Arts·Q with Tom Power

Talking Heads on the early days of the band, Stop Making Sense and the story behind the Big Suit

The band's iconic 1984 concert film, Stop Making Sense, has been re-released and remastered. In a rare conversation, all four members of Talking Heads join Q's Tom Power in studio to share some stories from the making of the film.

All four members of Talking Heads sit down with Q’s Tom Power for a rare conversation

Three men and one woman pose standing in a straight line between two film posters for Stop Making Sense.
From left, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, David Byrne and Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads attend Stop Making Sense Q&A at BAM Harvey Theater on Sept. 13, 2023 in New York City. (Getty Images for BAM)

When David Byrne and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads first met, they were helping a mutual friend make music for his student film. It was just a stroke of serendipity that led them to founding the legendary New York post-punk band.

In a recent interview with Q's Tom Power, Frantz recalls how Byrne turned to him after the garage recording session and said, "You know, 'I can play more than just this.'" To which Frantz replied, "Cool, because I've been hoping to start a band."

From there, the two started a cover band called The Artistics. Then, one day, Byrne went to the art studio that Frantz shared with his girlfriend (now wife), Tina Weymouth.

"He said, 'I've got this song I've been working on. I wonder if you could help me with it,'" says Frantz. "And he sat down and he played 'I can't seem to face up to the facts. I'm tense and nervous and I can't relax.' And Tina and I were like, 'Whoa, this is good.'

"David had asked Tina to write the bridge in French because I think [he] thought the changing languages would connote some kind of psychotic break or something like that. I wrote a couple lines myself. More than a couple, maybe. And we started playing this song, Psycho Killer … and I noticed the people liked this song very much, like right away."

Weymouth soon joined the band as the bassist, despite the fact that she didn't actually play bass and had to be talked into it. She saw herself as a painter first and foremost, and was worried that music would be a distraction.

Four people sit around a wooden table talking into studio microphones.
Talking Heads with host Tom Power in the Q studio in Toronto. (Amelia Eqbal/CBC)

"Chris kept saying, 'Tina, you're [still considered] a young painter when you're 40, you can only do this and tour when you're young,'" Weymouth tells Power. "So you should get a bass and do this.… I had to learn everything, but it was just a complete immersion, like learning a new language."

The group then added keyboardist and guitarist Jerry Harrison — whose band The Modern Lovers had recently split up — and that's when Talking Heads was born.

More than 30 years after their initial split, and more than 20 years after a one-time reunion to celebrate their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Talking Heads are now doing a media tour together to promote the re-release and remastering of their iconic 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense. The Jonathan Demme-directed film has been beloved by audiences since its initial release. Byrne says the idea for the film came together while they were touring in support of their fifth album, 1983's Speaking in Tongues.

"We were doing that [tour] and… it was going really well," he says. "Audiences liked it and we thought, 'This show has a kind of structure of a shape, almost a narrative. Maybe somebody could film it? Maybe we could find some director to film this and see what happens?"

WATCH | Official trailer for Stop Making Sense:

The Big Suit

If there's one lasting image from Stop Making Sense, one that even people who haven't actually seen the movie are familiar with, it's Mr. Byrne's Big Suit (that's how it's actually referenced in the credits) — a comically oversized, boxy grey suit that Byrne wears while performing Girlfriend Is Better. The lead singer says he got the idea for the suit while visiting Japan.

"Our previous tour ended in Japan, and I stayed on to stay with friends and visit and look around a little bit," he says. "I went to a fair amount of traditional Japanese theatre like Kabuki and Noh — all this kind of stuff. And I was talking with a designer who lived there and I said, 'I'm thinking about what we could wear on our next tour? I'm wondering what could we wear?' And he said sort of facetiously, 'Well, you know, David, in the theatre, everything has to be bigger.' And I think he [was] referring to gesture and your voice and all that. And I thought, 'Oh, so my suit should just be big!'"

Harrison says that, while they didn't expect the film to be getting this kind of attention nearly 40 years after its initial release, he's not totally surprised either.

I think that when we finished the edit and the mix, we knew we had something special," says Harrison. "I think that one of the things that we did hope is that it would have resonance so that you would want to watch it more than once. I think that the decision not to have interviews and to have it be a concert film meant that it could be a party for people.… We just didn't think there was a need to talk about it. The music spoke for itself."

The full interview with Talking Heads is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Interview with Talking Heads produced by Lise Hosein.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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