David Byrne’s Empire

The Onion: The song “Empire” sounds pretty direct.

David Byrne: That’s a direct criticism. Oddly enough, that song was written more than four years ago, but I couldn’t put it on a record. It seemed too cynical and too ironic, just too mean and harsh, despite the fact that it sounds very nice. But it seems really appropriate now. Four years ago, people would say, “We’re not an empire, we would never do that, we’re much more benign than that.” Now, it’s basically accepted.

The Onion: Lyrically, it’s very deadpan. Where does the irony come in for you personally?

David Byrne: That’s the problem I think I have with the song. Taken out of context, somebody else could do it, and then it wouldn’t be ironic. It’s totally ironic because I’m doing it, and the listener has to know that I don’t mean this—and they might not. I mean, some of the lines are totally ridiculous, and nobody could really sing them and expect people to go along with it. But I’ve thought that about a lot of stuff and been completely wrong. Somebody could pick it up, and I’d get a call from the Monsanto Corporation, and they’d say, “We want to use this song for our new commercial. We like this song.” I am really suspicious and frightened by the power of music to do that. It has the power to sway people and be completely misinterpreted, too. One example would be the political campaign that wanted to use “Born In The U.S.A.”—I think it was Reagan, actually. That’s because they were hearing the sound of the song, and the sound says one thing and the words say something else. That’s kind of what this song does: The sound says one thing, and the words and the fact that I’m singing it say something else, which makes it really dicey.

Hear David Byrne – “Empire” (MP3 Link Expired)

I just saw Lars Ulrich walk into my building, followed a mere thirty seconds later by ?uestlove. Maybe they don’t want people to know they’re an item.

Tags: David Byrne