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David Byrne

David Byrne speaking at the 2006 Future of Music Policy Summit hosted by the McGill University Schulich School of Music in Montreal, Quebec
Background information
Born May 14, 1952 (1952-05-14) (age 57)
Dumbarton, Scotland, UK
Genres Experimental pop music, worldbeat, New Wave, alternative rock
Occupations Musician, artist, singer, actor, director, producer, Record producer
Instruments Vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, synthesizer, Flute, Clavinet, slide guitar, autoharp, harmonium, buildings[1]
Years active 1974–present
Associated acts Talking Heads, Brian Eno, X-Press 2
Website Official Website
Notable instruments
Fender Mustang
Fender Stratocaster

David Byrne (born May 14, 1952) is a Scottish-born musician and artist best known as a founding member and principal songwriter of the American new wave band Talking Heads, which was active between 1974 and 1991. Since then, Byrne has released his own solo projects on record, and worked in a variety of media, including film, photography, opera, and Internet-based projects. He has received Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe awards for his achievements.

Although a resident of the United States since childhood, Byrne is not a U.S. citizen.[2]


Early years

Byrne was born in Dumbarton, Scotland to Tom and Emma Byrne, the older of two children. Two years later, his parents moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and then to Arbutus, Maryland, when he was 8 or 9 years old. His father worked as an electronics engineer. Before high school, David 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 He was rejected from his middle school’s choir because they claimed he was “off-key and too withdrawn”.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, Byrne 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.[3] He graduated from Lansdowne High School in southwest Baltimore County. Byrne started his musical career in a high school duo named Bizadi with Mark Kehoe. Their repertoire consisted mostly of songs such as "April Showers", "96 Tears", "Dancing On The Ceiling", and Frank Sinatra songs. Byrne then attended the Rhode Island School of Design for one year before dropping out and forming a band called "The Artistics" with fellow RISD student Chris Frantz.[4] The band dissolved within a year, and the two moved to New York together with Frantz's girlfriend Tina Weymouth. Unable to find a bass player in New York, Frantz and Byrne persuaded Weymouth to start playing bass guitar, and together with Jerry Harrison they formed the group Talking Heads which had its first gig in 1975.[5][6]

During his time in the band, Byrne took on outside projects, collaborating with Brian Eno in 1981 on the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which attracted considerable critical acclaim and featured a groundbreaking use of sampling.

While working on the film True Stories, Byrne met costume designer Adelle Lutz whom he married in 1987. They have a daughter, Malu Abeni Valentine Byrne, born in 1989. Byrne and Lutz divorced in 2004. Byrne currently lives in New York City.

Varied work

As part of Talking Heads in 1978 Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin

In 1981, Byrne partnered with choreographer Twyla Tharp, scoring "The Catherine Wheel," a ballet prominently featuring unusual rhythms and lyrics. Productions of "The Catherine Wheel" appeared on Broadway that same year. In Spite of Wishing and Wanting is a soundscape David Byrne produced for the Belgian dance company Ultima Vez.

His work has been extensively used in movie soundtracks, most notably in collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su on Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, which won an Oscar 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 quirky Americana released in 1986. He wrote and produced most of the music in the movie as well. 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 Mor (Crazy for Love) 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. Some of the music from Byrne's orchestral album The Forest was originally used in a Wilson-directed theatre piece with the same name. The Forest premiered at the Theater der Freien Volksbühne, Berlin in 1988. It received its New York premiere in December 1988 at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Forestry Maxi-single contained dance and industrial remixes of pieces from The Forest by Jack Dangers, Rudy Tambala, and Anthony Capel.

In 1990, Byrne contributed a version of "Don't Fence Me In" to the AIDS benefit compilation album Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter.

Byrne also 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 its album. One of them, "Let the Mystery Be", appeared as the fourth track on 10,000 Maniacs' CD single "Few and Far Between".

Byrne also worked with "Queen of Tex-Mex", Tejano superstar Selena, writing, producing and singing a song ("God's Child (Baila Conmigo)"), included on Selena's last album, "Dreaming of You", before her death.

Byrne was the host of Sessions at West 54th during its second of three seasons.

Byrne also collaborated with members of Devo and Morcheeba to record an album called Feelings in 1997.

Luaka Bop

Byrne founded Luaka Bop, a world music record label which releases the work of artists Cornershop, Os Mutantes, Los De Abajo, Jim White, Zap Mama, Tom Zé, Los Amigos Invisibles, King Chango among others.[7]

Byrne is also a visual artist, and has shown his work in contemporary art galleries and museums around the world since the 1990s. He has also created a number of public art installations, many of them anonymous. He is represented by Pace/MacGill Gallery, NYC. In 2008 he designed nine bike racks around Brooklyn and Manhattan.[8]


Byrne is also known for his activism in support of increased cycling, and for having used a bike as his main means of transport for most of his life, especially cycling around New York, where he has designed innovative bicycle parking racks, as image outlines.[9] He says that he cycled when he was in high school and was able to get back into the sport in the late 1970s. He likes the freedom and exhilarating feeling cycling gives him. He has written widely on cycling, including a 2009 book, Bicycle Diaries.[10] In August 2009, he auctioned his Montague folding bike in order to raise money for the London Cycling Campaign.

In 2008, The New York City Department of Transportation asked Byrne if he would help judge a competition for bike rack designs in the city and he eagerly accepted. Enthusiastic about the competition, Byrne sent in some designs of his own for bike racks that would correspond with the area they were located. For example a dollar sign for Wall Street and an electric guitar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Department of Transportation loved the designs and said that they would allow him to put them up, if he could find someone to make them. Sure enough, Byrne found a place that would make the racks in exchange for the chance to sell them later as pieces of art. The racks ended up staying on the streets for about a year.[11]

Recent musical activity

Byrne at London's Royal Festival Hall in April 2009

In 2001 a censored version of Byrne's single "Like Humans Do" was selected by Microsoft as the sample music for Windows XP to demonstrate Windows Media Player (not included in SP2 installs).[12][13] The next year, he provided vocals for a track, "Lazy" by X-Press 2, which reached number 2 in the United Kingdom and number 1 on the U.S. Dance Charts. David said in an interview in BBC Four Sessions's coverage of his Union Chapel performance that Lazy was number 1 in Syria.

In April 2003, Byrne appeared as himself in an episode of The Simpsons, "Dude, Where's My Ranch?".

In late 2003, Byrne released a book with a companion DVD called Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information (ISBN 3-88243-907-6). The work included artwork composed entirely in Microsoft PowerPoint. It includes one image that depicts, according to Byrne, "Dan Rather's profile. Expanded to the nth degree. Taken to infinity. Overlaid on the back of Patrick Stewart's head."[14]

Byrne's latest solo album, Grown Backwards, was released on March 16, 2004 by Nonesuch. This album used orchestral string arrangements, and includes two operatic arias. 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. The following year, his singing was featured on "The Heart's a Lonely Hunter" on The Cosmic Game by Thievery Corporation.

In 2005, Byrne initiated his own internet radio station, Radio David Byrne.[15] Each month, Byrne posts a playlist of music he likes, linked by themes or genres. Byrne's playlists have included African Popular Music; Rednecks, Racists, & Reactionaries: Country Classics; Vox Humana; Classical Opera; Italian Movie Music. Byrne also posts personal comments on the music and, occasionally, on the state of the recorded music industry. In July 2007, Byrne posted the following comment:

There was another piece in the Times today about yet another 20 percent drop in CD sales. (Are they running the same news piece every 4 months?) Jeez guys, the writing's on the wall. How long do the record execs think they'll have those offices and nice parking spaces? (Well, more than half of all record A&R and other execs are gone already, so there should be plenty of parking space). They, the big 4 or 5, should give the catalogues back to the artists or their heirs as a gesture before they close the office doors, as they sure don't know how to sell music anymore. (I have Talking Heads stuff on the shelf that I can't get Warner to release.) The "industry" had a nice 50-year ride, but it's time to move on. Luckily, music remains more or less unaffected — there is a lot of great music out there. A new model will emerge that includes rather than sues its own customers, that realizes that music is not a product in the sense of being a thing — it's closer to fashion, in that for music fans it tells them and their friends who they are, what they feel passionately about and to some extent what makes life fun and interesting. It's about a sense of community — a song ties a whole invisible disparate community together. It's not about selling the (often) shattered plastic case CDs used to come in.[16]

Returning to this work in the theatre, in late 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. Some music from this piece was debuted at Adelaide Festival of Arts in Australia in February 2006 and the following year at Carnegie Hall on February 3, 2007.

Byrne and Eno's influential 1981 album 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, two of the songs' component tracks were released under Creative Commons licenses and a remix contest site was launched. Later that same year, Byrne released Arboretum, a sketchbook facsimile of his Tree Drawings, published by McSweeney's. He also had an exhibition of his chairs — drawings, photographs, sculptures, and embroideries — at Pace/MacGill Gallery, NYC. Byrne was profiled in the New York Times in January, 2007.[17] The article refers to his April 15, 2006 journal entry, in which he wrote: "I was a peculiar young man — borderline Asperger's, I would guess."[18]

In 2007, David Byrne provided a cover of The Fiery Furnaces' song "Ex-Guru" for a compilation to celebrate the 15th birthday of Thrill Jockey, a Chicago-based label.

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.[19] In 2008, Byrne and his band programmed the Battery Maritime Building, a 99-year-old ferry terminal in Manhattan, to play music.[20] Essentially Byrne has taken the old New York City building, hooked the entire structure - pipes, heaters, pillars and all, electronically to an old pipe organ, and made a playable musical instrument of it, for a piece called "Playing the Building".[1] This project is markedly similar to an installation of his that ran in 2005 in Stockholm, Sweden,[21] and to a series of installations performed by New Zealand and Detroit based artists Alastair Galbraith and Matt De Genaro, recorded on their 1998 record Wire Music and 2006 follow-up Long Wires in Dark Museums, Vol. 2.

Byrne says that the point in this project was to allow people to experience art first hand, by creating the music with the organ, rather than simply looking at it.[22]

Byrne and Eno reunited for 2008's Everything That Happens Will Happen Today and Byrne assembled a band to tour the album and other collaborations between the two through late 2008.[23] He assembled a band to tour worldwide for the album for a six-month period from late 2008 through early 2009 on the Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno Tour. The day after that album was released, Big Love: Hymnal - his soundtrack to season two of Big Love was made available. These two albums constituted the first releases on his personal independent record label Todo Mundo.

He is featured on the tracks "Money" and "The People Tree", on N.A.S.A.'s 2009 album The Spirit of Apollo.

David Byrne appeared on HIV/AIDS charity album Dark Was the Night for Red Hot Organization in 2009. He collaborated with Dirty Projectors on the song "Knotty Pine".

David Byrne performed at the 2009 Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.

In the summer of 2009 Byrne was a signator of a protest letter against the spotlight on Israel at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.[24]



  1. ^ a b Kennedy, Randy (May 30, 2008). "David Byrne’s New Band, With Architectural Solos". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  2. ^ "David Byrne Can’t Vote But Hopes You Will." Rolling Stone. November 04, 2008. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  3. ^ "Rock's Renaissance Man." TIME Magazine. October 27, 1986. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  4. ^ Gittins, Ian, Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime : the Stories Behind Every Song, Hal Leonard Corporation, 2004, p. 140 ISBN 0634080334, 9780634080333.
  5. ^ Tina Talks Heads, Tom Toms, and How to Succeed at Bass Without Really Trying Gregory Isola, Bass Player Magazine. Retrieved November 23, 2008.
  6. ^ Talking Heads Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved November 23, 2008.
  7. ^ Official site Cited June 30, 2009.
  8. ^ "David Byrne bike racks". Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  9. ^ Ariel Kaminer. "David Byrne, Cultural Omnivore, Raises Cycling Rack to an Art Form." The New York Times. August 8, 2008. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  10. ^ Rocker/bike activist David Byrne announces Portland event by Jonathan Maus on July 23, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  11. ^ Ariel Kaminer. "David Byrne, Cultural Omnivore, Raises Cycling Rack to an Art Form." The New York Times. August 8, 2008. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  12. ^ David Byrne to Provide Promotional Music for Windows XP: "Like Humans Do" to Give Music Fans a Taste of the Digital Music Experience in Windows XP. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  13. ^ You May Find Yourself On Windows XP - by Davide Dukcevich, August 21, 2001. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  14. ^ Wired 11.09: Learning to Love PowerPoint. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  15. ^ "Radio David Byrne". David Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  16. ^ "Radio David Byrne, June 2007: "I Still Buy CDs!"". David Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  17. ^ Indie Rock’s Patron Saint Inspires a New Flock - New York Times, By Will Hermes, January 14, 2007. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  18. ^ David Byrne Journal: 4.15.06: Military revolt, back pages. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  19. ^ David Byrne joins Paul Simon on stage in New York, NME. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  20. ^ Thill, Scott (May 12, 2008). "David Byrne Converts Building Into Giant Instrument". (Advance Publications). Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  21. ^ "David Byrne Playing the Building". October 08, 2005. Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  22. ^ Brian Baiker. "A Building for a Song." Newsweek. June 2, 2008. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  23. ^ "Tour Dates for David Byrne - Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno". David Byrne. 2008-08-04. Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  24. ^ Toronto film festival hit by protest over Tel Aviv strand by Ben Walters, September 07, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-11.

Further reading

  • John Howell: David Byrne. (American Originals Series) New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1992.
  • Talking Heads - Once in a Lifetime: The Stories Behind Every Song by Ian Gittin

External links



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