A Conversation With David Byrne About His First Solo Album In 14 Years, ‘American Utopia’

Senior Music Writer
02.27.18

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David Byrne had no intention of making a new album last year. “It’s completely by accident,” the Talking Heads frontman explained to me by phone recently. “I didn’t sit there and go, ‘I’m going to write a record.'” The process that resulted in his first solo album in 14 years, American Utopia, began very organically. His friend and longtime collaborator Brian Eno sent him a few drum tracks, which Byrne started messing around with, adding different sonic textures and musical parts. “Next thing I knew, I got 10 songs or more and thought, ‘I’m going to turn these into a record,'” he recalled. “Then I go, okay, now I made a record, I really have to see it through. I have to refine it and polish it and shape it so it’s as good as it can be.”

“As good as it can be,” is quite good indeed. As someone who is almost patently allergic to nostalgia, Byrne has put together an album that not only sounds fresh, but concerns itself with the world as it exists in this moment, right now. And as absurd as the album title may sound in the era of Trump, American Utopia is not a cynical document. Like on his recent Reasons To Be Cheerful talk at the New School, there’s an aspirational, if not optimistic vibe that permeates throughout American Utopia. Byrne is not a man who presumes to have the answers, but he remains intensely interested in at least bringing some of the central questions of our time to the fore. After all, as he sings on “Everybody’s Coming To My House,” “We’re only tourists in this life / Only tourists, but the view is nice.”

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Byrne about American Utopia, his thoughts on Trump and the President’s opinions of African and Caribbean countries specifically, and also find out what he’s been reading and watching lately.

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