Start Making Sense © Stephanie Craig Photography

Almost five years ago, on Sept. 15, 2017, the Talking Heads tribute band Start Making Sense made their central Maine debut at the Proper Pig, entertaining fans of that 80’s band. Now half-a-decade later, SMS will be returning to the Waterville-area, playing at the Head of Falls on July 8th as part of the Maine International Film Festival events for another dose of David Byrne’s band’s infectious, highly danceable music. The front man for Start Making Sense is Jon Braun and he’s the perfect match for the front man of the Talking Heads in both looks and sound; I was able to chat with Jon’s brother, Jesse, drummer for the tribute act, for this preview interview. I reached him at his home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and began by asking something I was curious about.

Q: What’s it like working with a family member in a group like this?
Braun: It’s great, we’ve been playing together pretty much all of my life, Jon’s the older sibling so we kind of grew up playing together, our father is a musician, as well. Staring this band, I guess, is the first time we worked together consistently on a project. I was 19 when we started the band, I was out of high school and able to gig more, play out more, so it was like this natural thing of playing together, it’s pretty awesome to keep getting to play with family.

Q: When did Start Making Sense start?
Braun: It started in 2009 so it’s been 13 years.

Q: That’s a pretty good track record, especially for a tribute act. Do you cover the “Stop Making Sense” concert tour from 1984 — is that the basis for your band?
Braun: Not exclusively, no. It kind of covers the whole career of Talking Heads and we’ve actually included a handful of David Byrne’s solo songs lately. Although we have recreated that concert a couple of times, as close as we can, like shot-for-shot, we play the set list with the moving risers and all that stuff, and we incorporate visual elements of that film into the normal show but the set list spans their whole career.

Q: Nice! Is it difficult to pick out what you’re going to do because of the depth of material that they generated over that career?
Braun: Yeah, and we often play pretty long shows because we want to cover as much as possible. We could just play the hits and that could be a full 90-minute show of the most recognizable songs, but we always try and get a handful of deeper cuts in, the kind of weirder stuff, so often the shows end up being two-plus hours so we can cover all that material.

Q: I would think you would have to keep it interesting for yourself as well, the audiences are going to love whatever you so anyhow, but to keep it fresh for yourselves, I think, must be a consideration, as well.
Braun: Absolutely, yeah! We just did two nights at the same club in Chicago this past weekend and when we get the opportunity to do that, we try to make almost a completely different set list both nights so if people are coming to both shows they don’t see the same show. In those incidences we get to dig even deeper, and last weekend we played a couple of songs that we hadn’t played in two or three years, so that keeps it really, really fun for us.


Q: It must be a lot of work just to keep the chops up to do something like this.
Braun: Yes, there’s a good chunk of material that we play every night and then, when we pull out those deeper ones that we haven’t played in a while, we’ll run through them at sound check. We’re always trying to improve stuff, we’re always changing and evolving.

Q: On average, how many shows do you do over the course of a year?
Braun: Generally, somewhere around 80, 80 to 100, depending on the year.

Q: I’m sure the last couple of years have been a little sparse, I would imagine (chuckle).
Braun: (Laughter) Yeah, since 2020, definitely and it’s been kind of working back to our normal schedule, 2021 was quite a bit more and then this year we’re pretty much back to normal.

Q: Well then, what can folks expect from your Head of Falls show in Waterville?
Braun: Lots of Talking Heads (laughter), that music’s just so much fun and danceable, so the opportunity to hear that music performed live makes for a really fun time.

Q: Now, I believe you’ve been up to Waterville before, correct?
Braun: We have, it was quite a while ago. It was smaller, kind of like a bar. We play Portland probably twice a year but I’m looking forward to making it back up to Waterville because it’s been a while since we were there.

Q: How far afield do you get as a touring band?
Braun: Well, we’re in New Hampshire the day after that show, and then we work our way back home; so we do a lot in New England pretty regularly.

Q: Do you get to the mid-west and West Coast at all?
Braun: We do, yes. Like I said we were just in Chicago last weekend and two or three weeks before that we were in Denver; we’ve gotten to the Pacific Northwest a little bit, we haven’t made that a regular stop quite yet but we’ve been there, and we’re up and down the East Coast all the time.

Q: Is there anything, Jesse, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this column?
Braun: I’m just hoping that anybody who likes the Talking Heads, or live music in general, will come out and see the show. Also there’s a film festival, so it seems that there’s going to be a lot of cool stuff going on. It’s a good weekend to get out and see some art!

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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