Life in The Loft with Talking Heads
I might have winked at the Statue of Liberty as I flew into New York in 1978 to move in with Talking Head’s bassist, Tina Weymouth, and her husband, the drummer, Chris Frantz. They lived in Long Island City on the western tip of Queens. I slept on a mattress in a corner of the kitchen. Feed me the odd bite, and beer from the refrigerator, and I was set.
The band rehearsed there. The space was mostly made from wood and surfaces that were not reflective. A shag pile carpet spread across the floor. The band setup close to each other in the manner they set up for live shows. I set up Chris’s drums with the mics underneath the toms. I wanted them to sound like a timpani. Chris knew how to tune his drums, and he laid into them. He had been a boxer in his younger days. He battered the skins. Made the air move. Carried the songs.
Tina was locked in with Chris. She laid down her pluck and snap lifting the rhythm. She looked at David Byrne. She watched where he was going. He’d drop a shoulder, make a move, sharpening his take on the songs; the original Talking Heads triangle.
David would sit in the corner of the kitchen in the loft streaming words into a tape recorder, playing them back, gathering syllables, finding rhythms and by the end of the day he had the makings of a song. David knew the Scottish sense of humor, having grown up with Scottish parents. Sometimes, we’d share the subway. He’d get off at the stop before mine - see you later, Frank - leaving me the gift of a noxious fart. As the train pulled out, I saw him standing on the platform laughing as I choked. How many people can say they’ve experienced that trial of the stop making senses?
Jerry Harrison added his vibe to the mix. Previously, Jerry had been with The Modern Lovers. He had imagined his life could have taken another road, perhaps as a Doctor or another profession. He was a bright laddie, having been to Harvard. But here he found himself in Talking Heads being a vital part of the four-piece that had set the band on to success.
The band were working on songs that would become their brilliant third album, Fear of Music, and on a Sunday morning in April ‘79, the Record Plant Mobile Studio rolled up outside the loft. A rope was dropped down and we pulled up a snake (a cable with multi-cores to connect the mics to the console in the truck.) The rehearsal set up was not changed in any way to accommodate recording, as the band's idea was to capture the sound of everyday rehearsals on tape. A few mics were added to the basic setup and we began getting levels in a couple of hours, just like a live gig. At some point Brian Eno arrived, taking his place in the truck as co- producer. The tape rolled for the recording of Fear Of Music.
The songs had been written and rehearsed in the loft which made for a very comfortable vibe. The band played live on all the tracks except for vocals which were added later as the bleed from David’s voice would have been difficult to isolate.
The band's record company, Sire, had been approached by London Weekend Television, the producers of The South Bank Show, an arts program hosted by Melvyn Bragg. They came to NYC in a very hot mid July with a film crew to shoot and interview the band in the loft, and at David’s place in Soho. They filmed me adding mics and mixing for the broadcast capturing that stripped down organic sound that I had fixed on Talking Heads live.
The TV folks were keen to shoot some live footage. Calls were made to our friends in NYC clubland and a performance was arranged at the Mudd Club for an invited audience.
Talking Heads had graduated to larger venues by this point but we all liked the Mudd Club,
spending a lot of time hanging out there. It became a regular haunt when we were off the road. The show and the film turned out very well as the band played to the audience and not to the camera. The stark white light we used created a different vibe in a usually very dark wee club. Stripped down, moving the air. The place was packed. The name of this band was Talking Heads.
Check out the Mudd Club gig on the South Bank Show.
Chris Frantz on Soundman Confidential on December 9.
Jerry Harrison on December 16.