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Talking Heads - Today I sit down with Wisconsin born Jerry Harrison, of the famed
Talking Heads. What follows is a section of the transcript regarding his thoughts on life, music,
family and a little bit of everything else. One thing I didn’t know, he taught design at Harvard
after his graduation from the same school.
Hunter: What is the most significant artistic accomplishment of I’m not hearing it. Certainly the time when Talking Heads was
your life, excluding anything with The Modern Lovers or The around, and CBGB’s was big, it felt like that was a new style of
Talking Heads, and music in general? music and a new understanding of how to play, a new philosophy.
I think that what came out of Seattle in Grunge, or what they now
Jerry: There was a piece of sculpture I did in college that I real- call “Grunge Music” was an exciting time because it was a kind
ly like. My wife and I designed our house together. Though no of rawness in reality. And that being said its not like I don’t like
one gets to see it except for us, It was reviewed in the New York albums that are being made, there are some good albums out. I do
Times and it was on the cover of the Home Section. I’ve been think that the major labels are running scared. I think they really
involved in the Casual God’s covers and things like that I’m very need success early on. And that doesn’t really go towards build-
proud of too. ing artists and building their careers. You know, you have to take
an artist from a 50,000-75,000 independent base of fans, and
Hunter: Do you think good rock move them to the next level. People don’t get that chance any-
is dying? Or is it that emerging more. And I think that’s a big-huge mistake. They have a tenden-
artists just can’t get through the cy [record lables] that if someone starts to get a successful record
bureaucracy of the 5 major they exploit it so to the hilt, so that its 2 ½ years until you can
labels? You have produced and make another record. Their audience, at the time let’s say, was
recorded so much, for so many high school girls. And when they were in high school it related to
people (Crash Test Dummies, them. Well [the audience] they’re now in college and why would
Rusted Roots, Big Head Todd they necessarily even relate to the songs anymore? They try to
and the Monsters, Foo Fighters, write songs now, knowing that their demographic has just moved
No Doubt, etc.)What are some on, I mean it was much better when bands did records every year.
smaller independent labels that I think that my prescription for the record industry is 10 songs,
you might suggest? I guess that is $10, and once each year. If you did that labels would be more
2 questions, then. accepting of experimentations, because when you start getting
more products and it starts coming through like that there are
Jerry: I won’t talk ways where it doesn’t get twisted. Now the larger the sales they
about which of the are looking for are the more it [the music] gets marginalized.
little labels are
good, because I Hunter: And do you think that will largely lead to a trend in sin-
don’t have that gles as opposed to full length albums? What do you think?
ence with Jerry: If you can buy songs individually, people have a tendency
t h e m . not to buy an entire album until they know they like 2-3 songs. In
I the old days you built an audience. I’d go out and buy every WHO
or Rolling Stones or Beatle’s record, no matter what it was when
they came out. Just a few bands have established that relationship
m e a n with their audience recently. Green Day has done a pretty good
I ’ m job and obviously Coldplay and Radiohead have too. I think it has
i n v o l v e d a lot to do with the fracturing of the bond between the artist and
with that com- their audience because of the amount of time between records.
pany IOTA, You know it’s not very hard for a band that’s already established
which does to take longer, because people are already in your system. But in
serve as the that initial stage, I think it’s much-much better to put out more
joint to the small labels, and the itunes, and the legal download music. Not like you’re just sitting there getting tired listening to
sites. I think that making sure whatever label people use that they one record, but so there is new and different things, instead of “I
pay attention to distribution, I think that is very important. The don’t really like this anymore.”
one’s I know [lables] are kind of bigger ones like Sanctuary, the
larger of the small labels, so I’m not much of an expert on the Hunter: When you were in the height of a major promotional
really little ones. I think there is good music being done, but I machine, like you were with The Talking Heads, how much con-
don’t find... there’s not something that feels really, for me, new. trol does the band itself retain over the day to day promotions or
Seven teams have gone undefeated and went on to win the national title.
are you just getting lost in a whirlwind of marketing directives? Jerry: I love them. Yeah, they just moved to Austen in Texas, I
Jerry: Well Talking Heads was certainly unique; I mean we had
more control over our career than almost any band at that time. Hunter: I heard they moved somewhere weird, and I think they
Partially that is because we started slower, and we never got in are going, or went on an Asia tour for MTV. But they are funny
debt to the record companies. We always made money on the Alternative Country, that I personally like. As a producer of many
road; we never borrowed tour support money from the record other people’s musician do you have a preference between analog
companies. And also, because they were afraid of us, because and digital, do you think analog will die?
were smart and they didn’t push us around like they pushed most
people around. That’s very, very rare. And, as far as major promo- Jerry: As a producer I use both. I like ProTools, because I’ve
tion goes, we were never at the level of someone like Britney known the creator for many years, it is a good system. In particu-
Spears, where her experience was just getting pushed and pushed lar when you are struggling to produce young musicians where
and pulled. I mean for some of this you have to have a manager the benefit of everything little thing is really helpful, the comput-
that understands the things that you wouldn’t like. TV shows, that er is good. I love what analog tapes sound like. CD’s have a lim-
maybe you don’t want to be on David Letterman, or Jay Leno. ited range, which now seem golden compared to MP3’s, the idea
Mabye you think that Conan is as far as you would go, because of how pristine and great it can be can often get lost by the time
you think he’s cool. But with this desperation to sell records peo- it gets to a CD anyway.
ple have a tendency, more and more, to just do what they can,
whatever there is. I even saw this when the members of The
Talking Heads went on in their solo careers. We didn’t have the
time to build-you were trying to make things happen a little more Hunter: Thanks Jerry.
quickly. You know with David there were times when he said “I
don’t want to do the Tonight Show.” But then, as a solo act, there Jerry: Talk to you
he is on the Tonight Show. It’s almost like you don’t have the Hunter.
power of the convictions of also being younger and taking the
time to work it. So, when a person asks how awful it could be, it
wasn’t like that. But you do get tired though. The spokesperson
for the band is usually the singer. Your throat gets sore from
singing. When I went out with Casual Gods I just tried to perform
every day and do all these interview’s every night and you’re just
trying to get an hour of sleep. It wasn’t near as much fun as just
being in the band and everything.
Hunter: What responsibility if any do you think that more suc-
cessful established musicians have to a younger generation of
musicians? Like in country or a genre’ like that their appears to be
a real generational affection that you don’t often see in Rock or
Indie scenes. Do you think there is a responsibility in everything
from resulting record sales to name brand recognition?
Jerry: The clearest way to do it is to be careful who your open-
ing acts are. To chose them very carefully. Then make sure they
get a good sound check and that they aren’t being sabotaged. But
that’s very concrete and clear. Really, you can talk about people
on the radio and mention them in articles. “Oh I heard this great
Hunter: Do you have some favorite new band you would like to
plug? Or is there a couple of them?
Jerry: OAR, I think they are up and coming. I just produced their
For the additional comments contained in the com-
new album which is just fantastic. Jackie Green, a blues artist
plete transcript of this interview write us at: WADI
from the Bay Area, he is very good and really growing as a musi-
Magazine PO Box 70129 Richmond, VA 23255 or call
cian. Mother Truckers is cool, but they are kind of a cover band
that does other stuff. Do you know them?
Hunter: Yeah, I know of them.
wadimagazine.com The University of Oregon won the first NCAA basketball tournament.