New-wave legends Tom Tom Club were conceived as a Talking Heads side project by married couple Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. Little were they to know that not only would their own band outlive Talking Heads, but that they'd be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the group in 2011.
"We always thought of Talking Heads as like the first child, which is always special," Frantz explains. "But one thing led to another and Talking Heads stopped working, much to our dismay. Fortunately, we had something to turn to."
This "something to turn to" ended up making one of the most sampled and influential tracks of all time in Genius of Love. "It's what the old Tin Pan Alley songwriters would call an evergreen song that never dies," Frantz says.
"Thank goodness for that! We were very fortunate to have a couple of songs like that in our resumé. It still sounds good. I think Wordy Rappinghood sounds good too, not to mention a bunch of Talking Heads songs that still sound strong. We poured everything we felt and knew about groove and dancefloor music into that song. What became hip-hop now was a very nascent thing back then. Who knew it would turn into the major force of popular music in 2011? A lot of people looked down their noses at it back then as if it was non-musical. Now when you look back it's more musical then than it is now, but don't tell Lil' Wayne I said that."
Astonishingly, Frantz has been at the vanguard of several musical movements that coalesced in New York in the late 70s when The Ramones, Debbie Harry, Ornette Coleman and Allen Ginsberg were all local contemporaries, and post-punk, disco, new wave and prototype hip-hop was twisting music into all sorts of fascinating shapes and sounds.
"The late 70s and early 80s were an amazing time for music and art," Frantz agrees. "There was a lot of cross-pollination. Artists would come to our shows in [music club] CBGBs and we would go to galleries and see their stuff. There would be writers, architects and dancers in the audience, not just strippers but real dancers, but we had our share of strippers as well. Actually, more than our fair share! I've noticed there's a lot of books out now documenting that scene and time."
Frantz and Weymouth are also very well-regarded producers. Their most famous assignment by far was somehow succeeding to make the Happy Mondays record Yes Please! in Barbados.
"It's not such a bad record and a couple of tracks are excellent, but it's a miracle that any record got made at all," he reveals. "It's a real testament to mind over matter. Tina and I had absolutely no idea what the Happy Mondays were like as people. We just knew they were affiliated to Tony Wilson, who we had massive respect for.
"When he called us to produce Happy Mondays, we thought, 'Hot English band in Barbados? Sure.' We arrived the day before they did and we waited in the studio. When they came in, it was obvious right away that we had a problem. We didn't know that they had a problem with drugs and crime and stuff. It would have been nice to have been warned, but nobody did. Shaun broke his bottle of methadone in Heathrow that was supposed to last for his whole stay.
"When he got to Barbados, he was heroin sick. There is no heroin in Barbados, but there is an abundance of crack cocaine, so he got into a combination of rum and crack cocaine. Oh boy."
The episode is immortalised in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People, arguably the definitive celluloid documentation of the Madchester era. "Some members of the band would have a hard time remembering the changes in a song, but we managed to almost tutor them," Frantz continues.
"Tina would hold up cards in the studio to prompt them. We got the music recorded, but after eight weeks in Barbados there wasn't a single vocal recorded because Shaun wouldn't come out of the bathroom most of the time. We managed to get Shaun into The Priory and when he came out we did the vocals before he got a chance to get messed up again, which of course he did. Then he turned around and broke up the band before the record came out. We really liked Shaun. Don't ask me why. He's like a Dickensian character."
For the record, when the Mondays ran out of money in Barbados they adopted some rather extreme measures. They sold off furniture from Eddy Grant's studio, created crack dens out of sun loungers and tried to kidnap Johnny Marr. Bez broke his arm after overturning a car (a reliable source tells me Bez is the most dangerous driver he's ever seen) and not only did Shaun Ryder not record a vocal, but he failed to even write a single lyric. The making of Yes Please! virtually bankrupted Factory Records.
Frantz is somewhat flattered by all the bands that sound a bit like Talking Heads, even though he isn't a fan of them all. "I've had it with the big-time alternative bands like the Arcade Fire," he says. "I'm okay with Vampire Weekend. They clearly owe a lot to Talking Heads, but I'm okay with that. If you want to talk alternative I like to go for the ones that are really alternative and not just a little bit. I love this new band called the Doped Up Dollies. Check out their track Doped Up Dollies On a One Way Ticket to Blood on YouTube."
Given the lofty esteem in which Talking Heads are now held, surely it would make sense to reform for some live shows at the very least?
"Tina and I would love it to happen and I know Gerry would too, but it seems like that it's not on our singer's agenda, so we're not holding our breath," Frantz answers. "Anyway, the doors are open if David [Byrne] wants to come knocking."
In the meantime, it's back to full-time Tom Tom Club business with a European tour and an American jaunt with Devo, The Psychedelic Furs and new recordings.
"Tina is very good at keeping things together and we're very supportive of each other," Frantz maintains. "The first album was a tremendous success, but we didn't have the same commercial success after that. We don't mind because we stuck to our guns. Tom Tom Club are a good band for people who want to escape from their humdrum and overbearing lives, or whatever it is that's bothering them. Lots of music is good for dancing and partying, but Tom Tom Club in particular is, so we're the type of band that's always been welcomed by a lot of people. That's given us longevity and fortunately we never had the overbearing success that drives you crazy, like Britney Spears or whatever. We were always good at putting on the brakes in our career whenever things were getting a little bit too crazy."
Tom Tom Club play Vicar St on Friday, July 22
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