Talking Heads' Chris Frantz on 25 years of 'Stop Making Sense' and the possibility of a Heads reunion
“It’s a hell of a movie!” says Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz, who is laughing, but not joking, about the band’s legendary concert film Stop Making Sense. “It was one of those situations where everybody just exceeded our expectations to the point where we have a timeless kind of movie.” In fact, it is now exactly a quarter of a century since the original release of the Jonathan Demme-directed big screen venture. To mark the occasion, the film is debuting today on Blu-ray. Extras include a short film, in which singer David Byrne interviews himself about the movie while wearing a variety of disguises, and never-before-seen footage of the quartet at a press conference to promote the film’s 1999 re-release. (One of only a handful of occasions that the four members have been together in the same place since officially splitting in 1991.) Of course, the film itself also features Byrne wearing his fabulous, unforgettable, and, with all due respect, fairly hilarious “big suit.” “It was hilarious,” says Frantz. “I mean, KISS have some big suits. But they’re armor suits. This was some kind of Havana linen suit. Extra wide!”
After the break, Frantz reveals why he wasn’t allowed to drink onstage during filming and offers his thoughts on a possible Talking Heads reunion.
Entertainment Weekly: What strikes me about the movie now is how much fun you all seem to be having.
Chris Frantz: It was a very transcendent experience, every night, that tour. Actually, the first couple of nights might have been a little bit rougher than transcendent. But once we got everything working properly, the sound and lights and performances, it was a great pleasure every night. It’s a cliche but it was unforgettable.
Jonathan Demme was still a fairly obscure director when he made the film. This was before Silence of the Lambs, and even Something Wild. How did he get involved?
We knew who he was from the first movie, the Howard Hughes movie. What was that called?
Melvin and Howard.
Yeah, and we liked that a lot. But he actually approached us. We were thinking about making a recording of the performance and then Jonathan Demme came along and said, “I think you guys should make a film of this.” And it all happened after that.”
Actually, before Melvin and Howard, Demme made the women-in-prison film Caged Heat. Perhaps if you’d seen that you might have thought twice…
Yeah, wasn’t that a Roger Corman film?
It was indeed. Stop Making Sense is also a great reminder of how funky Talking Heads were in your later days.
At that point we’d been listening to James Brown records for about 30 years. And some Fela Kuti records and some Isaac Hayes records. And, with the help of Bernie (Parliament keyboardist Bernie Worrell) and Steve (percussionist Steve Scales) and Alex (Brothers Johnson guitarist Alex Weir) we managed to actually get funky!
Your stage set was extremely minimalist. Is it true you weren’t even allowed to have a cup of water onstage?
That is true, yeah.
I’m a drummer myself. And the idea of playing a set without any lubrication….
I know, I know, it’s horrifying. Fortunately we had a little break after about eight or ten songs, and we could go back stage and freshen up.
And this was the last Talking Heads tour.
I’m sorry to say it was.
Did you suspect at the time that might be the case?
We had a feeling. We didn’t know for sure until quite some time after that. But David was already making noises about not wanting play rock n’roll any more and things like that. We always thought, “Surely any sensible person would realize that Talking Heads was something, you know, extra and something greater than the some of its parts, and who would ever quit that?”
Well, I guess the answer is David Byrne.
Yes, I’m afraid so.
I interviewed David Byrne about five years ago and asked him if he was in contact with the rest of the band. He said, “Oh yes, I talk to to them all the time.” And then there was a long pause and he added, ‘Through our lawyers, of course!”
Yeah. His preferred method of communication, when I hear from him, is by email. And it’s usually rather short and to the point. “Succinct”, you might say. But that’s David.
I have to ask: Are you guys ever going to get back together?
Well, the rest of the band is open, completely open to the idea. But we’re not holding our breath, no.
You also have a link, although perhaps a less happy one, to another of my all-time favorite rock movies, 24 Hour Party People. (The utterly terrific 2002 Factory Records bio-pic depicts how the company was effectively bankrupted by the Happy Mondays album Yes Please!, which was co-produced by Frantz with his partner, Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth. Factory agreed to let the notoriously drug-blasted band record with Frantz and Weymouth in Barbados in the correct belief that the locale would help singer Shaun Ryder get off heroin. What no one seems to have realized is that the island was a hotspot for crack cocaine, to which the frontman became addicted, with predictably disastrous consequences. Legend has it that Ryder at one point started to sell the studio’s furniture to finance his addiction.) Did you ever see that?
Oh, many times. I own a copy! We’re not depicted in it, fortunately. Actually, there’s a lot of artistic license there. But it was a good portrayal of Shaun Ryder. That was just one of those things, you know. One of those crazy things.
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