David Byrne is revisiting his old ghosts.
In 1981, the singer and his Talking Heads cohort Brian Eno created the seminal rhythmic séance, "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts." Both went on to solo projects. But after almost 30 years in their own worlds, Eno mentioned to Byrne over dinner that he had some instrumental tracks that needed words.
The result is "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," available on CD after being self-released on the Web. Byrne will perform songs from it and other Eno collaborations on Friday and Saturday at Radio City.
Your new record has been described as the "most heartfelt singing" you've ever done. Did some of the songs come from a personal place?
Probably. When I was writing this one, I felt the country was in a pretty bleak place. Writing and singing were a way of giving me hope and a reason to go on.
Do you think conservative administrations spur artists to produce their best work?
There might be something to that. But people always have their own demons to draw on.
It might have been. I'm definitely more comfortable with how my situation has worked out since then. Obviously, you go through a lot of emotional turmoil in a divorce. By the time I was writing this stuff, I was okay. I'd come out the other side. Probably, my two records before this reflect that emotional roller coaster ride more. Sometimes I write stuff that strangely predicts what's going to happen in my life. It's like the song is an emotional fore-cast. Often I'm not able to read it clearly until the storm hits.
What's an example of such a song?
Um, I'm not going to say. It's too personal.
If you do have this predictive power, maybe something good awaits you. Do you have a new relationship?
I've had a girlfriend for a couple of years. That's pretty solid. My relationship with my daughter is good. I've settled into a new life.
You and Brian agreed that, if the music wasn't flowing, you'd call off the project. Were there ever moments when you weren't having fun?
Most of it was pure joy. Some songs were harder than others. I wrote three sets of lyrics for "Poor Boy" before we both thought it felt right. We didn't have a lot of disagreements. That may have been because Brian was still working on Coldplay and U2. So he couldn't micro-manage this.
I read that Brian also let Chris Martin try his hand at writing lyrics for the track that became "One Fine Day" — but that when Chris heard your lyrics, he said, "I can't do better than that."
So I heard. I think Brian gave that one to him as well because it took me a long time to get started. I had some of the tracks sitting on my computer for almost a year, thinking about it. I felt a little bit of a burden — that there'd be expectations. I didn't want to make "Bush of Ghosts 2."
When Brian produced "Remain in Light" for Talking Heads, one of your band-mates suggested in an interview that Brian was becoming too much of a force in the band, that you were more interested in his thoughts than theirs. Do you think Brian was a divisive force — the Yoko of Talking Heads?
Yes and no. Someone at Warner Bros. once said to me, "You are your own Yoko."
You didn't need any girlfriend to break up the band.
I could do it on my own. Before "Remain in Light," Brian and I had done "Bush of Ghosts," so we had become pretty tight and excited about this way of creating music, where we cut and pasted everybody's contributions. I think, at that point, everybody in the band got more credit than ever before as co-creators. But, in a certain way, I think they didn't feel as involved.
Is it true Warner Bros. has unheard Talking Heads tracks it might finally release?
It's not a whole lot, but it's going to happen.
Do you wish Brian would try singing again?
He loves the physical act of singing. When I first started working on these tracks, I thought it might be possible that I'd write words that Brian would sing. I think we both heard the demos and felt that I was writing stuff that was made for me to sing. It was different than the lyrics he might do. He has an amateur vocal group that he has no intention of releasing.
They do Hank Williams songs, Everly Brothers songs. Maybe a half-dozen people who sit around in his studio over wine and cheese and sing these songs together. A cappella. I thought, "Something is going to come of that someday."