Day 6

Legendary drummer Chris Frantz on keeping the beat for Talking Heads, and his relationship with David Byrne

In his new memoir, Remain in Love, drummer Chris Frantz chronicles his time with the legendary bands Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, his four-decades long relationship with Tina Weymouth, and where he stands with Talking Heads former frontman, David Byrne.

Remain In Love offers a glimpse into the band's history and his marriage to bassist Tina Weymouth

Chris Frantz was a founding member of the Talking Heads with bassist Tina Weymouth, and lead singer and guitarist David Byrne. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

Original published Aug. 14, 2020.

In his new memoir, Remain in Love, drummer Chris Frantz chronicles his time with the legendary bands Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club — and his four-decades long relationship with Tina Weymouth.

Both bands were born in the underground music scene of the late '70s and early '80s, centred at CBGBs — the famed New York City music club.

Talking Heads broke up in 1991 following David Byrne's departure to launch a solo career.

Frantz spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about the two bands' history, his relationship with Weymouth, and where he stands with Talking Heads' former frontman Byrne.

Here is part of that conversation.

Let me ask you about why Talking Heads were so successful, so early, because I have a couple theories, but it seems like Talking Heads never had a bad gig. Why were you such a great live band? 

I must give credit to David [Byrne]. He is a remarkable showman and performer. I mean, he won't let anybody get in the way of his performance. 

He had a very commanding persona and people would watch him and think, "Is this guy nuts or is this guy going to go crazy or have a nervous breakdown right on stage?" Kind of like a train wreck. But it wasn't a train wreck. It was a great performance.

And you didn't sound like anybody else. You know, you weren't a punk band, [but] you were at the centre of that storm. Let me ask you about your first European tour. What did you learn from the Ramones when you opened for them on that tour? 

We learned that you have to play really fast and really hard if you wanna open for the Ramones. So the tempos of all our songs kind of creeped up on us as we worked with the Ramones ... But, you know, those were the punk days and people wanted it fast and hard. 

The Sex Pistols had just released an album. The Clash had just released their first album. The audiences were very responsive to all kinds of music.

It did help that we were from New York. Particularly in Europe, they were very thirsty for anything from New York — and if you were from New York and CBGBs, you could sell tickets.

Members of the group Talking Heads — from left to right: David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison and Chris Frantz — were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. (Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images)

Can you tell me about the first time you walked into CBGBs? Did you know how important that place would be to what would eventually happen to you and your life? 

I had a feeling because a friend of mine said — this is the first day I moved to New York — he said, "Chris, there's something going on at that club called CBGBs. I know you're interested in starting a band. I think you should check this place out." 

So I did check it out that very night. Nobody was playing that night, but they said to me, "Come back on the weekend. This band called the Ramones is going to be playing." 

I came back on the weekend. I witnessed the Ramones, who at that point, they would actually stop in the middle of their show and start arguing with each other. Like Dee Dee [Ramone] would say, "No, Johnny, I don't want to play I Don't Want To Go Down in the Basement. I want to play I Don't Want to Walk Around With You." 

So I saw that, and then the next time I went, I saw Patti Smith. Television. Debbie Harry in a version of a band that was prior to Blondie. And I just thought to myself, "Well, this is what we're looking for. This is going to work. It's going to be great." And sure enough, it was.

I said earlier that this is a joyful book, but the end of Talking Heads hurt you a lot. Were you surprised that David Byrne walked away from the band?

I never expected him to walk away from the band forever. The way I understand it is this: Talking Heads was doing very well. David wanted a solo career. Somebody at Warners [their record label], one of the A&R guys who I'm not going to name, said to David, "Nobody's ever going to take your solo career seriously as long as Talking Heads still exists."

Remain In Love chronicles Frantz time in Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, and his relationship with bassist Tina Weymouth. (St. Martin's Press)

But after you made Remain In Light, your record label offered the other two members of Talking Heads money to make a solo record; you and Tina, they offered nothing. 

So on your own, you went off and made Tom Tom Club — an international hit much bigger than anything Talking Heads had done to that point. What did David Byrne do when he found out how successful Tom Tom Club was?

He didn't really compliment us or congratulate us, if that's what you're asking. I think he felt like "holy mackerel." I think he wasn't expecting that type of success. 

Why he didn't expect it, I don't know, because he knew us very well and he worked with us, and we'd been in the band with him for quite some time at that point.

How surprised would you be if you picked up the phone and heard his voice on the other end?

I would be very pleasantly surprised. I don't think it's going to happen. But I did have a little email exchange with him this morning. We still communicate by email, but I don't have any social life with Dave.

Did he tell you that he'd read Remain In Love?

Let me tell you, I got an email just yesterday from [Talking Heads guitarist and keyboardist] Jerry Harrison congratulating me and telling me how much he enjoyed it and that it was honest and true and he really enjoyed it. So I was very happy to get that. 

But when I offered to send David the galleys of the book, David's reaction was, "No, no, I don't want to read the book because if I read the book, then when people ask me if I liked it or not, I can just say, 'Oh, I don't know, I didn't read it.'"


Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Pedro Sanchez.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now