Some rock & roll marriages last: for an example, see Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club. The couple met at Rhode Island School of Design in 1971 and a year later, they were dating. “I had to use my powers of persuasion,” Frantz tells Rolling Stone, admitting that Weymouth was dating someone else at the time. They were married in 1977.
Rolling Stone caught up with the couple on their anniversary as they packed for a European tour to promote Downtown Rockers, Tom Tom Club’s first album in 12 years.
After all this time living together, touring and making music, how have you not killed each other? What’s the secret?
Chris Frantz: The secret is to marry the right person. I was very careful. When I met her I knew: this is the one. I had to be very patient and use my powers of persuasion very carefully. Finally, she broke up with her boyfriend and I was able to console her. (laughter)
Good answer, Chris. Tina is right there, isn’t she?
CF: Yes, she’s right here. Anyway, I knew that Tina had a really good musical and artistic mind. I sensed that she understood music. I could tell by her dancing. She’s an excellent dancer. She had a great sense of rhythm. A lot of white girls don’t have a sense of rhythm that fabulous. So, I thought she should not only be my girlfriend, but she should be in the band. That really took some powers of persuasion. She said, very logically, that won’t work at all. But little but little she came around. Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club wouldn’t have been what it was without Tina.
What about you, Tina? What’s the secret?
Tina Weymouth: I think the consensus is generosity. I tend to like people that are generous and give other people the benefit of the doubt. Being able to allow people to be who they are without trying to change them is important. Generosity is the key to all relationships. To friendships and bands. That’s the golden rule. And also, the more you know him, the more you like him. He doesn’t throw everything at you at once. He’s not ambitious or egotistical. He’s a very observing person. He watches and reads what other people are feeling. He’d be a great diplomat. He can go with the flow and these things are remarkably important. He’s able to do all of that and it makes a big difference.
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Ok, let’s talk about the last album, Downtown Rockers. Why did you wait 12 years to follow up to your last album, The Good, the Bad and the Funky?
CF: We were busy with other aspects of our lives – namely, children and our parents that needed our assistance. And all that seems to be under control now. So, we were able to refocus on the band and the music. The other thing was that nobody was really breaking down our door for a new Tom Tom Club album. We did it now because we felt in the mood to do it.
We did do some projects over the years and made a few stabs at doing a new record, but it never really congealed. We were still touring with the band sporadically over those 12 years. It wasn’t like we were completely inactive. But we weren’t making any new records for awhile. Another reason is that it’s really dispiriting if you make a new record and nobody gives a shit.
How’s the new album doing? Does it have a hit like “Genius of Love”?
CF: I don’t think there will ever be another “Genius of Love.” You might say that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That song was a miracle. The way it happened and how it’s been used and sampled amazes me. And still sounds fresh. I love the song “Downtown Rockers,” but the song that I groove to the most is “Won’t Give You Up.” It’s funky and sweet at the same time. We’re really happy with the new record. We used to sell like a million copies. But we don’t do that anymore. Nobody does. It’s a whole new set of standards. Now, we measure our success by how much fun we’re having and right now we’re having a really good time.
When did you start writing tunes for the album? Where did the songs come from?
CF: The band was sounding really good, so we went into the studio and created some songs from jam sessions, just like we did for Remain in Light. All the songs on Tom Tom Club albums began as jams. Then we refined them. We did a lot of recording and took the best bits that we liked and crafted instrumental songs out of them. Tina then took the songs and composed lyrics, sometimes with my help and sometimes alone.
TW: It was brilliant back in the day when you had the songwriters who wrote the songs and the singers who interpreted them and the great musicians who were the sessions players. I think the whole thing where everyone had to be a singer-songwriter because they got so much praise kind of skewed things a bit. But we have to deal with it. There are no more barbershop quartets wearing boaters, even though I still like them. Life goes on.
Isn’t making an album from raw studio jam sessions time-consuming and expensive?
CF: We decided to build our own studio in 1990. It was after we took a look at one of our studio bills and we thought, “For this amount of money, we could build our own studio.” So we did. It’s definitely a plus. It great because we don’t have to go with our hat in our hands to a record company. We’ve never been the most prolific of artists, but we do like to take our time and get it to the point where we are satisfied and feel good about it. This album was more relaxed than our last.
Did you have any influences on this album?
CF: Booker T and the M.G.’s. The thing about Booker T and the M.G.’s – a seminal American band – is that their songs were instrumental. They were funky and swinging and they left a lot of space in between their parts so each part could be heard. It wasn’t like this tossed salad the way a lot of music is today. Their parts were sparse and really heartfelt. A great example is “Green Onions” or “Dock of the Bay,” which Steve Cropper wrote with Otis Redding and with Booker T and the M.G.’s playing. It’s really sparse and soulful and at times playful. They were really our source of of inspiration musically. Even though some of our songs sound nothing like them, we were always thinking, “What would Booker T and the M.G.’s do?”
Tell me about the album’s title track, “Downtown Rockers.”
CF: People keep writing books and magazine articles about that era of Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs. But nobody was writing songs about it, at least not that we were aware of. So we thought we would write a song about it. It’s really a tribute, a love letter to all those bands.
Why did you chose to tour this summer in Europe?
CF: The album was released in Europe just after Christmas. But the winter is not our favorite time to tour, especially in those cold gray climates like Germany. You don’t want to spend much time in Germany or even France in the winter unless you’re in the Alps (laughter). It’s going to be fun. We’ve got our tour bus set. The biggest challenge is not going to be the gigs, it’s going to be getting our laundry done.
TW: We’re really looking forward to it. In Europe they understand that the arts are incredibly important both culturally and economically. There is not enough support for the sciences and the arts in this country, that why we’re starting to get behind. We’re now copying Europe instead of being the leaders. It’s a shame, but that’s what’s happened. It’s because of this entrenchment, this idea of of it being a waste of money. It’s complete silliness.
What are your setlists looking like?
TW: We’re going to do a mix of songs. The fans want you to play what they know and a little bit of what’s new. Like what the bride wears. . . something old, new and blue. We do Talking Heads, but we’re not a tribute band. We give them their money’s worth. There’s something for everyone.
You’re active on Facebook and engage with your fans, posting candid updates and photos.
CF: Part of it is that it’s a good way to let people know you’re still alive and not just sitting on the couch watching TV somewhere. You’re doing stuff. It’s just a desire to communicate. I realized that during the heyday of Talking Heads and the early days of Tom Tom Club, we unfortunately didn’t really take a lot of pictures. We didn’t really document it. We had Stop Making Sense, of course, but no pictures. A band like the Clash or even Blondie, where Chris Stein was always taking pictures, were doing that. It seemed like the Clash never left their apartments without having a photographer present. You know, taking a picture of them in their latest outfits. Now they’re able to have these fabulous coffee table books brimming full of interesting photos.
We didn’t do that. I don’t know why. Looking back on it, it would seem so natural. Even though we were very visually oriented. . . I guess we were just staring out the window or something instead of taking pictures. So I thought I’d make up for lost time and started on Facebook about three years ago.
You have pretty much eliminated the need for a publicist, and have a direct relationship with your fans.
CF: It’s really just one way of keeping a diary. I have all the photos and one day they’ll be used for something. I’m kind of a social person and I enjoy corresponding with people and checking out their Facebook pages. And it really doesn’t take much time. Ten minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at night and a little bit during the day. It’s just something I really enjoy.
TW: I guess we’re selling our lifestyle. That’s what it is. He’s letting them into our life. And they are sharing their lives as well. It’s a give and take thing that’s quite nice. It’s personal. Very personal. And social. He loves to socialize. He’s a real social bug who loves to meet people. It works.
Will there ever be a Talking Heads reunion?
TW: You’ll have to ask David Byrne about that. We never ended Talking Heads ourselves. That’s entirely in his court. We never had a fight. I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a reunion. On the other hand, I’m not going to hold my breath because life goes on. Life is too short to sit around moaning about what could have been or what was. We are in touch with the band and we all would love to do it, but we can’t do it without David.