Clip: David Byrne interview
>From ePulse:AS TOLD TO: DAVID BYRNE
The first time David Byrne wrote music for a movie he won an Oscar, for
'The Last Emperor.' His new album, due in stores September 9, is 'Lead Us
Not into Temptation' (Thrill Jockey), the music from the film 'Young Adam,'
directed by newcomer David Mackenzie. Best known as the former leader of
Talking Heads, the Scotland-born Byrne spoke with epulse about faking jazz,
importing world music, and working with such bands as Belle and Sebastian.
EPULSE: How did this project come to you?
BYRNE: The producers also did 'Last Emperor,' so I told them to send me the
script. It was based on a book by Alex Trochi, a Scottish beat writer. I
didn't even know there was a beat movement in Scotland. Trochi was a
low-life guy, drifting from one thing to another, and the book was
interesting, so I met with [Mackenzie] to see if we were on same
wavelength. All he said was "No contemporary stuff, no bagpipes and no
contemporary songs -? the film takes place in the '50s."
EPULSE: How is working on a film different from writing a "David Byrne"
BYRNE: Very different. On the last record and tour I had a string section,
so I now use the string section as if it's another instrument. I visited
[Glasgow, where the film takes place] and started work without even seeing
the film. I had the script, and wrote to fit the mood or emotion of a
scene. The band was put together from various groups based in Glasgow:
Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian, Appendix Out. I'd play them something and tell
them to play it the way they'd play it, or give them the parameters for an
improvisation. They were like actors, slipping into a piece of music and
try to get it to fit.
EPULSE: You used one cover, "Haitian Fight Song" by Charles Mingus. What
was the reasoning behind that?
BYRNE: The director wanted something for one scene, something the lead
character might be listing to in the '50s. I tried to write some fake '50s
jazz, then thought why not just have a local jazz group do a version of the
Mingus tune, something that people know, which has a dated sound, and bring
it into a different era, without beats and samples. It was an obvious
choice for a film for a Beat writer; it expresses existential angst. I
wasn't sure how much of that music you could have found in Glasgow [in the
'50s] but it worked for the one scene where he put on a record.
EPULSE: One slight diversion: The record label you run, Luaka Bop, made
part of its reputation with obscure music from all over the world. Has 9/11
affected the sales and marketing of world-music CDs?
BYRNE: There's been a big and arbitrary government crackdown on visas,
sometimes even after a tour is booked, which effects small labels in
particular. It means you don't hear music from outside the U.S. by
government decree. Outside the U.S. there's a lot more independence; most
people don't give a shit where music is from so long as it's good. The
government should be looking for Arab musicians and bringing them to the
U.S. [to perform]. During the '40s and '50s, they put money into cultural
exchange and gave Latin and Brazilian musicians the ability to penetrate
the American market. It was partly a ploy to open their markets to American
businesses, but that music became part of the fabric of American culture.
The reaction to 9/11 should have been massive cultural and economic support
of Arab cultural institutions, all the things that represent democracy, to
show we believe in their culture, instead of going over there with guns.