1997 - Remote Control (Feelings) Print
Written by Dan Glaister   

From: the Guardian, May 9, 1997

The original replicant, David Byrne, is in London with a short spiky haircut and an eclectic new album. He tells Dan Glaister about the extent of his new Feelings. 


There is a replicant in the offices of Warner Brothers. Sure, he looks normal enough. His clothes are normal everyday workwear, his skin is a regular healthy tan, his hair is short and spiky, just like we like it, and his face bears a normal, low-blink-rate expression.

None of the people in the office can see him. He walks  among them, treading lightly on the corporate carpet,  leaning over to peer at some humanoid work activity, turning a quizzical eye to a wall decoration, without leaving a trace. They glance up as he walks past, but nobody looks directly at him. Around him flows the quiet hum of a contented workforce. Somewhere from the walls comes a different noise. A high-pitched, slightly strangled male voice mournfully sings "I love America", while a trumpet pops out a refrain that has more to do with Latin America than America the Brave. The voice belongs to the replicant.

Now the replicant, a life-size model of a man, is slumped on the sofa next to me. We shall call him David Byrne. His body lies horizontal, his neck is jerked back at a right angle. He is speaking to me in disconnected staccato phrases, lacking fluency and grammar.

This David Byrne landed in London the previous night. He has brought a new album with him. It is called Feelings. This is a joke. The cover features a doll of David Byrne, staring ahead with great concentration. The doll is identical to the David Byrne next to me except for the neat seam across the base of his neck.

"The title's based on the doll," David Byrne tells me. "I thought I'd have a cover of myself as a Ken doll. This little male doll, blank expression on it, 
and we'd photograph it as if it were a Calvin Klein ad."

This David Byrne does not really talk like that. This is how he speaks: "One of those ... ads ... where it's ... just some ... kind of slightly geek ... looking ... kid ... dressed in ... wrinkled ... jeans." He talks like a David Byrne song. His voice is soft, high-pitched, thin.

The doll on the cover is remote, devoid of emotion. "I thought the best title would be something like Passion, or Ecstasy, to play off that kind of thing. Feelings was the one ... that made me chuckle ... most. Somebody said: 'But David, people are going to think that you're doing that song.'"

David Byrne laughs. "He-he."

David Byrne tells me more things about dolls. "My favourite recently was the Jeff Goldblum doll from Independence Day which looked nothing like him. 
For the album we made four dolls. There's a blank, empty expression on the cover, but inside there's the doll weeping, pissed-off, whatever, an emotional doll. Although, since it was only made for a record company, it ends at the waist."

It is a real doll. "Tried doing it with computer," says David Byrne. "My skin plasticised, but it ended up looking too much like an updated version of a Kraftwerk cover. Too cyber-techno. I wanted it to look like a real thing."

The frail, slightly stooped David Byrne figure sitting next to me brings to mind David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth. He has the same tip-
toeing fragility. The same dislocated humour, the same innocent gaze. Just when you think you may have lost him, he leaps back into real time with 
the answer to a question, perhaps your question.

He is a convincing replicant. It's just that some of the details are a little blurry. Take the clothes. A convincing copy of trash American janitor gear, the creases on his trousers are a little too sharp. The creases running horizontally across the knees are plain wrong. Nobody irons horizontal creases. And the colour. This man isn't just wearing a little powder blue, he is covered in the stuff. Powder-blue trousers, powder-blue shirt, powder-blue jacket. It is a 
shock to register the absurd almost lime green of his desert boots.

The clothing and the edginess of his movements bring to mind Devo, with whom he has worked for his new album. They worked on a track called Wicked Little Doll. "I see the doll as being just like me," says David Byrne. "I love the doll. We're the same."

I study this David Byrne very closely. I sit next to him, but often he doesn't see me. I study his profile as he jerks his head around looking at things in the room. I wonder about his age. I know he is almost 45, but the detail is wrong. He is too young. There is some tightness around the mouth, something about the sheen on the skin that makes me think of Cliff Richard. The hairs on the back of his neck are grey, a nice contrast with the brown hair on his head. Through the gaps between the buttons on his powder blue shirt, I see curls of grey chest hair.

This David Byrne is young and old at the same time. He sounds as he did 20 years ago. He looks younger than he did two years ago, when a dishevelled David Byrne turned up with long heir. He looks younger that he did 10 years ago. His music is young and old. This David Byrne album is full of bright, sparky pop nuggets, dark mutterings and rumblings running beneath them.

"I didn't know how it was going to turn out. I was kinda surprised it came out as poppy as it did. When I started writing some of the stuff it was sounding very dark. Trip folk. But really dark. A few of them are still there. But some of the others got lighter and lighter."

The result is eclectic and diverse, a magpie album, filching and pilfering, offering pop morsels. "If I'm making that sort of record I really do feel like I have a pop sensibility. Three- or four-minute songs, cut out any bars of music where it might get boring." It does not get boring. I have tried playing it two, three times in rotation and I do not get bored.

I tell him it is a fine album. "Well, can't ask for better than that," he tells me. I tell him it is a fun album. "I guess I was finally kinda relaxed making a record," he tells me. "Part of it was that I wasn't going in to a studio with the mindset that this is it, you've got two weeks, three weeks, whatever to record an album, this is the budget, that's it. I decided to take it one track at a time, call people up, always with the idea that if we don't like it we won't finish it."

People he called up were Morcheeba in Clapham, Devo on Sunset Strip, some DJ people in New York, Joe Galdo in Miami and The Black Cat Orchestra in Seattle. "There's a real kind of sponge effect," says David Byrne. "Taking off just a little bit of this, a little bit of that ... the cafeteria ... going down the 
line, take some of this, have some of that." He likes labels in his cafeteria. He likes to put a name to what he is tasting. Trip folk is his favourite name today. It sounds promising.

Some things don't have proper labels yet. He tells me about a Brazilian recording with Japanese squiggly bits on it. There is no term for this. He tells me about some other things he has heard about. "There's a Puerto Rican band out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida -- Fort Lauderdale, known as a kind of spring 
break where all the college guys go and get drunk -- which combines metal and salsa. They've got all the long hair and stuff, but there's a conga player and a timbale player. Playing salsa rhythms but with the ferocity and attitude of a metal band. It's just amazing." David Byrne giggles. This is funny. I giggle with him.

He giggles some more while he tells me about his video for Miss America, the single from the album. The video shows some of what is inside this David Byrne's head. "The director is one of the co-owners of this restaurant on the Lower East Side called Lucky Chans where all the waitresses are Asian transvestites. People would say, 'David, David I know this woman with huge tits called Bob. Bob does aerobics. Do you think you'd like that?'" We laugh some more.

"Didn't David Byrne use to be labelled an intellectual?" I ask, thinking to catch out the replicant. "I'm aware of that," says David Byrne. "It kind of ruffles my feathers. It's kind of odd. It was an insult. It's please, no, call me stupid, anything but that. It's a funny thing because when the label was first being applied to me in the late seventies, I thought you could just as well apply it to, say, The Sex Pistols, because it was so intellectually sharp and calculated in every aspect, whether it was the clothes, the graphics, the songs. Everything was so perfectly calculated and worked out. I thought, they're much smarter than we are, because of that kind of attitude no one would ever dare call them intellectual. Maybe clever."

This stupid non-intellectual tells me about the book he has just finished. It is called Biographi, about the man who was Enver Hoxha's double in Albania. He was a very accurate double, thanks to plastic surgery. He ran into some problems after the death of the guiding light of the Albanian people. This David Byrne finds to story of the double very touching. I say it might explain all the sightings of Elvis. We laugh at this. "I'm going to wander off now," says David Byrne, and he picks his way through the office. Nobody seems to see him.