Jerry Harrison Is Bringing the Music of Talking Heads to the Mill Valley Music Festival
Former Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison always thought the innovative 1980s album Remain in Light was one of the band’s best. His good friend and collaborator on the album and subsequent tour, guitar virtuoso Adrian Belew, agreed.
“We would go out to dinner and we’d always kind of come back to the show that’s on YouTube of Talking Heads in Rome in the 1980s,” Harrison says. “And it was like, ‘god, the world needs this’ — the amount of joy that comes off of this.”
The two decided to do a tour based on the album for its 40th anniversary in 2020, but the pandemic quickly put those plans on hold. Three years later the duo — now joined by a 10-piece band — have finally taken the show on the road.
The ensemble is made of members of a band Harrison produced called Turkuaz that was already performing a Talking Heads song and includes a horn section, along with bass phenom Julie Slick, who is also a member of Belew’s Power Trio band.
“Since that Talking Heads show is our blueprint, having a female bass player just seemed true to form — and Julie is an awesome bass player,” Harrison says. On playing with an larger group, he adds, “There’s a joyousness to this. One thing that I love about it is I’ve never played with a horn section before — it’s been really exciting and fun.”
Harrison says the band and the shows have just been getting better and better and audiences are loving it. “People are reacting with a kind of ecstasy; they never thought they’d get to see this live,” he adds. “Many of them never saw Talking Heads, so they are seeing the power of the songs and the power of what Talking Heads was.”
The musician says the show, which also includes the Fear of Music song “Drugs,” a Belew-era King Crimson song and a solo Harrison song, will continue around the country. Eventually they will share the bill with Les Claypool and Sean Lennon, who will be performing the Pink Floyd album Animals with Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade.
Remain in Light was produced by studio mastermind Brian Eno, and Harrison says a focus on African rhythms and using the mixing board as a compositional tool made the album different. “The whole process was really going out on a limb — we had not written any songs when we walked in the studio because we had this idea that we wanted to catch people’s performances when they do something for the first time,” he says. “The lyrics came after the music and the result was great.”
As for playing this energetic show in his own backyard, Harrison isn’t really sure what it will be like, although he does know it will be different than simply sitting in on a tune at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass or doing a gig for Kiddo! But he says he, his wife and three kids love living in Mill Valley. They moved here — first living on a Sausalito houseboat — after Talking Heads was winding down and Harrison’s production career (Violent Femmes, Crash Test Dummies, No Doubt, and more) was taking off.
“Because of the Summer of Love, there was a whole infrastructure of not only recording studios, but classic recording equipment and people who know how to fix classic recording equipment here,” he says. “We also thought our kids could have that kind of Tom Sawyer childhood in Marin.”
Fans of the Talking Heads have a lot to look forward to, as new two-LP Record Store Day releases are coming, including a reissue of Remain in Light as well as re-releases from Talking Heads–alumni projects featuring Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz’s Tom Tom Club, David Byrne’s The Catherine Wheel and Harrison’s The Red and the Black. “It’s going to be great,” he says.
The Mill Valley Music Festival takes place May 13 and 14 and features bands like Cake and Michael Franti & Spearhead, along with more than 24 local food and vendor marketplace participants.