Mr. Frantz had good reason to be feeling positive as we sat down to talk in the lounge of San Francisco’s Miyako Hotel. Talking Heads, armed with a new record titled Speaking In Tongues, had just broken West Coast attendance records previously held by Barry Manilow. Frantz’s other band, Tom Tom Club, which he heads with his bassist wife Tina Weymouth, has just followed up a successful debut LP with a fast-rising collection of dance tracks called Close To The Bone.
Soon after we began talking, I realized that this was not going to be one of the more technical interviews MD has published. Don’t stop reading on because of that. It’s just that Frantz, jumping from art school into rock ‘n’ roll, has a different perspective than many. He traveled constantly while growing up, which helped him develop an appreciation of many kinds of music, as evidenced in the sophisticated but raw rhythms of Talking Heads, as well as the infectious Caribbean dance party atmosphere of Tom Tom Club.
Frantz’s approach to his instrument is simple and direct. He can rarely be accused of overplaying, yet he creates excitement with his enthusiastic groove weaving, intense concentration and well-timed kicks. During the Talking Heads 1983 summer tour, Frantz locked up with percussionist Steve Scales. More often than not, Scales played the fills while Frantz kept the beat chugging along.
Talking Heads began recording with Sire Records in 1977, two years after they began building a sizeable underground following around New York City, playing sociopolitical favorites like “Psycho Killer” and “Don’t Worry About The Government. “Hits like “Take Me To The River,” “Life During Wartime” and “Once In A Lifetime” established a strong commercial base for the band, and the two records they did with producer Brian Eno met with critical acclaim. They released a double, live compilation of the group’s history in 1981, The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads, which contains recordings from the group as a quartet in its infancy as well as in its present expanded form. (There were nine members on stage for their 1983 tour.) Speaking In Tongues got the group across to an even larger audience, with two big hits, “Swamp” and “Burning Down The House, ” pushing it quickly into the Top 20.
Tom Tom Club, begun in 1981 as a “release and a relief from Talking Heads’ seriousness,” according to Frantz, recorded an LP that year near Chris and Tina’s home in the Bahamas. Soon they were looking at two disco smashes in “Genius Of Love” and “Wordy Rappinghood.” With a second album in the pop and disco charts, they find themselves being taken quite seriously as a band. They’re not taking themselves too seriously though, releasing buoyant and nonsensical singles like “The Man With The Four-Way Hips.”
CF: I was born on an army base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which is right across the border from Tennessee. That’s where Jimi Hendrix was a paratrooper, and that’s what my father was with—the airborne and the cavalry. We moved around a lot because he was in the army. We lived mostly in the South, although we lived in Boston too. I ended up going to high school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is where I started playing musical instruments. Actually, I started trumpet in the fourth grade, but I didn’t have enough blowing power for that so they switched me to trombone. It had a bigger mouthpiece and they thought that would be easier. That didn’t really work either, so the elementary school bandleader suggested I take up the drums. I said, “Fine.” I didn’t really care what I played. I just wanted to play something. So I tried that, and I moved to the top of the class—learned all my rudiments and all that. They gave me a little drum pad and a pair of sticks.
RT: Those huge marching sticks?
CF: Yeah, they were big sticks. So one thing led to another. I got pretty good at all those things—seven-stroke rolls, paradiddles—all the stuff that I can’t do anymore or I’ve forgotten how to do. Not really, but I just don’t really practice it. And then The Beatles made their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. I guess it was 1964. I was in the sixth grade, and that’s when, like all the other boys in the neighborhood, I wished that I was one of The Beatles. So I got involved with little neighborhood combos and things. I remember one group that had two guitars, organ, one trombone and myself. That was my first band, and we called ourselves something like The Lost Chords. I got involved with more and more semi-successful bands, but nothing that you would call a serious band—nobody who would ever really make a record. Then I gave it up and went to college. At the same time I was interested in music, I was also interested in the visual arts. I really believed that musicians, at least professional musicians and the kind who make records, were a different breed than I was. I thought that they were some special kind of people who had to come from Liverpool, Memphis, Nashville or something. During the psychedelic era, they had to live in San Francisco. I just thought I was never going to be taken seriously as a drummer, so I went into painting very deeply. I spent four years at Rhode Island School of Design, which is where I hooked up with David Byrne and Tina Weymouth. One day I just couldn’t stand not playing the drums anymore. By then it had been three years since I’d stopped, so I had to teach myself all over again. I could remember in my mind, but my body just couldn’t do it at all. David and I formed this little group just to entertain our friends. Actually it wasn’t such a little group. It had about eight people. The group was called the Artistics. Our biggest gig was playing at the St. Valentine’s Day Masquerade Ball for the rest of the students. I think we were paid $200.
RT: Divided by eight?
CF: Yeah. That was where we first performed “Psycho Killer,” which was written up there. Tina and I were romantically linked at that time, but she wasn’t with us in a band or anything. However, when we all got out of school and moved to New York City, we already knew that the art world was pretty much a closed club, at least until you were about 40 years old. Then they would call you a “serious young artist.” At the time, we were 24 and we thought, “Well, 40 is a pretty long time to wait before they call you ‘serious.’ ” On the other hand, in rock ‘n’ roll, if you’re over 40 you’re not taken seriously. So we thought we’d try to make a dent in popular music. We figured we better have a pretty good angle in order to do it, because there were so many people out there already—so many people who were, at least at that time, a lot better at it than we were, such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, or even the New York Dolls. David and I lived right by CBGB’s. The first night we went there, The Ramones and Blondie were playing. This was before CBGB’s had gotten a reputation, and neither of the bands had a reputation either. I remember walking up to Debbie Harry and asking her if she would sing with our group. She looked at me and David Byrne like, “You guys must be joking. You don’t look rock ‘n’ roll.” Meanwhile, Chris Stein, her partner at that time, was dressed up like Alice Cooper, with makeup and lizard-skin boots. This was before they were called Blondie. So we couldn’t get anybody around New York interested in us. One day Tina just went out, bought a bass guitar, learned how to play it, and became our bass player. Then we were a trio. We went to CBGB’s and got our first gig, opening for The Ramones. It must have been pretty hilarious, but a lot of people liked it. I have some cassettes from back then that really sound funny. It’s kind of like the Twilight Zone or something. One thing led to another and here we are today.
RT: Bigger than Barry Manilow.
CF: So big that we’re busting out of our trousers.
RT: Did Talking Heads actually sit down and try to figure out an angle?
CF: There were a lot of things we didn’t like about pop music. We knew that we liked the medium of popular music, but we knew there were a lot of things that personally, for us, were in bad taste. Not that good taste ever had anything to do with good art, but there was just too much unoriginality. One thing that was instilled in us in art school was that originality and giving a piece of yourself to your work are much more important than technique or costumes. So while we wore white shirts and black trousers, and David and Tina stood there like little statues, everybody else wore these glitter costumes and jumped around. Most guitar players acted like they were having seizures while doing their solos. All that had just gotten to be a drag for us. We felt there was room in the world for a band that was coming from a different angle. We weren’t really sure what we wanted to do, but we knew what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to be like Elton. We didn’t want to be like Alice. Lou Reed was cool and David Bowie was cool. But they were better at it already than we were, so we didn’t want to try to beat them at their own game. We certainly didn’t want to try to beat Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at their own game. So we tried to stake out our own turf.
RT: Were the three of you always clear about wanting to say something to people with your music and your lyrics?
CF: We wanted people to understand that everything really came from the heart—well, the heart and the mind. It was personal and it was for real. It wasn’t like we were up there just trying to get girls or free drinks. We were in it for the good reasons, [smiles] Basically that’s what our intentions were.
RT: Have you ever been the type to hold down a 9-to-5 job?
CF: Well, we had to have 9-to-5 jobs in those days. I worked in this furniture store on 57th Street during the day, unloading sofas, chairs, cups and saucers and things off trucks. At night I played at CBGB’s. It was a funny, schizoid life. In fact, David and Tina worked on the same street too. David made stats for an advertising agency and Tina sold shoes at this very fancy department store. Then at night we went to CBGB’s and played, or hung out and watched other people play.
RT: How long was it before people really started to take notice of Talking Heads?
CF: We were very lucky in that respect, because I think we had done about three or four performances when our pictures appeared on the cover of the Village Voice. At least for a week we had lots of prestige and we commanded a lot of respect from our peers. A week later somebody else was on the cover. There was a guy named James Walcott, who now writes for Esquire, Harpers and serious magazines like that. At the time he was one of the people who hung out at CBGB’s every night. He wrote an article about the whole scene down there, and he sort of picked us out as an example of why it was interesting. Because of that article we started getting calls from little clubs in Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia and places like that, asking us to come there and play. We did, and were real lucky. In fact, we had to but the brakes on. A couple of record companies wanted to sign us up very early, and we took the advice of a few people we had met. We didn’t have any management or anything. In fact, we didn’t get any management until after our first record was already released. But we waited about two years, until we couldn’t stand it anymore. Then we made a record deal with Sire Records, who was certainly not the biggest record company but clearly the one that had the best understanding of what we were about. We started playing in 1975 and made a record deal in 1977.
RT: What was the first record you made?
CF: It was a single, which was independent although Sire put it out. It was a one-shot thing. We said we wanted to put a single out first and they said they’d put it out for us, no strings attached. So they did. It was five- or ten-thousand copies. The A side was called “Love Goes To A Building On Fire,” and the B side was “I Wish You Wouldn’t Say That.” It’s now on a Warner Brothers compilation album, called Attack of the Killer Bs.
RT: How did the band put songs together in the early days?
CF: It would take forever. We would rehearse in a loft, and David would come in with a lyrical concept. We would just jam around this concept over and over, until we finally worked out an arrangement. Since none of us really wrote music or read it except Tina—Tina could do it because she had played flute and classical guitar— we would, like most bands at that age, practice and practice until we had enough material to do an entire show. There were a lot of loose ends and arrangements that weren’t too tight. We’ve gotten a lot better at that since then.
RT: Has there ever been a problem in the band with too many ideas floating around from the different members?
CF: I believe that could become a problem. I think towards the end of working with Eno that became a problem, because he would have ideas and David would have ideas, and so would we, but naturally his and David’s would take precedence over ours. There were some disagreeable moments where we felt shunted, or whatever you want to call it. But that’s all water under the bridge now. I think the making of this new album, Speaking In Tongues, was the easiest, most agreeable experience of making a record that I’ve ever had with Talking Heads. And I think it’s because we all know how the others work by now. Also, we didn’t have the extra aggravation of Eno always trying to make something weird or saying, “That’s too ordinary. We have to do it this way to make it weirder.”
RT: Did Eno have suggestions for your drum parts too?
CF: Not usually, no. In fact that’s why I was so surprised when Remain In Light came out and there was this big brouhaha about how the drumming and rhythms were all African and stuff like that. I found that out after the album had been recorded, mixed, and released, and I got a press kit. David and Brian had put together this press kit about all the influences, and there was even a list of books you were supposed to read to understand the record.
RT: Any that you had read?
CF: Nothing that I had read, and nothing that anybody had ever told me about during the performance of the record. That really threw me for a loop, and that was when things started getting a little bit tense. First of all, sure there are African rhythms and sensibilities in American pop music all the time, but I kind of resented not being informed that I was playing African rhythms until after the fact. At any rate, that’s water under the bridge.
RT: I noticed that, on the new Talking Heads album, the credits read “Lyrics by David Byrne, Music by Talking Heads.” That’s the first time the whole band has been credited with writing the music.
CF: Yeah, it’s always been that way, but it’s the first time it’s been put in those terms. And it’s about time too. [laughs] It just got to the point where I think David no longer felt like he had to put his name on every single thing. I get along great with David—we all do—but he’s one of those people who maybe didn’t get enough credit for doing things during his childhood or in high school. So he went a little bit over the top to the point where he had to put his name on everything. It got to the point where everybody believed that David Byrne did everything in Talking Heads, and I think even he began to understand that maybe that wasn’t really fair. Also, with the success of the Tom Tom Club and with Jerry Harrison’s own album—which may not have been financially successful but made it clear that he could play—I think David had to give us a little bit more of a share of the limelight.
RT: Talking Heads began getting funkier on the Fear of Music album.
CF: That was where we did “I Zimbra,” which Eno had absolutely nothing to do with. He produced that album, which meant he recorded it and mixed it, but he had zero to do with the songwriting.
RT: Did you consciously decide to get funkier and more danceable?
CF: I think we always tried to be and always hoped to be like that. It’s just that we learned how to be more convincing over the years. We always liked the soul bands, and black bands were always a big influence, as well as a lot of white bands. But from a rhythmic point of view, everybody from Booker T & The MGs on up to K.C. & The Sunshine Band were big inspirations.
RT: I was reading the book called The Name Of This Book Is Talking Heads, and it mentioned the African influence of Manu Dibango.
CF: Oh yeah. His first hit record was “Soul Makossa.” Now everybody’s copping his licks—Quincy Jones and everybody. He’s an African saxophone player and has a band. The type of music they play is called Makossa music. I believe he’s from the Cameroons, but I’m not sure. He did some records for Island Records in Jamaica with Sly and Robbie. But his first big hit single in America was called “Soul Makossa,” and it was just great. It came out at the same time Kool & The Gang came out with “Jungle Boogie” and that kind of thing. They didn’t really call it disco music yet, but it was starting to get there. It was dance music that was irresistible. Yeah, his was the first truly African record I ever bought, and after that I started buying Fela Ransome. Of course, you couldn’t get King Sunny Ade then. He wasn’t hip yet. But you could get Commander Eboneezer. Fela was the big one you could get, but if you went up to Boston, you could get all these Nigerian compilations. So we would buy a bunch of that and listen to it.
RT: So you did listen to African music.
CF: Yeah, but I didn’t try to sit down and play like those people. If I did, forget it. 1Icouldn’t play the way they played. I guess I just kind of absorbed it, and somehow it comes out. It’s not like a direct copy, but somehow you absorb it and it becomes, in some way, a part of what you do.
RT: Talking Heads’ sound has really filled out since the early days, with the addition of the percussionist, synthesists and singers. Do you enjoy the new band?
CF: I do. I like it a lot. I enjoy playing in any configuration. I don’t really care. But I do like having a big band—especially for doing big shows. It backs everybody up. Everybody gets a little bit more support from everybody else. It’s less like work, and more like a party or something.
RT: How has your role changed with the addition of the percussionist? Do you play any differently now?
CF: Maybe I play a little bit more relaxed. I don’t have all the weight of the drumming on my own shoulders, so I can relax a little bit. I think I have more stamina than I ever had before. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I have Steve Scales, who is a superb percussionist. Maybe his being there off to my side is physically supportive, as well as musically supportive.
RT: Speaking of stamina, do you practice a lot?
CF: No. I once read an interview with Ringo where he said he never practiced. I can understand that. I practice a little bit, once in a while, but to me there’s nothing more boring than sitting down and practicing drums. It’s one thing if you’re practicing a song that you’re about to perform or something, or you’re practicing with other people. But if you’re just sitting there by yourself, man, forget it. I mean I’m sure Tony Williams does and Billy Cobham does, but forget it. There’s nothing worse than banging away at a drumkit all alone, unless, of course, it’s a brand new drumkit and you’re all excited about getting it. I got a Simmons kit recently and I practice that alone. But even then I put on an Oberheim DMX. To me drums are really an accompanying instrument. I don’t really dig them as a solo instrument that much.
RT: Did you ever get into drummers like Tony Williams or Billy Cobham?
CF: As a matter of fact, I did not. I have a lot of respect for them, but to make a long story short, I just never really liked jazz that much. One of my good friends in New York is Don Cherry, who lives upstairs from us. He’s a great jazz horn player and a multi-instrumentalist. He’s tried to get me into it for years now. I have gone to the shows, and I’ve met Ornette Coleman, and sat around. Even Ornette Coleman said to me, “My favorite saxophone player is Junior Walker.” I went to see Junior Walker with Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry at the Lone Star Cafe. Jazz is a great art form, but I just don’t swing that way. My idea of a great drummer is Ringo Starr. He has charisma. Although most people don’t think he has great technique, I always thought he sounded great and was terribly underrated. He was all arms and elbows. I guess that’s why people thought he wasn’t good. I also like Charlie Watts. I like those root-type drummers. Charlie still plays exactly the same way he always did. He hasn’t changed for 20 years.
RT: They’d probably fire him if he changed now.
CF: Yeah, but he likes jazz and blues. The Rolling Stones really still play the blues. I like Narada Michael Walden. I guess I mostly like his production. I like that thing he did with Stacy Lattisaw, “The Attack Of The Name Game.” I don’t know about his other stuff.
RT: I got to study with Narada a few years ago.
CF: Studying drumming, huh? I’ve heard that in Africa you have to study for years and years. First of all, you start out by carrying the master’s drums around for him. You do that for about two years. Then you learn how to tune them, change the heads and polish them up and stuff. Then maybe after five or six years you get to hit them. Eno told me a pretty funny story about when he was in Africa—Ghana I believe. He was sitting around listening to these master drummers, and one of them changed his pattern as some people were walking by. Eno asked his interpreter, “What did he just do?” And the guy said, “He just asked them to pick him up a few beers.” Eno thought he was joking, but sure enough, about a half hour later, the people walked back down the road and stopped to give the guy a few beers. I’d like to be able to do that.
RT: I heard that on the Speaking In Tongues album all of the instrumental tracks were recorded before there were any words written at all. Are you used to doing albums that way?
CF: Well, that’s the way we’ve done the Tom Tom Club albums, and that’s the way we did Remain In Light and Speaking In Tongues. It works pretty well. You know that if you’ve got a good solid instrumental track, and if the words are good, there aren’t going to be any problems. A lot of times the instrumental track will suggest a lyrical theme to you, or at least a way of phrasing the lyrics. David has never been the type to write a song the way Lennon and McCartney would—where it would come out verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus-end. It’s always been kind of painstaking. It’s the same way with Tina and me when we do Tom Tom Club. We just aren’t that type of musician or that type of songwriter.
RT: I understand that you and Tina have a little boy. Has he changed your life?
CF: Yes, for the better. All those old corny cliches are true. It really gives you a sense of purpose. And it’s a lot of fun too, because when the baby gets a present, it’s like you’re getting a present. And when you go to the stores, instead of buying stuff for yourself, you want to buy stuff for the baby. He’s made a big improvement in my life. It’s something that was clearly missing but that I didn’t even know was missing until he came along.
RT: How does he like life on the road?
CF: He really likes it a lot. He thinks he’s in a big tribe, kind of like Quest For Fire or something. He knows everybody and he likes the bus we travel in. It’s all padded so he can crawl around all the time. We avoid the mad rush at the airport that way.
RT: I don’t mean to get you in any trouble here, but who are your favorite bass players?
CF: Outside of Tina, you mean?
RT: Now you’re not in trouble anymore. Go ahead.
CF: Robbie Shakespeare is one. I like the reggae bass players a lot. Family Man. I like Dee Dee Ramone. I guess Paul McCartney was pretty good too.
RT: You played with Busta Jones.
CF: Busta is very good, although I haven’t seen Busta for a while. He’s a very good bass player, kind of dominant. Busta was one of the first people I ever heard do those pops—those funky disco pops. He’s a master at that. There’s an amazing bass player in the Bahamas named Kendell Stubb. I’m sure this will be the first that many people have heard of him, although he’ll probably be having some records out soon. His bass playing talents have come to the attention of Chris Blackwell. He plays with a Caribbean feel, but not very reggae. It’s more like a funk Caribbean thing.
RT: When you and Tina are recording, do you sit down together and work out stuff just between the two of you? Do you try to lock together?
CF: Yeah, we just sit down and fool around until we have something. It’s usually a highly repetitive pattern. Afterward, I’ll record a drum part with a drum ma chine and Tina will do one part all the way through. Then she’ll do a second part all the way through and sometimes she’ll even do a third part all the way through. Next, we’ll just punch those parts in and out to make changes for the chorus or bridge, and fool around with that until it sounds good. Then, we’ll put a little keyboards on it, and either I or Steven Stanley, the guy who mixes and coproduces our records, will do that. That way we have kind of a melody and a rough arrangement. At this point, we start to think about the vocals. That’s also when we bring in the guitar players and serious keyboard players. By that time we have a little arrangement and a tune worked out, so they have something they can do their riffs around. That’s pretty much how it works.
RT: You said you put down your drums along with a drum machine. Do you save the drum machine part too?
CF: We don’t really use the drum machine too much in the finished product, but a lot of times these songs are seven or eight minutes long, and you can imagine speeding up or slowing down a little bit over the course of eight minutes. Also, we like to be able to cut the tape wherever we want for edits, and you have to be right on time for that. So that’s why we do that.
RT: Which drum machines do you prefer?
CF: Well, I’ve used Linn, I’ve used Roland, and my favorite at the moment is the Oberheim DMX. I don’t know why. I wouldn’t really recommend it over anything else to anyone. It’s just my preference at the moment. It’s easier for me to use than a Linn is. It is also less expensive, I believe.
RT: Are you still using Rogers drums?
CF: Well, I still have them. My favorite drumset is a Rogers kit, but I retired that because I didn’t want it to get lost or destroyed on the road. I did three tours with that, maybe more. Then I was in Japan and the Tama people offered me an endorsement deal. I was never really big on endorsements and neither was my manager, but I was kind of flattered that they offered. I told them they’d have to use just my name. They could say “Chris Frantz Plays Tama,” but they couldn’t say “Chris Frantz From Talking Heads.” I didn’t want Talking Heads to be identified with Tama drums. If they broke apart one night while I was playing them, Talking Heads would be identified with a lousy product. As it happened they worked out great and I’m very happy with them. I’m especially happy with the hardware, which, to me, is outstanding. My deal with them has expired, but I went out and bought another Tama kit anyway. I have an all-black kit. I took the hardware off and had it anodized black, so it has this sort of Darth Vader look to it. It has a snare, two rack toms and a 22″ bass drum. I have two timbales instead of floor toms— LP’s Tito Puente model. I had those anodized black too. The only things that are shiny on the kit are the cymbals. I couldn’t anodize them because that would have changed the sound. They’re Zildjian cymbals. I don’t use a lot of equipment. I use six drums, one hi-hat and two cymbals. That’s it. If I used more than that, I’d feel like I was giving the roadies too much work.
RT: How about drumsticks?
CF: I use Regal Tip 55s. I tried out some of those Duraline drumsticks, and they don’t break. They’re okay. I keep a pair of those in my bag with me at all times in case I need them, or in case, for some weird reason, I want to do some practicing.
RT: Do you use nylon tips or wood?
CF: Nylon. The wood tips just break on me. It’s crazy. And I use Johnson & Johnson Band-Aids on my blisters.
RT: Do you have an endorsement from them?
CF: I should. I give them a lot of business. I go through about 20 Band-Aids a night. I don’t know what it is. I used to develop callouses and they’d stay there. But now I think it’s because we’re staying at these nice hotels that have swimming pools, and I love to go swimming. Every time I do, my callouses disappear and I have to start all over again. Life is tough. [laughs]
RT: The Tom Tom Club is named after your old rehearsal studio. Where is that?
CF: In Nassau. In Nassau they don’t have house numbers or building numbers. You have to have a name for the place, like City Market Food Store or the Post Office. If it’s a private home, you have to have a name for it too. We called ours the Tom Tom Club so that our mail would get to the right place. It seemed like a good name for a band. Now there are all these club bands—Culture Club and the Gun Club. There’s some other club too. I think Culture Club is a good group though, and a good name for a band.
RT: How did you come up with the name Tom Tom Club?
CF: It sounded to me like something that could be easily understood internationally, and something festive. It reminds me of the kind of place you might go to in Havana or Harlem in the great old days. It just had a good feel, both to me and to Tina.
RT: Tom Tom Club is really a family effort, isn’t it?
CF: Yeah. My brother gave us the concept for “The Man With The Four-Way Hips, “and we took it from there. Also, two of Tina’s sisters sing. Yeah, we try to keep it real easy. You’ll notice that, with the other musicians who play on it, we don’t really tell them what to play or anything. We sort of expect them to come up with something better than what we would think of, and in general, they always do.
RT: Tom Tom Club has a much lighter lyrical approach than Talking Heads. Is it a sort of release for you from Talking Heads?
CF: I think that it was a release on the first record. It was also a relief from Talking Heads’ seriousness. With the second record, since we’re already part of Talking Heads, we don’t want to be competing with our own selves at our own game, so we’re trying to work in another area. To us it’s kind of like getting the best of both worlds. We can be silly and serious. Just because Tom Tom Club is light doesn’t mean it’s not for real and we don’t really believe in it. We feel strongly that there’s room for happy, vivacious music. So many new wave bands—so-called new wave bands in particular—are so deadly serious and somber, even to the point of being sad and depressing at times, that we just had enough of all that. Some people might think we’re not serious enough, but that’s their problem. We try to keep it positive.
RT: You live now in the Bahamas?
CF: Whenever possible. We have a little apartment right by the water and it’s real nice. It’s big enough to rehearse in. We did a lot of the rehearsing for Speaking In Tongues there, and all the rehearsing for Tom Tom Club. It’s right next to the studio where we work.
RT: Has living there given your music a different flavor?
CF: Maybe it’s made me love the various Caribbean styles even more. I don’t mean just reggae or calypso, but also soca, Junkanoo, spooge, and all the stuff they’re playing down there. A lot of the Bahamas’ own style of music is called Junkanoo. There are a lot of little bands that play. It’s not just the ones that play “Yellow Bird” at the hotels. There are also bands that play in after-hours bars and stuff. Most of the band members are real young musicians and it’s fun to listen to them. You can also watch drummers who can play for four or five hours without breaking a sweat, and they sound like they’re playing really hard. There’s a trick to that, I think. It’s similar to the way those old Dixieland drummers can play all night, and once in a while they take out their handkerchiefs and mop their brows. They keep cool. It’s a matter of building stamina.
RT: Do you write songs at a keyboard?
CF: I have been recently. I started with the first Tom Tom Club album, did a little on Speaking In Tongues and quite a bit more on the second Tom Tom Club album. But I still only play with two fingers, which is fine. In the studio you can go back and overdub.
RT: It seems like music has kind of opened up, in a way, to where people who are not virtuosos can get in there.
CF: I think that’s the best thing this new wave music has done for recorded music in general. You don’t have to be a virtuoso at all. You just have to have a good idea. It’s nice if it’s performed well, but it doesn’t have to be. Compare say, Talking Heads’ continued success with a group like Asia who just cancelled their tour halfway through after investing maybe half a million dollars in their stage set and all that. And they didn’t do the business. They’re all great virtuosos. SO THERE! [laughs] That’s only one example. Not that financial success or business success ever had anything to do with what’s good and what’s bad. It’s just that it’s nice when somebody, like an architect for example, can get an idea for a song, do an independent record that becomes a smash, and can have an enormous influence on people who have been doing music for years.
RT: What are your goals in music at this point?
CF: You know, I’ve pretty much achieved the goals that I originally had in mind. We’d like to make our careers last, maybe not forever, but as long as possible. Matthew King Kaufmann of Berserkeley Records once said that the way to achieve continued success is to put the brakes on every time something really big happens. In other words, you should strive for a slow spiral type of success instead of the shooting star type of success, because when you come back down and your career starts to fade, you will come back down in a slow spiral instead of straight down like a shooting star. And it’s really worked that way for us. This way, every time something good happens, you have a little bit of perspective on how to deal with it. You don’t freak out because suddenly you have a hit record on your hands. Everybody doesn’t start acting mean and nasty towards everyone else because the pressure is too great. I guess some people might think it’s good to get up there as fast as possible, but I don’t really think so. Not if you’re thinking in terms of a career. I guess what we’d like to do now is get more and more involved with film music, so that we could be old and fat and have warts all over us and nobody would know. They’d hear our music in films and stuff like that. That’s something that I would like to do.
RT: How about your art? Will you get back into that?
CF: Well, I never really left it. Painting is a great thing to do. And of course now we have all this video technology that we can use too. Yeah, I think after I’m about 40 years old I’ll probably do a whole series of really fabulous paintings and get them into really good galleries simply because I was the drummer in Talking Heads. Every body will take me very seriously. Please don’t take that out of context. It’ll sound really egotistical, but I think it actually might happen that way.