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How Lorde, Paramore, Blondshell, and More Are Fuelling a Talking Heads Revival

David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison talk about the tribute project featuring Lorde, Paramore, Miley Cyrus, Teezo Touchdown, Blondshell

Jordan Cronenweth/A24

Growing up in Texas in the 2000s, new-generation rap-rock star Teezo Touchdown was largely unfamiliar with Talking Heads. But as he was making his own records and plotting a stage show, some of his colleagues thought he’d be inspired by the band and called up a clip from its 1984 concert movie, Stop Making Sense. “The opening shot of David Byrne coming out with a boombox and doing ‘Psycho Killer’ — I had a true discovery moment,” Teezo recalls. “With what he was doing, and the production and the visuals, they had the total package. It’s still fresh.”

Talking Heads haven’t toured since 1983 and haven’t released a new album in 36 years. But the use of their songs in everything from Gilmore Girls and Wall Street up through Byrne’s American Utopia stage musical and movie has kept their music in the public ear, along with a steady stream of covers by Florence + the Machine, Cage the Elephant, Eddie Vedder, and others.

The revival culminated in last year’s successful rerelease of a newly restored Stop Making Sense in theaters through distributor A24, and the sight of the four band members — Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Frantz — putting aside their much-documented rancor and promoting the film together, often to ecstatic cheers from audiences. “I assumed — I guess wrongly — that memory fades away, and that at some point, you’re kind of a ‘Where are they now?’ like you see on one of those cheesy documentaries,” Byrne says with a laugh. “But that didn’t happen. That’s really surprising and flattering.” Frantz adds that he was especially impressed by the roar that greeted them on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert: “It was an awesome feeling.”

The second part of that revival arrives May 17 with Everyone’s Getting Involved: A Tribute to Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense. As covers records go, it’s unusual on several levels: a salute not just to the band but also to that iconic movie’s soundtrack. And it includes versions by not just a few established artists, like Miley Cyrus (“Psycho Killer”), Lorde (“Take Me to the River”), Paramore (“Burning Down the House”), and the National (“Heaven”), but just as many by newer acts from around the world: Teezo (“Making Flippy Floppy”), the L.A. funk band Chicano Batman (“Crosseyed and Painless”), Norwegian pop star Girl in Red (“Girlfriend Is Better”), Nigerian American DJ Tunez (“Life During Wartime”), the Argentine indie band Él Mató a un Policía Motorizado (“Slippery People”), and others. “They bring a good, new, fresh energy to this project,” says Frantz. “We in Talking Heads, we’re senior citizens now. I get a discount almost everywhere now.”

“I assumed — I guess wrongly — that memory fades away, and that at some point, you’re kind of a ‘Where are they now?’” Byrne says. “But that didn’t happen. That’s really surprising and flattering.”

The dominance of newer artists, many not yet born when Talking Heads dissolved, makes sense to Blondshell, a.k.a. Sabrina Teitelbaum, who contributed a hushed, slow-burning remake of the otherwise galloping “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel.” For her, the mere fact that the band shifted its sound from record to record and wasn’t easy to pin down made a major impression. “I think everybody’s influenced by them,” Teitelbaum says. “It’s one of those cultural things where it’s hard to escape. There’s so much pressure to fit in a lane and get defined by it, but their music isn’t in a specific genre. People will say New Wave or whatever, but it doesn’t feel boxed in, and that’s part of the legacy.”

As the former members of Talking Heads admit, the concept for the tribute LP originated with A24, which wanted a companion piece for the rereleased film (another label owns the original Stop Making Sense soundtrack). “This way they get to put out a record!” says Harrison, who calls it “entirely a commercial idea.” Frantz was impressed by the global reach of the artist lineup. “It’s a big world out there,” he says. “I’m sure A24 has this in mind, to get exposure for the film in these markets outside of the U.S.”

Commercial considerations aside, the lineup of contributors to the record wound up becoming a testament to the way that Talking Heads’ music has transcended its time and can speak to multiple generations. In a statement accompanying “Take Me to the River,” Lorde explains that she first heard the song when she was 12, back in 2008, when her mother played her a low-quality video of the band playing the song. “I don’t understand what I’m feeling, but I do understand that the band in the grainy video live with the same strangeness that I do,” she writes. “My palms tingle. My insides are replaced.” (When she and Byrne met for a Rolling Stone Musicians on Musicians cover story in 2021, she noted that she was particularly taken by Byrne’s ability not to blink while performing: “If that is showmanship, that’s one of the coolest, craziest things.”)

Teitelbaum remembers hearing “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” on a TV show when she was in eighth grade. “I was like, ‘What’s this?’” she recalls. “I think it’s the way that David sings, and the lyrics. Not to be emo, but I felt really seen at the time by that song. What I had been listening to didn’t reflect what I was going through in the same way. I wanted a Talking Heads tattoo in high school, which shows me how much they meant to me.”

Hearing those remarks, Byrne — speaking moments after an earthquake rattled New York and made his office desk shake — nods. “A lot of younger people are exposed to [Talking Heads songs] at a really early age, when it seems to mean a lot to them,” he says. “It says that being a little bit weird and odd is all right. ‘Look, here’s somebody else who did it and were kind of successful.’ It has that effect, especially with young women and social media making them feel they have to conform. This gives them a little encouragement: ‘No, it’s OK to be different.’”

Chicano Batman singer and bassist Eduardo Arenas remembers hearing the band as a kid, but not being as impressed. “I always felt they were very square,” he says. “I’m into funk, man, and I’m like, ‘Man, there’s not enough soul in this for me.’” (When Byrne hears this, he breaks into laughter: “The polo shirts and shortish hair, yeah — that was our street clothes, but I also thought it would be more subversive to not look like a rock & roller.”) But after seeing Stop Making Sense about 20 years ago, Arenas became a fan. “It just changed my life,” he says. “David Byrne is running in circles around the band and still singing, and the whole band is killing it.” Arenas now calls Talking Heads: 77 “a palate cleanser”: “Every time I’m tired of what I’m doing and need a new direction, I put that album on.”

Seeing Stop Making Sense again last year made Teitelbaum think about the band’s impact on concert staging today. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, there’s so much I’m seeing that people have used in concerts and concert films that I didn’t realize was from this’ — like when the random words pop up behind the stage,” she says. “There’s so much from Stop Making Sense in what I saw in a 1975 show. And not just them — stuff that’s choreographed and the theatrical nature of it.”

Talking Heads’ members, who had no role in selecting songs or artists, are still wrapping their minds around all the eclectic versions of their songs, which arrived piecemeal over a period of time. Harrison cites the overhaul of “Swamp” by Mexican American singer and songwriter Jean Dawson. “It’s sort of like if Johnny Cash did the song, like his version of ‘Hurt,’” Harrison says. “It’s like, ‘Whoa, is that different!’ But it still fits the lyrics and the song.” He also admires Lorde’s “very sexy vocal,” and finds Cyrus’ powered-up “Psycho Killer” particularly striking. “It’s cheerful!” he says. “If the original is about alienation to the point of violence, this one seems like a singalong country song. And Paramore did a really good version of capturing the feel of how we played [‘Burning Down the House’].”

A hip-hop recasting of “Once in a Lifetime” by Kevin Abstract bemuses Frantz: “I’m still trying to figure out that one. I’ll get it one day.” Of an electro-lounge version of “Life During Wartime” by DJ Tunez, Byrne says, “I love it when it gives a song a completely different meaning. ‘Life During Wartime’ — ‘Is that how it’s going to end? Is that how things are going to go?’ It’s like the dance band on the Titanic. The band just keeps playing.”

As for their own future, the Heads are, not surprisingly, noncommittal. “I’ve learned not to expect [anything],” Harrison says. “We have taken baby steps forward to repairing our relationship.” When the band appeared on Colbert, the host had a bunch of instruments set up and asked if they would play a song. “What was going through my mind was ‘Which song should we choose? Does everybody remember?’” Harrison says. “[‘Life During Wartime’] would have been the most likely, because that one had the ability to be totally spontaneous.”

It didn’t happen, and Byrne says reports of a multimillion-dollar offer to play festivals this summer were false. “That was completely made up,” he says. “I don’t know where it came from. That offer was never made.” Frantz says there were offers, but adds, “Our feeling was ‘Things are going really well for us — we don’t have to do a tour.’ It’s a lot of work. I don’t know how the Rolling Stones and the Who and these guys do it anymore. I know a lot of people will say ‘You’re crazy not to take that offer.’ But I would have preferred if they’d asked us to do it 20 years ago. You know, when we had real vigor.” Frantz also alludes to conversations about recording new material, which Byrne and Harrison say they don’t recall. (Weymouth, who was in the studio working on a tribute album to Robbie Shakespeare, was unavailable for comment.)

“The world would love it, and we’re not getting any younger,” Harrison adds, “but I’m not holding my breath in any way.”

For the foreseeable future, the band members are returning to their own projects. Byrne is at work on a solo album; Frantz and Weymouth are in the early stages of a new Tom Tom Club album; and Harrison has a few summer shows booked with Remain in Light, his tribute to that Talking Heads album with guitarist Adrian Belew. Before that, all four members will come together again next month for screenings of Stop Making Sense in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, where they’ll again partake in public Q&A sessions.

Teezo hopes there’s more to come, as he says, “when the time is right for them.” But even if any type of full Heads reunion never comes to be, at least the contributors to Everyone’s Getting Involved have taken something with them from the experience. “There’s something to be said about how funky square rock can be,” Arenas says. “There’s a lot of soul inside the squares.”

From Rolling Stone US