Start Making Sense:
Yearning to Byrne

Jon Braun never had an epiphany moment, when a voice in his head said, "Be David Byrne."

It was just an ordinary night for a guy in a band. His group had just wrapped up a show at the Funhouse in Bethlehem, mostly playing covers of Led Zeppelin and The Who, when the manager asked them to try covering a different band at their next performance. "How about Talking Heads?" Braun recalls her asking.

And history, at least for Braun and his bandmates, was made. Start Making Sense, Braun's six- or seven-piece Talking Heads tribute band, is now in its third year.

Braun says he is "definitely not a fanatic, but a very big fan" of the pivotal 1980s new wave and avant-garde group. "They're an extremely unique band. No one else sounds like them," he says. "When a Talking Heads song comes on the radio, there's no doubt it's the Talking Heads."

He admires anyone who can do such an "abstract art thing ... and to do it for such a long time and make it a commercially viable gig. They're a huge influence on most musicians, period."

Braun has been lauded for his spot-on impression of Talking Heads front man Byrne.

"That's what people say," he says. "He's such a unique individual, especially on stage. I figured out I could kind of sing like him. The rest just adds to the presentation."

That includes Byrne's slightly nerdy persona.

"I have yet to get someone to construct for me the big suit, but I'm working on it," Braun says. "I usually just wear a regular suit. But I've had the same haircut for three years now."

Before each show, Braun does his best to shake himself into a David Byrne state of mind. "A moment or two before I walk onstage, I try to think about the things I've seen that day," he says. "I try to run it through what I assume is the David Byrne filter. I start trying to think in a slightly skewed manner. Who knows if it's anywhere close to reality?"

Visually, he notes, his band mimics the Talking Heads' peak "Stop Making Sense" tour, although he says the show includes songs from the band's first album in 1977 to their final days in the late '80s.

The members of Start Making Sense dress in '80s-appropriate clothing, he adds, although he's the only one who channels a specific member of the Talking Heads.

"We try to stick as much as we can to a homogenized Talking Heads show," Braun says. "Although we do throw some songs in that might not be necessarily be Talking Heads. David Byrne covers some interesting music that we also do, and we might slip into some other '80s songs as well."

The '80s brand of music continues to be popular among cover bands, and Braun doesn't see that trend ending soon.

"It's a lot of fun. A ridiculous amount of fun," he says. "It was a carefree, very fun-oriented decade, musically and artistically. People want to have fun, and they reach back into the past to find the things that made them happy. ... The '80s seems to be where everybody's gravitating."

It's a niche market that's working for them, certainly.

"It's amazing how the crowds have grown. And we love to be able to bring this music to people who want to hear it, who don't often get to hear it performed live," Braun says.

"There's a lot of gloom and doom, a lot of shoe-gazing music going on in the world. It's nice to bring them something nice and happy," he adds. "There's not much better than having people enjoy what you do, whether it's your material or not."

But, musically, Braun and his bandmates aren't all Talking Heads, all the time.

"We all have other projects, so we're not just doing this," he says. In fact, his other band, the Great White Caps, is "straight-up surf music," he says. Sometimes, his surf band -- for which Braun sings and works the drum kit -- opens for Start Making Sense.

The double bill "can a little daunting," Braun admits. "But I take my vitamins and eat my Wheaties first."

interview by
Tom Knapp

February 2012

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