing -- though it's been very popular and lucrative for a lot of people.