By Paul Myers © 2013
[NOTE: I originally wrote this interview with Chris Frantz for Wine Luxury Magazine in 2013, I have abridged it slightly for The Pulmyears Music Blog.]
“Home is where I want to be but I guess I’m already there.“
As founder members of both Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, drummer Chris Frantz and his bassist wife Tina Weymouth have shared as many air miles as they have recording sessions. And nowadays they find themselves equally at home in sleepy Connecticut, jamming with the Downtown Rockers in New York City or basking in the rural ambiance of the French countryside.
Charlton Christopher Frantz was born on a military base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky (“a short hop from Nashville”) but when his father, who eventually rose to the rank of Major General, was sent to Harvard Law School, the family relocated to Boston. Chris attended school in Virginia before eventually enrolling in the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and, inevitably, winding up in New York City. Already no stranger to moving within America, Talking Heads gave the young drummer his first exposure to the flavors of Europe.
“People really rolled out the red carpet for us… we had a ball.”
“We went over in the spring of 1977,” he recalls, “opening for The Ramones on a tour of the capitals of Europe, about 20 or so shows, in around 25 days. It was amazing. Tina had been to France many times and to England, Italy, and Switzerland, but for me it was a first. I felt very lucky to be going as young, new wave rock and roller, because people really rolled out the red carpet for us and we met a lot of cool people and just had a ball.”
Martina Michèle “Tina” Weymouth had roots in Brittany, and had therefore taken plenty of trips to Europe, to visit her uncle in Paris or her cousines living in the south of France. In 1978, seizing on a few days off from a European tour with Talking Heads, Weymouth brought Frantz to her Breton mother’s hometown. They’ve been coming back ever since.
“Britanny is just such a great spot. It’s on the sea, it’s beautiful and life is good there.”
“Tina and I go back there as often as we can,” says Frantz, “because it’s just such a great spot. It’s on the sea, it’s beautiful and life is good there.”
Part of that good life includes the indigenous foods and wines of the region, and Frantz is particularly fond of Muscadet, served cold with oysters, mussels or any kind of shellfish.
“We eat a lot of mussels when we’re there and oysters are plentiful there in season. There are also wonderful scallops there. We’ve been in Brittany at all times of the year but obviously the summer is the warmest time of the year. The last time we were there, we stayed for three months and I wish it had been six months. Once you get entrenched there it’s really hard to leave. But then again, it’s extremely remote where we go, so if you’re feeling like you’re missing out on all the excitement, you can get on a train and in two and a half hours, you’re in Paris!”
Just as New York had been to the young art students, the urban environment of Paris has become an inspirational place for them to draw energy from. Talking Heads recorded their final album, Naked, there and their longstanding and current band, Tom Tom Club, has also maintained solid ties with the city of light.
“We still have some very good friends in Paris that we always get together with,” says Frantz. “Usually, when we go from New York to France, we fly to Paris first, and spend a couple of days or more just hanging out and recovering from the jetlag. A lot of that is wining and dining, mostly with our friends like Wally Badarou, who is a keyboard player, and other friends from our rock and roll days. There are so many good restaurants in Paris, of course, but this last time, Tina and I were there on our 35th wedding anniversary, so we celebrated at La Coupole, which is a great restaurant, still. Then, the following night, we went to one called Macéo, which is named after [legendary James Brown sideman] Maceo Parker, which I can recommend.”
Chris & Tina met while in their sophomore year at RISD, around the same time that Frantz had met David Byrne through mutual friend and jammed together on the experimental music soundtrack for a student film. They decided to start a band, which they called The Artistics. By October of 1974, Byrne had moved to New York City, and Frantz and Weymouth had followed suit. Frantz rented a rehearsal loft, at 195 Chrystie St, in dodgy neighborhood (at the time) but only a few city blocks from the influential rock club, CBGB, which would soon become the birthplace of NYC punk. Frantz and Byrne revisited the idea of forming a band and, after pleading with his girlfriend for months to join them, Weymouth surprised them by showing up one day with a brand new bass guitar she had purchased, on layaway, from Manny’s Music Store.
“She still didn’t own an amplifier,” says Frantz, “but now she had a bass, and the rest is history.”
That history includes changing their name to Talking Heads, adding keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison, and going on to become one of the seminal groups of their era, beginning with their debut album Talking Heads: 77, through to Naked, in 1988. While the band formally dissolved in 1991, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, and Rolling Stone magazine has recognized them as one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
In their song “Cities”, Talking Heads once decried the need to “find myself a city to live in,” yet in 1985, after years firmly ensconced in the grimy downtown NYC art world where they first made their reputations, Frantz and Weymouth opted instead to settle down and raise their young family amid the relatively suburban tranquility of small town of Fairfield, Connecticut.
“Used condoms lying around… and really ugly graffiti.”
“Before we moved out of New York,” says Frantz, “we would take our younger son, Robin, to the playground and there would be used condoms lying around and really ugly graffiti. I mean, there was also some beautiful graffiti in the neighborhood, but this was not the work of any of the great graffiti artists; it was just curse words. In those days you had to be close to New York, and Connecticut is within an hour’s drive from the city. It’s really pretty nice; we get the best of both worlds. If you feel like you’re missing out on something, you can hop on a train and in an hour you’re in New York.”
Now recognized as a seminal, post-punk dance rock band in its own right, Tom Tom Club, actually began in 1981, while Talking Heads was still going strong. In addition to presaging the mainstream acceptance of the rap genre with “Wordy Rappinghood”, they scored an early dance club and alternative radio hit with “Genius Of Love”, an infectiously groovy evergreen that namechecks soul artists like James Brown, Smokey Robinson and Bootsy Collins, and a host of other soul, and early rap luminaries such as Kurtis Blow. The track has since gone on to be one of the most heavily sampled dance records in history, used by artists as diverse as Public Enemy and Ice Cube to Mariah Carey, who built her 1995 smash hit, “Fantasy”, upon it.
In 2012, Tom Tom Club came full circle when the title track from their Downtown Rockers album rattled off a laundry list of punk pioneers from the golden of era of New York City new wave, including Blondie, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Richard Hell, Television and the B-52s. But these people aren’t just legendary names; they are Frantz and Weymouth’s illustrious friends and peers. Indeed, their own legendary band, Talking Heads, gets a shout out. Frantz still recalls the happenstance circumstances that placed him in the right place at the right time in New York City.
“On my first day in New York,” says Frantz, “I went down to meet a friend named and fellow RISD graduate, Jamie Dalglish, who lived on the Bowery. Jamie said ‘Chris, there’s this club across the street called CBGB and there’s something going on over there. I’m not sure what it is but I think you should check it out.’ This woman named Patti Smith was going to be there on the following night. I went to see her — accompanied only by Lenny Kaye — and I got the chills. I just said to myself ‘This is it, I’ve come to the right place.’ So I kept going back and over the next few weeks I saw The Ramones, and Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, before Blondie, when they were playing in a band called The Stilettos.”
While they are still downtown rockers at heart, and are now empty nesters with grown up sons (Egan is 30, Robin is 26) Frantz and Weymouth are equally at home in the bucolic bliss of Brittany and domestic calm of Connecticut.
“The thought of a guy going in there with a gun and blasting away… you just don’t know how to process it, you know? It’s so wrong.”
That calm was briefly disturbed, however, by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in nearby Newtown, Connecticut. Frantz, who also hosts a local area community radio show, and who has many friends and co-workers in Newtown, says that he and Weymouth felt a profoundly local sense of loss.
“We live close enough to Newtown, that if we go for a drive or a bike ride in the country we usually go by the town,” says Frantz, “and it’s this lovely, very quaint and just this ideal little New England village. So, the idea that this type of horrifying massacre would happen there was like something out of a horror movie, only it wasn’t a movie, it was real. One of the reasons we moved up here, was so our own kids could go to a good public school that was very similar to the Sandy Hook school. So I know what these schools are like, and just the thought of a guy going in there with a gun and blasting away… it’s the kind of thing that you just don’t know how to process it, you know? It’s so wrong.”
Shortly after the events, the couple got a call from Louise Parnassa-Staley, a former associate of the late CBGB owner Hilly Kristal, presenting them with an opportunity to channel their grief into meaningful community outreach. The current owners of the CBGB brand were attempting to put together a recording of the children of Sandy Hook school singing the evergreen song of optimism, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. Without hesitation, Frantz offered to record the children at the studio he and Weymouth built in their home. He also agreed to produce the track, which features lead vocal and ukulele by fiercely independent recording artist, Ingrid Michaelson.
“It was much better for the children to come just a short distance to our studio than to go all the way into New York City and some kind of atmosphere that would be weird to them. A lot of these kids are six and seven years old. They came with their parents to our home and were very well prepared. Everybody on the project worked pro bono, nobody even took gas money.”
The single, which raises funds for both the Newtown Youth Academy and the United Way of Western Connecticut, immediately rushed to the tops of both the iTunes and Amazon download charts. For Frantz, it was a way of giving back to a community he calls home.
“I’m happy for them,” says Frantz of the Sandy Hook students who found a way to make beauty from tragedy. “Tina and I feel like we’re elder statesmen now, although we’re still rockin’ and everything. Our reputation is established, so we didn’t do [the single] to try to promote us in any way. We did it to be good neighbors.”
“Home,” the Talking Heads song declares, “is where I want to be, but I guess I’m already there.”
This must be the place.