David Byrne is, of course, a legendary name. But part of what I love about music is, for all the hero worship that sometimes accompanies music writing and fandom, there’s always something to learn from musicians whose work you enjoy – whether famous or obscure.
David Byrne has been singularly open in talking about his work and process. In an extensive post this week, he shares how collaborations with other artists are born, evolve, and unfold:
And, boy, are the collaborations coming now. The new Here Lies Love is a project with Fatboy Slim. In the post above, he works with the fantastically-talented St. Vincent – Annie (who in turn enlists Bon Iver and Bryce D). In the video at top, there’s a terrific fusion of Byrne’s idiosyncratic songwriting with the quirky, sultry, original Santigold – a fusion you might think doesn’t work, then blows you away. (The work itself is politically poignant, the tale of Imelda taking political matters into her own hands and “handbag,” a telling message in today’s politically-delicate era. See the separate post on the video.)
But it’s not as simple as “I’m awesome, you’re awesome, the song is done.” In fact, David Byrne’s own revelation about how to make collaborations work may seem surprisingly familiar. Learning how to leave alone the other person’s work is a significant part of the process:
The unwritten game rules in these remote collaborations seem to be to leave the other person’s stuff alone as much as you can. Work with what you’re given; don’t try to imagine it as something other than what it is.
This presents some musical challenges, of course, but the benefits generally outweigh them. The fact that half the musical decision-making has already been done bypasses a lot of waffling and worrying. I didn’t have to think about what to do and what direction to take musically — the train had already left the station and my job was to see where it wanted to go. This restriction on one’s freedom — that some creative decisions have already been made — turns out to be a great blessing. Complete creative freedom is as much a curse as a boon.
(I could practically quote the whole article; go read the whole thing.)
Also, for any time any of us has said, if only I had time to build that new studio, if only I had time to clean this studio, if only I had elaborate soundproofing … enough already. David Byrne’s studio is in a warehouse with concrete floors and sheetrock walls (that apparently kinda sorta work as sound baffling) and some industrial carpet. And it’s messy. And he’s David Byrne. So there’s no reason not to make something work in the corner of your room, today.
Of course, I know all of this not because I’m a privileged music journo or celebrity, but because the artist is sharing – a wonderful gift of our age, for those who so choose. Enjoy.