David Byrne (Talking Heads)

Scottish-born American musician David Byrne was born 14 May 1952 in Dumbarton, Scotland, to parents Tom (from Lambhill, Glasgow) and Emma. He is the elder of two children. Two years after his birth, his parents moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and then to Arbutus, Maryland, in the United States, when he was 8 or 9 years old. His father worked as an electronics engineer. Before high school, Byrne already knew how to play the guitar, accordion, and violin. He was rejected from his middle school’s choir because they claimed he was “off-key and too withdrawn”. From a young age, he had a strong interest in music. His parents say that he would constantly play his phonograph from age three and he learned how to play the harmonica at age five.

Byrne graduated from Lansdowne High School in southwest Baltimore County. He started his musical career in a high school band called Revelation, then between 1971 and 1972, he was one half of a duo named Bizadi with Marc Kehoe. Their repertoire consisted mostly of songs such as “April Showers”, “96 Tears”, “Dancing on the Ceiling” and Frank Sinatra songs. Byrne attended the Rhode Island School of Design (during the 1970–71 term) and the Maryland Institute College of Art (during the 1971–72 term) before dropping out. He returned to Providence in 1973 and formed a band called the Artistics with fellow RISD student Chris Frantz. The band dissolved in 1974. Byrne moved to New York City in May that year and was joined by Frantz and his girlfriend Tina Weymouth in September. Unable to find a bass player in New York, Frantz and Byrne persuaded Weymouth to learn to play the bass guitar. Byrne gave her lessons.

Byrne was the founding member, principal songwriter, and lead singer and guitarist of the American new wave band Talking Heads, active between 1975 and 1991. Byrne is a multi-instrumentalist and is known for his distinctive voice. Talking Heads and had their first gig in June and Byrne quit his day job in May 1976 and the three-piece band signed to Sire Records in November. Multi-instrumentalist Jerry Harrison joined the band in 1977. The band released eight studio albums before going into hiatus in 1988. Byrne desired to go solo, but it took three years until 1991 to announce that the band was breaking up. A brief reunion for a single “Sax and Violins” in 1991 occurred before dissolving again. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, when they reunited to play four tracks, including “Psycho Killer” and “Burning Down the House”.

Byrne also collaborated with Brian Eno during 1979 and 1981 on the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which attracted considerable critical acclaim due to its early use of analogue sampling and found sounds. Following this record, Byrne focused his attention on Talking Heads. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was re-released for its 25th anniversary in early 2006, with new bonus tracks. In keeping with the spirit of the original album. Rei Momo (1989) was the first solo album Byrne released after leaving Talking Heads, and features mainly Afro-Cuban, Afro-Hispanic, and Brazilian song styles including popular dances including merengue, son cubano, samba, mambo, cumbia, cha-cha-chá, bomba and charanga. His third solo album, Uh-Oh (1992), featured a brass section and was driven by catchy tracks such as “Girls on My Mind” and “The Cowboy Mambo (Hey Lookit Me Now)”. His fourth solo album, titled David Byrne (1994), was a more proper rock record, with Byrne playing most of the instruments on it, leaving percussion for session musicians. “Angels” and “Back in the Box” were the two main singles released from the album. The first one entered the US Modern Rock Tracks chart, reaching No. 24. For his fifth studio effort the emotional Feelings (1997), Byrne employed a brass orchestra called Black Cat Orchestra. His sixth Look into the Eyeball (2001) continued the same musical exploration of Feelings, but was compiled of more upbeat tracks, like those found on Uh-Oh.

The album Grown Backwards (2004), used orchestral string arrangements, and includes two operatic arias as well as a rework of X-Press 2 collaboration “Lazy”. He also launched a North American and Australian tour with the Tosca Strings. This tour ended with Los Angeles, San Diego and New York shows in August 2005. He has also collaborated with Selena for her 1995 album Dreaming Of You with God’s Child (Baila Conmigo) in 1995. Byrne and Eno reunited for his eighth album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (2008) and toured worldwide on the Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno Tour. In 2012 he released a collaborative album with American singer songwriter St. Vincent called Love This Giant. In 1981, Byrne partnered with choreographer Twyla Tharp, on the album The Catherine Wheel for a ballet with the same name, which features unusual rhythms and lyrics. The Catherine Wheel appeared on Broadway in 1981. David Byrne produced Spite of Wishing and Wanting for the Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus’s dance company Ultima Vez. In 1991, Byrne released a classical instrumental album The Forest.

His work has been extensively used in film soundtracks, most notably in collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su on Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. In 2004, Lead Us Not into Temptation (music from the film “Young Adam”) included tracks and musical experiments from his score to Young Adam. Byrne also wrote, directed, and starred in True Stories, a musical collage of discordant Americana released in 1986, as well as producing most of the film’s music. Byrne also directed the documentary Île Aiye and the concert film of his 1992 Latin-tinged tour titled Between the Teeth. He was chiefly responsible for the stage design and choreography of Stop Making Sense in 1984. Byrne added “Loco de Amor” with Celia Cruz to Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film Something Wild.

Byrne wrote the Dirty Dozen Brass Band-inspired score for Robert Wilson’s Opera The Knee Plays from The Civil Wars: A Tree Is Best Measured When It Is Down. The Forest premiered at the Theater der Freien Volksbühne, Berlin in 1988. It received its New York premiere in December 1988 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The Forestry Maxi-single contained dance and industrial remixes of pieces from The Forest by Jack Dangers, Rudy Tambala, and Anthony Capel. In 2005, Byrne and Fatboy Slim began work on Here Lies Love, a disco opera or song cycle about the life of Imelda Marcos, the controversial former First Lady of the Philippines. In 2008, Byrne released Big Love: Hymnal – his soundtrack to season two of Big Love. Byrne and Brian Eno provided the soundtrack for the film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Byrne has contributed songs to five AIDS benefit compilation albums produced by the Red Hot Organization: Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter, Red Hot + Rio, Silencio=Muerte: Red Hot + Latin, Onda Sonora: Red Hot + Lisbon, and Offbeat: A Red Hot Soundtrip. Byrne appeared as a guest vocalist/guitarist for 10,000 Maniacs during their MTV Unplugged concert, though the songs in which he is featured were cut from their following album. One of them, “Let the Mystery Be”, appeared as the fourth track on 10,000 Maniacs’ CD single “Few and Far Between”. Byrne worked with Latin superstar Selena, writing, producing and singing a song (“God’s Child (Baila Conmigo)”), included on her last album before her murder, Dreaming of You. Byrne was the host of Sessions at West 54th during its second of three seasons and collaborated with members of Devo and Morcheeba to record the album Feelings in 1997. In 1992 he performed with Richard Thompson. Their joint acoustic concert at St. Ann & The Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights, New York on March 24, produced the album An Acoustic Evening which was released the same year. In 2001 a version of Byrne’s single “Like Humans Do”, edited to remove its drug reference, was selected by Microsoft as the sample music for Windows XP to demonstrate Windows Media Player.

In 2002, he co-wrote and provided vocals for a track, “Lazy” by X-Press 2, which reached No. 2 in the United Kingdom and number-one on the US Dance Charts. Byrne said in an interview on BBC Four Sessions coverage of his Union Chapel performance that “Lazy” was number-one in Syria. The track later featured with orchestral arrangements on his Grown Backwards (2004) album. In 2006, his singing was featured on “The Heart’s a Lonely Hunter” on The Cosmic Game by Thievery Corporation. He is featured on the tracks “Money” and “The People Tree”, on N.A.S.A.’s 2009 album The Spirit of Apollo. Also in 2009, Byrne appeared on HIV/AIDS charity album Dark Was the Night for Red Hot Organization. He collaborated with Dirty Projectors on the song “Knotty Pine”. In the same year, Byrne performed at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. He also was a signator of a letter protesting the decision of the Toronto International Film Festival to choose Tel Aviv as the subject of City-to-City Spotlight

In 2007, Byrne provided a cover of the Fiery Furnaces’ song “Ex-Guru” for a compilation to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the founding of Chicago-based record label Thrill Jockey. a In 2008, Byrne and his production team turned the Battery Maritime Building, a 99-year-old ferry terminal in Manhattan, into a playable musical instrument. The structure was connected electronically to a pipe organ and made playable for a piece called “Playing the Building”. This project was previously installed in Stockholm, Sweden in 2005, and later at the London Roundhouse in 2009. It bears similarities to a series of installations created by New Zealand and Detroit based artists Alastair Galbraith and Matt De Genaro, which were recorded on their 1998 record Wire Music and on the 2006 follow-up Long Wires in Dark Museums, Vol. 2. In April 2008, Byrne took part in the Paul Simon retrospective concert series at BAM performing “You Can Call Me Al” and “I Know What I Know” from Simon’s Graceland album.

In 2008, Byrne collaborated with the Brighton Port Authority, composing the music and singing the lyrics for “Toe Jam. In May 2011, Byrne contributed backing vocals to the Arcade Fire track “Speaking in Tongues” which appeared on the deluxe edition of their 2010 album The Suburb and also debuted a fully staged production of his 2010 concept album Here Lies Love at New York’s Public Theater, directed by Tony Award-nominee Alex Timbers following its premiere at MoCA earlier in the year. In 2014, Byrne announced his involvement with Anna Calvi’s EP, Strange Weather, collaborating with her on a cover of Keren Ann’s “Strange Weather” and Connan Mockasin’s “I’m the Man, That Will Find You”. In 2016, Byrne was featured on “Snoopies” and the Anonymous Nobody… by De La Soul. Byrne founded the world music record label Luaka Bop in 1990 to release Latin American compilations, music from Cuba, Africa, the Far East from artists such as Cornershop, Os Mutantes, Los De Abajo, Jim White, Zap Mama, Tom Zé, Los Amigos Invisibles and King Changó. Byrne guest starred as himself on The Simpsons episode, Dude, Where’s My Ranch? In 2005, Byrne created his own internet radio station, Radio David Byrne. On which he posts a playlist of music he likes, linked by themes or genres, such as African popular music, country music classics, vox humana, classical opera and film scores from Italian movies. In 2006, Byrne released Arboretum, a sketchbook facsimile of his Tree Drawings. Byrne’s work has been shown in art galleries and museums since the 1990s. In 2010 his original artwork was in the exhibition The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

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