|Interview with JayQuan|
In 1974 Chris Frantz , Tina Weymouth & David Byrne formed the Talking Heads. Three years later Rolling Stone magazine considered them the most promising band of 1977. Four years and four critically acclaimed albums later Tina and Chris formed the Tom Tom Club. The self titled first lp gave us the Hip Hop / Funk hits "Wordy Rappinghood" & "Genius Of Love". Subsequent lps brought an ecclectic mixture of rock & funk. If you've nodded to "Fantasy" by Mariah Carrey , "Return Of The Mack" by Mark Morrison or "It's Nasty" by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 then you've nodded to the music of the Tom Tom Club !!!
JayQuan : How did you guys
start out with the Talking Heads ?
Tom Tom : Well I started a
group with David Byrne (lead singer of the Talking Heads) when
we were in college back in the mid 70s. We moved to New York after
graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design – an art school.
Then Tina , myself & David all
shared a loft , and had day jobs on 57th st Uptown. We pretty
much did everything together in those days and we were very hardworking
and focused. We were lucky that there was a club in New York
called CBGBs where bands could play original music , which at the
time was very unusual. One of the first Reggae bands to play New York
played there. The owner Hilly Crystal was just very open and supportive
of the artists , and he didn’t want any cover bands , he demanded
originality. That was really a good thing. The whole downtown scene was
a real melting pot of talents , from not just Manhattan , but all 5
boroughs and points beyond. We
were part of the Vanguard of New Wave and then later on early Hip Hop.
JQ: When you formed Tom Tom
Club was it a break up , or just a side project ?
TT : There was a time when
David Byrne decided that he wanted to do a solo album , and he was
telling people that he was going solo ; we didn’t know what was gonna
happen. The keyboard player Jerry Harrison was gonna do a solo album ,
so we wondered what we were gonna do. Our manager decided to put some
feelers out , and the guy who came with a very nice offer and lots of
support was Chris Blackwell , the founder of Island Records . He missed
out on signing the Talking Heads , because he was dedicated strictly to
breaking Reggae in the U.S. , and that’s all he had time for. We had
done a number of recordings with the Talking Heads at his studio –
Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas , and we liked working there – it
was a good vibe and a nice switch from New York City. He said come do a
single , and if I like it you can do a whole album ; so we went to
Nassua and recorded “Wordy Rappinghood”. We
were supposed to hook up with the great Reggae producer Lee Perry , and
he agreed to produce the record. What we didn’t know was that he had
some ill feelings toward Chris Blackwell , so when it came time to
record he just didn’t show up. We decided to work with this young
Jamaican engineer who was about 19 years old named Steven Stanley , who
has gone on to do a lot of great work. Chris Blackwell heard “Wordy
Rappinghood” and loved it , and released it as a single in Europe , it
was never released as a single in the states. He suggested a whole album
, and the next single was “Genius Of Love” which was never released
in Europe , but was released in the states.
Where did the name Tom Tom
Club come from?
TT: I first heard the term in
a movie called “Espresso Bongo” a British teen exploitation film
about beatniks. But in exchange for doing the record Chris Blackwell
gave us a very nice apartment . In the Bahamas you don’t have street
numbers, each place has a name , and we decided to call our place the
Tom Tom Club. That’s where we wrote the first two albums. Even though
Chris & I wrote everything , we liked the idea of making it seem
like a group collaboration. I had a vision of creating a kind of
collaborative artist community. For example it says Sly & Robbie ,
but what they did was hand claps on ‘Genius” with me & Chris. I
think in a way we shafted ourselves because we had such an embittering
experience as a rhythm section , even though we wrote all those songs
together with Talking Heads we got cut out of the publishing on a lot of
it. We were trying to make much more of a fair deal.
JQ: You seem to have a vast
array of different musical styles , who were your influences outside of
the people that you mentioned on “Genius”
TT: (Chris) – White Rock n
Roll – like Beatles and the Stones, Mitch Rider & The Detroit
Wheels, Velvet Underground , David Bowie. I was also steeped in Soul
music like Booker T & the MGs , Wilson pickett , The Racsals &
James Brown – whom we did mention in “Genius”. (Tina) : My first
records were Bob Dylan , and these
old 78s like Lead Belly , also Opera & Classical. Then in the
mid 60s it was folk music & the anti war movement – The Beat Poets
, Pete Segar , Simon & Garfunkel . Also vocal music with the Beach
Boy harmonies and Simon & Garfunkel – you can hear the influence
in the Tom Tom Clubs singing.
JQ: Where did you first hear
Hip Hop ?
TT: I used to hang out in
recording studios and I met people at Profile & Tommy Boy records ,
also Djs & stuff. One thing lead to another and we got in touch with
Grandmaster Flash who covered “Genius”.
JQ: You mentioned Profile
records – so you are familiar with Jeckyll & Hyde who also covered
TT: Oh Yeah!! Those were very
cross cultural times when people embraced different outside influences.
A lot of Rappers were going to France at the time because the French are
so open. People like Fab 5 Freddy and Afrika Bambaataa would go to Paris
, and that’s where we met them. We also had been listening to Reggae
and African music , so Hip Hop just dove tailed right into that. Same
thing happened with Chris Stein & Debbie Harry who did “Rapture”
around the time that we did “Wordy Rappinhood” , but they had a
record deal with money ; and we had none. They had a video , but no one
really knew our contribution because we didn’t have a video. That song “Rapture” opened doors. Its always bad
when something loses its underground status ; but it also keeps the
artists from starving.
JQ: I agree Hip Hop really
lost its innocence once it went mainstream. I grew up on Hip Hop since I
was 9 years old , and I could always listen around my parents and it was
fun music. Now I cant let my kids listen to most Hip Hop…..
TT: Yeah we were just talking
about what happened at the Vibe Awards…..
JQ: Embarassing – but when
you create a climate of “if you look at me wrong I will do this” ,
“I will kill anybody”.. blah blah blah , then when you come together
the hostility is already there. And why bring a knife to an awards show
TT: I feel that its partly due
to certain publicists. We worked with a certain publicist who worked
with an unnamed group that was very influential ;and the management , in
order to get notoriety
would hire thugs to run through Madison Square Gardens and grab gold
chains and cause trouble and it would be free publicity. They did it all
across the country – they were hired instigators. Its weird that you
would hire people to start trouble at your own event – you would think
that it would be bad for business. But it wasn’t
the artists hiring these people , the artists were doing their
music and concentrating on the art , it was management…it gets press.
JQ: Did you get any flack from
your Rock peers for embracing Hip Hop?
TT: They didn’t really get
it – obviously Debbie Harry did , one of the Ramones and David
Johansson of the New York Dells got it. Our opinion was that the most
interesting innovations were coming from dance music , and Hip Hop was
dance music. A lot of Rock n Roll people just didn’t listen to stuff
JQ: This is the best part of
talking to people that I grew up listening to…I get to ask questions
that I always wondered about. Like what did you mean when you opened
“Genius Of Love” with “What ya gonna do when you get outta
jail”. There was always a rumor that your group was locked up when you
recorded your lp.
TT: (Tina): That was just me
feeling it. Its like it was from God – I was meant to say that. It was
like a metaphor – being in a rock group is like being in prison.
JQ : I mean no disrespect by
constantly referring to “Genius Of Love”..I know you have several
other songs and lps , but since my site is Hip Hop , im just trying to
keep it kinda relevant. What does the song actually mean. I have read
the lyrics and it is very non linear…what is it about drugs? Music? A
TT: (Tina) Well we wrote 3
songs and we didn’t know if we had a deal or not , so I thought this
might be it. I was putting everything into “Wordy Rappinghood” and
“Genius Of Love” it was a lot of built up ideas that I was
compacting into one. Its true that it’s a Love song. It’s a letter
to my boyfriend , my laughing boyfriend. Who is the happiest man in the
world , but he is really unhappy and didn’t even know it. He was self
medicating with cocaine , and I thought I was gonna lose him. So that
was sort of a cry from the heart (im probably destroying the mystery of
the song). At the same time it was to say hey remember this – this is
what we are about. This is everything that we love & we fell in Love
to , this is our passion – this music. So that’s what all the name
checking is (Hamilton Bohannon , James Brown , Kurtis Blow , Smokey
Robinson , George Clinton & Bootsy Collins , Bob Marley , Sly &
Robbie) to feel that feeling and say remember that.
JQ: That was a perfect song.
Every car radio and boom box was blasting that song that summer. I
remember taping it off the radio , and getting mad because the announcer
talked before the song ended !!! When Furious 5 used the beat it made it
even more official.
TT: That was a wonderful time
for us. You could walk throughout New York , and basketball courts or
wherever….all thru the Village would just be blasting it.
JQ : When you heard “Its
Nasty” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 did you embrace it?
TT: Oh yes !! It was so good
to be part of a community ,it was wonderful. We would hear it all the
time on WBLS in New York. It was a great feeling. Flash came to the
studio when we were working on a Talking Heads album and he hung out for
a day. It was fun.
JQ : As a result of the
succsess of “Wordy Rappinghood”
and “Genius Of Love” did you perform with anyone that you
would never have expected to ..like Rap groups or Funk/R&B/Soul ?
TT: Unfortunately not. As soon
as a friend of ours Chaz Jankel (who is a White English composer who
wrote “Ai No Corrida” which Quincy Jones won a Grammy for the
arrangement) went on the radio and told Frankie Crocker that we were
White – (the singers anyway) Frankie stopped playing the record. Our
sales went way down after that.
JQ: Do you guys own the
publishing to “Genius Of Love” , “Pleasure Of Love” and “Wordy
TT : Yes !
JQ : So if someone wants to
sample those , and they go about it like they are supposed to they have
to get your authorization ?
TT: Yes , and they just have
to send us a copy of the song , so that we can see how its being used.
We only had to turn down one group , who was not really doing anything
creative with the song. The lyrics were very violent and just not
JQ : Have you ever heard
“Turning You On” by the Treacherous 3 ? They use “Pleasure Of
Love” on it…very well I might add.
TT: No we haven’t heard it.
Common used “Wordy Rappinghood” for a song called the “New Wave”
it was really cool.
JQ: So you did some other
stuff with Talking Heads after you formed Tom Tom.
TT: Yeah it actually brought
the Talking Heads back. We did the album “Remain In Light” right
before Tom Tom and it had “Once In A Lifetime” which a lot of
Rappers have sampled. We did “Speaking In Tounges” after we started
Tom Tom and that album had “Burning Down The House” on it.
JQ: I grew up on “Burning
Down The House”. MTV played the video constantly. How was it
performing on Soul Train.
TT : It was wild. Don Cornelius was really late. We
were all sitting there waiting – me ,Tina , Bernie Worell from
Funkadelic & Alex Weir from the Brothers Johnson .It was quite an experience. Don kept
calling me Chris Paris , instead of Frantz. We had to keep re recording
the interview part.
JQ: Do you have a Cd out
currently , and are you touring?
We did a live double cd 2 years ago called “Live At The Clubhouse”
that is really good. You can buy or order it at your local record store
JQ: What artists do you listen
TT: We both listen to Bjork
– she is one of the most jazzy & out there artists today. We like
some of the new Electro stuff out now. A group called Chicks On Speed is
pretty good. They did a cover of “Wordy Rappinghood”. We used to go
to the Dj battles until we found out how rigged they were. We saw
amazing performers like Dj Qwest who was working with Q Bert.
JQ: Thanks for your time
© 2004 J.A.H. Music /
JayQuan Dot Com
As told to JayQuan on
11/19/04. No part can be copied without authors consent.
Here is a partial list of songs
sampling Tom Tom Club songs and the artists who sampled them: