Happy Holidays from Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth
Chris Frantz has seen countless styles and trends come and go over the years. As the Talking Heads’ drummer, he helped popularize punk and usher in the New Wave era and, with Tom Tom Club, he was one of the first rock musicians to embrace hip-hop and club music. Of course, he’s also experimented with funk, afro-beat, avant-garde, minimalist experimentalism and even jam when he led the house band at the 2002 Jammy Awards. But, Frantz’s latest project with his wife and longtime collaborator Tina Weymouth finds the drummer exploring an even more unexpected style, Christmas music. Recently, Franz and Weymouth revived Tom Tom Club to release the holiday recording Mistletunes as both a CD single and 7" vinyl. The recording finds Tom Tom Club tackling the traditional “Il Est Ndquo; and their own “Christmas in the Club” with the help of a few close friends and collaborators. Below, Frantz discusses his love of Christmas recordings, club music’s unexpected comeback and his desire to turn Tom Tom Club into a “small mobile intelligent unit.”
MG- After stepping out of the limelight for a few years, why come back with a holiday recording at this point in your career?
CF- Well, we actually recorded this single a couple of years ago. At the time we thought, well I always like Christmas songs and Christmas albums especially. I actually have a pretty extensive collection. I just bought one yesterday, this Putumayo New Orleans Christmas. It has a lot of not terribly famous musicians on it, but some like Ellis Marsalis and the New Birth Brass Band. So I like to get them and Tina and I thought, “Well, let’s just record one of our own” and so we did. Our friends over in Holland, who run the Talking Heads website, talking-heads.net, have a little record store called La La Land records which is located in The Hague. It is a very cool little record store and they sell mostly vinyl there. We were in Europe this summer and we saw them and they said, “Why don’t we do a 7’ inch vinyl of one of those Christmas songs you made.” So we said, “Why not, that sounds like fun” so we did
So we recorded the songs with no particular idea of what do with them and our friends kind of cogently put things into place for us. Vinyl is selling these days or at least that is what out friends in Holland tell us [laughter]. There are a whole lot of collectors out there who just like to have it and I guess play it and listen to it too. So this is really a collectors’ item. There is no way we will make any money on itit is just a labor of love and something fun to do.
MG- In your mind, what constitutes a great Christmas recording ?
CF- Personally, I like stuff that sounds kind of spiritual or just good and fun. There is this reggae Christmas album which is just one of my favorites. It was recorded and produced by Joe Higgs and his people and they change all the words around, like “I saw mommy kiss a deadlock under the collie.” Stuff like that I love and I am particularly found of the Caribbean Christmas stuff. But I am also found of the stuff Phil Spector didOh god what an asshole he is [laughter] but what a great Christmas album he made despite it all. And let’s face it, Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby are pretty cool too. So many people have done it and we thought we should do it to as part of the great tradition
MG- I once read an article on the Beatles’ Christmas recordings which noted that listening to their annual holiday singles was like tracing the history of the band. The early recordings are fun, offbeat and kind of silly and by the end the group was releasing four separate recordings each Christmas—-one by each member!
CF- I actually don’t have that one, it was something they sent around to radio stations. It is interesting how by the end they were these very sad melancholy recordings [laughter].
MG- In addition to you and Tina, these recordings feature some guest musicians. Can you talk about how you choose each player for this project?
CF- We have one guest vocalist on the record, Mystic Bowie, who is a Jamaican guy who is an American citizen now. We have known him for many years.he lives up here in Connecticut and sings with Tom Tom Club, so it was natural for us to ask him to come in and record with us and do a little thing. Then we have Kid Ginseng, who is one of our prodigies, doing some scratching on “Christmas In the Club.” Oh and we have a young punk musician playing the cello. My younger son had a punk band called the Misjudged and this kid played guitar. His name is Josh Storms and in school he played the cello, so we had him come in play a little punk cello. And then we had our friend Boomer Harold, who is the piano curator at Yale University, come and play some organ. Oh it is an all-star cast!
MG- Do you have plans to reactivate Tom Tom Club in the near future?
CF- This single was recorded in one weekend. We have our own studio so we just record when we want to. We don’t have any touring plans at the moment, but we are in some talks to do a new Tom Tom Club record. We’ll see what happens. It had been almost 5 years since the last Tom Tom Club album, but we have been taking care of some family issues. You know, Tina and I are at that age where we are helping look after both our kids and our parents, so we have been doing sort of family things the past few years. But now things are sort of under control, so we are ready to something new and Christmas thing is just a tiny hint what is to come.
MG- Around the new millennium you seemed to embrace the jam scene. Tom Tom Club recorded a cover of Phish’s “Sand,” played Gathering of the Vibes, served as the house band at the Jammys and added Fuzz on guitar. Looking back, what do you take from that period in your career?
CF- Well I would say that, frankly, it was fun while it lasted [laughter]. I think a lot of the jambands to me, anyway, are sort of keepers of the flame and I respect that. I think it is a noble thing to do that, to preserve American music and traditions. But I think would like to look forward a bit more. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be funky!
MG- The 80s dance sound the Tom Tom Club helped pioneer has come back in fashion over the past 5 years. It’s funny how things go in cycles and how all these little inde-dance bands are popping up throughout the country.
CF- That’s right they are. We were touring with a big eight piece band that gets really expensive really quickly these days. It is hard to make ends meet, at least it was for us, so we areI think Robert Fripp referred to himself as a “small mobile intelligent unit” and that is what Tina and I need to do as well. We need to find out a way to do performances with a smaller, more mobile unit. Not that our unit before wasn’t intelligent, but it was not small and not mobile [laughter]. So we are looking to do things a bit more electronic, where we don’t require a lot of hardware. More software.
MG- Do you see the current revival of indie-dance music as a reaction to anything specifically?
CF- Well, gee. Like you said things go in cycles, but the super clubs and the discos are kind of over and there are all these great small clubs now where people like to go and dance. It is kind of like, I dare I say it, the early days of disco. Before Studio 54 when people would have rent parties to make their rent. People would have these loft parties and DJs would just play their music. There was no big deal about the art of mixing. Just one record, fade it into another record and you have a disco going on. So I think there is a return to that feeling. You know, I think times haves been tough and our current government is extremely depressing, especially to young people. So I think people are ready toowell, when the going gets tough, people like to dance! Hopefully with the election next year things will turn around, but also a lot of people can create a good dance track in their bedroom now and a lot of people are doing that.
MG- Besides Christmas recordings, what do you find yourself listening to these days?
CF- I am kind of favoring the female singersI really like that girl Feist and the other day I was listening to the new Siouxsie, from Siouxsie and the Banshees, record. I mean, what a diva! I was listening to the new Dusty Springfield. She is not new, but she is still amazing“Walking In Memphis.” I am a person who still buys CDs. I also dig those girls The Pierces from New York. They just played New York the Gramercy Theatre last night. They are these two hot girl sisters from Alabama who live in New York.
MG- Maybe they will play the clothing store that is replacing CBGBs.
CF- Yeah, they are putting a John Varvatos store there with a stage in it. I guess it’s better than a Starbucks [laughter].
Senior Editor Mike Greenhaus stores his typos at www.greenhauseffect.com. His podcast will celebrate its 150th episode at www.relix.com/radio later this month.