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Fear of Music Collaborations
March 18, 2010 2:06 PM   Subscribe

David Byrne on Collaborations: "A writer at Pitchfork critically said I’d collaborate for a bag of Doritos. I do love it, and the results are sometimes surprising, sometimes creatively successful and sometimes even popular (“Lazy” was a huge hit everywhere except the US)." On song writing, "After the initial transcription of verbal sounds into nonsense sentences made of real words, a long, tedious process begins. I then begin to write out every phrase I can think of that matches that sonic/syllabic flow — no phrase is too mundane or stupid. I try not to pre-judge anything that occurs to me at this point — one never knows if something that sounded stupid at first will, in a new context, make the whole thing shine."
posted by geoff. (41 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Take a look at these hands, Take a look at these hands.
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead at 2:07 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd collaborate for a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Nacho Cheese...not so much.
posted by sallybrown at 2:10 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Byrne's journal is a regular read for me. He's a thoughtful guy, just wish he posted a little more often than he does.
posted by metagnathous at 2:10 PM on March 18, 2010


After the initial transcription of verbal sounds into nonsense sentences made of real words, a long, tedious process begins. I then begin to write out every phrase I can think of that matches that sonic/syllabic flow — no phrase is too mundane or stupid.

David Byrne is a MeFite?
posted by hal9k at 2:14 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


David Byrne is a MeFite?

he should be.

But, I suspect he leads a productive life instead.
posted by edgeways at 2:15 PM on March 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Does this have anything to do with milquetoast's new project?
posted by Think_Long at 2:15 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Take that, snarky Pitchfork hipsters!
posted by mecran01 at 2:16 PM on March 18, 2010


Lazy is frickin awesome.

Wait. We're not talking about Deep Purple, are we?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:21 PM on March 18, 2010


Does this have anything to do with milquetoast's new project?

Oh wow cool! Following the links to the Wired review:
Unlike Jonathan Demme’s classic concert film Stop Making Sense, which immortalized Byrne’s genius for live performance, Ride, Rise, Roar digs behind the onstage antics to document their creation. That meta filter gives Curtis’ measured film an added layer of intertextual intimacy.
Whoa! That's some Dan Brown shit right there. Sort of disappointed that the trailer didn't have any new songs, I assume he didn't perform Talking Heads song during the concert? Would love to see the film, hopefully it doesn't languish in distributor no-man's land.
posted by geoff. at 2:22 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the ether of the future tense, when people are searching for cultural references from the past, they will come across this offhand David Byrne reference to "Pitchfork" and scratch their heads and wonder, "What the heck was 'Pitchfork'?"
posted by blucevalo at 2:34 PM on March 18, 2010


I then begin to write out every phrase I can think of that matches that sonic/syllabic flow — no phrase is too mundane or stupid.

I love David Byrne, so I don't mean this as a dig, but. After reading that, his songs make so much more sense now.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:34 PM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I assume he didn't perform Talking Heads song during the concert?

The show was all about songs he's done with Brian Eno - so that included some Talking Heads stuff, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and the latest album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. It was awesome.
posted by clipperton at 2:41 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I misread that as 'collaborate with a bag of Doritos' which actually sounds like a project worth pursuing.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 2:44 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


The track Please Don't from Byrne's collaboration with Fatboy Slim is most excellent.
posted by The Mouthchew at 2:44 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


So when is David Byrne going to collaborate with Mark Mothersbaugh and Fred Schneider, thus forming my all-time dream supergroup?
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:50 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this, geoff. It's interesting. But –

from link: “Once I have a melody and vocal arrangement I, or both collaborators, like I’ll transcribe that gibberish as if it were real words. I’ll listen carefully to the meaningless vowels and consonants and try to understand what that guy emoting so indistinctly (that’s me) is actually saying. It’s like a forensic exercise. I’ll follow the sound of the nonsense syllables as closely as possible — if a melodic phrase of gibberish ends on a high ooh sound, then I’ll transcribe that as a word that ends in that syllable, or as close to it as I can imagine. ¶ I do that because the sound, the difference between an ohh and an aah, and a B and a TH sound is, I assume, integral to the emotion being expressed. I want to stay true to it. Admittedly that emotion has no narrative or literal text thus far, but it’s there — I can hear it. I can feel it. My job is to find words that match it, that don’t destroy it. ¶ Part of what makes words work in a song is how they sound to the ear and feel on the tongue. If they feel right, if the tongue (wooo!), and the mirror neurons of the listener (isn’t that part of why we love music and performance — mirror neurons?) are made to feel (neurologically) the delicious appropriateness of the words coming out, then that rightness sometimes trumps literal sense. We “sing” in our minds and muscles when we hear and see singing. In a sense, performance and listening to music is a participatory activity. So the writing of words — the putting them down on paper — is certainly part of songwriting, but the proof of the pudding is in the singing. If the sound is untrue, we can tell.”

Jesus. It's times like this that I understand why Mark E Smith and Nick Cave designated this dude the enemy. One productive year in 1979, and then since then he's consistently reverted into a pedantic, insufferable New York ArtistTM.

I mean, fine: I appreciate Eno and Byrne's interesting forays into music, but their obnoxious "oh-I'm-so-modern-that-songwriting-is-foreign-to-me" shtick is just silly. Writing interesting words isn't simple and easy - it's hard. These guys meet that difficulty by pretending they're big green aliens who have never heard a song before, apparently because they're embarrassed to admit that they don't have poetic souls.

Eno never did, but Byrne is sort of a disappointment because he has bravado and some ability. Remain In Light should demonstrate that. But he's too afraid of failure, and too enamored with the most comfortable and happy modernist pop ideals available. I'll be honest, I've kind of had fun listening to Byrne's last few solo records, and they're a nice kind of comfort food, but they're not exactly thrilling examples of the human spirit. Maybe art doesn't have to be, but there was a time when I felt like David Byrne could have written a song about something that matters, and now I really don't know if he can. Now I feel like he's destined to be a writer of nice songs. And there's something unfortunate about that.
posted by koeselitz at 2:52 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


One productive year in 1979, and then since then he's consistently reverted into a pedantic, insufferable New York ArtistTM.

I like his latest album that he did with Brian Eno. Maybe you're just not into this genre?
posted by mecran01 at 3:42 PM on March 18, 2010


That meta filter gives Curtis’ measured film an added layer of intertextual intimacy.

I smiled when I saw that. The film has been fraught with these kind of circumstantial surprises throughout.

And I see where you're coming from, koeselitz, but I respectfully disagree. Getting a first-hand peek into how Byrne and Eno write songs has given me a better appreciation of how many paths there are to any given artistic goal. But different strokes and all that.
posted by milquetoast at 3:52 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't have to mention it.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:55 PM on March 18, 2010


Koeselitz, great lyric writing is a wonderful, wonderful thing, but it's not the only thing in music— and sometimes, it's not really an element beyond the phonetics or the evocation of individual words as opposed to the group of words. I think it's kind of silly to devalue songs with "nonsensical" lyrics or no lyrics. What about Ella Fitzgerald be-bopping or any other "bongolese" (to use an Enoism)?
posted by Red Loop at 4:08 PM on March 18, 2010


Mark E Smith and Nick Cave designated this dude the enemy.

Really? Damn. That's saddening, and I think less of Nick Cave a bit now.
posted by rewil at 4:26 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Red Loop: “Koeselitz, great lyric writing is a wonderful, wonderful thing, but it's not the only thing in music— and sometimes, it's not really an element beyond the phonetics or the evocation of individual words as opposed to the group of words. I think it's kind of silly to devalue songs with "nonsensical" lyrics or no lyrics. What about Ella Fitzgerald be-bopping or any other "bongolese" (to use an Enoism)?”

Well, I don't dislike the music much. And I have to say that I don't really dislike nonsense words, either. But describing the creation of what are essentially nonsense words as such a long, arduous process seems, well, a bit pretentious, and moreover extraneous to the music itself. I know that Eno enlisted Byrne on his last album because Eno is relatively displeased with his own lyrics and doesn't really like doing vocals anymore. It just seems like a gimmick to me.
posted by koeselitz at 4:31 PM on March 18, 2010


Take a look at these hands.

They're passing in between us.
posted by vibrotronica at 4:32 PM on March 18, 2010


But describing the creation of what are essentially nonsense words as such a long, arduous process seems, well, a bit pretentious, and moreover extraneous to the music itself

But don't a lot of poets consider the sound of the word just as much as they consider the meaning? Byrne's music seems more rythmic and tonal than melodic to me, so it doesn't surprise me that meter and voice matter just as much as the content.
posted by Think_Long at 4:45 PM on March 18, 2010


I'm a tumbler!
posted by Meatbomb at 4:51 PM on March 18, 2010


I'm teaching myself to play the accordion, so I've played "The Call of the Wild" about 400 times. The lyrics do not pall.

A bird who tries to fly higher
Flies into the blue
A lady who strives to rise higher
She wears a high heel shoe

Two mountains loved one another
For a million years
Let the river pull you under
Take your fingers outta your ears

What made Mona Lisa smile?
Learn not to run when you hear it call
It is not a lullabye
And the call of the wild is not a difficult song
No the call of the wild is not a difficult song

Albert Einstein wrote equations
God told Noah "Build an ark"
Johnny Mathis sings Cole Porter
To bring light into the dark

What made Mona Lisa smile?
Learn not to run when you hear it call
It is not a lullabye
And the call of the wild is not a difficult song
No the call of the wild is not a difficult song

[Although unappreciated, "Rei Momo" is a great record]
posted by acrasis at 4:54 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Born under punches.

(BTW, for a long time I ACTUALLY DID FEEL without style or grace, wearing shoes with no socks, in cold weather.)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:56 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: "describing the creation of what are essentially nonsense words as such a long, arduous process seems, well, a bit pretentious, and moreover extraneous to the music itself"

But that's just it, it's not really going to be easy to make nonsense that fits and flows well with the music. It's a real skill, all on its own, albeit a different one from making lyrics with real meaning fit and flow. Besides, it's not really nonsense, not really. And it's certainly not extraneous to the music.

"Photographers snip snap
Take your time she's only burning
This kind of experience
Is necessary for her learning "


"When the road is full of nails
Garbage pails and darkened jails
And the tongues are full of heartless tales
That drain on you"


"She is moving to describe the world
Night must fall now-darker, darker.
She has messages for everyone
Night must fall now-darker, darker.
She is moving by remote control
Night must fall now-darker, darker.
Hands that move her are invisible
Night must fall now-darker, darker."

posted by Red Loop at 4:57 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a cool office studio, and a really interesting journal, thanks for posting.

That big section that koeselitz quoted about fumbling around with nonsense words and vowel sounds and mouth muscle positions . . . I've read a lot of songwriter interviews and a lot of them talk about these same things, in more or less the same words. Arty it may be, but it seems that's the way it's done, for a lot of people.
posted by chaff at 5:03 PM on March 18, 2010


Byrne calling his lyrics "nonsense" reminds me of Nabokov going on at unnecessary length about how there's no moral in Lolita. I don't think the message is "I'm a big green alien with no human responses to things." It's "Quit worrying about what it means and enjoy it."

And, I mean, if you don't enjoy Byrne's music (or Lolita, for that matter) on its own terms, that's totally cool and I have no argument with you. It's just that for whatever reason, there are a lot of people who approach art as if it had a hidden message and panic when they don't "get" it, and for those people, "Quit worrying and enjoy it" is a useful message, because if they did quit worrying, they just might enjoy it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:23 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


So when is David Byrne going to collaborate with Mark Mothersbaugh and Fred Schneider, thus forming my all-time dream supergroup?

2/3 of that group already convened in 1997. Mark (and Devo bandmate Gerry Casale, IIRC) guested on "Wicked Little Doll" from Byrne's album Feelings. But now that you mention it, I wouldn't mind seeing Byrne/Motherbaugh/Casale/Schneider form a retro-futuristic barbershop quartet.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:32 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


More Snark About Pitchforks and Doritos.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:49 PM on March 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


I misread that as 'collaborate with a bag of Doritos' which actually sounds like a project worth pursuing.

I have in fact seen someone collaborate with a bag of chips, although not Doritos specifically. One of the guys in Imogen Heap's band did a solo set to open for her, and part of it consisted of him passing a microphone and a bag of chips around the crowd and re-sequencing their munching sounds into a beat.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:05 PM on March 18, 2010


Wait until you hear the extended salsa remix.
posted by domographer at 6:17 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Words don't matter.
posted by ovvl at 7:51 PM on March 18, 2010


How is David Byrne not on Plastic Beach?
posted by juiceCake at 9:12 PM on March 18, 2010


How is David Byrne not on Plastic Beach?

I've been puzzled by the lack of Byrne/Albarn connection for years, although I think having Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz guest on "19-2000" on the debut might be a factor. I don't know all the vagaries of the creative/personal rifts in Talking Heads, but it seems like Byrne and Weymouth/Frantz travel in very different circles by design, not by accident.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:17 AM on March 19, 2010


acrasis: “I'm teaching myself to play the accordion, so I've played "The Call of the Wild" about 400 times. The lyrics do not pall. ... [Although unappreciated, "Rei Momo" is a great record]”

That's awesome! I'm teaching myself accordion, too. I'm going to have to dust off that record and give it a try on a few of those tracks.

Actually, Rei Momo is a pretty good example of what I was talking about. There are times when Byrne seems an inspired, absolutely incredible lyricist – the stuff on Remain In Light is often flat-out stunningly good, I have to say. But then he retreats, and does very 'safe' songs, at least by his own standard. There are some songs on Rei Momo that I know by heart; "Dirty Old Town" has been one of my favorite tunes for a long, long time, and part of that is the fact that he manages to be broad and meaningful at the same time. But other times his style can just seem cloying and small and cute, and I hate it when he lowers himself to that level. There's a fraternal spirit in "Dirty Old Town" that I think Byrne is almost uncomfortable with on his own, like he's afraid of turning into a 'genre' or 'city' artist; but I don't think he should be so worried about it. I don't know.

(I still really like David Byrne. I've seen him live twice in the last three years, and both times I enjoyed immensely. I criticize stuff that matters to me because I care about it.)

There are a number of Byrne songs where I notice he seems to take his inspiration almost explicitly from another artistic work; he's become more comfortable with this in later years, and it has mixed results. One of my favorites from Rei Momo is "Make Believe Mambo," which seems distinctly similar (at least thematically) to the old Thurber story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." I always liked that story, partially because I'm so goddamned ADD that I identify with it strongly, so the song is quite enjoyable to me. But there's almost a fear, I think, a sort of reverence by which Byrne is held back from investigating those themes further. I think maybe he's afraid of spending six months or a year writing one song, like that would get too intense or too heavy; and that's okay. It's just his style. "Marching Through The Wilderness" never actually connects with its target – and that's not because it transcends the target as, say, a Nick Cave tune could probably do, but it just sort of hugs the target and learns to live with it. I feel a deep connection with the feelings Byrne's describing, I mean, but in the end there only seem to be images of feelings – he doesn't really say anything about them.

But then I hear something like "Buck Naked" or "Glass & Concrete & Stone" and I feel like... well, I don't know what I feel like. These tunes are beautiful and small and quiet and gorgeous. Maybe I just have to know that the weird architecture that the guy is going through in his head is just part of the process, and there's something beautiful at the other end.

I don't know. It's like... David Byrne's just this guy, right? My weird neighbor. I like the tunes he does. He doesn't stun me like Mark E Smith does. But the thing is, I live with David Byrne; those songs have emotional connections to times and places for me, just little colorations that remind me of things. I think maybe Byrne retreated from where he was during the peak of the Talking Heads' run because he realized he wasn't really built to be an artist of the age. Some people are made for it, others aren't. He just wants to be a guy who makes pretty music. And that's fine with me, frankly.

I probably shouldn't rag on his process, anyway. Maybe I'm just hoping for something more improvisational and dangerous, but it's his process, after all.
posted by koeselitz at 5:42 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Red Loop: “But that's just it, it's not really going to be easy to make nonsense that fits and flows well with the music. It's a real skill, all on its own, albeit a different one from making lyrics with real meaning fit and flow. Besides, it's not really nonsense, not really. And it's certainly not extraneous to the music.”

I guess I'm trying to describe the difference between the chilling brilliance I hear when I listen to the doomsday-prophet Byrne on Remain In Light and the Rome concert and the happy ultramodern homeyness I get from Grown Backwards and all his recent solo albums. There's certainly something different between them there; I sometimes try to riddle this out.
posted by koeselitz at 6:05 AM on March 19, 2010


Thank you, loved reading your analysis, koeselitz. It is funny because Talking Heads were my absolute favourites growing up, and I share your admiration for the powerful stuff Byrne was capable of in Remain in Light and Fear of Music. Pushing the envelope and doing strange and exciting things.

As they got bigger and more popular they were still good - many excellent things on Little Creatures and True Stories, but I started to pick up the vibe you describe, about Byrne maybe not being so comfortable as a huge rock star.

I didn't give him much attention after he went solo. My little brother tells me that there is some good stuff, but gosh darnit it isn't Talking Heads... can't go home again :(
posted by Meatbomb at 6:24 AM on March 19, 2010


Koeselitz, you're my new best accordion friend!

I agree with you about the preciousness of some of Byrne's lyrics- really, if I never heard "Pirates on Parade" ever again, it would be fine. But people who think he could have gone on writing Talking Heads-type stuff are not being realistic. I loved "Burning down the house" back in the day; I was young; Reagan was president. Byrne was young; Reagan was president. But I'm older now, and I can appreciate a more modulated approach to life than arson. I can still go back and listen to it, but I really enjoyed "Everything that happens happened today", and that's OK. That's some good lyric-writing.
posted by acrasis at 5:51 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


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