David Byrne on working with Brian Eno, the new music industry, and his time in Providence
Thirty-four years after forming the legendary band Talking Heads with fellow Rhode Island School of Design students Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, David Byrne returns to the area to perform "The Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno." Inspired by the duo's 2008 release Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, the concert also features music from four previous landmark collaborations, including three Talking Heads albums produced by Eno between 1978 and 1980, and 1981's My Life In the Bush of Ghosts, an aural collage of found sounds, stacked rhythms, and samples that blurred the line between popular and experimental music.
In 1986, Time magazine put Byrne on the cover and dubbed him "Rock's Renaissance Man." The tag still sticks. In addition to the tour and the collaboration with Eno, Byrne released his score for the second season of the HBO series Big Love, and his whimsically-designed bike racks (shaped like dogs, dollar signs, and high-heeled pumps) have sprung up all over New York City. The Phoenix recently talked with Byrne by phone.
YOU COLLABORATED ON FOUR ALBUMS WITH BRIAN ENO BETWEEN 1978 AND 1981, BUT THEN YOU DIDN'T WORK TOGETHER FOR MORE THAN 25 YEARS. DID YOU FIND IT HARD TO GET BACK INTO SYNC WITH ONE ANOTHER?
It was very easy. I think that the time and the distance between us — the fact that we worked transatlantic — I think all of that helped, too. We both have lots of projects going simultaneously, so the fact that we could still keep our other projects while working on this, and keep our own schedules, made it really easy for us. Whether we were still in sync? We kind of put our toes in the water slowly at first. When we were working on the Bush of Ghosts re-release [in 2005], we had a lot more social contact, coordinating the website and that sort of thing. We found that that went pretty smoothly. So that was a good start.
YOU MENTIONED WORKING TRANSATLANTICALLY. FOR THE MOST PART HE WAS IN THE UK WORKING UP TRACKS THAT HE WOULD SEND TO YOU, AND YOU WOULD DO YOUR OWN THING ON TOP OF THEM IN NEW YORK.
Yes, although, to be honest, he didn't work on the tracks that much. These were mostly tracks that he already had, and he just wasn't happy with how he had tried to finish them, or he hadn't even tried to finish them.
SO HE SORT OF ACCIDENTALLY WALKED INTO A BYRNE AND ENO ALBUM.
Yeah, I remember one time we were there, he started playing me some of the stuff that he had, and somehow the conversation came around to, "If you want me to try to help you and write words and melodies on top . . . ." By the time we did the Bush of Ghosts thing, we hanging out more, we worked together a little bit more, we found out that we do still get along, we enjoy one another's company, and we see eye-to-eye on most of the kinds of the aesthetic stuff on records and packaging. It wasn't that much of a big step to say, "You have some tracks that you don't know how to finish. I might be the guy to help you finish those."
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