David Byrne

David Byrne
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 59)
Dumbarton, Scotland, UK
Genres New Wave, experimental pop, worldbeat, alternative rock
Occupations Musician, songwriter, artist, singer, actor, director, film producer, record producer
Instruments Vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, synthesizer, flute, clavinet, slide guitar, harmonica, autoharp, harmonium, violin, accordion buildings[1]
Years active 1974–present
Labels Luaka Bop, Nonesuch Records, Thrill Jockey
Associated acts Talking Heads, Brian Eno, X-Press 2, Fatboy Slim, The BPA
Website www.davidbyrne.com
Notable instruments
Fender Duo-Sonic
Fender Stratocaster

David Byrne (born May 14, 1952) is a musician and artist, best known as a founding member and principal songwriter of the American new wave band Talking Heads, which was active between 1975 and 1991. Since then, Byrne has released his own solo recordings and worked with various media including film, photography, opera, and non-fiction. He has received Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe awards and been inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.



Byrne was born in Dumbarton, Scotland, to Tom and Emma Byrne. He was the elder 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 He was rejected from his middle school’s choir because they claimed he was "off-key and too withdrawn."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.[2] In his journals he says, "I was a peculiar young man — borderline Asperger's, I would guess."[3][4] As revealed by Tina Weymouth in the commentary for the concert film Stop Making Sense, Byrne is left handed but plays guitar right handed.

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 and the Maryland Institute College of Art before dropping out and forming a band called "The Artistics" with fellow RISD student Chris Frantz.[5] 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 learn to play the bass guitar. She admits that the encouragement she received from Byrne, Frantz, and famed trumpet player Don Cherry (who lived in their building), was critical as to her grasp of the instrument.

After some practice and playing together they founded the group Talking Heads which had its first gig in 1975.[6][7] Multi-instrumentalist Jerry Harrison joined the group in 1977. 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 began a relationship with the artist Cindy Sherman in 2007.[8]

Although a resident of the United States since childhood, Byrne is a British citizen,[9] and has never applied for U.S. citizenship. He lives in New York City.

Work in music and film

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

In 1981, Byrne partnered with choreographer Twyla Tharp, scoring music he wrote that appeared on his album, The Catherine Wheel for a ballet with the same name, 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 Academy Award 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 discordant Americana released in 1986, as well as producing most of the film's music. 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 Amor" (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: A Tree Is Best Measured When It Is Down. 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.

Byrne has contributed songs to five AIDS benefit compilation albums produced by the Red Hot Organization: Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter, Red Hot + Rio, Silencio=Muerte: Red Hot + Latin, Onda Sonora: Red Hot + Lisbon, and Offbeat: A Red Hot Soundtrip. Byrne 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 their following album. One of them, "Let the Mystery Be", appeared as the fourth track on 10,000 Maniacs' CD single "Few and Far Between". Byrne worked with the "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 and collaborated with members of Devo and Morcheeba to record the album Feelings in 1997.

In 2008 Byrne collaborated with The Brighton Port Authority, composing the music and singing the lyrics for "Toe Jam".

In May 2011 Byrne contributed backing vocals to the Arcade Fire track "Speaking in Tongues" which appeared on the deluxe edition of their 2011 album The Suburbs[10]

He made most of the music for the movie Wall Street II (Money Never Sleeps)

Other work

Byrne founded the world music record label Luaka Bop in 1990. It was originally created to release Latin American compilations, but it has grown to include music from Cuba, Africa, the Far East and beyond, releasing the work of artists such as Cornershop, Os Mutantes, Los De Abajo, Jim White, Zap Mama, Tom Zé, Los Amigos Invisibles and King Chango.[11][12]

Byrne is also a visual artist whose work has been shown in contemporary art galleries and museums around the world since the 1990s. Represented by the Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York, he has also created public art installations, many of them anonymously. In 2010 his original art work is due to be featured in the exhibition The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.[13]


Byrne is 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. He has a regular cycling column in the New York Times.

He says that he cycled when he was in high school and returned to it as an adult 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.[14] In August 2009, he auctioned his Montague folding bike in order to raise money for the London Cycling Campaign.

In 2008, Byrne designed a series of innovative bicycle parking racks in the form of image outlines corresponding to the areas in which they were located, such as a dollar sign for Wall Street and an electric guitar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Byrne worked with a manufacturer that would construct the racks in exchange for the chance to sell them later as artworks, and the racks remained on the streets for about a year.[15]

Musical activity since 2001

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).[16][17] 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. Byrne 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?". Later in the year, Byrne released the book Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information (ISBN 3-88243-907-6). together with a companion DVD. 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." [18]

Byrne's solo album, Grown Backwards, was released on March 16, 2004 by Nonesuch Records. 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.[19] Each month, Byrne posts a playlist of music he likes, linked by themes or genres. Byrne's playlists have included African popular music; Country music classics; Vox Humana; Classical opera, and film scores from Italian movies. 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.[20]

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. 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.

Byrne playing; Austin City Limits, in 2008

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.[21] In 2008, Byrne and his production team programmed the Battery Maritime Building, a 99-year-old ferry terminal in Manhattan, to play music.[22] Essentially Byrne took 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 was also installed in 2005 in Stockholm, Sweden,[23] and at the London Roundhouse in 2009. It bears similarities 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.[24] 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.[25] 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. In the same year, Byrne performed at the Austin City Limits festival.

He is featured on the tracks "Money" and "The People Tree", on N.A.S.A.'s 2009 album The Spirit of Apollo. Also in 2009, David Byrne appeared on HIV/AIDS charity album Dark Was the Night for Red Hot Organization. He collaborated with Dirty Projectors on the song "Knotty Pine". In the same year, Byrne performed at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. He also was a signator of a letter protesting the decision of the Toronto International Film Festival to choose Tel Aviv as the subject of its inaugural City-to-City Spotlight strand.[26]

In 2010, David Byrne songs were featured on the soundtrack of Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Works by David Byrne

Selected discography


  • True Stories (1986)
  • Strange Ritual, Chronicle Books (1995)
  • Your Action World (1999)
  • The New Sins (Los Nuevos Pecados) (2001)
  • David Byrne Asks You: What Is It? Smart Art Press (2002)
  • Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information with DVD (2003)
  • Arboretum, (2006)
  • Bicycle Diaries (2009)




  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). http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/30/arts/music/30byrn.html. Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  2. ^ "Rock's Renaissance Man." TIME Magazine. October 27, 1986. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  3. ^ Indie Rock’s Patron Saint Inspires a New Flock - Referencing Bryne's April 15, 2006 journal entry. New York Times, By Will Hermes, January 14, 2007. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  4. ^ David Byrne Journal: 4.15.06: Military revolt, back pages. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  5. ^ Gittins, Ian, Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime : the Stories Behind Every Song, Hal Leonard Corporation, 2004, p. 140 ISBN 0634080334, 9780634080333.
  6. ^ Tina Talks Heads, Tom Toms, and How to Succeed at Bass Without Really Trying Gregory Isola, Bass Magazine. Retrieved November 23, 2008.
  7. ^ Talking Heads Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved November 23, 2008.
  8. ^ Simon Hattenstone. "Cindy Sherman interview". Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/jan/15/cindy-sherman-interview. Retrieved 2011-11-02. 
  9. ^ "David Byrne Can’t Vote But Hopes You Will." Rolling Stone. November 04, 2008. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  10. ^ "Arcade Fire feat David Byrne – Speaking in Tongues". The Guardian. 2011-05-24. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2011/may/24/arcade-fire-david-byrne-speaking-in-tongues. 
  11. ^ Official site Cited June 30, 2009
  12. ^ NPR audio interview July 8, 2000. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  13. ^ Visual art listing at Bryne's website. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  14. ^ Rocker/bike activist David Byrne announces Portland event by Jonathan Maus on July 23, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  15. ^ Ariel Kaminer. "David Byrne, Cultural Omnivore, Raises Cycling Rack to an Art Form." The New York Times. August 8, 2008. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ You May Find Yourself On Windows XP - Forbes.com by Davide Dukcevich, August 21, 2001. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  18. ^ Wired 11.09: Learning to Love PowerPoint. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  19. ^ "Radio David Byrne". David Byrne.com. http://www.davidbyrne.com/radio/index.php. Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  20. ^ "Radio David Byrne, June 2007: "I Still Buy CDs!"". David Byrne.com. Archived from the original on 2008-06-17. http://web.archive.org/web/20080617111340/http://www.davidbyrne.com/radio/archives/2007.php#june_07. Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  21. ^ David Byrne joins Paul Simon on stage in New York, NME. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  22. ^ Thill, Scott (May 12, 2008). "David Byrne Converts Building Into Giant Instrument". Wired.com (Advance Publications). Archived from the original on 2008-05-19. http://web.archive.org/web/20080519033341/http://blog.wired.com/music/2008/05/david-byrne-con.html. Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  23. ^ "David Byrne Playing the Building". October 8, 2005. http://www.fargfabriken.se/index.php?tabell=content&id=1&imgnr=6. Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  24. ^ Brian Baiker. "A Building for a Song." Newsweek. June 2, 2008. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  25. ^ "Tour Dates for David Byrne - Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno". David Byrne. 2008-08-04. Archived from the original on 2008-08-22. http://web.archive.org/web/20080822132005/http://www.everythingthathappens.com/tour.html. Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  26. ^ Toronto film festival hit by protest over Tel Aviv strand by Ben Walters, September 07, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
  27. ^ "Byrne's bibliography on Byrne's Website". Davidbyrne.com. http://www.davidbyrne.com/art/david_byrne_artbio.php. Retrieved 2010-06-25. 
  28. ^ "David Byrne website film listing". Davidbyrne.com. http://www.davidbyrne.com/film/index.php. Retrieved 2010-06-25. 

Further reading

  • Sytze Steenstra: Song and Circumstance. The Work of David Byrne from Talking Heads to the Present. New York and London: Continuum Books, 2010.
  • John Howell: David Byrne. (American Originals Series) New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1992.
  • Ian Gittin: Talking Heads - Once in a Lifetime: The Stories Behind Every Song.

External links

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