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Published: 2001/06/21
by Dean Budnick

Grooving with the Tom Tom Club (Part Two: The Tina Weymouth Interview)

Tina Weymouth and her husband/fellow Talking Heads founder Chris Frantz formed Tom Tom Club in 1981. Their debut self-titled album yielded radio hits Genius of Love and Wordy Rappinghood and is heralded as one of records essential to the development of hip-hop. When the Talking Heads ceased performing and recording, Tom Tom Club became the pairs primary focus. Weymouth and Frantz recently released The Good The Bad and The Funky, their fifth album as TTC. The pair will tour extensively over the coming weeks beginning with performances at the Jammys and the Gathering of the Vibes. Last month we interviewed Chris This month we pick up the conversation with Tina.
Updated tour information, lyrics and bands popular message board (where Chris and Tina regularly post and participate) can be found at www.tomtomclub.com.
Last month we left off with Chris Frantz encouraging me to speak with Tina about trying to get the rights to record Donna Summers Love to Love You Baby for the new disc.
DB- So you needed to get her permission to record a slightly-revised version of the song?
TW- When we recorded it, I wanted to add some lines in French. I had just read something that my great-grandfather [Breton poet laureate Anatole Le Braz] wrote to a young writer he was mentoring. The writer was really bitter because someone had appropriated one of his ideas and I thought I could relate to that. Appropriation is the sincerest form of flattery. It also leads to starvation.
I put the lines in and I put them in French because I said French is sexy. They basically say that only out of love can really good art be created ["La haine n’a jamais rien cr seul l’amour est fnd. Comprendre c’est aimer et rproquement.* (Translation from French: "Nothing was ever created from hate: only love is fecund. To understand is to love and vice versa.")] He said dont write something out of revenge, use your anger in a positive way. I liked this message and decided to share it. You have to be generous when youre creating an art that will have universal reverberations. Otherwise it just dies. You cant forever write angry songs. You can be angry but you have to use that emotion as a tool, you just cant express it outright otherwise you do remain that rat in a cage. The rage becomes your prison. You just have to let it pass.
So I put the line in but I had to call her publishing company every week to try to get permission. They kept telling me, No, no, no she never allows any lyric changes or revisions. So I sent her a letter with a bio of my great-grandfather and explained that I wanted to bring out another aspect of the song. I felt she would relate to it once she knew what it was that we changed. Ultimately she respected the fact that I respected her, that I was only adding something, that I wasnt changing any of her words and that it wouldnt affect her copyright. The publishers were amazed.
DB- Have you read much of your great-grandfathers work?
TW- I have. Its interesting because one of things he did was to collect many traditional stories. Most of the poetry in Breton wasnt written . They didnt believe that you could write down words and have their true meaning conveyed. They believed that we communicate not just through words but meaning beyond words and that you have to be in person to understand exactly what someone is saying.
DB- Do you agree with this relative to music and live performance?
TW- Absolutely. Live shows really expand on your understanding of what an artist is conveying. I certainly dont think television is the right medium because its filtration and artifice. Only in the live concert setting do you really get it. [Laughs] Of course, you know what Im saying, I dont even have to tell you.
DB- In this context Id like to hear your thoughts on Phish performing the Talking Heads album Remain In Light
TW- I was really impressed. They did something that we never do. They copied our record exactly, so much so that I thought it was our record for a second. They did a brilliant job and I thought these guys are phenomenal musicians. We were highly flattered as you can imagine. It sort of put us there with the Beatles, and the Who. And thought wow, are we that good? {laughs]
DB- And now youre returning the favor. Id like to hear your thoughts on selecting and recording Sand.
TW- What happened was I read the [Phish] Companion and they said that Sand had this ass-kicking groove and I thought we should look into it because it was right up our alley. I got kind of shy about doing the vocal because its not in my range so we put it in a different slightly different key. I thought it sounded weird for a girl singing this because Trey was kind of whispering it. But there are certain things girls can do that boys cant do. I always wanted to sound like Doctor John but you cant do everything, you cant be everything.
I liked the song, I liked that it was a groove and I liked where we took it. Cutting it was a lot more fun than I actually imagined. We really took it in the spirit that this is the ultimate way to respect people. When we asked Bruce Martin and Robbie Aceto to come in and work with us, we said we didnt want a lot of electronic things added on. We wanted it to be played for real and they did an amazing job. Then Mystic [Bowie] came in and brought his Jamaican take on things. As I listened to him I thought hes talking about guns here and hes not just blowing smoke through his hat, this is the real deal. I think that the Phishheads will really dig that its authentic and coming from a real place. I was real happy with it. At first I was shy and afraid of messing it up but we didnt. Its a good song.
I really didnt know a lot about Phish before. Im learning more and more having covered one of their songs. Its sort of sad for me that theyve stopped because now that I know about them theyre no longer there. Its kind of like the Shakers.
DB- That would make a great blurb for their new live CD series. Kind of Like the Shakers- Tina Weymouth. [laughs] Jumping to another topic, you did a tune [Holy Water] with longtime talking Heads associate Bernie Worrell on your new disc. How did that come about?
TW- We went to see the Woo Warriors play with Deep Banana Blackout. Bernie is doing a tremendous job with Woo Warriors and I knew that Deep Banana Blackout was profoundly influenced by things that Bernie had innovated. So I thought we should ask Bernie because he was around. We had one track and I had an idea for a clavinet part. Then he came in and also came up with the organ introduction. Im very pleased that he made that contribution. It was really a reflection of how the album was made. We started off by ourselves mostly but then we realized that we know all these wonderful people and thought if we had a label of our own who would we put on it and then we put those people on our record.
DB- Jumping to another topic, Id like to hear your thoughts on improvisation.
TW- Chris and I have a particular perspective because hes a drummer and Im a bass player. Usually when improvisation happens we keep playing the same thing, the groove, so that the guitarist, keyboard player and others can improvise over the top of that. Usually improvisation is engendered by respect for the people youre playing with. The challenge is not to step over one another. I can remember seeing one of Ornette Colemans bands at Lincoln Center and he wasnt happy with it because they werent listening to one another and thats disrespectful.
But as for Tom Tom Club, we definitely have distinct moments where we jam. Of course we rehearse quite a bit because were very conscious of being entertaining first of all and then we hope it goes a little beyond that. So we rehearse to make sure we have something thats complete and then within that we have spontaneity and freedom. Thats important to us and we have a really great band and they love that aspect. Especially if you have someone in the band who never wrote a particular part of a song, its nice to be able to give them a freedom and say use what you do and bring your own contribution. So in that sense were extremely improvisational.
We would never let Jaco Pastorius come on stage with us and always have the last note but on the other hand we played at Crested Butte and Michael Franti from Spearhead asked, Can I join you for Genius of Love? I said, Yes, and Ill give you a signal when its time to come on mike. Well just groove underneath whatever you choose to do. It came off great. He was marvelous. It was so exciting to have him toasting on top. It can be walking a razors edge at a moment but then pulling out of it beautifully and carrying it off it keeps it fresh.
On the other hand, Chris is not going into a drum solo and Im not going to go into a bass solo. I did it one time only when we were a trio and our singer had broken not one not two but three strings on his guitar and had to stop to restring in the middle of the song. It was during a song called The Book I Read so I improvised a solo and he almost never forgave me for it. Dont ask me, I thought I was doing the right thing. I was new to being in a band, I had only been playing the bass for eight or nine months.
Also, all of our writing has always come out of improvisation. It has been very rare that someone has said Ive written a song and here it is.
DB- I asked Chris this but Id like to hear your perspective on having so many younger musicians today sample your work. Both Tom Tom Club and Talking Heads remain influential.
TW- A lot of these kids grew up with our music and theyre influenced by it. But whats interesting to me is watching my kids become influenced by the people who influenced us. My eldest boy makes electronic music, electro-funk and he scratches too. Hes going back to the eighties in terms of the music he loves- for instance Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force, Planet Rock produced by Arthur Baker. He loves Kraftwerk. That was a group that inspired Chris and I, gave us the idea when we did Tom Tom Club- were only two people basically, well make music thats avant-garde but still can be played on the radio. Thats what Kraftwerk did. They made music that people could relate to, it was not all just pretentious high art. Its interesting to me seeing my young guys really getting off on people that we respected and admired back then.
Whats interesting is that they dont listen to groups like the Stones. I think its because all their friend are so gorged on this stuff from their parents that they react against it. They say, Been there, done that. They tend to respond more to things that have remained underground or are just beginning to come out. Its a little like the jamband people who tend to dislike something if it becomes a commercial commodity because then everybody has it, its no longer their own private passion. They like to collect things that are a little unusual.
This is different from the way that people used to buy records. When I was a kid people would buy something because everybody had it. My first party I had when I was 16 years old I bought three Beatles albums and three Beach Boys albums because I didnt have those. I had Yma Sumac and Robert Johnson, Library of Congress recordings- the very same things that Moby is now sampling. People wanted to have that same album to feel that they were part of the one tribe, that they could all understand one another, Now I think because of the selling of the counterculture back to young people that this isnt the case. Its seen as too banal, too everyday so they react against it. Its anathema to them- Oh no, my favorite artist is on the radio. Its horrible. I tell my boys that its good for their favorite artists who probably broke through against the odds without the big money behind them. This might be the only time that they get on the radio and it doesnt mean that theyre going to be commercialized. Instead, this is going to allow them to continue to make their music.
It like Dolly Parton says, she had to get rich to go back and do the music that she loved. So now shes doing mountain music. There was a time when almost everybody was a musician , that was the popular form of entertainment. There was a piano in every house. At get-togethers after dinner, someone would have a poem to recite, someone would offer a charade or a skit and then people would perform for their friends. Thats how music was shared back then. It wasnt strictly rock and roll heroes and peons down below. Everybody shared in that passion. I think that part of whats happened with the internet is its revived that, revived people getting into music. It keeps them out of trouble [Laughs].

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