Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz have been happily married for 45 years
How they did it? “You have to hide a bit of mystery,” Tina, 72, tells me. “Chris has his secrets; I have mine. It is very important to avoid vulgarities, let’s not go into details. It’s crazy to reveal everything.”
Sitting next to Tina in their Connecticut home, Chris, the Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club star, nods. “A lot of musicians have problems because they’re on tour and they’ve left their wife or husband at home, and the other half have to wonder what’s going on.
“But with Tina and I, we always knew what was going on. It helped that we were working together. It could be a nightmare. But for me it was a good thing.”
Drummer Frantz, 71, formed Talking Heads in 1973 with fellow Rhode Island design student David Byrne. California-born Tina, another Rhode Island alumnus, joined on bass in 1975, the same year she and Chris married.
By then, they had moved to New York City, where they met keyboardist and Harvard graduate Jerry Harrison, the last to join.
Although none of them came from there, Talking Heads were seen as the prototype of the New York New Wave band. Artistic, literate, cool. The rock bible, Rolling Stone, labeled them “the smartest group in the world.”
Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, David Byrne and Jerry Harrison
The star was the edgy singer/guitarist Byrne, who seemed to be channeling Anthony Perkins in Psycho. Especially when singing his most famous song, the 1977 classic Psycho Killer, co-written by Byrne, Frantz and Weymouth, whose bass line is one of the most memorable in rock.
Tina, a strong woman, refused to play with her sexuality for attention. Were you aware of her model status at the time?
“Well, Tina is very modest, but she knew that, yes,” Chris smiles.
“I think now Chris tells me that, that’s why he wanted me in the band. Even though he was talented,” she deadpans.
Did Chris have to scare away the groupies?
“I didn’t have to, because Tina would do that.”
Rolling Stone called Talking Heads “the smartest band in the world”
The worst sexism she encountered was from Phil Spector, who told her, “Shut up and play bass, never talk.” Consequently, they did not work together.
But they worked with Brian Eno, the reference producer of the intellectual musical jet set: Bowie, Cage, Devo et al.
Relatively few Talking Heads songs were major commercial successes, but a series of gold and platinum albums in the 1980s cemented their reputation. Behind the scenes, however, there were constant fights: over songwriting credits, over media attention, over power.
At the height of his fame, Byrne walked offstage three times in the middle of a show, angered by “musical imperfections”. When he left in 1988, he did so without telling others.
Chris is conciliatory. “I prefer to remember the more loving aspects of working together. We had great achievements.”
Tub less. When I bring up Byrne’s suggestion that he hasn’t been diagnosed with Asperger’s, which might explain his discomfort in social situations, his rejection of eye contact, his robotic obsession, she replies, “He said that, but then he said that not. Not making eye contact may be due to a lie. Some people just chronically don’t tell the truth, so they never look at you.”
David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison
The perception was, David, the thin, pale aesthete with the strangled voice, versus Tina, the blonde feminist with the throbbing, earthy bass.
“Well, in many ways, yes,” she says, but insists that she was right to question him. “We learned things decades after the fact.”
When their fourth album, Remain In Light, was released in 1980, a groundbreaking fusion of art rock, African polyrhythms and European electronica, it was accompanied by an ultra-pompous press pamphlet written by Byrne and Eno citing ethnomusicologist John Miller Chernoff as the boss. . inspiration behind the music.
“I didn’t read those books,” an enraged Weymouth snorts.
Although she and Chris provided the visually stunning cover images, they were left out of the album’s promotion, most notably in the famous video for the single, Once In A Lifetime, where a nervous Byrne bounces around submerged in an ocean of FX.
“It was all about control,” says Tina. “David took credit for everything that happened on Talking Heads. And we allowed that to happen.”
Chris and Tina formed their musical side project Tom Tom Club in 1981.
Although they released four more studio albums, the image of the band, unbearably self-absorbed, persisted. It was what Chris and Tina were desperately running from when they formed their musical side project, Tom Tom Club in 1981.
It was either that or leave, Tina says. “I thought we were doing something wonderful. So hopeful and optimistic she was, she thought that everything we were doing was like a spiritual healing. Stupid of me.”
Determined not to sound like Talking Heads, they brought in an eclectic mix of musicians: Bowie guitarist Adrian Belew, Grace Jones percussionist Sticky Thompson, and Bob Marley keyboardist Tyrone Downie, with Tina’s brothers Lani, Laura and Loric, on vocals.
Tom Tom Club was an instant success. Blessed with a catchy lullaby, their debut single Wordy Rappinghood hit the Top 10 here, something no previous Talking Heads single had done, and topped the US Disco chart.
“We were interested in making a record that would appeal to our friends at the Mudd Club and Danceteria,” Chris explains, referring to the more well-known ‘alternative’ clubs in New York at the time. “Places where party people congregated. Fortunately, it also attracted people outside of that.”
Everyone seems to except David Byrne.
“We felt really good about it, but it felt awkward,” Tina recalls. “Our manager announced that we had obtained the gold [for over 500,000 sales of the album in the US] as we drove downtown in a cab with David Byrne sitting next to me.
“Chris was like, ‘Oh, that’s great,’ but David just sat there quietly. So I felt compelled to say, ‘Oh, that’s great. But wouldn’t it have been great if Talking Heads had also gone gold? Because David wouldn’t say congratulations. he couldn’t he couldn’t say anything good about it.
“He said, ‘Oh, it only went gold because it was commercial.’ But it was a great thing, because it brought attention to Talking Heads.”
They later found out that Byrne was trying to talk his manager into leaving them. “He told him: ‘Just send me and not the others…’”.
In the early 1990s, with Byrne established as an esoteric solo artist, Chris and Tina continued to make “records with a smile” as the Tom Tom Club, while also delving into producing for other artists, notably Happy Mondays, and as guests on High profile. Talking Heads-influenced acts like Gorillaz and feminist art ensemble Chicks On Speed.
They’ve had “huge offers” to reform Talking Heads, says Chris, but “unfortunately one band member just says, no; he is not interested.
In 2020, Frantz published his acclaimed memoir, Remain In Love. Among the many offbeat encounters with everyone from Mick Jagger to Sid Vicious are some bittersweet memories of early Talking Heads: spying on Tina for the first time, riding an old yellow bike “like in a Truffaut movie.”
Byrne then “had a full Rasputin beard, cut his hair very short himself, wore second-hand clothes, and rarely spoke to anyone.”
Not being able to promote it at the time due to lockdowns, Frantz and Weymouth hit the UK in May for three ‘audience with’ style shows.
Chris: “We’ll talk to a moderator. There will be some images, snapshots, etc. We’re not going to play music, we’re just going to talk and we’re going to enjoy being back in the UK.”
“Our marriage was 47 years ago,” says Tina. “But we have been friends for 51 years. So there’s a lot to talk about.”
- Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz’s Remain In Love tour, 3 intimate ‘in conversation’ shows hit Britain in May. More details and tickets at ticketsource.co.uk/in-my-own-
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