“I dig playing that bassline, and I love the beats”: Tina Weymouth on the Tom Tom Club’s The Good The Bad And The Funky

Tina Weymouth of Tom Tom Club performs on stage at Eden Sessions 2013 at The Eden Project on June 29, 2013 in St Austell, England.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tina Weymouth and her husband, drummer Chris Frantz, began branching out from their regular gig with Talking Heads in 1981. According to Weymouth, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell had always regretted not signing them, so when David Byrne took a break from the group to work on a solo record, Weymouth and Frantz soon found themselves at Blackwell’s Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. 

Named after a nearby dancehall, the Tom Tom Club enjoyed early success with their self-titled debut and its enduring hit, Genius of Love. “It was a period of crossroads," Weymouth told BP. "We didn't know what was going to happen.“

After four albums and an eight-year hiatus, the duo returned with their fifth album – a rhythmically intense groove-fest with flavours of funk and dub reggae. In 2001, while on a break from touring the band’s latest incarnation, Weymouth spoke to BP about the making of The Good The Bad and The Funky.

Time to Bounce

“We were listening to the car radio and this great dancehall song came on, and we thought we had to do a song with that same beat. The track is very spare – we started with drums, and then I played the bassline, and then a little Martin guitar. Chris was laying down all these fast, layered beats. I find that kind of boring to play with – I need that swing, that shuffle. Chris always has a real syncopated hi-hat, even while his kick and snare are rock solid, the hi-hat pushes and pulls, which is what I adore. I dig that bassline, and I love the beats.”

Who Feelin’ It

“This tune is way more layered. I started out playing everything on keyboard bass, making my own samples. As the layers began to come together, I cut it on bass guitar. How big a track can sound is based partly on illusion. The more you layer it, the thinner it can get – I needed the bass to really cut, so I went back to bass guitar. I’m not pushing any boundaries, just serving the song. For the scratching solo I played keyboard bass, but I had to learn it all over again on bass guitar for the live show, because I didn’t want to switch back and forth.” 

Happiness Can’t Buy Money

“This is entirely keyboard bass, factory preset 1:1 on the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5. I played keyboard bass whenever we were writing just to get things moving fast, because it can take forever to get a bass guitar sound. I'd then replace the keyboard parts after everything else had gone on, because bass strings cut through so great. In addition to the Prophet, I have a little Moog Rogue I used in the Stop Making Sense movie. These analog instruments sound a lot fatter, but I like the fat, funky sound of a real instrument.”

Holy Water

“I started on keyboard bass and then replaced it with my ’63 Fender Jazz. I varied the line because I didn’t want the groove to get worn out – I learned that from other bass players like Robbie Shakespeare. Another thing I learned from Robbie Shakespeare was to play as much as possible on just the two bottom strings. On this tune I flipped the E string to low D with my Hipshot and played almost entirely on that low D string. Because of where the notes fall, the sound gets fuller on the verse. The open low D probably gets a little lost – maybe it sounds like a tuned kick – but if it wasn’t there, you'd feel it drop out.”

Soul Fire

“On the basic tracks, we tried to stay true to the arrangement in Lee “Scratch” Perry’s original version, but as things developed we began to feel a lot freer. I started on keyboard bass and then completely replaced it, because the electric bass sounded so much funkier. I recorded with flatwound strings because all the sliding was ripping up my fingers. For live performance I tape my fretting-hand fingers so there’s complete control over the glissando. I also use Big Balm to lubricate my right-hand fingers. It’s a lanolin cow-udder salve; I have a pail of it.”

She’s Dangerous

“That’s a ska tune in D. I played pretty much all of it on the two bottom strings. I started off playing my Hofner hollowbody, and then I switched to the Jazz. Since it was so fast I learned to play it on the smaller Hofner neck. Once I learned it, I played it on the Fender. The Hofner tracks might still be in there somewhere in digital limbo.”

She's a Freak

“We started jamming this at rehearsal, and I stuck a little tape recorder in the air. The engineer and I took bits of that recording and triggered them with a drum program. I despise using Pro Tools just to fix people – quantising the drummer and all that – but I use it as a creative tool. So on this tune we sampled ourselves. We put a new drum track on top and then I wrote the bassline. I wanted something a little sci-fi, kind of a metaphor for acceptance of something a bit alien. It no longer bears any resemblance to the original jam.” 

(C’Mon) Surrender

This track is made from samples I created and played on the keyboard. I played keyboard bass on it – live I play the whole thing on a Steinberger 5-string. The guitarist is playing Am, and I play on either side of the root, which makes a new chord and gives it a kind of sexual tension. It’s something I’ve done many times before. It’s like contrasting colours, so one makes the other shine. When Van Gogh used yellow against blue, it made one vibrate against the other.”

Love to Love You Baby

“I used to sing this song to my babies, with a much more platonic meaning than Donna Summer’s original. I played my 1963 Precision, which was the first bass I ever bought. Before we put on the keyboards and guitars, I was just digging the drums and bass, and I thought, ‘How minimal can we make this?’ Sometimes minimalism makes a song very intimate. It’s nice when a song starts off with just drums and bass and you can hear the tone and dynamics.”

Lesbians by the Lake

“This is all instrumental, mostly keyboard bass – just a straight sine-wave tone – with a combination of Moog Rogue and Waldorf Microwave tone generator. A little electric bass comes in at the very end. It’s almost impossible for me to play anymore bass than I did, because Abdou M’Boup played the kora – a 21-string harp from Senegal – and it wasn’t perfectly in tune.”

Let There Be Love

“I finally have the maturity to appreciate soft songs. It took me so long, because I was such a punk. This was our first song like that. I originally played keyboard bass, and I replaced it with bass guitar to give the song more emotion. It evolved onstage long before we mixed it. When you play a song live you discover things that work or don’t work.”

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