By Graeme Green
David Byrne, 56, was the big-suited frontman of Talking Heads. Nowadays, he turns old buildings into instruments and designs bike racks, alongside his solo career. He is touring Britain from Friday, performing songs from three decades of collaboration with Brian Eno.
How does it feel to play the old stuff again?
Pretty good. There’s some I haven’t played in a long time, one since 1979. Some of those songs are still relevant and that’s a nice surprise.
You must have been offered a fortune for a Talking Heads reunion.
Yes. I’m not keen and it’s unlikely to happen. I don’t need the money badly enough.
Do you miss the big suit? Does it ever get an airing?
No, but I know where it is. It’s down the road in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [in its New York annexe].
Are you proud to be up there with Madonna, Kylie and Michael Jackson in the iconic clothing stakes?
Sure, it’s fun. Which is Kylie’s famous article of clothing?
I think Michael Jackson is selling his bits and pieces now. I know one of the gloves was up for sale. I’m tempted to try to get a glove.
You’ve been wearing a tutu on stage recently. Is it something you’d only do once in a lifetime or could it become a regular part of your wardrobe?
Well, they’re quite comfortable. There’s certainly a lot of ventilation.
Did you ever want to be a dancer?
No, the kind of dancing I do is pretty peculiar. As much as I’ve tried, I’m not really able to do regular dance steps. I don’t think I’ll be on Dancing With The Stars any time soon.
You and Brian Eno recorded your latest album by e-mail. Can’t you stand to be in the same room?
No, we get along fine. It’s cheaper, with him living in London and me living in New York. And he’s always in the middle of a Coldplay record or working on a U2 record. So he’d send me the stuff and I’d work on it.
You’ve been turning old buildings into musical instruments lately. How does that work?
I did it at an abandoned ferry terminal here in New York and an old factory in Stockholm. And we’re planning to do it at the Roundhouse in London. We basically attach mechanical devices to bits of an old building structure – machines to vibrate girders, air compressors blowing air into the plumbing, little hammers banging on columns. All the hoses and pipes funnel down to an old pump organ keyboard that controls everything, and the public is invited to come in and play the thing.
What does it sound like?
It clangs, as you’d expect, but it actually sounds more musical than you’d think.
How did you end up designing bike racks?
I’ve used a bike to get around New York for decades. The department of transportation here got wind of that and asked me to judge a competition to redesign the regular bike racks. And, sort of as a joke, I drew some sketches and e-mailed some to them. They were for specific neighbourhoods – one in the shape of a dollar sign for Wall Street, one of a lady’s high-heeled shoe for 57 Street, one in the shape of a guitar for Williamsburg. They said: ‘If you get these made, we’ll put them up.’
Loads of young bands cite Talking Heads as an influence. Is it strange to be fashionable at 56?
Yes. But I like some of those bands so for me it’s nice to have some exciting new music on my iPod.
Do you hear yourself in their music?
Sometimes. Quite often one of my friends will say to me: ‘I know why you like that band, they sound like you.’ Which is kind of embarrassing.