Although our interview only lasts for twenty minutes, Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club drummer Chris Frantz highlights not one but two epochal moments in his life which will never leave his memory. The first comes early when I ask him about his formative influences as a percussionist. He muses and replies: “I guess they were the ones I heard on my parent’s record collection. So, it was people like Gene Krupa and the big band people. But then The Beatles arrived in America around 1964, and that changed everything.”
Frantz namechecks Ringo Starr as one of his influences, but he also salutes Charlie Watts, the formidable drummer who played behind Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for sixty years. Frantz similarly has harnessed a tidy beat to the sound of Tina Weymouth’s bass, the musician he married and co-formed Tom Tom Club with. “Tina comes from a more classical family, so I think she has more of that influence, but she also enjoyed bassists like Motown players such as James Jamerson.”
Together, Frantz and Weymouth proved one of the more enduring couples in rock (Frantz chuckles at the comparison to the McCartney’s: “Admiral Halsey, eh?”), providing a sturdy backbeat that may have supplied the blueprint to modern-day indie rock. More than that, the duo spearheaded a production style that impressed Happy Mondays, who were eager to involve the duo on their fourth album.
“Paul Ryder, the bass player came to see us,” Frantz reveals. “He’s no longer with us, sadly. But Paul and Happy Mondays’ manager Nathan McGough came to see Tina and me, and said they would love us to produce the album. We weren’t too familiar with them, but knew them as an act on Factory Records and had a number of hits in the U.K. They wanted to record the album in Barbados.”
Considering the location, it’s not surprising that the duo – now enjoying their celebrity outside of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club – opted to work on the album, but discerning readers will have no doubt deduced that this is the point that the second memorable event enters the conversation. “We knew Tony Wilson from Factory Records,” Frantz recalls, remembering the impresario as a kind-hearted man who welcomed idiosyncratic music in England. “It was a time of Nirvana, and the band wanted to sound like they were really playing. We were really into that, so it was a lot of the band playing, and Rowetta, who sounded fabulous singing. Yes Please! got a lot of negative reviews, but a lot of that had to do with the fact that it wasn’t another Paul Oakenfold-produced album. But really, it’s a wonder we got an album out of the situation at all.”
Frantz is no doubt referring to Shaun Ryder, the mercurial vocalist who was developing a reputation in the 1990s as one of England’s wilder partiers. “We didn’t know he was doing a lot of heroin,” the drummer sighs. Barbados, it transpired, was Shaun Ryder’s way of escaping the drug, but the country was hardly lacking in substitutes. “Even though there wasn’t a lot of heroin, there was a lot of crack cocaine in Barbados. Shaun was self-medicating on a lot of..” Frantz, careful where to tread, opts to use another portrait: “It was a long flight from Manchester to Barbados and I was told by the band that he was carrying methadone. It was a month’s supply, but he dropped it on the ground and apparently he was licking it off the floor.”
Frantz is keen to move away from the subject, but notes that the producers were unable to record any vocals that were befitting of a listener’s attention. “This guy can barely put a sentence together, let alone sing! We told them that back in England and said he probably should be in rehab. So, Tony Wilson paid for Shaun’s rehab in England, and we recorded the vocals in Surrey, in a studio called Comfort’s Place. It’s incredible in hindsight!”
Frantz indulges in hindsight, but he’s careful not to pander to self-mythologization. The Tom Tom Club, it seems, was formed by the most everyday of situations: money. “Our singer in Talking Heads wanted to do a solo album, and he didn’t know how long it was going to take, and then our keyboard player in Talking Heads wanted to do his solo album, so that left Tina and I saying, ‘What are we going to do?’ Because the Remain In Light tour, which was a wonderful tour that the band and the audience loved, had barely broken even. We didn’t make any money from the tour. So, how were Tina and I going to pay the rent?”
Ultimately, they elected to record a track, “Wordy Rappinghood”, which they duly presented to Island Records founder, Chris Blackwell. “He really liked it, and said he’d like to release it Europe and Latin America immediately. From there, we went about recording the album. I really like how the album ended up sounding.”
Tom Tom Club (1981) stands as one of the most impressive albums of the era. Freshly coated by jaunty hooks and a hyper-kinetic approach to songcraft, the album also highlighted Weymouth’s oscillating vocal style, spearheading a newer, fresher form of singing to the “stop/start” approach favored by 1970s New York punk rockers.
With Tom Tom Club, Frantz and Weymouth were free to be themselves, guiding more husband/wife team-ups to take up their instruments and play. Does he see any similarity between their celebrity and that of Gillian Gilbert & Stephen Morris? “I know of them, but I don’t know them too well,” he replies. “Of course, I know New Order and Peter Hook.”
Family still fuels his art and life. “We have a son named Egan, so that’s similar to your name, Eoghan,” Frantz tells me. “Tina and I are going to the U.K. soon to do some shows. We can promise audience members a lot of fun. Some of it will be about the book I wrote [Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina]. We will be doing shows in London and Oxford, but for the moment, it will just be in the U.K.”
More information on the Remain In Love Tour can be found here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/in-my-own-words
PS. If you’d like a “pop” of music history, here is today’s 1-minute dose:
Photo: Cover image from “Remain In Love” (Fair Use)