TOM TOM CLUB INTERVIEW
In 1974 Chris Frantz , Tina Weymouth & David Byrne formed the Talking Heads. Three years later Rolling Stone magazine considered them the most promising band of 1977. Four years and four critically acclaimed albums later Tina and Chris formed the Tom Tom Club. The self titled first lp gave us the Hip Hop / Funk hits "Wordy Rapping hood" & "Genius Of Love". Subsequent lps brought an eclectic mixture of rock & funk. If you've nodded to "Fantasy" by Mariah Carey , "Return Of The Mack" by Mark Morrison or "It's Nasty" by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 then you've nodded to the music of the Tom Tom Club !!!
JayQuan : How did you guys start out with the Talking Heads ?
Tom Tom : Well I started a group with David Byrne (lead singer of the Talking Heads) when we were in college back in the mid 70s. We moved to New York after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design – an art school. Then Tina , myself & David all shared a loft , and had day jobs on 57th st Uptown. We pretty much did everything together in those days and we were very hardworking and focused. We were lucky that there was a club in New York called CBGBs where bands could play original music , which at the time was very unusual. One of the first Reggae bands to play New York played there. The owner Hilly Crystal was just very open and supportive of the artists , and he didn’t want any cover bands , he demanded originality. That was really a good thing. The whole downtown scene was a real melting pot of talents , from not just Manhattan , but all 5 boroughs and points beyond. We were part of the Vanguard of New Wave and then later on early Hip Hop.
JQ: When you formed Tom Tom Club was it a break up , or just a side project ?
TT : There was a time when David Byrne decided that he wanted to do a solo album , and he was telling people that he was going solo and we didn’t know what was gonna happen. The keyboard player Jerry Harrison was gonna do a solo album , so we wondered what we were gonna do. Our manager decided to put some feelers out , and the guy who came with a very nice offer and lots of support was Chris Blackwell , the founder of Island Records . He missed out on signing the Talking Heads , because he was dedicated strictly to breaking Reggae in the U.S. , and that’s all he had time for. We had done a number of recordings with the Talking Heads at his studio – Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas , and we liked working there – it was a good vibe and a nice switch from New York City. He said come do a single , and if I like it you can do a whole album ; so we went to Nassau and recorded “Wordy Rapping hood”. We were supposed to hook up with the great Reggae producer Lee Perry , and he agreed to produce the record. What we didn’t know was that he had some ill feelings toward Chris Blackwell , so when it came time to record he just didn’t show up. We decided to work with this young Jamaican engineer who was about 19 years old named Steven Stanley , who has gone on to do a lot of great work. Chris Blackwell heard “Wordy Rapping hood” and loved it , and released it as a single in Europe , it was never released as a single in the states. He suggested a whole album , and the next single was “Genius Of Love” which was never released in Europe , but was released in the states.
JQ: Where did the name Tom Tom Club come from?
TT: I first heard the term in a movie called “Espresso Bongo” a British teen exploitation film about beatniks. But in exchange for doing the record Chris Blackwell gave us a very nice apartment . In the Bahamas you don’t have street numbers, each place has a name , and we decided to call our place the Tom Tom Club. That’s where we wrote the first two albums. Even though Chris & I wrote everything , we liked the idea of making it seem like a group collaboration. I had a vision of creating a kind of collaborative artist community. For example it says Sly & Robbie , but what they did was hand claps on ‘Genius” with me & Chris. I think in a way we shafted ourselves because we had such an embittering experience as a rhythm section , even though we wrote all those songs together with Talking Heads we got cut out of the publishing on a lot of it. We were trying to make much more of a fair deal.
JQ: You seem to have a vast array of different musical styles , who were your influences outside of the people that you mentioned on “Genius”
TT: (Chris) – White Rock n Roll – like Beatles and the Stones, Mitch Rider & The Detroit Wheels, Velvet Underground , David Bowie. I was also steeped in Soul music like Booker T & the MGs , Wilson Pickett , The Racsals & James Brown – whom we did mention in “Genius”. (Tina) : My first records were Bob Dylan , and these old 78s like Lead Belly , also Opera & Classical. Then in the mid 60s it was folk music & the anti war movement – The Beat Poets , Pete Segar , Simon & Garfunkel . Also vocal music with the Beach Boy harmonies and Simon & Garfunkel – you can hear the influence in the Tom Tom Clubs singing.
JQ: Where did you first hear Hip Hop ?
TT: I used to hang out in recording studios and I met people at Profile & Tommy Boy records , also Djs & stuff. One thing lead to another and we got in touch with Grandmaster Flash who covered “Genius”.
JQ: You mentioned Profile records – so you are familiar with Jeckyll & Hyde who also covered “Genius” ?
TT: Oh Yeah!! Those were very cross cultural times when people embraced different outside influences. A lot of Rappers were going to France at the time because the French are so open. People like Fab 5 Freddy and Afrika Bambaataa would go to Paris , and that’s where we met them. We also had been listening to Reggae and African music , so Hip Hop just dove tailed right into that. Same thing happened with Chris Stein & Debbie Harry who did “Rapture” around the time that we did “Wordy Rapping hood” , but they had a record deal with money ; and we had none. They had a video , but no one really knew our contribution because we didn’t have a video. That song “Rapture” opened doors. Its always bad when something loses its underground status ; but it also keeps the artists from starving.
JQ: I agree Hip Hop really lost its innocence once it went mainstream. I grew up on Hip Hop since I was 9 years old , and I could always listen around my parents and it was fun music. Now I cant let my kids listen to most Hip Hop.
TT: Yeah we were just talking about what happened at the Vibe Awards…..
JQ: Embarrassing – but when you create a climate of “if you look at me wrong I will do this” , “I will kill anybody”.. blah blah blah , then when you come together the hostility is already there. And why bring a knife to an awards show ?
TT: I feel that it's partly due to certain publicists. We worked with a certain publicist who worked with an unnamed group that was very influential ;and the management , in order to get notoriety would hire thugs to run through Madison Square Gardens and grab gold chains and cause trouble and it would be free publicity. They did it all across the country – they were hired instigators. Its weird that you would hire people to start trouble at your own event – you would think that it would be bad for business. But it wasn’t the artists hiring these people , the artists were doing their music and concentrating on the art , it was management…it gets press.
JQ: Did you get any flack from your Rock peers for embracing Hip Hop?
TT: They didn’t really get it – obviously Debbie Harry did , one of the Ramones and David Johansson of the New York Dells got it. Our opinion was that the most interesting innovations were coming from dance music , and Hip Hop was dance music. A lot of Rock n Roll people just didn’t listen to stuff like that.
JQ: This is the best part of talking to people that I grew up listening to…I get to ask questions that I always wondered about. Like what did you mean when you opened “Genius Of Love” with “What ya gonna do when you get outta jail”. There was always a rumor that your group was locked up when you recorded your lp.
TT: (Tina): That was just me feeling it. Its like it was from God – I was meant to say that. It was like a metaphor – being in a rock group is like being in prison.
JQ : I mean no disrespect by constantly referring to “Genius Of Love”..I know you have several other songs and lps , but since my site is Hip Hop , im just trying to keep it kinda relevant. What does the song actually mean. I have read the lyrics and it is very non linear…what is it about drugs? Music? A relationship?
TT: (Tina) Well we wrote 3 songs and we didn’t know if we had a deal or not , so I thought this might be it. I was putting everything into “Wordy Rapping hood” and “Genius Of Love” it was a lot of built up ideas that I was compacting into one. Its true that it’s a Love song. It’s a letter to my boyfriend , my laughing boyfriend. Who is the happiest man in the world , but he is really unhappy and didn’t even know it. He was self medicating with cocaine , and I thought I was gonna lose him. So that was sort of a cry from the heart (im probably destroying the mystery of the song). At the same time it was to say hey remember this – this is what we are about. This is everything that we love & we fell in Love to , this is our passion – this music. So that’s what all the name checking is (Hamilton Bohannon , James Brown , Kurtis Blow , Smokey Robinson , George Clinton & Bootsy Collins , Bob Marley , Sly & Robbie) to feel that feeling and say remember that.
JQ: That was a perfect song. Every car radio and boom box was blasting that song that summer. I remember taping it off the radio , and getting mad because the announcer talked before the song ended !!! When Furious 5 used the beat it made it even more official.
TT: That was a wonderful time for us. You could walk throughout New York , and basketball courts or wherever….all thru the Village would just be blasting it.
JQ : When you heard “Its Nasty” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 did you embrace it?
TT: Oh yes !! It was so good to be part of a community ,it was wonderful. We would hear it all the time on WBLS in New York. It was a great feeling. Flash came to the studio when we were working on a Talking Heads album and he hung out for a day. It was fun.
JQ : As a result of the success of “Wordy Rapping hood” and “Genius Of Love” did you perform with anyone that you would never have expected to ..like Rap groups or Funk/R&B/Soul ?
TT: Unfortunately not. As soon as a friend of ours Chaz Jankel (who is a White English composer who wrote “Ai No Corrida” which Quincy Jones won a Grammy for the arrangement) went on the radio and told Frankie Crocker that we were White – (the singers anyway) Frankie stopped playing the record. Our sales went way down after that.
JQ: Do you guys own the publishing to “Genius Of Love” , “Pleasure Of Love” and “Wordy Rapping hood” ?
TT : Yes !
JQ : So if someone wants to sample those , and they go about it like they are supposed to they have to get your authorization ?
TT: Yes , and they just have to send us a copy of the song , so that we can see how its being used. We only had to turn down one group , who was not really doing anything creative with the song. The lyrics were very violent and just not creative.
JQ : Have you ever heard “Turning You On” by the Treacherous 3 ? They use “Pleasure Of Love” on it…very well I might add.
TT: No we haven’t heard it. Common used “Wordy Rapping hood” for a song called the “New Wave” it was really cool.
JQ: So you did some other stuff with Talking Heads after you formed Tom Tom.
TT: Yeah it actually brought the Talking Heads back. We did the album “Remain In Light” right before Tom Tom and it had “Once In A Lifetime” which a lot of Rappers have sampled. We did “Speaking In Tongues” after we started Tom Tom and that album had “Burning Down The House” on it.
JQ: I grew up on “Burning Down The House”. MTV played the video constantly. How was it performing on Soul Train.
TT : It was wild. Don Cornelius was really late. We were all sitting there waiting – me ,Tina , Bernie Worell from Funkadelic & Alex Weir from the Brothers Johnson .It was quite an experience. Don kept calling me Chris Paris , instead of Frantz. We had to keep re recording the interview part.
JQ: Do you have a Cd out currently , and are you touring?
TT: We did a live double cd 2 years ago called “Live At The Clubhouse” that is really good. You can buy or order it at your local record store or Amazon.com.
JQ: What artists do you listen to today?
TT: We both listen to Bjork – she is one of the most jazzy & out there artists today. We like some of the new Electro stuff out now. A group called Chicks On Speed is pretty good. They did a cover of “Wordy Rapping hood”. We used to go to the Dj battles until we found out how rigged they were. We saw amazing performers like Dj Qwest who was working with Q Bert.
JQ: Thanks for your time ……
© 2004 J.A.H. Music / JayQuan Dot Com
As told to JayQuan on 11/19/04. No part can be copied without authors consent.
Here is a partial list of songs sampling Tom Tom Club songs and the artists who sampled them:
Genius of Love:
2PAC & the Outlawz's "High Speed"
Almighty RSO's "Badd Boyz"
Ant Banks's "Roll Em Phat"
Ant Capone's "Murder Loc"
AtLaw's "Dose of the Mega Flex"
B Legit's "So International"
Black Eyed Peas' "Who Needs"
Boogie Monster's "Bronx Bombas"
Boogie Monster's "I Like It"
Busta Rhymes's remix for Erykah Badu's "One"
Cam'ron ft Kenny Greene's "Me, My Moms & Jimmy"
Da Blac Hole Of Watts' "Putting Watts On The Map"
Dr. Jeckyll's "Genius Rap"
Dream Warriors' "And Now the Legacy Begins"
Funkdoobiest's "Natural Fun" (aka "I'm Gonna Have Some Fun")
Funky Town Pros' "Genius Is Back"
GrandMaster Flash & the Furious Five's "It's Nasty/Genius of Love"
GrandMaster Flash & the Furious Five's "We Will Rock You"
Hardeman's "All Around The World"
Mack 10, featuring Ol' Dirty Bastard & Buck Shot Shorty, "For the Money"
Mariah Carey's "Fantasy"
Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack"
Mase w/DJ Clue's "That's The Way"
Mellow Man Ace's "Linda"
Menajahtwa's "I Ain't Nasti"
Mike Gold's "Don't Stop"
Mz. Kilo's "Skills For Real"
NAS's remix for Jaheim's "Just In Case"
Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Fantasy" remix
Poppa Charm & Mr. Ku's "What Cha Gonna Do?"
Redman's "Brick City Mashin' "
RHKingpen's "A Shade of Red"
Rich Little's "President's Rap"
Second II None's "N----z Trippin' "
Smooth's Mr. Lee remixes "Mind Blowin' "
South Central Cartel's "How The West Coast Rocks"
Steve Hardeman's "All Around the World"
Speech's "Jungle Man"
Tha 9 & Co.'s "Life Is Crazy"
Threat's "Give it Up"
Tomboy's "Can I Shake It"
Too Short, E-40, Richie Rich & James A's "Let's Get The Money"
W.C. & The Maad Circle's "Curb Serving"
Wild Pony's "Poppin' In The Club"
XClan's "In the Ways Of Scale"
X-ecutioners "Genius of Love 2001"
Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers' Hank Shocklee Remix "Tomorrow People"
Coolio's "One Mo"
Chicks On Speed's "Wordy Rappinghood"
Pleasure of Love:
LL Cool J's "Hot, Hot, Hot"
Sean "Puffy" Combs's "Puff Daddy's Groove"
Treacherous 3 "Turning You On"