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.

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.


TELEVISION: (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.


TOM VERLAINE: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

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


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?

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?

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?

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?

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


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

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?

VERLAINE: To a degree.



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

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.


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

VERLAINE: For guitars.


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.


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...

VERLAINE: Oh, okay.

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

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


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.


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?


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

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


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?

VERLAINE: Sure. Yeah.

HANSEN: Yeah, in what way?

VERLAINE: Yeah. Sure.

HANSEN: In what way?

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


HANSEN: Who'd you sound like before?

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

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

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

HANSEN: You don't?

VERLAINE: The singers I like tend to be romantic singers.


VERLAINE: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

HANSEN: I totally forgot the most important question.


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

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?

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.

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?

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


HANSEN: Thanks. Good luck on tour, and happy fishing!


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 an NPR contractor. 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.