Coffee with Guppy: Getting Past All Those Shoes in ‘Here Lies Love’

David Byrne talks about about his Imelda Marcos musical at Seattle Rep.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
Here Lies Love, singer/songwriter David Byrne’s rock musical about former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos, runs April 7–May 28 at Seattle Repertory Theatre. It premiered off Broadway in 2013.
 
Nancy: What inspired you to write a musical about Imelda Marcos? 
David: She loved disco clubs and loved going out dancing — she had a mirror ball installed in her New York townhouse and had the palace roof in Manila turned into a dance club — so music was a constant. And since I like dance music, I found myself wondering if it would be possible to tell the story of this larger-than-life character through disco. That was the start. 
 
What’s behind the title of the show?
Imelda Marcos believed everything she ever did, she did for love (which one could argue) and she is quoted as saying, “On my tombstone, I don’t want my name. Just put ‘Here Lies Love.’” 
 
Is there a difference between writing songs for a play versus for an album? 
Oh, yeah. Huge difference. When you’re writing songs for yourself, you have to decide what you’re going to write about. When you’re writing songs for a play, you’re writing from somebody else’s point of view and you have to convey whatever they’re going through, plus you’re telling a story, so there are narrative needs as well as character needs. It’s like solving a puzzle.
 
 
David Byrne titled his musical "Here Lies Love" because Imelda Marcos said she wanted that inscription on her tombstone.
 
When you begin work on a song, what does it look like in your head? 
I don’t necessarily know the notes, but I might know that I want the verse to be sort of introspective and the chorus to be full-on exuberance, as if the character has had a realization, so I know that the music has to express that emotional intent.  
 
You have an Oscar, a Grammy a Golden Globe and you’ve been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Are you hoping to add a Tony Award at some point? 
I don’t care that much about the awards. I’ve heard that it’s really good for business (laughs), so, in that sense, it would fill seats and that would make the producers and theater owners happy. But, creatively, no, awards don’t matter. 
 
Do you think you’ll ever tour again with Talking Heads? 
No, I don’t think so.  
 
How do you balance your creative mind with your business mind? 
One informs the other. If I’m thinking about a music tour, I have to limit my imagination to what I know is going to be financially feasible. So I can’t just say, “At this point we’ll have 200 people come out and do this … and they’ll travel with us everywhere.” 
 
What’s the main driver in your life? 
To keep trying new things. To put myself in a position where I don’t know the answer, I don’t know exactly how to do it, and I have to figure it out. 
 
When Talking Heads hit, musicians made money selling records. How do bands make money today?  
Well, recordings are still important because that’s how we hear things, but it’s hard to make money that way. Once a band is established, it can make money on touring and performance, but how do they get to that level? They have to be pretty creative with it and I don’t envy them. It’s tough. 
 
What advice would you give to a young artist starting out? 
My friends and my musical collaborators, we just fell into things. A situation would present itself, like, “Oh, there’s a place to perform? Let’s do that.” So, I guess my advice is that one thing leads to another. 
 
You’re funny, a comedic straight man. What makes you laugh? 
Absurdity, which I think there’s a lot of out there. 
 
Have you had a scary creative moment?  
There was a point with Here Lies Love, about 10 years into it, when I didn’t think it was going to happen and I felt really heartbroken. But then somebody, the right person, said, “Hey, you have a project? Let’s talk about it.” 
 
When do you know that something you’ve made is good? 
If I can surprise myself, or make myself laugh, or if I’ve written something that I find emotionally moving just to sing it, then I go, “OK, I have to trust that this will happen to other people, too.” 
 
What quality do you like best in other people? 
A sense of humor helps. It’s a nice way to relax and get to know someone. 
 
Would you record my outgoing voicemail message?
OK. 
 
› For more on the lives of artists, entertainers and entrepreneurs, tune in Art Zone with Nancy Guppy on the Seattle Channel (seattlechannel.org/artzone).
 

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