If you’re a fan of the Talking Heads like I am, you’ll want to head to the Pickle Barrel Thursday night to see the awesome tribute band, Start Making Sense. Even if you’re not a fan, they’ll turn you into one because of their musicianship. I had the pleasure of speaking with lead guitarist/vocalist Jon Fadem and he filled me in on the history of Start Making Sense.
If you’ve seen the movie “Stop Making Sense,” it’s a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get at a show, especially as far as Jon Braun’s (lead vocals/guitar) performance as David Byrne. Fadem said, “He has the whole stage persona thing down, along with the dance moves and awkwardness. It’s pretty close to what the band is really like.” They usually do a lot of songs from that movie, which Fadem’s sister took him to see when it first came out in 1984. Usually in a show, they try and play a cross section of material from throughout the Talking Heads’ career. They’ll play early favorites like “Psycho Killer” and “And She Was” to later stuff like “Nothing But Flowers,” and everything in between. Fadem’s favorite tunes are “Don’t Worry about the Government,” which he says is fun to play, and he likes “The Great Curve.”
The band’s Facebook page has a pretty good description of them. It says: “If David Byrne is one of the geniuses of modern times, then Start Making Sense is a tribute to genius. The musicians in this six- to seven-piece Talking Heads Tribute take pride in faithfully recreating the music of Talking Heads’ entire career. Together they bring much of the Heads’ unique live show to the stage, with front man Jon Braun as a spot-on David Byrne, giving you a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. Prepare yourself for a rockin’, funkin’, danceable celebration of the new-wave art punk you loved from the 80s!”
The band hails from the Bethlehem, Penn. area, where Fadem and Braun formed this project eight years ago. The two of them had played a show together at The FunHouse in Bethlehem, playing The Who and Led Zeppelin, when the owner came up and suggested that they do a whole night of Talking Heads tunes because she had heard them play a couple at an earlier show.
Fadem said, “We never really thought of doing anything like that before, but thought it was a great idea. After that, Jon and I went and picked out people who we thought would work in the band from local musicians that we knew. The reception we got initially was very surprising, considering how weird the Talking Heads music is. But people seem to have a special place in their hearts for that music, people who are real fans. So, everyone was very encouraging and very welcoming from the get-go. It was been pretty remarkable how that has continued to be the case for eight years.”
Everyone in the band is friends from way back. Fadem said, “We wouldn’t have it any other way. When we chose people for the project, it wasn’t just based on ‘Is this person a good musician?’ rather, ‘If we want to spend time with this person’ because it’s going to take a lot of work to make this happen. You want people whose company you enjoy.”
The band mostly tours on the weekends and has gone as far north as Canada, as far south as Florida, and west to Colorado, but most of their shows are in the Northeast. That’s where Fadem said the biggest fan base for Talking Heads music is. Fadem has a few favorite places he likes to play, like the Brooklyn Bowl and Irving Plaza in New York and The Hamilton in Washington D.C. When he’s not with the band, Fadem is a stay-at-home dad with 9-month-old son Miles, named after Miles Davis.
Fadem started playing guitar when he was 13 years old. His first guitar hero was Jerry Garcia. “My older brother and sister took me to Dead shows when I was really little. Those were very influential on me in terms of wanting to learn how to play guitar. When I first started playing, I taught myself by playing along with Grateful Dead records. Literally, I learned how to solo by playing along to the 20-minute ‘Dark Star’ on side one of the Live/Dead album. That’s how I learned how to play lead. Later, I went on to study and took it from there, but Jerry Garcia was my number one reason for wanting to learn how to play guitar.” The first band that Fadem ever played in was appropriately called Dark Star. He was 14, and has been in bands ever since. They obviously played Dead tunes, but other stuff, too.
When it comes to what instrument he plays, Fadem is a very loyal guy—he’s been playing on Paul Reed Smith guitars for years. “Simply the best there is,” he said. “They’ve been really amazing with supporting me and building me an amazing instrument that I use now—it’s the best guitar I’ve ever played. He also uses Mesa/Boogie amplifiers, which he absolutely loves, and Dean Markley strings. The strings, he said, are very dependable and he’s been using them for as long as he can remember. They were all his favorites for many years and once he started traveling a lot with the band, he approached these companies and they were generous enough to offer him endorsements.
Another kind of endorsement they got is from Phil Simon of Simon Says Booking, who books their shows. I’ve known Phil for many years, booking shows through him for Killington Resort, and he’s a really nice guy and great to work with. Fadem agreed. “Ya, he’s awesome.” Fadem plays in another band booked by Simon, and when the Talking Heads project came about, Fadem mentioned it to Simon and he picked them up. “This is a sign of his character. He had the entire band over his house for dinner with his family.”
Start Making Sense has shared the stage with many big names including the late, great Bernie Worell, who is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member and was the keyboardist for the Talking Heads—and the founding member of Parliament/Funkadelic. Worrell said of the band, “To all you listeners … This is an appropriate title—Start Making Sense. This band makes plenty of sense to me, and is a great representation of Talking Heads’ music. So listen up and go check them out!”
Fadem really enjoys playing and said, “I think it’s seeing the joy on people’s faces in the audience, when they’re having fun and enjoying themselves. That is a huge part of what keeps us going as musicians, seeing the crowd enjoying what we’re doing. Plus, on a personal note, I really like taking guitar solos [laughing]. I could do that forever. That’s my personal favorite part of the whole thing.”
Make sure you check them out this Thursday.
Photo courtesy of Dave Hoffenberg
START MAKING SENSE