L’Acoustics Listening Event Brought Pristine Sound
To A Seminal Catalog
For those who weren’t around in the early days of CBGBs back in the late ‘70s, it’s easy to think that Talking Heads were “David Byrne’s band,” but the recent Rhino Records Dolby Atmos 7.2.1 remixes of the group’s eight albums, from Talking Heads ’77 to Naked in 1988, prove otherwise.
Jerry Harrison joined the three-piece band amidst the recording of their debut album, adding keyboards and guitar to Byrne and the sturdy husband-and-wife rhythm section of drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth. He initially worked with engineer Ed Stasium and mixer E.T. Thorngren for the 5.1 Surround remixes of the catalog in 2005-06, then undertook the task for the current reissues.
A listening session at the L-Acoustics Creations immersive sound space in Westlake Village, California, the headquarters of the premium sound systems and immersive technology company for live events and venues, brought out the brilliance of the Talking Heads’ seminal catalog. The company’s audio technology has been utilized on tours by artists including Billie Eilish, Roxy Music, Pearl Jam and Keith Urban. Katy Perry is using its immersive L-ISA technology permanently installed at Resorts World in Las Vegas. The listening room was equipped with a 360º ultra-high resolution sound system in 18.1.12 and created a phenomenal fully-immersive spatial audio experience.
Harrison, Stasium and Thorngren were all on hand to reminisce about the experience, which illustrated how the Talking Heads music remains as vital today as it was 45 years ago.
“There’s a timeless nature to Talking Heads music,” says Harrison from his home in Northern California, where he produced bands including Live, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, O.A.R., and String Cheese Incident, along with the recent “Take Me to the River” documentary about Memphis music. “It doesn’t fit into any particular period. Of course, we were very influenced by the other CBGBs bands, the whole concept of being short and sweet, rather than elongated with self-indulgent solos.”
Immersing himself in the remixes – without any input from Byrne, curiously enough – Harrison admitted being able to concentrate on “how magnificent everyone’s playing was,” also noting that “we created a different environment in which we were recording on each subsequent album,” famously echoing producer Brian Eno’s dictum to use the studio as an instrument.
Byrne has achieved great solo success, most recently with his acclaimed Broadway show, “American Utopia,” which included its fair share of Talking Heads songs; however, a reported schism exists between some of the band’s former members.
“It’s unfortunate that there’s any friction,” acknowledges Harrison. “We made wonderful music together, something everyone in the band is proud of. I was impressed with David’s unbelievable phrasing as a singer, especially on ’77, that was quintessential. As he improved and relaxed, he really became more traditional and less uniquely himself, but he’s always had an amazing sense of timing and ability to use his voice… those yelps and weird sound effects. We were a band, everyone contributed. There was a tug of war over certain ideas, but that made it even more vital. Great bands are the only successful communal art experience. It took a community to produce, with individuals from disparate backgrounds contributing.
“Anybody who saw us live or came up with our music, is well aware of the difference between David’s solo music and the band’s albums.
Harrison recalls the recording of “I Zimbra,” a song that dictated the band’s future Afro-pop direction but was initially not going to be on Fear of Music because it was an instrumental.
“David and I flew back from Perth, Australia while on tour, and recorded lyrics that Brian Eno suggested from a nonsense dada poem by Hugo Ball.”
While in Nashville working on the “Take Me to the River” documentary, Harrison dropped in on guitarist Adrian Belew, who played with the Talking Heads and suggested recreating a 1980 performance by the band in Rome, which was on YouTube, featuring music from Remain in Light.Originally planned for 2020 before the pandemic, the duo hooked up with members of the funk band Turkuaz and decided to tour the festival circuit including Pennsylvania’s Peach Music Festival and Virginia’s Floydfest. A Sept. 29 appearance at LA’s Wiltern is one of their few indoor seated shows.
“We felt it would be a fun thing to do,” says Harrison, who says Byrne expressed his support in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s about people dancing and having fun.”