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Published: 2010/09/30
by Sam Davis

"Complicatedly Simple": Tom Tom Club and Genius of Love

Did you ever anticipate that the Tom Tom Club would attain this type of longevity, managing to outlast the Heads?

No, we did not. At that time everything was going so well with Talking Heads. I mean, really, it was going great. We were having commercial success and artistic success, which often, as you know, do not go hand in hand. So, we considered ourselves to be very fortunate and who would break-up a band that had the best of both worlds? You know, who would ever want to quit that?

I can’t imagine.

But, you know, for one reason or another David decided he didn’t want to work with the rest of the band anymore. And so, Tom Tom Club has continued. Had we known his plans we would have, like, put the pedal to the metal with Tom Tom Club. But, we were very laid back about it and we always considered Talking Heads to be the mother ship, you know? So, we were completely devoted and loyal to Talking Heads at all times. But, unfortunately not everyone else was.

As you said Tom Tom Club formed after the completion of Remain in Light. Remain in Light was recorded in the Bahamas…

Yeah, in the same studio.

I’ve noticed that Remain in Light deeply explores the use of polyrhythm, percussion and rhythmic-oriented grooves, which is something that carried over to the Tom Tom Club. Tom Tom Club also formed in the Bahamas, and it seems as though the band continued to explore that percussive, polyrhythmic sound. Was that an influence that came from working with Brian Eno on Remain in Light, or was that an influence that came from the music of the islands?

Well, what it really came from was an interest in African music, and reggae and dub music that started in college in the early 70’s when we were at the Rhode Island School of Design. I would go up to Boston and buy African records in these African Stores that sold dashikis and stuff. [Laughs]. And, that’s where I discovered Fela Kuti and, you know, also Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey and people like that. And then, Manu Dibango had that hit with “Soul Makossa” in like 1972, maybe it was ’73. And then, of course, there was James Brown, who we loved and adored and still do.

So, we had that interest, it just took us a while of, sort of osmosis, sort of listening to that kind of music and finally being able to play it – or play something kind of like it, something influenced by it. It took a while to get those kind of chops. Brian Eno discovered African music also, at some point, and so really the turning point was the song “I Zimbra.” When we recorded “I Zimbra” on Fear of Music in 1979, that was like a road sign, you might say. We were like, “let’s go in this direction.” So we did it.

Can you talk about some of the specific reggae and dub artists that were part of the initial idea when you were coming up with the Tom Tom Club?

Well, of course there’s Lee Perry, but there’s also a guy named Dr. Alimantado who has an album called The Best Dressed Chicken In Town. [Laughs]. And there was a guy named Tapper Zukie. Those were the main ones. We were also listening to Big Youth and U-Roy and I-Roy and people like that.

It seems, with the Tom Tom Club, that there was an attempt to depart from the sound created by the Heads. Was that an intention you had when starting the band or did that come about merely as a coincidence?

No, it was on purpose. We didn’t want people to say “Oh, they’re just copying their other band.” You know, “They’re just trying to ride on Talking Heads’ coattails.” We wanted to do something that was kind of happy, and fun to play and fun to listen to – more overtly joyful.

Your newest release is called Genius of Live and it features a live performance as well as a collection of remixes. How did that come about?

This is a re-release of our last live album. The last album got a shitty release by a company called “Imusic” which doesn’t really exist anymore, I don’t think. The guy who signed us to the label, well, it was a licensing deal, and the guy who licensed the record quit the company pretty much two days after he licensed it from us. So we got lousy release, nobody knew it was out hardly at all, there was no promotion whatsoever and it was pretty much a non-existent thing.
So Tomas Cookman runs Nacional Records, and is a friend of ours because he had asked Tina and I to produce one of his bands Los Fabulosos Cadillac from Argentina. This was back in 1995, also recorded at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. We had a wonderful experience with Los Fabulousos Cadillac. The record was a major sensation in Latin America. The band was playing stadiums, and still continues to do so in Latin America.

But we remained friends with Thomas and he called me up and he said, “Listen, I’ve been playing that old live album of yours in my office and people keep popping their heads in to say “What’s that? I’d like to hear that!”” And so he said, “What would you think if we rereleased it?” and Tina and I thought that would be a great idea because it never had a proper release in the first place. And, we’re very happy with our band, it’s the same players we’re working with now, and they deserve a good treatment.

So, we agreed to do that with Tomas Cookman and Nacional and then he said “Well, some of our artists would love to do a remix of “Genius of Love”, what do you think?” And we said, “Great! That’d be fine.” And so, they put the word out that they wanted to have remixes done and it turns out that eleven people, eleven serious artists, wanted to do it. And they’re all different. Have you heard them?

I have. They sound great.

They’re all different. They’re all great. I’m very happy with all of them. I think some of them will be great in the club. In fact, some DJs we know are already spinning them. Some of them are going to be pressed on vinyl. And, we’re just very happy about it. So that’s why it looks like there are two records, but it’s a reissue of something that never had a proper release.

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