Talking Heads Guitarist Jerry Harrison Agrees “Stop Making Sense” Is The Band At Their Peak

“On Fire At 40″ is a video series of artists talking their albums turning 40. This Month watch as Jerry Harrison looks back on the Talking Heads album “Stop Making Sense” 40 years down the road.

With “On Fire At 40,” we take some time to speak to artists and band members about their albums celebrating their 40th anniversary. Each month, we will speak to a different artist or band member about their album. This month, we speak with Jerry Harrison, guitarist, and keyboardist for Talking Heads about their album “Stop Making Sense” turning 40. The album was released in September 1984.

There has been a lot going on recognizing 40 years of the movie “Stop Making Sense”, so Jerry was used to the idea that much time has passed. But he still says that despite that, “It still seems like yesterday.” With the passage of time Jerry did remark “I have very vivid memories of what the process of mixing the album was.” The album was not a project that they embarked on until after the film was created and released. Jerry shared that it was a great experience being in the studio working on “Stop Making Sense.” They began the project working on “Once In A Lifetime.” Eric “ET” Thorngren and Chris Blackwell were part of the group of people working on the album. Jerry even shared after first mixing “Once In A Lifetime” that ET came back the next day and decided to throw it out and start over “But when he finished, we really, really liked it.”

At the point that work on the album had begun, David Byrne was traveling while working on other projects, husband and wife, Drummer Chris Frantz and Bassist Tina Weymouth had moved to Connecticut. Jerry said that Chris regularly visited the studio but “It was largely me trying to teach ET about what was where on the songs.” There was constant movement between studios and constantly working on the “Night shift.” One of the things Jerry spoke about that hampered mixing the album, was a nearby restaurant that served margaritas that were like punch bowls. “We’d go in have some food and have a margarita, which meant that, well, it made the mixing challenging when we went to 4 in the morning.” Working most times from 8PM to about 4 or 5 in the morning, Jerry even recalled one time both he and ET fell asleep sitting at the mixing board for about an hour. Despite all that, Jerry still commented “I think that this album is the first live album that I feel has the immediacy of a studio album.” “I think that’s one of the reasons the album has remained so relevant and revered, it was sort of trailblazing that way.”

Many reviews suggested that this album represented Talking Heads at their performance peak. When I asked Jerry if he agreed with that, he told me “It’s hard to argue with that.” “This is later in our career, we have the big band, and it’s super tight. When we recorded this in December of 83, we had been playing this show for most of the year.” We also discussed Talking Heads being a band that embraced the studio and playing live and played to the strength of the differences. Jerry spoke about the band being influenced by Brian Eno to be experimental in the studio. He also said “I think that when we were live, we tried to get what we had in the studio, as best we could. But then you went off on excursions which were either improvisational parts and parts started to change.” Jerry also spoke about other musicians that were also a part of what the band did.

The song list on “Stop Making Sense” spans the band’s career. For that reason, and the band being at its peak performance skill as we’d discussed earlier, I asked Jerry if he felt this album would be a good place for someone unfamiliar with the band to begin in checking them out. Jerry did agree. He immediately followed that up by saying “After you listen to “Stop Making Sense” go get “The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads.”

Watch the conversation above and you can check out the rest of the “On Fire At 40″ series here.

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