Best known for his groundbreaking tenure fronting the new wave group Talking Heads, David Byrne’s solo work, while not as successful, was no less adventurous, encroaching upon such diverse media as world music, filmmaking, and performance art. Born May 14, 1952, in Dumbarton, Scotland, Byrne was raised in Baltimore, MD. The son of an electronics engineer, he played guitar in a series of teenage bands before attending the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, where, feeling alienated from the largely upper-class student population, he dropped out after one year. However, he remained in the Providence area, performing solo on a ukelele before forming the Artistics (also known as the Autistics) with fellow students Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth.
After changing the name of the band to Talking Heads and enlisting onetime Modern Lover Jerry Harrison, the group signed to Sire Records; a series of LPs, including the debut Talking Heads ’77, 1978′s More Songs About Buildings and Food, and 1980′s Remain in Light followed, establishing the quartet as one of contemporary music’s most visionary talents. During a band sabbatical in 1981, Byrne teamed with Brian Eno, the producer of much of the Heads’ work, for the collaborative effort My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a complex, evocative album which fused electronic music with Third World percussion and hypnotic vocal effects. That same year, Byrne also began exploring theater, composing The Complete Score From the Broadway Production of “The Catherine Wheel,” a dance piece choreographed by Twyla Tharp.
Byrne’s next solo work appeared in 1985 with The Knee Plays, a New Orleans brass band-influenced project composed for a portion of Robert Wilson’s theatrical epic CIVIL warS. In 1986, Byrne wrote, starred in, and directed the feature film True Stories, a series of comic vignettes based on press clippings culled from tabloid publications like the Weekly World News. He also wrote and produced the majority of music for the film’s score in addition to performing his usual duties for that year’s Talking Heads LP, also named True Stories. In 1988, he wrote the score to the Jonathan Demme comedy Married to the Mob and, in tandem with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su, won an Academy Award for his musical work on Bernardo Bertolucci’s historical epic The Last Emperor.
Also in 1988, Byrne’s fascination with world music, a longtime influence on his herky-jerky performance style as well as Talking Heads‘ complex polyrhythms, inspired him to form his own record label, Luaka Bop, to give widespread American release to global music. That same year, the Heads released Naked, their final proper LP, leaving Byrne to give future solo work his full attention. In 1989, he resurfaced with Rei Momo, a collection inspired by Latin rhythms, and also directed the documentary Ile Aiye (The House of Life), which focused on the rituals of Yoruban dance music. In 1991, he again collaborated with Robert Wilson on The Forest, writing music for a full orchestra.
1992′s Uh-Oh marked Byrne’s return to more conventional rock performance, a direction continued on a self-titled effort issued in 1994. Feelings, recorded with members of Morcheeba and Devo, followed in 1997. Four years later, Look Into the Eyeball was issued on Virgin Records/Luaka Bop and captured Byrne’s signature wry humor and musical diversity. In 2003, Byrne’s music for the film Young Adam (featuring members of Belle & Sebastian and Mogwai) was released as Lead Us Not Into Temptation by the Thrill Jockey label. Grown Backwards, his first for Nonesuch, appeared a year later. In 2007 Byrne released a CD/DVD version of The Knee Plays that featured the 12 original tracks along with eight demos and outtakes. – Jason Ankeny