Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth talk about the history of Tom Tom Club and their hopes for a new lease of life in the music business.
Duo behind Tom Tom Club on tour for 30th anniversary
In March 1981, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth flew from wintry New York to the sun-drenched Compass Point studios in the Bahamas. Under their new Tom Tom Club alias, they recorded a handful of tracks including their evergreen singles Wordy Rappinghood and Genius of Love, groundbreaking fusions of funk, reggae, rock, disco and an emergent New York street style that would later become hiphop.
This music was bottled sunshine, a joyful and liberating antidote to the duo's work with David Byrne in the angsty, cerebral, New Wave art-rockers Talking Heads.
"We were coming off a Talking Heads album called Remain in Light," Frantz recalls. "A great, wonderful, amazing record. But we wanted to do something that was more of a party record, a bit more festive, something that would work easily on a dance floor."
The infectious Wordy Rappinghood soon became a pop hit in Britain, while the swooning Genius of Love transformed Tom Tom Club into US chart stars in their own right. Both tracks remain timeless dance-pop classics, and have since been sampled or covered by dozens of artists. Along with Blondie, Tom Tom Club was one of the first white rock bands to borrow from hip-hop, so it was only fitting that rappers would later return the favour.
"It was partly a reflection of where we lived in New York," Frantz explains, "but it was more a reflection of our record collections and what we liked to listen to in our loft at home. We have always been very fond of American soul music and R&B and reggae, and then there was this new thing called hip-hop. Actually, it wasn't even called hip-hop yet, they called it 'rap music'."
The drummer Frantz and the bass guitarist Weymouth, both now 60, are currently touring the US and Europe to celebrate Tom Tom Club's 30th anniversary, backed by the double-album re-issue Live at the Clubhouse and an eclectic new remix collection. They first met at art college almost four decades ago, forming, with their fellow student David Byrne, a musical trio that would later evolve into Talking Heads.
Frantz and Weymouth married in 1977. Now living in sleepy, small-town Connecticut with two grown-up sons, Weymouth does not miss her heady New York heyday.
"I love thinking about it, I love reading the books, I love seeing old friends from that time," she says, "but I don't really want to go back at all. Ha! I would really rather go forward. It is romanticised now in the same way we all love that 1920s period in Paris."
Despite scoring a transatlantic hit with the eponymous debut album in 1981, Tom Tom Club essentially remained a Talking Heads side project for its first decade, touring and recording sporadically between day-job commitments. Meanwhile, relations with Byrne became increasingly strained, reaching breaking point in 1991, when the singer casually informed a Los Angeles Times reporter that the group had disbanded. This was news to Frantz and Weymouth, who felt shocked and betrayed.
Byrne later admitted his rash statement had been intended mainly to focus the interviewer on his solo projects, but the end result was the same. As Talking Heads dissolved into a bitter, protracted divorce, Frantz and Weymouth formed a short-lived collective called The Heads.
In 2002, the estranged members of Talking Heads called a ceasefire for long enough to play a three-song set for their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where Frantz offered thanks for "giving this band a happy ending". But afterwards, when he proposed a full reunion, his hopes were quickly dashed by Byrne.
"We all hoped that David would just kind of wake up and think: what was I thinking?" says Frantz. "Talking Heads was a great band, wonderful chemistry, why don't we just take one more lap around the track? I guess in the back of our minds we knew that was not on David's agenda."
Last month, Frantz and Weymouth celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary. "It's some kind of miracle," Frantz laughs. "How did we manage it? Well, Tina's adorable, and always will be, and I do my best to be a good boyfriend. Tenderness, affection, those things go a long way in a marriage. I still think of her as my girlfriend."
Weymouth ascribes the pair's enduring romantic chemistry to "amazing good luck", insisting that she was a misfit tomboy raised with five sisters who were much prettier and more eligible than she. It may also be significant that both come from US military families.
After a long fallow period away from the studio, Frantz and Weymouth are now composing and recording music again, possibly for further Tom Tom Club releases among other projects.
"We just invested all of our remaining life savings into rebuilding our home studio," Weymouth explains. "Now all we want to do is just be in there and work on new stuff. I have no idea what will come out of it, but as long as we still have friends out there who are interested, we will come and play."
Tom Tom Club's Live at the Clubhouse is out on Nacional Records.