Two Helpings of Tom Verlaine Tom Verlaine shook up the music world with his punk-rock group Television in the mid-1970s. Can he do it again? He's giving it a shot with two new CDs — one an instrumental work featuring his influential guitar style — and a world tour.
NPR logo

Two Helpings of Tom Verlaine

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Two Helpings of Tom Verlaine

Two Helpings of Tom Verlaine

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


In the annals of rock 'n roll history, a band called Television holds an honored place. They helped stake out the punk music scene in the mid-1970s, and often played the famed CBGBs club on the Bowery, in New York City. They put out two records back then, but those albums, Marquee Moon and Adventure, influenced music for decades to follow.

(Soundbite of Television song)

TELEVISION (Rock Band): (Singing) (Unintelligible)

HANSEN: Television's lead singer and guitarist Tom Verlaine may have ducked out of the spotlight for awhile. He spent time recently touring with Patti Smith and playing shows with the reunited Television, but he's back front and center now with the release of two new CD's, his first solo recordings since 1992. Songs and Other Things shows off his lyrical side and unique vocal style.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. TOM VERLAINE (Musician): (Singing) (Unintelligible)

HANSEN: Tom Verlaine also has an instrumental CD called Around, where his much admired guitar work can be heard.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Tom Verlaine joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program, Tom.


HANSEN: With these two new CD's, does this mean there are like two groups of your fans? You know, those who crave your instrumentals and those who want to hear you sing?

Mr. VERLAINE: Uh, well, I wouldn't say so, because I don't really know who my fans are. But both of them were finished, so I just figured it was best to put them out together.

HANSEN: A lot of rock 'n roll musicians, as they mature and they progress in their careers and in their musicality, often will move to another genre, sometimes classical and jazz, as a way to kind of broaden their musicality. But it was the other way around for you, right?

Mr. VERLAINE: Yeah. I mean, I did have years of piano lessons and I did have saxophone, and played, like, a lot of improvisatory stuff when I was really young.

HANSEN: What did you listen to?

Mr. VERLAINE: Oh, in those days, it was, you know, the early '60s, so it was like, the first Ornette Coleman records and the first Archie Shepp records, the Albert Eiller(ph) things.

HANSEN: Do you hear saxophones when you're playing? Do you think saxophone lines of like, you know, sort of like Coltrane?

Mr. VERLAINE: No, but I think the breathing thing kind of went in there and never stopped. So I tend to take a breath, taking - playing guitar. Whereas, when you hear a lot of rock guitars, they're not really breathing, they're just, there's no pause going on. They're just - they're very concerned if they're not playing. Even if they leave a bar empty for the drums to go by they seem to, you know, especially in the last 30 years, where you have this kind of speed guitar player who just doesn't stop.

It's kind of like, I don't know, I mean, since so much of sax music is based on naturally leaving a hole.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You seemed impressed with the improvisatory nature of jazz?

Mr. VERLAINE: Yeah. To me it was a kind of classical music that you didn't write down. You just stepped up and played, and that was really appealing to me.

HANSEN: Do you employ that when you do your own CD's?

Mr. VERLAINE: To a degree.


Mr. VERLAINE: Um-hmm.

HANSEN: To what degree on these? Start with the instrumental one, for example.

Mr. VERLAINE: Well, yeah. If you look at that cut by cut, some is a kind of melody which then gets improvised upon. And others are, I would ask the drummer for a certain beat or a certain concept of drums, for instance, like minimal bass drum, and no tom-tom fills, which gives it direction. And then set a tempo and then I would go over the scale with the bass player to make sure he knew what key we were in and which root notes to use, and then you just sort of start playing. But there is usually something in mind to play, to a degree. Like a - I guess the jazz players call it they have a head. The head was the melody at the beginning and at the end, and in between you sort of explored things.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: I read that you like to use public address amplifiers.

Mr. VERLAINE: For guitars.


Mr. VERLAINE: The ones I'm talking about tend to be from between 1945 and 1960, and - you know, I think this is so technological you won't be able to use it.


Mr. VERLAINE: Let's go on to another question.

HANSEN: No, but I mean, I'm interested...


HANSEN: the idea of, you're actually using something - I mean, when we think of public address systems...

Mr. VERLAINE: Oh, okay.

HANSEN: ...we often think of it as like, the worst. You know?

Mr. VERALINE: Yeah. You think of the bingo hall amp or the thing in the fire station. But the fact is...


Mr. VERLAINE: ...these things were made for a voice, and they were not as bright. It's not as - they're a little deeper sounding. They're not as shrill. It's, for the lack of a better word, for me they have a fuller sound.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You've said that, I mean, you've got this instrumental CD. The last time you did a solo CD with vocals was The Wonder, in 1990. Is that right?

Mr. VERLAINE: Um-hmm.

HANSEN: Yeah. You've said that singing complicates everything, even the recording process. What do you mean?

Mr. VERLAINE: Well, it complicates the mixing process, just because the nature of a voice, to place it within instrumental music, how loud should it be? It just takes much more time to mix it where you get - it's very easy for you to make the vocal too loud. Most of the pop records you hear in the Top Ten, to me the vocals are at nine and the rest of the band is on five. But if you go back and hear kind of more, maybe, rock-and-rolly guitar stuff, it didn't use to be that way. The vocals were back a little bit, they were part of the band, but you still well heard what the singer was singing there.

So to establish those kinds of balances isn't always easy.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. VERLAINE: (Singing) Hi baby. It's just me, I'll call you later. (Unintelligible). Just like I want you.

HANSEN: Do you think your voice has changed over the years?

Mr. VERLAINE: Sure. Yeah.

HANSEN: Yeah, in what way?

Mr. VERLAINE: Yeah. Sure.

HANSEN: In what way?

Mr. VERLAINE: Uh, well, I sound a lot more like Perry Como now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Who'd you sound like before?

Mr. VERLAINE: Before I sounded like, more like Sammy Davis, Jr.

HANSEN: But you wouldn't describe yourself as a crooner, would you?

Mr. VERLAINE: I don't mind crooning as a description.

HANSEN: You don't?

Mr. VERLAINE: Not at all. I think crooning is a real art. I'm trying to see who comes to mind right offhand, but - Sinatra's great. Sinatra's a real artist, for sure. He really has a world of his own.

The singers I like tend to be romantic singers.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. VERLAINE: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

HANSEN: I totally forgot the most important question.


HANSEN: I heard you're into plastic mini shark fishing. What is that?

Mr. VERLAINE: Plastic mini shark fishing is, well, first of all, the plastic mini sharks are only, they can be anywhere from an eighth of an inch to two inches, and they're very hard to find. You used to find them in Japan quite a bit. And they, you have an aquarium and the little mini sharks have magnets in them and you have a magnet on a string and you kind of go in and try to - but the trick is to only get one at a time, because, of course, the magnet when you put it in draws them over.

HANSEN: Do you play tournament mini shark fishing?

Mr. VERLAINE: Yeah there's - yeah, there's a whole - I'm sure by now there's websites devoted to this.

HANSEN: It'll be on the sports channel before you know it.

Mr. VERLAINE: Yeah. I'm sure there are - there's probably a huge collector market for these on eBay too.

HANSEN: So how do you rate yourself as a plastic mini shark fisherperson?

Mr. VERLAINE: Well, hmm, I don't like to toot my own horn, but, yeah, I've been at it for awhile.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Tom Verlaine, he has two new CD's available. Songs and Other Things, and a CD of instrumentals called Around. They're both on Thrill Jockey Records. And he joined us from our New York bureau.

Thanks. Good luck on tour, and happy fishing!

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.


Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.