Talking Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison teams with guitarist Adrian Belew to perform the music of the Talking Heads! They appear at the Lincoln Theatre in DC on Thursday, June 22. The pair originally started performing music for this tour to celebrate Remain in Light, Talking Heads’ fourth studio album, and the setlist draws from other Talking Heads albums as well.
As Talking Heads fans know, Jerry was originally a member of The Modern Lovers, a band that made a big impression on the Talking Heads when the band originally formed as David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth. The trio expanded to a quartet when they invited Jerry to join the band, and Harrison went on to become an essential part of the band’s sound over the course of eight studio albums. Indeed, Jerry launched a career in producing by first producing his own band!
On this tour, Jerry is joined by Adrian, who was also a significant player in Talking Heads, most notably contributing to Remain in Light, the 1980 album that lends its name to Jerry and Adrian’s current tour together.
Parklife DC’s Mickey McCarter chatted with Jerry Harrison about the joys of the tour, the legacy of the Talking Heads, and the unique position of The Modern Lovers in American music.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Mickey McCarter: It’s a pleasure to talk to you, Jerry. We are excited the Remain in Light Tour is coming to DC, and I initially thought that wasn’t going to happen because Adrian Belew was booked for a Celebrating David Bowie Tour. Were you always hoping to hit DC or did this opportunity come up because the Bowie tribute tour was delayed?
Jerry Harrison: We always wanted to come to Washington. We performed in Baltimore! We are delighted to come to Washington. I imagine the changes in Adrian’s schedule had a big influence on us being able to make it. But I don’t book the tour, so I cannot tell you about the timing.
MM: Fair enough! How have you been enjoying the tour so far? I saw the show in Baltimore, and seeing the two of you at the front of the stage was quite a moment! I was very moved seeing you two guys up there performing songs by the Talking Heads. You looked like you were having the time of your lives.
JH: That’s exactly how it is. It will be more of the same. It’s been interesting because we have been playing festivals for the past couple of years, and sometimes the shows were far apart — sometimes weeks apart and sometimes months apart. We did a great job, I think, given that we didn’t have much time to *re*-prepare ourselves.
But playing a song every night, you learn something about a song where that’s the only way to learn it. We’re performing “Slippery People” because Mavis Staples covered that song. And we have two women singers in the band, and we want to give them a chance to shine. It’s a perfect opportunity. I come in on the middle of a sax solo, and one night the drummers came in with me with a sort of jungle beat. And that was cool! “Let’s keep that!” Those are the things that happen when you are playing four or five nights a week, which we definitely are doing now. We sometimes play five nights in five days. And all of these things are fresh in your mind from doing it so often.
Watch the Staples Singers perform “Slippery People” by Talking Heads live on Soul Train via YouTube:
MM: How does it feel to take these Talking Heads songs on the road again and experience them live again?
JH: I haven’t actually been on the road in 25 years. There is a love of these songs from both the musicians and the audience. There’s a happiness that goes with it that’s really great.
MM: I think it really feels a need. There’s nothing quite like Talking Heads. Given that a Talking Heads reunion doesn’t seem to be in the cards, how do you feel about it? Are you sad, ambivalent, satisfied?
JH: I would say I’m disappointed. I know a lot of fans would be so happy to see a reunion. I don’t like disappointing the fans because I respect the people whom we were able to influence. I was very happy in 2002 when we were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and that was the first time my wife got to see me perform. My kids got to see us perform. It’s one thing to do two or three songs. It’s another thing to do an entire show.
I also think it would be a wonderful challenge for David Byrne. He’s very much into the design of a show. He would do the design. We would give him that opportunity, so he’s missing out on an opportunity.
His life is full. He’s putting Here Lies Love on Broadway. I’m not holding my breath, but it would be unique experience, the fans would love it, and we would have a great time. We have the means to do a show to whatever degree of lighting, staging, or whatever we want. That freedom would be great.
For this show, getting 11 musicians to be on tour is a challenge. We give some lighting cues to a local director, and they do a great job. But they have no rehearsals or anything like that. It would be great to do a tour where you could plan the minutiae of the show and get down into those details. In all of those ways, I wish we would do it.
My life has been full of various things as well. I produce wonderful bands. I’ve started some fascinating companies. I’ve done lots of other things. I have found the last few years being involved in microprocessor design to co-founding a pharmaceutical company to a fintech firm to GarageBand.com. These have all been very stimulating for keeping my mind active and not simply doing one thing.
MM: Perhaps David should read this and consider this an invitation to contemplate the creative challenge of such a tour.
MM: Before you go, I really have to ask you about The Modern Lovers and the legacy of that band’s debut album. I look back on that and think about that as the first truly post-punk album. What a position it holds in the evolution of American punk, American new wave, and American music! Do you have any thoughts on its legacy?
JH: I agree with you entirely! The groups that provided the blueprint for the punk scene began with The Velvet Underground, through The Stooges, and then The Modern Lovers. The ethos of punk is, “I have something to say, and I want to say it so much that I will find the means to say it even if I don’t know how to play an instrument. I’ll find some way to express it in music.” It’s so great. I think we were able to do that, and people were inspired by that. The songs have really held up.
I’ve been making a couple of more albums with Jonathan Rickman lately, and I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to hear them. They are really quite interesting. In fact, he’s recording them at my house. Our friendship has grown a lot through that. He’s rebuilding a house, and he’s asked me questions about architecture, and we talk about a lot of different things. It’s great!
MM: Thank you so much for your time, Jerry!
Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew appear at the Lincoln Theatre to perform the music of Talking Heads on June 22, 2023.
Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew: Remain in Light
W/ Cool Cool Cool
Thursday, June 22
Doors @ 6:30pm