Back Stage Pass With Chris Frantz: Talking Heads Drummer Discusses Heads Hey-Day And New Music
Goldmine Magazine May, 2013
CONNECTICUT - As the original drummer of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, Chris Frantz's artistry spans over four decades. After connecting with fellow Rhode Island School Of Design (RISD) students David Byrne, (soon-to-be wife) Tina Weymouth and former Modern Lovers member Jerry Harrison, Talking Heads would go on to become one of the truly innovative and diverse bands of the 70's and 80's.
Photos of Chris and Tina, courtesy of Chris Frantz
Combining elements of rock, punk, funk, pop, avant-garde and world music sensibilities into a sound all their own, Talking Heads would sustain both critical acclaim and world-wide popularity. They released 10 albums (8 studio and 2 live) over an 11 year period, with seven consecutive titles cracking the Billboard Top 30.
1983's Speaking In Tongues, 1984's Stop Making Sense and 1985's Little Creatures would sell over nine million copies each, while the band also scored several Top 40 hits along the way including "Take Me To The River," "Once In A Lifetime," "Burning Down The House," "And She Was" and "Road To Nowhere." Then there was this other band…
Spear-headed as a side project by Chris and Tina in 1980, Tom Tom Club’s self-titled debut reached #23 on the album charts in 1981, with the songs “Genius Of Love” (#31) and “Wordy Rappinghood” (#105) also reaching the singles charts. After the release of Close To The Bone (# 73) in 1983, other subsequent titles included Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom (1988), Dark Speak Love Action (1992), The Good, The Bad, And The Funky (2000) and Live @ The Clubhouse (2003).
Happily, however, the movement now continues as Tom Tom Club recently released the six-track EP Downtown Rockers in September of 2012, Chris and Tina’s first disc of new material in over a decade. The CD was recorded in their Connecticut home studio after completing a 2012 U.S./European tour with Psychedelic Furs, with long-time friend Ed Stasium (Talking Heads, Ramones,) assisting with engineering and production. Goldmine recently caught up with Chris as the bands prepares for another road trip.
Goldmine: Some quick background if you will. Where are you originally from and who were your early musical influences?
Chris Frantz: My father was an Army Officer so we moved around bit. I was born in Kentucky and lived in Boston, Alexandria, VA, Indianapolis and Charlottesville. We ended up in Pittsburgh where I was in the school marching band. It was there that I witnessed the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and joined my first rock band. My early musical influences are The Ventures, The Four Seasons, The Beatles, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, The Temptations, Otis Redding, Booker T and The MGs, Sam and Dave and James Brown.
GM: At RISD, how did you connect with David Byrne to form your first band The Artistics?
CF: I connected with David through a guy named Mark Kehoe, who was making a student film about a girl getting run over by a car and needed music for the soundtrack. He brought David and I together to do that. We hit it off pretty well and I asked him if he would like to form a band with me. He agreed and we formed The Artistics with some other RISD kids. In the Artistics, we started to write songs together, some of which would end up in the Talking Heads repertoire.
GM: How did the Talking Heads evolve from this and how did former Modern Lovers guitarist Jerry Harrison come into the picture?
CF: Tina (Weymouth) and I graduated from RISD and moved to New York City the following September. David was already there. I asked if he would like to form a new band with me and he said yes. Then I convinced Tina to join the band knowing that she shared a similar esthetic.
We rehearsed and wrote songs together for about a year until we thought we were ready to play. Then I approached Hilly Kristal about auditioning at CBGBs. He said, "Well, I guess I could put you on before the Ramones in a few days." After about a year of working as a trio we thought it would be a good idea to add another player, someone who could play keyboards and guitar.
One night Tina and I were at one of Mickey Ruskin's bars called The Local and I spotted Ernie Brooks, the bass player of The Modern Lovers. I knew that Ernie's uncle was a business partner of my father's, so I introduced myself and Ernie recommended that I give Jerry a call about playing keyboards and guitar with us. So I did, and although it took some time to convince Jerry to make the leap, I felt sure that he was the right guy.
GM: What would you say was the Talking Heads first significant breakthrough? Is there a signature moment for you?
CF: I would say that having our picture on the front page of The Village Voice regarding CBGBs “Festival Of Unsigned Bands” was the first big breakthrough. Another big moment was our tour of Europe and the UK with The Ramones in May of 1977.
GM: In the early 80's the band began exploring African rhythms, disco-funky vibes and multimedia expression. Why do you think the Stop Making Sense movie - which is still my favorite concert film – resonates with so many people?
CF: The truth is we were listening to African and Dub reggae and Disco records back in college. It just took us a while to take a stab at that kind of thing ourselves and when we did, it was in our own style and not simply appropriated from some African or Jamaican band. Stop Making Sense is the result of years spent on the road honing our craft and the brilliant work of everyone involved. It's still my favorite concert film, too.
GM: The formation of Tom Tom Club with your bassist/wife, Tina and guitarist Adrian Belew, was simply formed as a side project from Talking Heads. What did Belew bring to the table?
CF: Adrian came down to the recording session in the Bahamas as our guest with his wife and children. We had some basic tracks already recorded and Adrian overdubbed some amazing guitar. There was one track called "Tom Tom Theme" that Adrian hit the piano strings with drumsticks while I played the kit that sounded pretty wild. Then Adrian left the scene. Robert Fripp had called him to work with King Crimson.
GM: I believe it has been over a decade since Tom Tom Club has released new material. What inspired the release of Downtown Rockers?
CF: We were happy to get back in the studio that we had recently renovated. We had just come off a great tour and the band was in rocking good form. We looked to Booker T. and the MG’s as a source of inspiration. They had a way of playing in a deceptively simple and infectious way… they leave a lot of space in a song and they don’t clutter it up with a lot of parts. They play with an undeniable soulful feel.
GM: How did you connect with Bruce Martin (who studied under Oscar Peterson) and Pablo Martin?
CF: We met Bruce in the summer of 1980, as he was recommended to us by a friend of Arthur Baker as a great young percussionist. He did the Escape from New York Tour with us, along with The Ramones, Debbie Harry and Jerry Harrison. When we discovered that Bruce was also a funky and freaky keyboard player, it was a win-win relationship. Pablo was introduced to us by our friend Sergio Rotman from Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Pablo is from Argentina but has lived in NYC for over 10 years. He was always a big fan of Tina’s playing and has fit in with us perfectly… he rocks!
GM: You’ve worked with producer Ed Stasium going back to the early days of Talking Heads. How did you come about working with him again?
CF: Ed recorded and mixed the first Talking Heads album and although we remained friends, had not worked with him since that time. Ed lives in Colorado now and when I told him we were coming to Aspen to play, Ed made the trek across Colorado to see us. He mentioned that he would like to mix a song for us, so we sent him Downtown Rockers and he mixed it in his Colorado studio… he did a fantastic job and I especially love his E-Dub mix.
GM: What’s up next for Tom Tom Club?
CF: Next up is Tokyo, Japan in May! In June we will play the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival in the UK, followed by more shows in Europe and the UK. After that, maybe more shows in the states? I think you can expect more from us in the coming year… we have a few ideas for a new record!