BACKSTAGE PASS: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club Drummer Chris Frantz
To be Published in Goldmine Magazine
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and long-time drummer for Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club, Chris Frantz's artistry spans over four decades. After pairing up with fellow art student David Byrne(guitar, lead vocals)soon-to-be wife Tina Weymouth (bass) and former Modern Lovers guitarist Jerry Harrison, they would go on to become one of the truly innovative rock bands of the 70's and 80's.
Photos courtesy of Chris Frantz
Although they have often been pigeon-holed as a "new wave band", Talking Heads were much more, combining elements of rock, punk, avant-garde, funk, pop and world music sensibilities to create a unique sound that was truly like no other band. Not only were they critically acclaimed, but also garnered several Top 40 singles including the Al Green cover "Take Me To The River", "Once In A Lifetime", "Burning Down The House", "And She Was" and "Road To Nowhere".
Talking Heads released ten albums over an 11-year period, with 1983's Speaking In Tongues, 1984's Stop Making Sense and 1985's Little Creatures each selling over nine million copies. In 2002, Talking Heads were inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall Of Fame and four of the band's albums appeared in Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".
Goldmine recently caught up with Mr. Frantz as the still active Tom Tom Club prepares to tour America with the Psychedelic Furs.
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.
G: How did you become involved in music and were you in any bands before attending Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in the early 70's?
CF: I became involved in music by joining the school band in the public school system and I was only in one band before college, a band of friends called The Lost Chords. It was a pretty good little band.
G: At RISD, how did you connect with David Byrne to form The Artistics and what was that band like, as compared to Talking Heads?
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.
G: 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.
G: 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.
G: After the Talking Heads debut album in 1977, how did you hook up with producer Brian Eno and what influence did he have on the band moving forward?
CF: Brian came to our show in London on that first UK tour and made it clear that he would love to produce us. We were already fans of his. It was a no-brainer.
G: 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.
G: The formation of Tom Tom Club with your wife and bass player Tina, and guitarist Adrian Belew I believe, was simply formed as a side project from Talking Heads. How do you think this band differed from the Heads and what did Belew bring to the table?
CF: Well, one should be able to hear the difference, right? 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.
G: The Tom Tom Club continues to perform live today, recently doing shows with such bands as the Go-Go's, Devo, English Beat and Psychedelic Furs. How does it feel, to be able to continue doing what you love to do, almost 35 years after the release of the first Talking Heads album?
CF: We're about to launch a five week tour of the USA with the Psychedelic Furs. We may be a little more mature, but we don't let it affect our performance. The full schedule at www.tomtomclub.net
G: Name a musician(s) whom you admire and would love to work with?
CF: There are so many musicians that we admire... how about a short list? Harry Bellafonte, The Mighty Sparrow, Roger Miller, Grace Jones, Loretta Lynn, Lou Reed, John Cale, Debbie Harry, Serge Gainsbourg and Thelonius Monk. We would also love to work with Shirley Manson (Tina and I produced her first album), Steve Cropper, Senor Coconut, Mexican Institute of Sound, The Pinker Tones and Money Mark.