The art and times of the Tom Tom Club

By MIKE CHAIKEN
EDITIONS EDITOR
Husband and wife Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth both attended the Rhode Island School of Design in their younger days, where they were members of a band called The Artistics.
From there, Chris, a drummer, and Tina, a bassist, served as the rhythm section for one of the most artful bands of the 1970s and 1980s, the Talking Heads.
And as leaders of the band the Tom Tom Club, the duo showed the artful sides of rap, funk, and dance music.
Art is a part of Frantz’s past. And it is part of his and Weymouth’s near future as well.
“Nietzche once said without art we’d die from the truth,” said Frantz, in a phone interview from his home in Fairfield.
“Art is important to us, me and Tina, it’s of the utmost importance…,” said Frantz. “I’d put it right up there with food in terms of importance to having a good life.”
To that end, Frantz and Weymouth are convening a performance of the Tom Tom Club to support and celebrate a new arts venture from Fairfield Theatre Company, the Warehouse, on Saturday.
“We got involved (supporting Fairfield Theatre Company) because we lived here for 30 years and we’re very happy the Fairfield Theater company came into existence,” said Frantz. “We’ve performed there over the years quite a few times… the people have been very supportive to our band and to our careers.
The theater even bestowed an honor on the musical couple several years ago, said Frantz. “We’ve always felt like the Fairfield Theater Company is a great asset to the town of Fairfield because it was pretty dead in the little town of Fairfield before they came along. Now it’s actually almost bustling. There are restaurants that are thriving downtown and all kinds of little shops that didn’t exist before. I think Fairfield Theatre Company has a lot to do that, especially drawing people to come in to the town in the evening, have a nice dinner, and a drink and see a band or a movie.”
“When they asked us if we wanted to play at this celebration for the building of the new venue… we accepted with pleasure.”
The day before he was interviewed, Frantz published an appreciation essay in the New York Post about the late David Bowie, who died just the day before. Bowie was renowned for his ability to push the boundaries of rock music, essentially turning it into performance art.
“David Bowie was one of our primary influences with The Talking Heads,” said Frantz. “He’s just a great artist and an amazing performer.”
The Talking Heads and Bowie shared several musical connections including producer Brian Eno, who produced several of Bowie’s groundbreaking albums as well as several of the Talking Heads’ seminal albums.
“The few times we did meet (Bowie), he was very magnanimous and totally a good guy to us,” said Frantz. “Both Tina and I were pretty sad and still are that he’s no longer with us. Sixty-nine is kind of young, these days, to be gone.”
However, said Frantz, “What a great exit he made, releasing an album, two days before he died. The music (on the album dubbed ‘BlackStar’)… is pretty challenging to listen to but it’s also pretty great. The more people listen to it, and the more I listen to it, the more I’m going to like it. It’s one of those kinds of records.”
Additionally, Frantz said, “The videos (for ‘Blackstar) are extremely creepy but kind of beyond creepy. To me, they’re next level stuff.”
Bowie was known for reinventing himself and never settling on one particular genre for very long. It’s a trait that the Talking Heads shared. Would there have been a Talking Heads without a David Bowie?
“That’s a good question. I’m not sure,” said Frantz. “I know that when Talking Heads was getting started, he was one of the people we were looking to for inspiration.  We never sounded like David Bowie … but it was his sense of artistic integrity that made us think, we can do this, too.– and, we would like to do this as well.”
People should expect the familiar when the Tom Tom Club hits the stage, said Frantz.
When drawing up a set list for a gig such as this weekend, Frantz said he and Weymouth “look at our repertoire of songs. We decide which ones will make for a good show. We’re not like a band like The Beatles that has 30 number 1 hits. But we do have a couple of hits… We choose what will be crowd-pleasing.”
Additionally, said Frantz, “We put in a few songs that transport the audience out of this winter ambience, into something more tropically seductive.”
There won’t be any new music in the set list for Saturday. “We’re focusing on the catalogue—- although we have been recording some new stuff. As much as we like to record new stuff, we realize it’s really the older stuff that the audience responds best to.  We understand that and we have no problem with that. So when we set up a set list, we really think about ‘When we played this song last time, people really liked it.”
Although the focus will be on the past when the Tom Tom Club plays on Saturday, Frantz said steps are being taken to get some new music out to the world at large.
“We have our own studio here (at their home in Fairfield). We have plans to do more recording in the future, probably starting again, right we do this thing at FTC,” said Frantz.
“It may well be with just Tina and myself in the beginning and then we add people as we need them,” said Frantz.
When they hit the studio, said Frantz, “Our feeling is we would like to try something of an electronic nature. Something that is a little bit different than what we’ve done before.”
“I can’t tell you too much about it because we haven’t done it yet.”
However, Frantz said German electronic band Kraftwerk is tickling their creative energies.
“Kraftwerk… (has) been a big source of inspiration for us for a long time,” said Frantz.
Kraftwerk was known for its robotic rhythms, which seems a far cry from the rubbery basslines and syncopation that the Tom Tom Club performed.
“What we do won’t sound like Kraftwerk,” said Frantz, “but that will be sort of the frame of reference that we’re thinking of.”
“It would be something very different than what people have come to expect from Tom Tom Club,” said Frantz. “In fact, we might not even call it Tom Tom Club.”
“This all remains to be seen,” said Frantz. “We learned a long time ago from Brian Eno to just go into the studio and don’t be afraid to do what ever strikes your fancy and use the studio as a tool to reach that point.”
The Tom Tom Club plays at The Warehouse, 70 Sanford St., Fairfield on Saturday, Jan. 23 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $95 for a general admission show. For more information, go to FairfieldTheatre.orgtom tom club IMG_5707-1 tom tom club IMG_5723

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