By David Fricke
'One fine day' — there's a funny story about that," Brian Eno says with a smile, referring to one of the 11 songs on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, the new, gleaming art-pop album the British producer and occasional solo artist has made with his friend, ex-Talking Heads singer-guitarist David Byrne.
Sitting at a table across from Byrne in the latter's Lower Manhattan office, Eno says that at a point early in the record's extended birth, he played a piece of instrumental music in his London studio for Coldplay's Chris Martin: "Chris said, 'Wow, I'd love to work on that.' I'd given it to David a few months before and hadn't heard anything back. So I gave it to Chris."
Six months later, Martin excitedly told Eno he had written "the most amazing song" for that track. Ironically, that day, Byrne finally e-mailed Eno an MP3 of "One Fine Day," Byrne's space-gospel spin — with a sunny vocal and wry, hopeful lyrics — on Eno's spongy electronics. When Martin heard it, he surrendered gracefully. "He said, 'I can't do better than that,' " Eno recalls, chuckling. "Incredible timing."
"I was terrified of starting," Byrne confesses with his chirping laugh, explaining why it took him so long to get a grip on Eno's music. "He could have said, 'No, I hate this.' '' They grin at each other over the table. "That was our agreement," Byrne adds. "If we both liked it, we would continue. If one of us didn't, there's no reason to pursue this."
With Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, Byrne, 56, and Eno, 60, have resumed a partnership that began 30 years ago, when Eno — a former member of Roxy Music who collaborated in the mid-Seventies with David Bowie, Robert Fripp and John Cale, among others — produced the first of three Talking Heads albums: 1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food, followed by 1979's Fear of Music and the 1980 future-funk classic, Remain in Light. Eno and Byrne also recorded a pioneering collage of sampling and Third World music, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a Top 50 hit after its release in 1981.
The pair's new record is not Bush of Ghosts II. In fact, the gently rolling blends of pop-song structure, Byrne's bright, country-church singing and Eno's creamy keyboards and programmed guitar in songs like "Home," "My Big Nurse" and "The River" are closer to the sneaky magnetism of Eno's Seventies LPs Another Green World and Before and After Science. "I was surprised that's what came out," Byrne says. "The tracks are very different from what I would have done myself. I lean toward things that are more complicated."
"Part of the warmth is because I'm not interested in ironic music," claims Eno, whose production work for U2 includes their 1991 techno-irony smash, Achtung Baby. (He is currently finishing work on U2's next album.) "I like hearing it," Eno quickly amends, "but it's not what I want to make. That was very much a thought on this record, to make music with a set of feelings not associated with us, since David's Mr. Geeky and I'm Mr. Egghead." Byrne will support the record — out now as a digital release, with a physical CD to follow — with a world tour minus Eno, who hasn't done a full-scale tour since the early Seventies. The show, titled "David Byrne, Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno," will feature music from their entire history together.
Everything That Happens started with Eno's casual reference to Byrne, at dinner in 2006, about some instrumental beds, without words or vocals, that Eno had stockpiled over several years. "I intended them to become songs," Eno says, "and never wrote the songs." He offered some to Byrne, with whom he had first co-written during the Talking Heads era. (Byrne credits Eno with the chorus hook in "Once in a Lifetime," on Remain in Light: "He did a scat-vocal thing — I found some words to fit.") After Byrne hit pay dirt with "One Fine Day," he and Eno continued writing and recording by e-mail, shooting sound files between London and New York.
Byrne enjoyed the long-distance exchange. "There are people who like to sit next to one another and hammer out a song," he says. "I like more time to think things over. I don't want people looking over my shoulder."
Eno was content to have faith in Byrne's melodic and lyric instincts. "One reason so many new bands sound like Talking Heads is because they are nostalgic for the kind of hopefulness that was in that music," Eno says. "They're saying, 'Let's turn back the clock a bit and start again.' " Which, in a way, is what Eno and Byrne have done in their new songs. "And I was thrilled when somebody else was going to do the hard part," Eno says, gesturing happily at his friend. "The results were so good, much better than the songs I imagined."