Catching Up With Tom Tom Club's Chris Frantz
"The music that was so exciting and edgy in the late ‘60s and ‘70s is still exciting and edgy today."
In case you didn’t know, David Byrne isn’t the only Talking Heads alum releasing a new album today. In fact, the band’s former rhythm section—the fantastic one-two punch of the husband-and-wife combo that includes drummer Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth—are set to release another collection of songs as the Tom Tom Club. Their new EP, titled Downtown Rockers, is Tom Tom Club’s first studio release since 2000’s The Good, The Bad, and The Funky.
With references to Television, The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith (and of course, Talking Heads), Downtown Rockers’ title track is a celebration of the very scene that Frantz and Weymouth were key figures in during the late ‘70s. We caught up with Frantz the day after Tom Tom Club’s release party for Downtown Rockers to discuss the EP, reading about the New York post-punk movement and whether The Eagles ever had any artistic merit.
Paste: How was your album release show?
Frantz: We saw a lot of old friends, it was great. People seem to dig the new EP, that’s always good. There were some members of the Dead Boys, Vivien Goldman was there, Patti Smith’s old manager, she did the publicity for Woodstock.
Paste: It’s been almost 12 years since the last studio release from the Tom Tom Club. Why did you want to start making music under that name again?
Frantz: For the fun of it (laughs). We certainly don’t do it for the money. We’ve really been working quite a bit in the past few years, even though it’s been a long time since we’ve had a release of new material. We had a live album last year and we’ve done a lot of touring. Although we haven’t had much new product until now, we’ve been keeping busy. We’ve been doing remixes for people, we’ve been leading our lives. Things like sailing, traveling. We just got back from two months in France. We’re not just stay at home people. We love to travel and with Tom Tom Club we got to go to Japan a few summers ago for some festival.
Paste: “Downtown Rockers” reflects on a period that you were a part of in Talking Heads. Why did you want to celebrate and reflect on that through this EP?
Frantz: Many people have written books about that period now. Patti Smith, James Wolcott, Will Hermes and they’re all very good books. Hermes and Wolcott were very accurate in what they had to say. But to my knowledge, no one had written a song about that period. It’s a period that’s important to us, the history of music, rock and roll, whatever you want to call it. So we did it. We have a video to accompany it. We just got the first cut, and it should be out soon.
Paste: What can we expect from the video?
Frantz: The idea behind the video is that the music from The Velvet Underground up through The Talking Heads, all of those bands, The Dead Boys, John Cale, Richard Hell, Blondie, Television. All of them are as important now as they were back then. In the video, you see younger people in their early 20s wandering around wearing band t-shirts that say “Television” or “Velvet Underground” or “Blondie.” It also features footage from the classic film Blank Generation that was shot at CBGBs. We got permission from [Blank Generation director] Ivan Kral to use it. You have three ingredients, Blank Generation, Tom Tom Club and New York City kids. I guess the idea is that the music that is so exciting and edgy in the late ‘60s and ‘70s is still exciting and edgy today. Especially when you compare it to Elton John and The Eagles, the stuff we were reacting against back then. It’s still here. (laughs)
Paste: Looking back, can you now find value in the music you were reacting against?
Frantz: Well, Elton John is an amazing character and The Eagles have great voices and some great songs, but we always went for a bit blacker or edgier music. For us, it was Iggy Pop and James Brown—not Don Henley. Not that they’re not amazing or successful, but that’s not our bag.
Paste: How did songs on Downtown Rockers come together?
Frantz: We started working on them last November. It was right after we did a tour of the U.S. with the Psychedelic Furs. We had been jamming at our soundchecks, and some of those things sounded pretty good with me. After the tour, we went to our own studio here. It’s quite a good studio now. We spent two days recording various jams, the touring band did. Then we recorded those into ProTools, then we edited stuff together and crafted them into songs.
It was basically the same way we did with a lot of Talking Heads records, starting with Remain In Light. And Tina took those tracks and wrote vocals to them, sometimes with my help, sometimes on her own. Then she and our other singer Victoria, they worked on the vocals together. Then we mixed it. It was a process that went on over a few months. We didn’t just bang it out in a couple of days. The title track was mixed by Ed Stasium. He recorded and mixed the first Talking Heads album. He’s quite a famous engineer. He came out to our show at the Belly Up in Aspen, and he said “if you ever have anything you need mixing, send it to me.” And he did a great job. The other tracks were recorded and mixed by a young guy named Tyler Bird. He’s still in his 20s, but he’s very good. He’s got great ears.
Paste: I’d imagine all of that cutting and pasting for songs that you started with Remain in Light is a little bit easier nowadays.
Frantz: You don’t have to punch all those buttons by hand [laughs]. But it’s the same idea, it’s just easier today. If you begin with a jam as opposed to a song someone sat down and composed on a guitar, you find that you have these excellent sections and find some parts that aren’t as excellent. So you have to get all the excellent sections together.