The Globe And Mail OCTOBER 27, 2008 - by J.D. Considine


From the moment they started working together, on the 1978 Talking Heads album More Songs About Buildings And Food, David Byrne and Brian Eno seemed a perfect pairing. They had such a similar sense of style, of humour, of musical daring, that finding the two together seems about as unexpected as putting ham with cheese.

So how can it be that their latest collaboration, the album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, marks the first new music they've made together in twenty-seven years? It's not as if they had a falling out or suddenly wound up in different circles. "We get together socially," Byrne says as he tries to explain the gap. "I guess we both had other things we were working on."

Indeed, it wasn't until they began to assemble an expanded reissue of their 1981 album, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, that Byrne and Eno made their relationship professional again. "We established a working arrangement again, not just a social relationship, and it went really easily," Byrne says. "We both realized that we still see eye-to-eye on most things and appreciate each others' suggestions and ideas.

"That kind of set the stage for Brian to say, 'I have these tracks...'"

Eno, it turned out, had been working on an album but was unable to come up with anything he liked to finish off the instrumental tracks. So he asked Byrne if he'd be willing to listen to the tracks and come up with vocals.

It made for an interesting challenge. "I couldn't go back and say, 'Oh, if only that little counter-melody he has wasn't there, I could do this or that,'" says Byrne, from a hotel room in Cleveland. "The assumption was that I would take what I was given and work with that. Which was great - it meant that I didn't have to make any of those choices. I had to adapt to it."

Having to find melodies and lyrical ideas within a bunch of instrumental tracks is a bit like being able to look at a piece of rock and somehow see the figure within, as a sculptor does. "I think I did feel some pressure or maybe the weight of some people's expectations about the two of us working together," Byrne admits. "So I let the stuff sit for a long time, and just listened to the tracks and thought about, well, 'How do I approach this? Where do I go with this?'"

Fortunately, neither he nor Eno had any major label obligations to meet, which allowed the work to proceed at its own pace. And then, as the question of how to release this project came up, fate stepped in. "As we were wrapping up the record in late spring, early summer, I had been offered some tour dates for September," Byrne says. "So I said, 'If we release this online first, we can have the online version available a month before I start doing live dates.'"

Although both Byrne and Eno have run their own boutique labels - Luaka Bop and Opal, respectively - this was their first venture into the e-commerce side of music retail. It seemed a fairly obvious move, Byrne says. "We had a kind of built-in audience," he explains. "If we said we'd done a new project together, there'd be a certain amount of interest that's going to be manifest on the Web, so we won't need to have a record company spending a lot of money on marketing and ads and all that stuff.

"And it kind of worked," he adds. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today was launched in August from the website, where it was streamed for free and sold for download. Unlike a CD release, where the bulk of the sales occur in the first couple of weeks, the life of an online release takes a slightly different cycle, Byrne says.

"It does have a big beginning, because there's a fair amount of online press when it first comes out," he says. "But then it trickles out and actually builds. First it just came out on our site, and then it went to Amazon and iTunes and those places. Then, in a week or so, it will go to physical CDs."

In the meantime, Byrne is on tour, performing a full show dubbed The Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno. (The show plays Massey Hall in Toronto on Wednesday and the Metropolis in Montreal on Thursday.)

Obviously, the new album is at the centre of the show. "But it also includes a Bush Of Ghosts song, and a song from the Catherine Wheel project," Byrne says. "He worked on three Talking Heads records, so we pull material from those. That's a lot to draw on.

"There's a big hole in the middle, of course: the records I've put out in the last decade. I don't draw on any of those," he adds. "But that's OK. I've been doing those for a while."