David Byrne and Brian Eno's follow-up to their classic album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts came out today. It's only been about 30 years between the two discs.
This pair has never shied from new technology, and, for now, the new tunes are for download only (at the Everything That Happens website). iTunes enters the picture next month, and, at some point, an actual CD will be released.
Byrne, a 1970 Lansdowne High School grad, plays the Lyric on September 17th. He posted these comments about the new project—which he categorizes as "folk-electronic-gospel"—at davidbyrne.com.
A couple of years ago, I passed through London and, having reconnected with Brian Eno during the Bush of Ghosts re-release, I popped round his office/studio to hear what he'd been working on. Just before parting, I recall Brian mentioning that he had accumulated a large number of instrumental tracks. Since Brian, in his own words, “hates writing words,” I suggested having a go at some lyrics and melodies for a few tracks, and we'd take it from there. If Brian wasn't pleased with the initial results, then, well that would be that.
Back in New York, Brian sent me a CD with some instrumentals — stereo rough mixes to be precise — and I listened to them on and off, trying to get a sense for the story the music was trying to tell. The tracks weren't ambient, as one might expect, and I sensed a song structure might emerge from these very evocative seeds. Emergence is a popular term these days, but it does almost perfectly evoke how musicians and songwriters cultivate the latent undertones of a basic musical kernel into something only hinted at in the song's humble beginnings. And thus, writers and musicians are often quoted as saying they feel only partially responsible for the creation of the works they've grown and nurtured.
After living with some of his music for almost a year, I eventually wrote back to Brian. I told him the tracks inspired a sort of folk-electronic-gospel feeling, and suggested that my words and tunes might reflect this, and did that direction seem OK?
I attacked the first song, which I think Brian had called “And Suddenly.” I'd just finished reading Dave Eggers's book What is the What?, about a young man named Valentino and his hallucinatory and horrific journey from his destroyed village in Darfur to Atlanta, Georgia and beyond. Valentino's story was harrowing but also beautiful, uplifting (in a un-corny way), and at times even funny. I think I may have been under the spell of his story when I sat down in front of my microphone.
The result is “One Fine Day.” I sang a few harmonies in the choruses to make it sound fuller and better and sent it off to Brian.
We were both thrilled: the gospel-folk-electronic seed had sprung to life, fully articulated here in this song. The words had some Biblical allusions, but nothing too overt. We agreed to continue, for the time being at least.
In the coming months, I produced an event about bicycles for The New Yorker Festival at Town Hall, to which I invited the Young at Heart Chorus to sing Queen's “Bicycle Race.” For our encore we did “One Fine Day,” which has an added resonance when performed by a choir with an average age of 80 years.
I wrote and recorded some more, completing “My Big Nurse” and “Life Is Long” next. It soon became apparent that we were not only happy with the results, but had found our path and would continue to follow it. We agreed on a fairly clear division of labor: music, Brian, vocals and lyrics, me.
The foundations of some of the tracks are much like those of traditional folk, country, or gospel songs before these styles became harmonically sophisticated. Brian's chord structures were unlike anything I would have chosen myself, so I was pushed in a new direction, asked to face the unfamiliar, and this, of course, was a good thing. The challenge was more emotional than technical: to write simple, heartfelt tunes without drawing on cliché. The results, in many cases, are uplifting, hopeful, and positive, even though some lyrics describe cars exploding, war, and similarly dark scenarios.
These songs have elements of our previous work — no surprise there — but something new has emerged here as well. Where does the sanguine and heartening tone come from, particularly in these troubled times? As I hinted at above, some of my lyrics and melodies were a response to what I sensed lay buried in the music. My task was to bring forth into language what was originally non-verbal. In the end, we have made something together that neither of us could have made on our own.
Hell's Kitchen, NY