Q&A: Tom Tom Club, Downtown Rockeros

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We had a very pleasant conversation with Chris Frantz from Tom Tom Club over the phone. On November 1st, they performed at Brooklyn Bowl, bringing good vibes into town. They’re promoting Downtown Rockers, their first album in over a decade (available in ). The album is full of nostalgia for the era when punk and New Wave ruled in downtown Manhattan – was hard to see this part of the city in darkness recently. The album has a retro vibe, very funky. Chris also talked about Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, how Tom Tom Club ended up working with a Latin label, how great a band Talking Heads was, and about Antonio Banderas.

Check out the free download below too (via Nacional Records, includes Tom Tom Club’s “Kissin’ Antonio”).

It’s great to have Tom Tom Club back. I mean, you’ve been around, touring, performing, but this is the first original record you’ve put out in 12 years. What made you decide go back to the studio?

I think the main reason was that we had been doing a tour this time last year. We did a tour of North America with a band called Psychedelic Furs, and the tour was a big success. The band was sounding great. We were all having a good time. And before each show, during the sound check, we would just fool around improvising, and having little impromptu jam sessions. They were sounding very good to us. Nice and funky. So we thought, when we get off the road, let’s go into the studio and do some more improvisations, see what we come up with. After recording the jam sessions we edited them into song form, and Tina wrote lyrics, I wrote a few lyrics, and the result is what you hear. You know? We had never really intended to stop recording.

The song “Downtown Rockers” is like a tribute to the era of the golden age of punk in New York City. Do you feel like something from this scene is coming back? Are the times similar?

I do not find these times similar, but my feeling is that those bands are just as important today as they were then. The great thing about back then is that none of the bands sounded the same. Each band was unique, and each band had its own personal style. Some people might say that we’re being nostalgic by looking back like that, but really, it gives us a recharge, and we prefer to think of it as historic rather than nostalgic.

David (Byrne) is also back. He’s collaborating with St. Vincent. I know you probably get this a lot, but are there any possibilities of getting Talking Heads to perform together? Are you still in touch?

We’re in touch by email. David’s preferred method of communication is email. It’s been almost ten years since I actually sat down and talked to him person to person. He has always said that he has absolutely no interest in getting Talking Heads back together. We can only keep our fingers crossed because we know it’s a great band, right? If he prefers not to, then that’s that.


Back in 1994 you and Tina produced Rey Azúcar for Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Can you tell me about that experience?

It was a wonderful experience. Their manager, a guy named Tomas Cookman called us up on the telephone and he said, “Chris and Tina, I manage a band in Argentina called Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and they are very much interested in having you produce their next record, and they would like to do it at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. They’re playing in San Juan Puerto Rico this weekend. Why don’t I fly you down there to see them, and you can decide after you see their performance?” I flew down to San Juan, and I went to see the band and they were fantastic. I mean, really brilliant. So Tina and I agreed to do the production job. We met them at Compass Point, and we didn’t really have to do much producing, because they were so professional and so well prepared, that all we had to do was make sure that everything was recorded very well and that the mixes were great.

We also brought in some friends of ours, at their request, to guest on the record. Debbi Harry, Mick Jones from The Clash, and Big Youth came up from Jamaica, and appeared in a couple of tracks. So we had a marvelous experience with them. And about two years ago, Tomas called me up and he said, “You know that live album that Tom Tom Club did, that never had a proper release? We’d like to release it on Nacional (Records). So what do you think?” So Tina and I very quickly agreed for him to do that, and we decided when we recorded this new album to stick with them, because they’re good people. We feel very comfortable at Nacional, even though we’re Anglos.

Are there any other Latin American bands that you listen to?

I love Mexican Institute of Sound and Nortec Collective. We did a collaboration with The Pinker Tones, from Barcelona. They had other bands covering their songs, and we did “Love Tape” which is one of their songs. We had a lot of fun doing that. But to be honest I haven’t had a lot of interaction with the Latin music community until recently. You can’t get any more Anglo than I am, but I’m very comfortable with these cats and these ladies.

What’s the story behind this Antonio from “Kissin’ Antonio”?

The title was Tina’s idea, but the inspiration was a Latin Boogaloo like Joe Cuba’s “Bang Bang.” Something like that. Of course, I heard those songs way back in the day. But our guitar player is a guy named Pablo Martin from Buenos Aires, Argentina, but he’s lived in New York for ten years or something. We met him through Sergio of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. We were looking for a guitar player, so we tried Pablo out and he worked really well. He and I were talking about music. He does a DJ night where he often plays Latin Boogaloo, so I thought: we should try that with Tom Tom Club. We can do that. That’s how the backing track for “Kissin’ Antonio” came about. Tina wanted to leave it just as an instrumental, but I said: people want to hear some singing. So she said, “I’m just going to do as few lyrics as possible.” So she said, “What’s a good Spanish man’s name that everybody would like to kiss? I think Antonio.” So that’s how that came about.

Has it anything to do with Antonio Banderas?

Exactly. All the girls love Antonio Banderas, right?