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Published: 2010/09/30
by Sam Davis

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

You mentioned that you’re touring with the same lineup that’s featured on Genius of Live…

With one exception. Actually with a couple of exceptions. The guitarist we’ve been working with now is Fuzz.

From Deep Banana Blackout.

Yeah, and also Caravan of Thieves, his current band. And actually, Caravan of Thieves has been opening for us on some of these shows. And instead of Steve Scales on percussion we have Kid Ginseng scratching now on the turntable. But, the core of the band is the same.

Let’s talk a bit about your connection to the jamband world. You’ve obviously aware of Phish covering Remain in Light in 1996. The Tom Tom Club returned the favor with a cover of Phish’s “Sand” (first released on the Sharin’ in The Groove compilation album and now available with the itunes download of Genius of Live). With the addition of Fuzz, who hails from the jam scene, you seem to have furthered the connection. Can you talk about this connection and your thoughts on Phish and some of the other bands in the jam scene?

Well, I’m happy to be associated with them in any way at all. They’re great players and it’s a great scene. I mean, anyone who can sell the amount of tickets that Phish sells must be doing something right. And, I appreciate the fact that they like what we did and I’m happy to return the favor.

Actually, Phish’s bassist Mike Gordon has mentioned that one of the first songs they performed as a band when they first got together in a college dorm room in the mid-eighties, was “Pulled Up” (off Talking Heads’ 77). So the roots may run even deeper than you may think.

[Laughs]. Well, that’s very nice of them to mention it.

What did you think about covering “Sand” and how did you decide on that song?

We were called up by a guy who runs the Mockingbird Foundation for music education. They did this album called Sharin’ in the Groove. They approached us and we were happy to be part of that.

You mentioned that Fuzz is opening with his own outfit Caravan of Thieves. Can you talk about how you first discovered Fuzz?

Well, we saw Fuzz playing with Deep Banana Blackout back in…what was it? Well, it was the early days of Deep Banana Blackout. And, then we became friends with them and we just started hanging out. They would invite us to parties at their house, and vice versa, and we just became socially friendly.

And then, our guitarist Robby Aceto, who’s on the recording of Genius of Live, his wife had a baby and he didn’t want to be on the road so much anymore. So we called up Fuzz and said “Fuzz, would you be able to join the Tom Tom Club for a few shows?” And a few shows led to more shows, and now we’ve been working together for, I think, nine years or something like that. And he does his own too with Caravan of Thieves, so he’s a busy guy.

What’s it been like watching Caravan of Thieves evolve?

I think they’re really cool and they’re very different from everyone else who’s out there – they’re unique – and they’ve got a great sense of humor. They do a killer version of “Psycho Killer”. [Laughs]. I’m just happy to work with them. And, you know, I’m happy that Deep Banana Blackout still gets together every once in a while to do a show because, to me, they’re about the best funk band out there right now.

On Genius of Live there are two extended improvisations on the songs “Genius of Love” and “Wordy Rappinghood”. Is improvisation an important part of your live performances, or did these just spontaneously occur on stage?

Some of it is worked out and rehearsed, but there’s always room for what we call “happy accidents” that sort of, to use a cliché, take it to another level. Sometimes you’re playing something that you’ve rehearsed over and over again, and one night something different happens just by accident and you say “Oh, that’s even better than it was before.” [Laughs].

I would say that you’re one of the originators of the style of disco drumming that doesn’t rely heavily on the use of drum machines. Over the years, there have been lots of technological advancements in the area of drumming. Have you incorporated technology into your drum set-up at all?

Well, when I play live, I just play the best I can. I’m not an overly technical type of drummer, and I know there are a lot of those guys out there – guys that have super chops that are super technical. I’m more of a drummer who plays to serve the song. I don’t like to write parts that are hard for me to play, because when I get out there in front of an audience, I don’t want to do something that I think is hard for me to do. I want to just be groovin’. [Laughs]. So my parts are complicatedly simple.

What about in terms of electric drum pads and things of that sort?

I have used them in the past, yes, but I’m not using any right now. We have a keyboard player and percussionist, Bruce Martin, who plays a lot of percussion. We don’t really need anything more right now. However, I am interested in electronic music a lot lately. And, we’re just rebuilding our studio here in Connecticut, so I think we might be doing something of that nature in the future.

In the past you’ve hinted at a possible willingness to collaborate with David Byrne. Is there any possibility of that happening, and is it still something you’d be willing to do?

Tina and I are totally open to working with David. It’s he who has refused to work with the rest of us in Talking Heads. So we haven’t burned that bridge. If he changes his mind, and wakes up one day and says maybe that would be fun, we would be right there.

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