Tina Weymouth is an understated legend in the music world. The former bass player of Talking Heads, drops the bass effortlessly in every hit song in the band’s discography and beyond, in the disco-funk grooves of Tom Tom Club, her next musical project with husband and ex-Talking Heads member, Chris Frantz. We pay tribute to this bassist who has had a big slap hand in revolutionising the punk new-wave and disco funk landscape.
| CHECK OUT TINA WEYMOUTH’S FUNKY BASSLINE IN TOM TOM CLUB’S “GENIUS OF LOVE” HIT FROM ’82
She’s a producer, musician and a composer but she doesn’t do everything, she claims in the “Caroline Up” interview that I’m watching right now as I write this Tomboy Musician Series, with one of the world’s most respected punk/new wave bassists, Tina Weymouth.
Her style of bass playing has been described as a move much like “shucking corn”, to which Tina laughs it off in humble fashion saying it’s just a method that has helped her smooth over a lot of error in her bass playing.
“We were in Jamaica playing with Robbie Shakespeare of Sly and Robbie fame – Grace Jones was in the other studio and I was learning by going in there and watching these guys. Also because the young engineer we were working with, a young Steven Stanley, who was 23 at the time – he had learnt how to EQ bass guitar in a particular range – we wanted a lot of air and space and not clutter the sound. The idea was to create a sound from one part of the spectrum to the other and not have them all mashed up in the mid-range. The kick drum was also EQ’ed lower than the bass guitar and it was one way to keep things from turning into mush. I was also, at the time, learning to play bass guitar very lightly at that point. I realized from the Jamaican reggae guitarists, if you touch the bass guitar lightly, you wouldn’t hurt your fingers that much and you know – I was a punk and I was whacking at it until my fingers were bloody – and the old timers were saying ‘You’re crazy! You’re going to injure yourself,’ and through those sessions I learnt to take it easy on the bass.”
| TINA LEARNT TO TAKE IT EASY ON THE BASS DURING HER JAMAICAN STUDIO SESSIONS WITH SLY & ROBBIE
Martina Michèle “Tina” Weymouth was born November 22, 1950, in Coronado, California, an affluent town in San Diego County. She lived the typical American military lifestyle, moving around the globe wherever her father, a U.S Naval officer, was posted. The family moved from France, Belgium, Switzerland and even Iceland before returning home to settle down in Washington D.C
That international exposure gave Tina a very cosmopolitan approach to music. Although her gypsy lifestyle made her a hardy person, being able to adapt to life anywhere in the world, it also made it difficult for her to form long-lasting friendships eventually making her very shy and introverted, finding comfort in her inner world. “I was very, very shy,” she recalled. “That was because we moved all the time. I had my own inner world.”
As she grew up, she found that music was a great outlet for her to express herself. She was a self-taught musician and found that she was quick in picking up instruments. The one thing that held her back? She just didn’t have the focus. “I taught myself to play guitar when I was 14, but I didn’t stick with it,” she said. “No discipline. It was one of those things you’d do alone in your room to get away from your family when you’re an adolescent and feel different from everybody else.”
After graduating from high school in 1968, Tina was moving around a lot from university to university before dropping out and eventually settling in New York City with her brother, which proved a transformative period in her life. “New York opened me up,” she remembered. “In New York, somebody is going to say terrible things to you or not say terrible things to you. It doesn’t matter. You have no choice. You can’t escape it.”
That confidence was what made her show up naked, drenched in green paint at the Rhode Island School of Design’s orientation – a far cry from the shy, introverted woman that she was a few years earlier. It was also at the school that she met future band member and partner, Chris Frantz. The skilled artist and drummer was already playing in a band called The Artistics with guitarist and singer, David Bryne.
| TINA WEYMOUTH, ALONG WITH DAVID BYRNE AND HUSBAND, CHRIS FRANTZ FOUNDED TALKING HEADS
Of course, as legend has it, Frantz and Weymouth fell in love and became a groupie fan of the band. In 1974, after their graduation from design school, Weymouth, Frantz and Byrne moved to New York City and rented a small loft apartment. Rediscovering her prodigious musical talent, Weymouth taught herself bass within a matter of months, and the trio formed a new band they named Talking Heads.
In 1975, playing a mix of covers and old Artistics songs Byrne had written such as “Psycho Killer” and “Warning Sign,” Talking Heads gave their debut performance opening for The Ramones at New York’s storied CBGB nightclub. The next year they added a fourth member, guitarist Jerry Harrison, and landed a contract with the punk rock label Sire Records.
It cannot be denied that Tina Weymouth’s contribution as a talented bass player in modern music was huge. Her incessant, stalking bass line on “Psycho Killer” imbued the song with the cold, driven determination of a psychotic mind. That style of bass was what worked for Talking Heads’ unique sound. It served as a rhythmic anchor and a propulsive engine beneath the band’s angular guitars and synths.
Weymouth not only comprised one half of the funkiest art rock rhythm section in existence, but she wrote what is perhaps the funkiest bassline in rock history with her own project Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.” It’s almost impossible to imagine what the 80s would have sounded like without Weymouth’s bass playing, though her dancing is still something we could do without.