David Byrne on American Utopia, returning to live performance and more
David Byrne is, of course, the lead singer and frontman of the Talking Heads. The band recorded hit songs like “Psycho Killer,” “Life During Wartime,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” and so many more.
He is also a solo artist in his own right and has recorded instrumental electronic albums, pop records, and spoken word. He’s collaborated with Brian Eno, St. Vincent, Philip Glass, and Selena to name a few. He’s written books, scored soundtracks, even wrote and directed his own movie, 1986’s True Stories.
If you wanted to find a common theme in his work, maybe it’s that David Byrne has always worked to push the boundaries of what pop music can be. While at the same time, he takes high art – the kind of stuff you see in Manhattan galleries or in repertory theaters in Brooklyn – and makes it more accessible and familiar.
American Utopia is his latest project. It started as an album in 2018, then he toured on it with a handful of dates across the U.S. Only, he’s David Byrne, so he went the extra mile and added 12 musicians, all dressed alike in gray suits, carrying their instruments like a marching band and dancing with them. Everything’s also wireless. With nothing binding them to one spot, they can dance and move completely freely. It’s not like any concert you’ve ever seen.
He parlayed the tour into a full on Broadway production, premiering in 2019. Then, American Utopia’s live show became a movie directed by the one and only Spike Lee. That dropped late last year.
If you happen to be in New York, American Utopia will be returning to Broadway on September 17. You can also experience the show on your TV. The concert film is streaming now on HBO Max. It will also be debuting in theaters for the first time on September 15.
David Byrne chats with us about American Utopia and his return to playing live music. He also shares some of the music he’s been listening to lately and tells us about where he learned his iconic dance moves. Plus, he’ll tell us why his very different brain powers his art.
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Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.
Bullseye has been featured in Time, The New York Times, GQ and McSweeney’s, which called it “the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world.” Since April 2013, the show has been distributed by NPR.
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