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David Byrne: Song lyrics are overrated

By John D. Sutter, CNN
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David Byrne: Song lyrics are overrated
  • David Byrne spoke with CNN at recent TED Conference
  • Former Talking Heads front man says he's drawn to sounds more than lyrics
  • "People ignore them half the time," he said of song lyrics
  • Byrne's new album, "Here Lies Love," goes on sale Tuesday

(CNN) -- David Byrne is fascinated by sounds, not words.

The former Talking Heads front man, who has spent decades writing and performing eclectic-sounding music, takes a realistic approach to song lyrics.

"People ignore them half the time," he said.

It's the unique sounds he hopes listeners will remember.

"In a certain way, it's the sound of the words, the inflection and the way the song is sung and the way it fits the melody and the way the syllables are on the tongue that has as much of the meaning as the actual, literal words," he said.

Byrne's latest collection of sounds, an album called "Here Lies Love" that is a collaboration with Fatboy Slim, debuts Tuesday. Byrne met up with CNN at the recent TED Conference in Long Beach, California, a gathering of the world's big thinkers sponsored by TED, a nonprofit group dedicated to "ideas worth spreading."

Since Talking Heads called it quits in the early 1990s, Byrne has worked on numerous solo and collaborative music projects, as well as art installations, subway posters and a book, "Bicycle Diaries," which is about biking through the world's major cities.

In the CNN interview, a fidgety Byrne said he's optimistic about the future of music, despite the fact that the Internet has shaken up the recording industry.

"Music is as healthy as it's ever been, maybe even more so," he said.

Byrne said he never intended to become a professional musician; he just wanted to play music for the joy and fun of it.

As a kid, he was inspired by a version of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" played by the Byrds that he heard on the radio.

"The sound of it -- it was the sound that struck me," he said. "I'd never heard anything like that before in my life. ... Somehow, it was shocking to me."

These days, he's more likely to turn to the Internet for new music recommendations, which he says are much easier to come by than in the past.

"I don't listen to the radio very much," he said, "but that could be because I don't have a car."