Known as the force behind Talking Heads, David Byrne’s cameo performance of his hit 'This Must Be The Place' recognises the song as a true cult classic.
Read below to find out more about David’s collaboration with Will Oldham on the soundtrack of the movie and how he felt about starring as himself....
On writing the music for the film
I was on tour in Europe and Paolo came to Turin. His fantastic Il Divo had recently played in New York and had gotten great reviews, I was really happy to meet with him. So I read the script and there were three things Paolo was looking for. Firstly he wanted me and my band to perform a Talking Heads song live in one scene, which was not very complicated. The second thing was that as part of the story, the main character is handed a CD of song demos by a young singer/songwriter and they needed those songs because Sean Penn’s character listens to this CD song by song during the course of his travels. The difficulty of that was that I could write them but it couldn’t be me singing on it because people would recognise my voice and it obviously wouldn’t be that kid. The third part was the score. Paolo had examples of instrumental pieces, the style of contemporary classical pieces that he had in mind for the score. But I kind of backed away from the score part because I thought I was going to have my hands full with the demos that this kid wrote and recorded. They couldn’t sound too slick or well produced, they needed to sound a little unfinished.
In the script Paolo mentions Will Oldham, also known as Bonnie Prince Billy, as kind of a musical touchstone, and in fact this kid performs in a shopping mall and sings one of Will’s songs. So I said to Paolo, “Why don’t you ask Will to do the songs then, as there is a resonance for you in what he does?” Paolo agreed and surprisingly Will said he’d give it a try.
I thought before we went too far down the road of writing songs and words, let’s throw down some really rough versions and vocals, and send that to Paolo to see if we were on the right lines. Some of them worked, so Will and I continued to work on those, sent more to Paolo in this very rough form and he again accepted a couple more and the rest went back on my shelf. So, that became the process by which we finished everything, except for one song for which Will wrote all the words, which was interesting because the lyrics were unlike anything I would have written. That’s the reason to work on something together, to produce something that you wouldn’t have done by yourself.
Then, because the young actor from Dublin who plays the kid with the demos wasn’t such a great singer, we needed someone else’s voice on there that would be believable as this kid’s voice. So I found an Irish singer, Michael Brunnock, here in New York whose speaking voice was kind of a high tenor voice and who has just the tiniest hint of an Irish accent. We found Michael Brunnock through MySpace, he came in and sang the songs and did a great job.
The name of the band in the movie is ‘Pieces of Shit’ which makes you think it’s going to be a punk band, and the music we came up with didn’t really fit that. Paolo did give some direction, that we should pull one song in a more melancholy direction and make another one more upbeat. The main character is modelled on Robert Smith, the singer from The Cure, and I told Paolo that if he wanted it to sound more like The Cure, I probably wasn’t the best person for the job. But he said he didn’t want that, he thought Cheyenne would be more moved by music that sounded different to his past work, it was more about him hearing something that pushed him into another place.
On the song ‘This Must Be the Place’
It was a little bit of a shock that Paolo had used the Talking Heads song I had written ‘This Must Be the Place’ as the title. It gets referenced a couple of times and gets performed once and I think heard a few times, so it’s very flattering. The song, for me is a pretty straightforward love song. It has a sincerity, but doesn’t say things in a way you have heard a million times before, so I think that people have found it touching and moving because it seems truer than a song which is maybe a little bit slicker or has more clichés in it.
On playing David Byrne
Paolo asked me to be in a couple of small scenes and play myself which of course raises the question - how do I do that? I told Paolo that I have no ambitions to be an actor, and he said ‘No, I don’t want you to be yourself, I want you to play David Byrne,’ which seemed even more convoluted! But I thought Sean Penn is going to be so much in character, so if I just react to what his character says as I would in real life, then that could work. We make a pretty weird couple, this Cheyenne character and I, though the idea of our being friends isn’t so farfetched.