Bass Players to Know: Tina Weymouth
Few bands have a sound as instantly recognizable as Talking Heads. The combination of David Byrne’s vocal tone, Brian Eno’s production methods and, my personal favorite, Tina Weymouth’s bass parts, make for records that have withstood the test of time. Leaders of the New Wave pop movement of the late 1970s and 1980s, the band took advantage of recently developed synth sounds, punchy bass lines, and clearly defined rhythmic parts. As the low-end anchor and co-founder of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, Weymouth is a Bass Player To Know.
So Who Is Tina Weymouth?
Originally from California, Weymouth grew up alongside seven siblings with varied artistic interests, including design, architecture, and music. A self-taught guitarist, she began playing music as a teenager and later decided to attend the Rhode Island School of Design. While attending school, she began dating fellow student Chris Frantz, who had been playing drums in a band with David Byrne. By 1975, Weymouth, Frantz, and Byrne moved to New York City. At the suggestion of Frantz, Weymouth began playing bass to join what would soon be known as Talking Heads. The band released their first record, Talking Heads: 77, as well as their first single, “Psycho Killer,” after signing a deal with Sire Records.
Between 1978 and 1980, Talking Heads released three records while collaborating with producer Brian Eno, resulting in commercial success and radio hits including “Take Me To The River,” “Life During Wartime,” and “Once In A Lifetime.” By 1981, the band went on a hiatus, spurring solo efforts by Byrne and the formation of Tom Tom Club by Weymouth, her husband Frantz, and Weymouths’ sisters. Tom Tom Club gained popularity with the single “Genius Of Love,” solidifying their fresh sound and creative autonomy outside of Talking Heads.
Depending on the season, Weymouth continued to be an integral part of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, each band taking priority while the other took time off. While Talking Heads officially disbanded in the early 1990s, they continue to have widespread influence over popular music and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Tom Tom Club continued to release records until 2012 and Weymouth briefly collaborated with other groups including Happy Mondays and Gorillaz.
Let’s Talk Style
While some bass players make a living playing in a subtle and mellow manner, Weymouth does just the opposite. Instead of playing longer notes that provide a glue-like adhesion to the sound of a band, she manages to support the rhythm section with articulation, space, and acute attention to note duration. Her style reflects distinctive and syncopated notes with a tone that cuts through the mix, providing boldness to the overall sound of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club. Her playing and writing style is edgy—a product of pop, punk and modern art in the 1980s.
Weymouth embraces the nature of dance music, disco, reggae, and early hip-hop by creating simple, yet undeniably catchy grooves. They often jump around in both register and methods of attack; she will frequently implement a single “pop” in the higher register to contrast the lower plucked notes. At times, she creates a groove that remains largely unchanged throughout long sections of the song, as evidenced by “Once In A Lifetime” and Tom Tom Club’s “Won’t Give You Up.” This approach certainly defined a style of bass playing and popular music of the 1980s—one that existed in the clubs of New York City well before hitting the mainstream. In doing so, it developed as a fusion of trance-inducing dance music and curiously creative counter-culture that broke at the crest of the new wave.
Where Can I Hear Her?
“Psycho Killer” (Talking Heads: Talking Heads 77)
Weymouth sets the stage for this song, standing alone with solid quarter notes that have made an indelible mark on popular music. The bass provides movement throughout the song by playing clearly identifiable phrases, adding rhythmic variation, and offering a counterpoint line to the vocal melody of the bridge. Throughout the entirety of the song, each instrument adheres to a specific and repetitive part—single chords held out by the guitars and a simple drumbeat—with the bass providing the musical variation.
“Crosseyed and Painless” (Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense)
During this trancy-dancy disco-reggae number, Weymouth holds down the groove during the introduction with a chill and syncopated line hinting at what is to come. As the band immediately jumps into the energetic and percussively driven song, the bass part focuses on simple notes with a leap in register. The breakdown features a revised part, with Weymouth leaving space and adding a high response to the call of single notes played by the keyboards.
“Genius Of Love” (Tom Tom Club: Tom Tom Club)
If you need to settle into a single and super catchy groove to play for the entirety of a song, this is a particularly good one. A reflection of popular music and early 1980’s hip hop, it features a repetitive groove with varied melodies, vocal hooks, and short breaks where parts exit and re-enter the track. Fun fact: this song inspired Mariah Carey’s smash hit, “Fantasy.” While producers didn’t sample the original Tom Tom Club recording, Weymouth and other members received writing credit for the song.
How about you? What’s your favorite tune or album with Tina Weymouth? Please share with us in the comments.
Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!