David Byrne is trying to make sense of America

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — David Byrne has some observations about American life these days, and it worries him. The former Talking Heads frontman and prolific artist sees people divided into camps, not talking to one another, with politicians on both sides representing moneyed interests, rather than the people.

Something's gone wrong, he said. Byrne's new album, "American Utopia," is about the longing people have amid fears and frustrations.

"They're all wondering, 'Could things be done in a slightly different way? Is there a better way than the way we've ended up?'" he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

The album's lead single, "Everybody's Coming to My House," co-written with Brian Eno, is No. 5 on Billboard's adult alternative songs chart, giving him his first Top 10 hit in 25 years. Byrne has launched an international, 90-some city tour, which he calls his most ambitious since the shows filmed for the 1984 Jonathan Demme film "Stop Making Sense," considered among the best concert films of all-time.

And, he has started a website: ReasonsToBeCheerful.world, where he curates hopeful news about some possible paths forward.

"American Utopia" is Byrne's first solo album in 14 years. In between those records his work included albums with St. Vincent, musicals about Imelda Marcos and Joan of Arc, books about urban bicycling and how music works, interactive art based on neuroscience and more projects.

Producer Patrick Dillett, who has collaborated with Byrne for years and works on "American Utopia" — along with Eno and Scottish producer Rodaidh McDonald — said Byrne's collaborative nature and openness to try new things is among the qualities that sets him apart.

"He does a lot of things well, but he's not doing them to be known for it. It's a way of becoming a fuller person," Dillett said. "He's as well-formed and well-rounded a person as I've ever known. If I could be someone when I grow up, I would be him."

Byrne, 65, who was born in Scotland but moved to the United States as a child and held a green card for most of his life, became a U.S. citizen in 2012.

Byrne's new website, named for the Ian Dury and the Blockheads song "Reasons to Be Cheerful, Part 3," includes successful projects from around the world in areas such as sustainable energy and culture that could be adopted by other communities, he said. Byrne is fresh off a short lecture tour talking about the ideas, and said he was pleased by the questions he took at the end of each appearance.

"People were genuinely engaged. They weren't trying to change the subject and ask about a Talking Heads reunion or something like that," he said. Byrne has repeatedly said there won't be one.

The website and album aren't directly connected, but run parallel and "talk to one another in some ways," Byrne said. He imagined people in a refugee camp when he wrote the song "Gasoline and Dirty Sheets," for example.

The album is "describing things the way they are, or the way I see them. Describing myself, and my own confusions and issues," he said, adding that artists "can offer not just a litany of complaints, but some kind of hope and answers and another way of viewing things."


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