David Byrne has always been a man with big ideas. While he might be most well known for his work fronting the avant-funk art rock unit Talking Heads throughout their decade-and-a-half existence, or his collaborations with musician/producer Brian Eno, his work has always gone well beyond the audio component of his music. This is something that anyone who has ever watched the brilliantly imaginative 1984 Jonathan Demme-directed concert film, Stop Making Sense, should be able to attest to, from its visuals (David’s over-sized suit, the stage setup, etc) to the the way that the stage show was strategically choreographed to evolve and unfold. Byrne‘s ambitions and persistent desire for outside collaboration can be credited simultaneously for both expanding the scope and creativity of his Hall Of Fame-inducted former band, as well as in playing a role in straining the relationships within it.
While dating internationally renowned dancer/choreographer, Twyla Tharp, David scored the music to her 1981 Broadway dance performance, The Catherine Wheel. That experience would lead to him composing the music for the Knee Plays portion of stage director/playright, Robert Wilson‘s 5-part theater production, the CIVIL warS, and later collaborating directly with composer, Philip Glass. 1985, found him venturing into the film world by directing, co-writing, starring in, and composing the music forTrue Stories, a musical inspired by various tabloid stories that he had come across. Toward the end of his tenure with the Talking Heads, David founded the successful world music label, Luaka Bop, the same year that he took home the 1988 Oscar for “best original score“ for his work on The Last Emperor, an honor he would share with Japanese electronic pioneer/member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, Ryuichi Sakamoto.
As for albums, the multi-instrumentalist hasn’t released a true studio solo effort since 2004‘s Grown Backwards, but he’s remained as busy as anyone could expect since that time. The following year he began working with UK producer/DJ, Fatboy Slim on Here Lies Love, a concept album/musical about former Philippines first lady and notorious shoe hound, Imelda Marcos, which enjoyed a critically acclaimed off-Broadway stint and was later revamped for an extended run at the Seattle Repertoire Theatre last year. The soundtrack to the project was released alongside the stage production in 2010, sandwiched between his 2008 album with Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, and his collaboration with St Vincent, Love This Giant . On top of that, Byrne also had 3 more books published — Arboretum (2006), Bicycle Diaries (2009), and How Music Works (2012) — to go along with the half-dozen he released previously. Teaming with Mala Gaonkar, the pair launched The Institute Presents: NEUROSOCIETY, “a series of interactive environments created in conjunction with PACE Arts + Technology that question human perception and bias” which ran from late October 2016 through the end of March 2017. Last year at this time, Byrne even released a documentary/live performance film centered around the flag wielding synchronized dance troupes referred to as “the color guard.” This was followed by his newest play,J Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, a “theatrical exploration of the historical heroine” which he wrote and orchestrated the music for, along with the story.
But even with all of this, there are sure to be those out there who have been waiting for a new, more straight ahead David Byrne solo album to come along and, for them, there’s some great news. He’s been working on it and it’s finally seeing the light of day.
Oh, wait!!! Did we forget to mention the ongoing series, “Reasons To Be Cheerful,” which Byrne curates and is centered around optimistic writings, photos, music, and lectures? Well, he does that too… and during one earlier today, David announced his upcoming new album, American Utopia, slated to be released by Nonesuch records on March 9th. As the press release explains, “the presentation was given at New York’s New School to a live audience, as well as live-streamed via his Facebook page.” The album will be promoted with a world tour featuring a choreographed stage show that the multi-award winning artist described as being “the most ambitious show I’ve done since the shows that were filmed for Stop Making Sense.”
Check out the video for the first single, “Everybody’s Coming To My House” — co-written with Brian Eno, featuring contributions from TTY, Happa Isaiah Barr (Onyx Collective), Mercury Prize winner Sampha, and others — followed by additional information regarding the project and live tour.
The following details come via the official press release:
American Utopia fits hand-in-hand with Byrne’s vision for his series “Reasons To Be Cheerful,” named for the song by the late Ian Dury. Over the last year, Byrne has been collecting stories, news, ideas, and other items that all either embody or identify examples of things that inspire optimism, such as a tech breakthrough, a musical act, a new idea in urban planning or transportation—something seen, heard, or tasted. Just as the album questions the current state of society while offering solace through song, the content of the series recognizes the darkness and complexity of today while showcasing alternatives to the despair that threatens us. A “Reasons To Be Cheerful” hub, where Byrne shares these items, can be accessed here.
American Utopia morphed during the writing and recording process, beginning with longtime collaborator Eno, and eventually growing to include collaboration with producer Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, King Krule, Sampha, Savages) alongside a diverse cast of creative contributors including Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never), Jam City, Thomas Bartlett (St. Vincent producer, aka Doveman), Jack Peñate, and others. The album was recorded in New York City at David’s home studio, Reservoir Studios, Oscilloscope, XL Studios, and Crowdspacer Studio and in London at Livingston Studio 1.
And here’s what David has to say about the project, himself:
“Is this meant ironically? Is it a joke? Do I mean this seriously? In what way? Am I referring to the past or the future? Is it personal or political?
These songs don’t describe an imaginary or possibly impossible place but rather attempt to depict the world we live in now. Many of us, I suspect, are not satisfied with that world—the world we have made for ourselves. We look around and we ask ourselves—well, does it have to be like this? Is there another way? These songs are about that looking and that asking.
This album is indirectly about those aspirational impulses. Sometimes to describe is to reveal, to see other possibilities. To ask a question is to begin the process of looking for an answer. To be descriptive is also to be prescriptive, in a way. The act of asking is a big step. The songs are sincere—the title is not ironic. The title refers not to a specific utopia, but rather to our longing, frustration, aspirations, fears, and hopes regarding what could be possible, what else is possible. The description, the discontent and the desire—I have a feeling that is what these songs touch on.
I have no prescriptions or surefire answers, but I sense that I am not the only one looking and asking, wondering and still holding onto some tiny bit of hope, unwilling to succumb entirely to despair or cynicism.
It’s not easy, but music helps. Music is a kind of model—it often tells us or points us toward how we can be.”
The packaging for the album features work by late Miami “outsider artist,” Purvis Young, who was known for blending “painting/drawing and collaged elements comprised of everyday found objects.” The cover art is said to be of a painting “depicting a head with a face of indeterminate race or possibly gender—dreaming, meditating, contemplating.”
Current American Utopia 2018 Tour Dates.
More to Come3/3/2018 -Red Bank, NJ – Count Basie Theatre SOLD OUT3/4/2018 – Wilkes-Barre, PA – F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts SOLD OUT3/6/2018 – Buffalo, NY – Center For The Arts SOLD OUT3/7/2018 – Hershey, PA – Hershey Theatre SOLD OUT3/9/2018 – Waterbury, CT – Palace Theater SOLD OUT3/10/2018 – Kingston, NY – Ulster Performing Arts Center SOLD OUT3/16/2018 – Santiago, CHI – Lollapalooza (Chile)3/18/2018 – Buenos Aires, ARG – Lollapalooza (Argentina)3/24/2018 – Sao Paulo, BRA – Lollapalooza (Brazil)4/7/2018 – Guadalajara, MEX – Sonico Festival4/14/2018 – Indio, CA – Coachella4/21/2018 – Indio, CA – Coachella5/4 – 5/6/2018 – Atlanta, GA – Shaky Knees6/22-23/2018 – Prague, Czech Republic – Metronome Festival6/25/2018 – Zagreb, Croatia – INmusic Festival6/30 – 7/1/2018 – Ewijk, Netherlands – Down The Rabbit Hole6/30 – 7/7/2018 – Roskilde, Denmark – Roskilde Festival7/5/2018 – Gdynia, Poland – Open’er Festival7/11/2018 – Oeiras, Portugal – Cool Jazz Festival7/13/2018 – Bilbao, Spain – Bilbao BBK Live Festival7/13-14/2018 – Barcelona, Spain – Cruilla Barcelona7/19/2018 – Ravenna, Italy – Ravenna Festival7/20/2018 – Perugia, Italy – Umbria Jazz Festival7/21/2018 – Trieste, Italy – Piazza UNita7/27/2018 – Camden ,NJ – XPoNential Music Festival