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 Home is where I want to be
Home is where I want to be
1996 - All Talking, All Heads PDF Print E-mail
"All Talking, All Heads" is copyright November 13, 1996, Tisiphone.

Me = Tisiphone
C = Chris Frantz
T = Tina Weymouth
J = Jerry Harrison

We begin quite pleasantly: I am introduced by the lovely Sue, Tina complements me on my name and outfit, I tell my Beck anecdote & whip out my two tape recorders.

Me: I picked it up from Anne Rice, actually.
 
Chris: Really, Anne Rice does that?
 
Me: She wrote about it in "Servant of the Bones"
 
C: I haven't read "Servant of the Bones" yet.
 
M: It's not one of her better ones.
 
C: We started our tour in New Orleans. Some of our group [probably Johnette] went over to check out her house, which was already all decorated for Hallowe'en. I guess she really gets into Hallowe'en - not surprisingly. Yeah, they were having a thing at The House of Blues, a vampire ball, or something.
 
M: The Memnoch Ball.
 
T: I learned why she writes. She started writing maniacally when her eight year old daughter died of leukemia.
 
M: Yeah, Interview was written in five weeks on beer.
 
C: On beer?
 
M: She became an alcoholic for a year.
 
T: It like Andy Warhol describes his work in films as a pre-occupation. It's really just to keep him from thinking about other things - like getting into his little daughter's pants. You know, poor Anne. [rest is lost in static]
 
M: Madeline says she wants a child that will never die.
 
T: Exactly. I love, too, what she what she says in the introduction to "The Vampire Lestat". The one where he finally becomes a rock star...at that point, with the rock star bit, it loses its' reality.
 
M: So many people have a problem then...I've always been able to swallow it.
 
T: It's like Jacqueline Susann at that point. Trying to write about the..
 
C: The Valley of the Dolls?
 
T: No, she wrote a book called Rock Star.
 
C: Oh, did she? Oh, I think that's the other one, not Jacqueline Susann, that's Jackie, uh Collins.
 
T: Anyway, they all get it wrong. Rock stars are so stereotypical to them, such a banality. What were we talking of before? How did we get on to Anne Rice? Oh, yeah, she said this really interesting thing through her character Lestat. After being alive for so many hundreds of years - the longer we live, the more we become like ourselves, no one ever really changes, we just become more ourselves. If we start off as liars, we just get to be worse liars. Which I thought was a very telling observation.
 
M: So in the end of Memnoch, Armand's finally found something he can die for.
 
T: That was great, yeah, that was very good. [Jerry says something] Well, we take it very seriously.
 
J: I liked Interview with the Vampire, and I made it through Lestat...
 
T: The Vampire Lestat was great.
 
J: I thought the beginning, about Ancient Egypt was good, but as it got closer to modern times, it got worse and worse...that was it.
 
M: You didn't even make it through "Queen of the Damned"?
 
J: I might've read a little of it. Then there was the Body Snatchers one...
 
T: That wasn't very good.
 
C: Did you ever read her erotic stuff? [negation from J, silence from T] A lot of people getting it in the ass!
 
M: The Sleeping Beauty series. [agreement from C & T...I'm such a smart ass...]
 
T: That's kinky.
 
C: Guys taking it up the bum, right & left! And girls too...interesting stuff!
 
T: Yeah, but see, it's one thing to write about it, another thing to actually do it. It's like a fantasy thing. I saw an interview with the woman who wrote the "Story of O-". Of course she'd never, ever, EVER carry on like the person in the book. She was...thirty years in love with a married man. She was so in love with him that she felt she would lose him unless she could somehow capture his imagination. So she began to write these things in chapter form and send them to him as letters to keep him hooked...but never in a thousand years would she have done any of the things she described. It was just verbal eroticism, and of course with her lover she never did any of those things...it was just to keep him hooked. It's not real. And what horrifies me is "Pulp Fiction" and the Gimp...I just think, oh my God, Andrew [something unintelligible]. You just can't get into that.
 
M: Yeah, there were a lot of problems with that scene. He was totally superfluous.
 
C: The Gimp?
 
T: I think that the Gimp scene was actually something from "Tales From the Crypt" or "Stephen King's Cat's Eye"...I have to see all of "Cat's Eye"...but before that scene was ever in "Pulp Fiction", it was in another Stephen King movie.
 
C: Shouldn't we talk about the record?
 
T: Yes, let's talk about the record.
 
J: I remember the last time, we never even talked about the record!
 
T: We're so pleased to have a conversation!
 
M: Okay, I've divided the questions into sections. We'll start with the general?
 
C: Certainly.
 
M: There's a curious thing going on with this record - there's a tie to the past, but also it's not based in the past, there's also ties to the future. What do you feel about that, I mean, who do you expect to see at this concert?
 
T: Everybody. Just like it always was. All ages. This is a transitional album for us, true. So it's got to be tied to the past, but we have an eye to the future. We're very excited, because we think that we may be pioneering something - we're not the only ones, but we'd like to pioneer something for the future of musical groups and bands in general, where you don't elevate the lead singer to this pedestal from which he - or she - becomes this slightly removed god or goddess...
 
J: Like an icon, sort of.
 
M: I don't think you'll have that problem with Johnette [she's my goddess, tho']. I was watching her last night, having ice fights with
Doug [McKean, who recorded the album].
 
C: Good!
 
T: With Johnette, she doesn't want a pedestal, it's the opposite.
 
M: Do you retain the early sound or attitude?
 
J: Well, we think that it would be silly to throw away things that still sound good. But we're still always exploring new ideas and new sounds and new ways of doing things. I don't think that this album sounds like the past. One of the things about the album is that we enjoy playing together and want to play together. We've all done solo records. But there's a quality when we play together. It doesn't sound like Tom Tom Club, it doesn't sound like my stuff, it sounds like the Talking Heads. And you recognize that there's something unique and wonderful about what happens when we play together. It's kinda the way that connections are made. We certainly didn't study our old records. A lot of the sounds, like on the keyboards, the instruments didn't exist back then. So it wasn't going to sound like Talking Heads. But I still use a wah-wah clavinet sound, because it's something that I like.
 
T: The only song that may sound like something from our past is "Indie Hair", and that's because you're playing guitar, and we've never switched from our Fenders. Chris still plays a drum kit when he's not trying to get that sample sound. If you want to get a certain sound, you have to use those instruments, that's all there is to it. The sound of Fender and Gibson guitars that we use have a quality that has not been replaced by the sample yet. Jerry's keyboards - I love what's happened, because he still uses the good old sounds, like organ that are great, but he's also started to...Jerry's very technical as well as artistic, and he combines the two really great together. I love some of the new stuff, it sounds way cooler that a lot of the old keyboard sounds.
 
J: The weird thing about playing these things on stage is that it takes so long for some of them to develop. I have so many parts that go bcch (pause) bch bm. They're like bm chickachickachicka bm bm bch. (laughs) But, like, you won't hear it unless you hold down the notes longer. Um, anyway...that was something that is very contemporary.
 
T: Plus, the way that we work in our studio, we like to use both modern and old. We use analog recording because we love the warmth, whereas digital, there's drawbacks, there's only so much you can get out of it. Whereas analog, you can really push it. So we use...it's kinda like computer hackers who use new and old technology together to accomplish the task better than if they only used state-of-the-art. So we have computers, which were really useful when we were working with Shaun Ryder. Because he did a funny thing: we sent him the tape, and he and the Black Grape guys totally replaced all our music, except for the drum loop, with George McRae "Rock Your Baby" samples. And it sounded wonderful, but we're the Heads, we don't use George McRae "Rock Your Baby" samples. So were able to use the new technology to fly Shaun's vocal off into the computer, re-create the music at the same tempo, but with a whole new musical track, a whole new musical bed, and put the two things back together, with one another, and it was the perfect marriage. We just said "this is how his vocals feel to us," and we just mashed it back on. And that worked out great. And then Maria McKee, there's no way we could've done it without the new technology. Because that's what she wanted to do. She said, "Oh! I want to do something...techno!" So it turned into a hybrid.
 
J: Which was what was so fun about it. It was so much fun to be open to different directions. First of all, we wrote this music, that would inspire someone else, but then what they did would re-inspire us to continue the process. The album is like a beautifully programmed radio station. There's this great continuity - that's us - but there's also this great variety.
 
T: Plus, we've always made this really emotional music that has both an intellect and a sense of humour and a depth to it, and then working with these various singers, they all came back with wonderful emotional responses to our music. Which was wonderful and revelatory to us.
 
M: I'm just wondering if you ever tailored the song to the artist's particular work.
 
T: Not at all. We made our music without knowing who we were going to send it to, for the most part.
 
C: With the exception of Shaun...
 
T: and Maria McKee.
 
C: What we sent Shaun originally was actually the song that ended up being used by Richard Hell.
 
T: Because it was too beautiful to throw away.
 
C: We didn't want to throw it away. But 95% of the time or something, we had the music written and then when it came time to send these people cassettes to see what they would be interested in, we kinda said, well, maybe Ed - Kowalczyk - would like this, but he might like this, so we sent him the two.
 
T: Give him options.
 
C: Take his pick, which one he liked best.
 
M: It's just kind of funny how much Johnette's song sounds like something from her past, I mean she's so into it. It's really distinctive.
 
T: Well, vocally, yes. She has a vocal quality of a kind of talkieness, a kind of spoken word thing in the verses, and then belting out anthemic choruses. And so we thought that this song would be perfect for her. Although, frankly, I don't think we sound anything like Concrete Blonde.
 
M: It's actually kind of funny, because the first time I heard the song on the radio, the DJ came on and said, "if you thought 'oh, cool, Concrete Blonde - no, it's The Heads, with Johnette Napolitano.'
 
T: Yeah, well, I don't think anybody thought that it would be Concrete Blonde or Johnette. Or us.
 
M: It just that her voice is so...
 
C & T: Yeah, her voice is distinctive.
 
T: And that's what why we asked all these people. They're all distinctive. Johnette is one of ten people that we asked, who we feel are very distinctive, that you would make no mistake, that you would know who this person is. Except, I thought Gordon Gano sounded really different on what he did, from what I know of the Violent Femmes.
 
C: Well...
 
J: Well, it didn't surprise me.
 
T: No, it didn't surprise me, because I knew that he had, y'know...
 
J: Well, he was trying some new stuff.
 
T: Anyway, every one of these artists are wonderful people, and we're just extremely happy & grateful to them for joining us, for putting so much of their heart into it, you know. And some wonderful lyrics. I thought Michael Hutchence's lyrics, ore Johnette's...even Ed's...Johnette might disagree, but I think that the way we are as people is that we are very supportive of the people that we work with in production, and the band, and we're the kind of people who don't have a fixed idea, or a purist idea of what we're about. That's why we've always been very flexible about directions, and that's why we've been able to move from a 3-piece to a 9-piece back to, you know, a 4-piece. We always thought our audience was so far beyond your typical mosh-pit crowd. Mind you, we like the mosh-pit crowd; they have a level of energy that we're totally with. It's not strictly one-way with us. We appreciate a very large variety of things. And I think that it shows in our music, and how we've taken left turns at various junctures in our career.
 
M: I was thinking about the New York scene in the 70's, how you we're all working together as a community, and being very inspired by each other, and then this band blows over from England, makes one album, and totally defines the sound for 25 years.
 
T: And breaks up after 10 days.
 
M: Absolutely.
 
C: You're right, we were kind of pissed off at the Sex Pistols - that was who you're referring to?
 
M: Absolutely.
 
C: Because we were working, working, working, and then this band came over...
 
M: Yeah, you had this community, and they were just...
 
C: I loved "God Save the Queen," and "Pretty Vacant," I mean, they were really fun songs...but here these guys got so much attention, they couldn't even like handle, one tour...
 
T: Not even ten days, and they broke up. But you know what? What was terrible?
 
C: ...we were busting our ass, all across the US and Canada and Europe...
 
J: It bothered the Ramones.
 
T: It bothered the Ramones, because the Ramones...
 
J: The Ramones never got the due that was...due them.
 
T: They didn't.
 
J: Whereas we didn't feel that we were doing anything remotely like the Ramones or the Sex Pistols.
 
C: But we were both under the Warner Bros. umbrella.
 
T: And they were stealing our ads.
 
C: We could see the record company spending all this money on the Sex Pistols and none on us.
 
T: Do you remember that billboard ad, where they totally ripped off Talking Heads? That husband & wife team, and they said, 'we don't think your ad is good enough, so we have a better idea.' And then the billboard comes out, and it's our ad being used for the Sex Pistols.
 
J: Actually, I don't remember that.
 
T: Well, yeah. Chris designed it.
 
C: I did it myself. I thought it was a good idea.
 
T: It was a brilliant idea...
 
C: And they said, 'no, we've got another idea,' and they used our idea for the Sex Pistols.
 
T: It was such a rip-off...
 
C: That type of thing happened...
 
T: You know what made us really angry, Aleta? Was not the Sex Pistols themselves, because, you know, they were kids. We were young adults, managing ourselves, doing everything ourselves, and then there were these adults, manipulating these kids for their own gain. Johnny Rotten's book starts out "I felt cheated." He was. He was cheated by Malcolm McClaren. We've never had anything against the band, we were all for the band, and their ideas, but what we hated was how the New York bands were young adults, who were creating their own thing, and not being exploited by other adults, and they were kids. The Clash & the Sex Pistols, they were much more about fashion than about music, and they were totally manipulated and used by these adults. And we hated that for them.
 
M: So there was no actual animosity between you?
 
T: No, there was none, in fact, Sid Vicious couldn't have been sweeter.
 
J: And there were all these rumours that they weren't playing their own guitars.
 
T: Well, Chris Thomas told us, no lie, that he did it. Well, rumours are like that. For instance, with Talking Heads, we always played our own records. But because we would tour with the big band, everybody assumed that the big band was on our record. Robert Fripp played 8 bars on the record...we did the Tom Tom Club, and everybody thought Sly & Robbie played all our bar chords.
 
C: (Laughs) Drummer & bass player Sly & Robbie, and it was me & Tina. Who, I guess were the white Sly & Robbie, but they're the black Chris & Tina. (Laughs)
 
M: I was listening to an early live show, I think it was before Jerry even joined, and it was...so punk, like not even what you would expect punk to be, but...
 
T: It was very edgy. That was something that we kind of nurtured, was our edginess. We would say that this is more exciting for us, to be edgy.
 
M: It was so wonderful, and it was so neat, that we would've been about the same age...
 
T: How old are you now, Aleta?
 
M: I'm 20.
 
T: Yeah, we were a couple of years older. It took us that long to grow up. We were very immature. (Everyone giggles)
 
M: I don't think I'll ever be that mature...uh, let's talk about a dream album. Did you ask people like Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits...
 
T: Tom Waits was on the list, but we never actually got that far.
 
J: We never got to ask him.
 
C: I did have a conversation with Leonard Cohen. I placed the call, got his number, called him up, and he did, uh...(looks uncomfortable)
 
T: (quietly) Don't tell her that.
 
M: We can just move on to another question...
 
C: No, Leonard Cohen called me back, and said, 'I'm very flattered, I've always liked the Talking Heads a lot, but I've entered this Zen Buddhist monastery, and I only come out of the monastery once in awhile to use a pay-phone. And I had only came out this time because...' his daughter was mixed up, or something, and he came out to help his daughter, and was taking down his messages. There were a few people like that, who had really good excuses not to do this.
 
T: Well, you know...it wasn't meant to be at that time. That's kind of how we see everything we do. The Chaos physicists are just starting to realise that the Buddhists had it right all along, when they said out of chaos comes order, and out of order comes chaos, we've discovered that what our mothers told us was absolutely right...
 
M: Oh, God...[I roll my eyes]
 
T: Hey, you have a lot of sex, you're going to risk getting pregnant or some venereal disease. And sure enough, that's what happens. And you never believe it. You never believe these old sayings from the old-timers like take things one day at a time, but all of these things have been proven to be true, and one of the things that we've learned from all of this, is that we've all given a great deal [indistinguishable]. Yes, we've had our hearts broken, and if you've ever been in love and had your heart broken you know it's very difficult to let go. All of life is a process of letting go, and we're learning from experience that that is exactly what life is all about - letting go, and learning that things that happen are actually meant to be in the long run. If you've done things kharmically right, as much as you can, not to worry so much about everything, and maybe this is the beginning of something else. And not a bad thing. It's not a bad thing that our singer left us. What was bad was how he left us. But we have no hard feelings against him now, that we're able to work again. So it was like a revelation to us, working with these new artists. They're so emotionally responsive to our music which was really different from working with David. Which was interesting. We loved working with David as an artist, because we would make this really emotional music, and he would come in and play the role of Alien Man on top of it.
 
M: He's very cerebral.
 
T: He wasn't an intellectual when we met him, but me and his girlfriend at the time, used to adore having these intellectual conversations, and David picked up on that enjoyment, and dug it.
 
C: That's where "The Girls Wanna Be With the Girls" came out.
 
T: A lot of things.
 
C: Did you ever hear that song?
 
M: I don't think so. I've been listening to "Sand In the Vaseline".
 
T: That came out of a conversation that I had...
 
C: (chuckles) Such a good title...
 
T: He was so good at taking catch-phrases and clichés, and things that he found in books, and not understanding what they were about, and putting them all together into this really interesting art collage. And we loved that. But now...we were very bonded, because if having been young people, you know when you're young, you form friendships, and they'll very likely last your whole lifetime. Because I think that's how we're meant to be as human beings. We have this built-in, hard-wired ability as human beings to bond with one another, and because we were so well bonded; it was a shock to us - like a divorce is a shock to some people. But we're very, very happy now. Maybe we'll show him. We're not snobs...
 
 
...And that, my pets, is where the tape runs out. We talked for another ten minutes at least, about art & stuff. I pointed out how similar the sleeve art is to Johnette's artistic style, and how I hadn't known Tina had created it until I looked it up in the liner notes. Tina responded that the work was for the "Damage I've Done" single, and that it was, in fact, a homage to Johnette's style, and her choice of symbols. Roses are very big with Johnette...she had them tattooed everywhere, and this association with Johnette's symbology system is one of the many things my own rose tattoo stands for. Tina also firmly maintained that many prayers were said over the doll, so that it wouldn't cause harm to any one (especially not a certain ex-member who was suing the band at that time) Tina also mused on the anagram of evil and live and vile. Being a Spider Robinson freak, I had to show off with the anagram sentence "Go hang a salami, I'm a lasagna hog." Chris kind of looked at me, and said, "uh, that's kind of advanced for us."
 
All-in-all, an extremely pleasant first interview. It ended with some polite questioning on their part as to my career - they were surprised that it was my first interview & complimented me on my style, but seemed rather pleased that the world was not going to get another professional entertainment journalist. So to speak.)
 
(c) tisiphone: toronto, ontario, canada: november 13, 1996.
 
 
Note from Francey: Original publication here.  
 

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