Jerry Harrison Discusses Talking Heads, ‘Remain In Light’ & More

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Starting in May, Talking Heads co-founding guitarist Jerry Harrison will play the first of a number of tributes in honor of the 40th anniversary of TH’s iconic Remain In Light LP with guitarist Adrian Belew and Turkuaz. Harrison talked about what fans can expect from the sets, his relationship with David Byrne, any potential for a Talking Heads reunion and more in a new interview published by Rolling Stone.

Jerry Harrison explained the idea for the Remain In Light tributes came out of a discussion with Belew. Here’s what the Harrison told Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene about the genesis of the tributes:

People have gotten frustrated that [Talking Heads] haven’t reformed and they say to me, ‘Why don’t you and Chris and Tina do something?’ Nothing ever seemed to come to fruition, though. I think it was when Adrian Belew came here [to San Francisco] and played and we got into talking about how the touring band for Remain in Light was so special. It was sort of a different feel than the Stop Making Sense band, which is sort of captured in that Rome 1980 performance you can find on YouTube. I think it was recorded by an Italian radio station. Adrian was saying how his fans often say, ‘I’ve never seen a more joyful concert on YouTube.’

We said, ‘Why don’t we go do this?’ And then Adrian and I had a number of discussions. I always thought that joining forces with a band like Turkuaz made sense. They already have their own audience and also has a real familiarity with Talking Heads since they do those songs in their show. I then helped organize connecting everybody and I’m excited about it. Obviously, it being the 40th anniversary of Remain in Light it felt very appropriate.

Jerry noted the ensemble won’t perform Remain In Light in order and that the sets will include other Talking Heads classics as well as songs from the Turkuaz catalog. “We definitely want to give Turkuaz a chance to play a couple of their songs,” Harrison added. “I think Adrian and I both probably want to play something of our own, too. Let’s just say we don’t feel obligated to play every song.” The Bay Area resident noted the ensemble had a rehearsal at SIR in Nashville and that they really only did one song, “Crosseyed & Painless.”

Who will handle lead vocals? “We’re going to share it,” Jerry Harrison commented. “I also think that the two women singers, Sammi [Garett] and Shira [Elias], I can imagine them singing lead on one of the songs. I don’t feel any need to reverentially capture everything that was on that tour. I just want to do great versions with this group of musicians, but that captures that feel.” He also had high praise for David Byrne‘s American Utopia show, which he caught in San Francisco:

I thought it was beautiful. I want to see it on Broadway because I know the precision with the choreography and the lighting will be that much more when you’re playing in the same theater every night. My wife and I were in New York right after it opened and I’m very familiar with the nightmare of people asking for tickets in your hometown. I wrote David a letter saying I’d be back and that I basically knew what it was about and I’d see it further into the run.

Jerry did, however, get the feels when he saw another band performing Talking Heads material. “Well, it’s impossible to not have a certain wistfulness when you hear things like that,” Harrison said. “But there’s also the pride of, ‘That’s a song that I helped create.’ That’s something that’s been there for quite a long time and I kind of made my peace with it a long time ago. It’s not something I dwell upon.”

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Among other topics discussed were Jerry’s relationship with Byrne:

I don’t know the last time that David spoke with [Talking Heads drummer] Chris [Frantz] and [bassist] Tina [Weymouth]. I know that David and I have a cordial relationship. If I’m in New York I’ll call him up and ask if he wants to get dinner. If he’s coming to town for something … we have a friendship that goes back a long ways. I think we have worked hard … maybe we have different opinions about various things dealing with the legacy of the band or dealing with other things. But that doesn’t stop the fact that we did a lot of wonderful work together. For instance, I organized a whole thing about having t-shirts. I also did the whole thing with the surround sound mixes [of the old albums]. In both cases, I need a sign-off from David to see if he was happy with the design and the mixes. I did the same thing with Chris and Tina. That put me in the position of reaching out to them, but it was separate. It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s all get in a room together.’

Harrison would be open to a Talking Heads reunion but only if done right. “When we played a few songs for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [in 2002], we really rehearsed for it and did it as well as we could and people in the audience really felt it. I wouldn’t want it without that commitment from everybody,” Jerry explained. Head to Rolling Stone for more from Jerry Harrison.

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