Chris Frantz on Talking Heads, touring and Tina in new book Remain in Love

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Bands are relationships, and — like any — they sometimes break up.

You could rightly call drummer Chris Frantz a pre-founder of Talking Heads. He was certainly there first, pulling a Rhode Island art school band together (the Artistics, which his then-girlfriend Tina Weymouth wouldn’t join just yet), when an odd bird, friend of a friend walked in the room with a Rasputin beard and yellow-dyed hair. This was David Byrne, who would soon enough become the couple’s roommate in a dingy New York warehouse in the mid-’70s, the three collaborating on Talking Heads’ craziest and unquestionably most innovative material — Frantz for example writing the core lyrics to the terrifyingly wonderful Warning Sign.

And if you know that one, you’re probably around as deep a fan of Talking Heads as me (favourite band ever, actually — but I’ll try and stay objective here, promise).

Now 69, Frantz has just released the dizzyingly rich Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club and Tina — citing three of his great projects, as it were — in a tell-all travelogue explaining his military-family, Kentucky gentleman origins; ambitions as an abstract painter; and everything musical that followed, including discussing business with Lou Reed, filming Stop Making Sense, Tom Tom Club’s penetration into early hip-hop culture, producing Ziggy Marley records, and of course his lifelong love for his bass-player wife, Tina Weymouth — who he describes with endearing pride out by the pool during our recent Zoom interview.


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There’s even a drumming lesson!

But a mighty portion of the book is dedicated to 1977, when Talking Heads released their first album, toured Europe with the Ramones and — in the midst of all that chaos — Frantz and Weymouth got married.

And indeed, reliably in almost every chapter, there is some anger and bitterness toward Byrne, who refused to tour right at the height of their powers, then broke Talking Heads up in ’87 in a newspaper interview. When I asked Byrne in 2018 if they’d all ever get back together, he called it a “recipe for disappointment.”

But Frantz also says nice things about the singer, and the charm of the 384-page book is its drummer’s-eye-view on a typically lead singer/producer’s world. Anyone who’s ever stayed up all night at a party with a band knows it’s the rhythm section that often has the best stories, and Frantz is no exception — and while we both can’t wait for Weymouth’s book, we’re here to talk about his valuable addition to American anthropological literature.

Q: Set the scene, where are you right now?

A: This is the music room. You can probably see my vintage, 1963 Gretsch drumkit — more or less the same one Charlie Watts from the Stones played. It’s great, but Tina says it’s not loud enough for on stage. This is where we’ve been rehearsing and recording since 1990.

Q: What’s that art on the back wall …

A: That’s a poster from Speaking in Tongues created by Robert Rauschenberg. He was so kind to do the album cover for us.


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Q: It’s beautiful — the plastic yellows, though …

A: It didn’t age so well, but it still sounds good! (Laughs.) The packaging was done by the people that do Oscar Meyer wieners.

Q: I love this interview already. The book’s great — I love the little connections like your art teacher painting over the face in your painting, sort of echoed in the cover of Remain in Light with digitally painted faces.

A: That’s just a coincidence, but that art teacher, David Miller, I did an interview with a Saratoga newspaper recently and the headline was something like ‘Local scholar helped create Talking Heads.’ And he was a great teacher. In complete seriousness he really gave me guidance to become a full-time artist. He also talked my parents into sending me to Rhode Island School of Art and Design by telling them it was the ‘Harvard of art schools.’ Teachers are just so important, they can change lives.

Q: Releasing a book during COVID is sort of scary — are you allowed to do any sort of book tour?

A: I was very much looking forward to an in-person tour, but was just not able to do it. Who wants to fly around these days? I worked on it for two years, and on the publishing date we had to postpone from May until now. I feel bad, especially for the young musicians, filmmakers, dancers. People in the arts are really suffering right now.

Q: I always wondered about whether there were negotiations to play Tom Tom Club’s Genius of Love for the shows leading up to the Stop Making Sense film. Can you talk about bringing in the “away” material into Talking Heads?


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A: No, he was in favour of it because it gave him the opportunity to change into his Big Suit. Had he not needed that it might have been a different story, but that song was quite frankly a bigger hit than any of the Talking Heads songs, and it got a huge reaction from the live audiences, as big as Once in a Lifetime or Life During Wartime. Tina didn’t really want it to be in the movie, but Jonathan Demme insisted.

Tina Weymouth and, behind her, Chris Frantz in Tom Tom Club’s part in Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense.
Tina Weymouth and, behind her, Chris Frantz in Tom Tom Club’s part in Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense. Supplied

Q: Do you have a concert movie you like more?

A: (Laughs.) Not really. Well, Gimme Shelter. And anything visual to do with Kratftwerk — I love the 3D DVD. They are just the best, I didn’t know Florian …

Q: Maybe a duh question, but how does it feel to see so many of your contemporaries passing on. Lou Reed would obviously hit you, the Ramones, you were friends with Robert Palmer in the Caribbean …

A: You know it’s going to happen to us all. Let me just say it’s shocking to see your friends dropping like flies. We were induced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Joey Ramone had already died, within the next few years they were all gone. At least they don’t have to ride in that van, sleeping sitting up any more.

Q: So much of your book is 1977.

A: That was my first trip to Europe, supporting the Ramones, all the big cities. That was the peak of punk music, every show was packed. Neither band had any hits, but we had this reputation that preceded us playing at CBGBs, being from New York. We weren’t really punk, but we got to enjoy it, including the spitting. I also got married in Kentucky, best wedding I ever went to.


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Q: How do you keep a marriage together?

A: Do whatever it takes to keep the romance alive. Red roses on her birthday, delicious dark chocolates, a trip somewhere she wants to go. Keeping your sense of humour, being able to say something to her or him to make them laugh.

Q: You can feel the love in this book, and weed played a larger part in your life than I would’ve imagined. Obviously cocaine became a problem, was it hard to quit?

A: Thankfully Tina gave me an ultimatum: either you quit doing the blow or I’m leaving. Our accountant knew a doctor — there was counselling and they tested your urine to make sure you’re not cheating. It worked, and I quit everything for a long time. Eventually I went back to weed. Now I just do the little edibles. They’re delightful!

Q: Do you have any Bernie Worrell stories, another one you lost?

A: Bernie was charming, really an actual musical genius. When we put the big band together, when we went from four people to nine, he became the musical director. ‘Oh no, Chris, I want you to break it down after the middle eight,’ that type of thing. He’d help make sure David and Jerry (Harrison) and Tina and everyone weren’t stepping on each other. Also, he was so much fun, he knew how to play the clown. And very popular with the ladies, I think his widow knows they loved him.

Q: Fear of Music is my favourite record, and there’s that theory kicking around, that you put “fear of” in front of each song title, fear of air, fear of animals. Was there any truth to this?


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A: Oh wow. I was not aware of that until just now. It makes sense to me.

Q: David Byrne obviously looms large in your book — did you struggle with how you decided to talk about him? It was obviously hard when he could just pull the plug. You can’t not …

A: This is it: I couldn’t not. I know people want to read about Talking Heads or I wouldn’t have gotten a book deal. Maybe there was bitterness at certain points. We went from being in a position of business and artistic success — we had it all going for us. And I knew a band like Talking Heads does not come along every day. This is it. As I was writing, I figured this is the Chris Frantz memoir. I felt there were some things that were important to say, including in the way David behaved. The chemistry was so good, we all did everything we could do to keep that band going, except for David. It became kind of like a divorce. To this day there is a cult of David Byrne, as if the rest of the band is not so important. But what I’m saying is, goddamn it, man, the rest of the band was important, too.

I admire David. I still have great respect for him. We had a little email exchange yesterday morning — we don’t speak face to face — because we still have business together, licensing and so on. But thank God, the band continues to still be relevant today. The songs till sound hip. Who knew in 1980 you could compose songs that’d still be au courant 20 years later.

Q: Forty.

A: Oh God (laughs), 40 years.

Q: At his best, what would you say about him?


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A: A very commanding performer. And he doesn’t let anything get I the way of his performance. He will do anything, get down on his knees and crawl like a snake; stand up and go ‘blblblblb!’ Frank Sinatra didn’t do that. Even in the early days when he was very stiff and rigid and (Frantz affects it) sang in this little high voice, people would stare at him like, ‘is this guy going to have a nervous breakdown or what?’ He’s a remarkable performer, and my hat is off.

Q: I remember that Live in Rome 1980 footage — you’re not even human any more, just incredible, sweaty, utterly in the moment. And the Italians filmed Tina like she was the lead singer.

A: That band was touring Remain in Light. Our first appearance was in Toronto at the Heatwave Festival, it’s in the book. We played a couple songs like Psycho Killer everyone would recognize. Then we played songs nobody would have heard, and we’d pull out more players, including Adrian Belew and Bernie Worrell, Steve Scales, and the audience just loved it — they set a fire under stage, and poor Elvis Costello had to wait an hour and a half to follow us. By the time we got to Rome, just before Chirstmas, everybody was loving it onstage: very celebratory, super sexy. Somehow the Italian TV people captured it very well, I’d love to remaster that.

Chris Frantz in he and Tina Weymouth’s music room in Connecticut.
Chris Frantz in he and Tina Weymouth’s music room in Connecticut. Photo by Fish Griwkowsky /Postmedia

Q: You mention Rick Moranis and SCTV in the book. We just got a Bob & Doug McKenzie statue in Edmonton, but it was Moranis as VJ Gerry Todd who first played Once in a Lifetime on his pre-MTV video show. There was a Talking Heads song on SCTV …


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A: I didn’t know that! Amazing, that’s good news.

Q: And Tina is writing a book?

A: I have no idea what the topic is, she’ll probably want to concentrate on her background, her great grandfather was the poet laureate of Brittany in France, buddies with Mark Twain. His wives kept dying on him. On her father’s side, Weymouths helped found the state of Maine.

Q: And her brother Yann designed the pyramid at the Louvre, right?

A: You got it, chief designer. I.M. Pei did a little drawing and he said, ‘I’ll take it from here.’

Q: OK, Chris — I just want to say, it might be true that more of us love the whole band than you think, like, really. It’s bizarre and awesome to be able to talk to you, great to see your little studio, there’s a case of Heineken right there.

A: That’s Tina’s beer! She’s out sitting by the pool, she’s still in her nightie. It’s very nice, it’s blue.

Q: I wish you all the best with the book and hope you get to tour it someday. Now here’s that awkward point where we both try and hang up.

A: Oh yeah, it’s a little thing on the lower right — leave!



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