McSweeney’s Interview With David Byrne


McSweeney’s recently published How Music Worksa book by David Byrne that explains all aspects of music, from creation, to distribution, to performance.

In recent years, Byrne has released chapters of the book as individual works: this TED talk about architecture’s effect on music; and this piece for Wired about record distribution, in which he interviews Radiohead about their [then] recent “pay what you wish” release of In Rainbows, as well as explains exactly how the money, in a traditional major label record deal, from an album purchase is distributed.

The interview covers how Byrne approached writing about music differently than making it, amongst other topics:

“So, while a songwriter may write a whole album about how their girlfriend dumped them, the fact that they choose to convey that in three minute songs, with structures that are probably familiar, and using melodies and chord changes and sounds we find attractive or intriguing—well, a lot of our big creative decisions have already been made for us. That’s not to say the breakup didn’t fuel some part of the creative process—I’m just saying that most of what makes a piece of music sound the way it does has nothing to do with one’s personal life.”


Jack Taylor is a Rumpus Intern, gangly fellow, and Steal the Bacon enthusiast. More from this author →