On the occasion of the Stevie Nicks & The Pretenders tour announcement, we look back on Bob Gordon's 2010 interview encounter with Chrissie Hynde, in an interview first published in X-Press Magazine in August, 2010...
Looking back, it was always going to be challenging.
In the world of rock’n’roll interviewing Chrissie Hynde has always been one of the more tricky customers. The straight-up sass that has characterised her songs with The Pretenders and seen that band prevail for three decades now is every bit as up-front in conversation. Before The Pretenders she was a rock journalist herself so she has seen it from both sides.
Hynde’s new release, Fidelity!, as Chrissie, JP & The Fairground Boys, she points out, is not about The Pretenders. It is a collaboration with Welsh singer/songwriter, JP Jones, who approached her at a party in London in 2008, and began to talk of music and life over drinks. The pair hit it off, eventually taking off to Havana, Cuba, and writing an album that tells the tale of a couple who fall in love, but cannot fall in with each other due to a 30-year age gap. If it sounds close to home, then yes, it is.
The opening track, Perfect Lover, says it all: ‘I found my perfect lover but he's only half my age / He was learning how to stand when I was wearing my first wedding band / I found my perfect lover but I have to turn the page / But I want him in my kitchen and standing on my stage’.
As a background to this exchange, Hynde and Jones were in an LA hotel suite sharing a bottle of wine over an evening of phone interviews. While all the promotion behind the album is very clear about the origins and the nature of their musical and personal collaboration, a directive had been issued that there were to be no questions about Hynde and Jones, nor questions about The Pretenders.
Unfortunately, this directive was not passed on (to this interviewer anyway). In any case the personal nature of the collaboration is so entwined in the music it’s hard not to reflect on it. Hynde tended to pre-empt questions with responses to what she thought was going to be asked and sometimes perhaps felt the need to correct what were clearly generalisations.
We got there though, quite sweetly in the end…
The reaction to the album has been very positive. Given it’s such a personal piece of work how have you felt about that reaction? It seems that people are really connecting with it...
Chrissie Hynde: We’re as blown away as any artist is when people get it on the right level; when they respond to it. What more do you want as an artist?
JP Jones: We really didn’t expect the reaction we’ve had, because we didn’t know we were going to write an album together (laughs). It’s just happened so quickly and stuff, it’s been mad.
Chrissie, you’ve collaborated with many people over the years but this is the first...
CH: I haven’t collaborated. I haven’t collaborated with many people at all. I’ve been a guest singer but not collaboration like this. I’ve done a small bit of songwriting collaboration but this for unique to me.
To this extent, yes. But to have this come out in album form, not as Chrissie Hynde and/or The Pretenders, was that a big move for you or did it just feel quite organic?
CH: Well it’s never been Chrissie Hynde And The Pretenders and I’ve never had my name out front and I’ve never allowed anyone to say Chrissie Hynde And The Pretenders, so...
This is a completely different band and it’s an amazing band. It all came to me in less than two years and I feel it was a gift of providence, really.
I guess people asked about how you first met at the party, it’s become part of the folklore...
CH: People have asked about 700 times now. Yes, you’re right. That’s why we put a bio out explaining exactly what happened.
Exactly. But when you first sat down to write a song together, were you surprised by how solid the personal and musical chemistry between the two of you actually was?
JPJ: (Pause) Yeah!
CH: Yeah, we didn’t even really sit down to write a song. I think we were walking down the street in Havana and we just started singing to each other and having nice meals and laughing and going back to this enormous, beautiful hotel suite we had at the top of the Hotel Nationale de Cuba. From there we just kept writing, writing in restaurants and wherever.
JPJ: I mean, when we started outing songs together we recorded them on a phone in Havana then came back to London and we did some demos and yeah, we were surprised at how they turned out. We knew there was something there that we thought was really good on them.
Do you feel there was something particular about being in that place, Havana, which really helped the music and the initial collaboration along?
JPJ: Well you feel isolated there more than anything. No one knows who you are; you’re in complete isolation in this beautiful, untouched, unaffected place with the loveliest people. I definitely think that had an effect being there; I don’t think we would probably have done it if we’d been in London or anywhere like that. I think that going there is why it happened.
I guess you wouldn’t have the distractions of musicians or friends as you would in the music business capitals. Is that the way you’d do it again?
JPJ: Yeah if we were going to write an album again I’d definitely do it somewhere isolated. There’s a lot of good places like that to write.
The album title Fidelity! stems from the pro-Castro graffiti around Havana. Are there other levels of meaning to that title or is it something you’d wish for people to ponder to themselves?
JPJ: Well I asked Chrissie, ‘if you were my age, would you have my kid?’ and she said yeah. And we said we’d call it Fidel if it was a boy and Fidelity if it was a girl. If that happened.
When people who are attracted to each other but for whatever reason can’t be together, they tend to walk away from one another. For you both it’s been the point of creativity and of writing together. Was it enjoyable to make something positive out of what had been problematic?
CH: Well it was a joy to write it because we wrote it within weeks of meeting each other. We’d never really seen each other face-to-face, I’d been on tour and he sent me some songs and even without remembering what he looked like I loved the songs. And the songs were sort of addressed to me. You know, I was very touched by the songs.
What’s it like performing them? They were of the moment and they are about you both and you’re singing them onstage together?
CH: On a good night when we’re in a good mood it’s fucking amazing. It’s great. I’ve never known anything like singing to the person that you wrote the song with and about and have them standing next to you. Our voices are very different but when we sing together he completes my voice in those moments. It’s bliss. It’s a revelation.
Chrissie, in interviews it seems you often have to reluctantly go over The Pretenders’ long history. By the very nature of this collaboration it’s about the last two years and then going ahead. I know you’re not that big a fan of doing interviews, but is it good to at least talk about something that is very much in the now?
CH: Yes it’s the fucking best thing I’ve ever done in my life. But unfortunately we’ve been asked the same questions so many times now, about our relationship; are we a couple?; how did we meet? It’s actually taken a bit of the wind out of my sails because I was hoping there would be a more creative... I don’t know. I mean, it’s been great but it’s a little bit too probing for my tastes.
So where musically from here? Chrissie of course you’re coming out to Australia with The Pretenders in November, but are there plans for the two of you to do another album, or will you just keep things organic?
CH: Well we have a plan; we’ve always had a plan. We keep saying that it was very organic and it surprised us, but we’ve always had a vision and we wouldn’t have set up our own record label, LaMina, if we didn’t think there was a future in it. So no, it’s not a one-off project.
Will you play any of these songs when you perform with The Pretenders here? Or do they just belong to this?
CH: Absolutely not. This has nothing to do with The Pretenders.
No, I just thought some people may want to hear some of your new stuff live...
CH: Well we have a single coming out that’s called Australia. That was one of our master plans because we both have our personal affections for Australia. It was used as a metaphor in the song, which is about meeting someone and taking them to a place that’s far away.
JPJ: I wanted to call it Wales, but it wasn’t exotic enough.
CH: I’m not sucking up to you because I don’t know how to do that to anyone. Like I say, we both have our personal affections, we’ve both been there. For many years Australia was given the shit end of the stick because they wanted American, they wanted English, until MTV came along and in its wake destroyed music as we loved it. But the one good thing is that it invited Australia into it. We’re guys who like to champion other artists and we hate those divisions that the industry created. So we like Australia, you know?
Australia’s always liked your work. Since I was a teenager and I first saw you on Countdown doing Brass In Pocket I’ve always wanted to interview you...
CH: Well I’ve always wanted you to interview me, so yeah (laughs).
Oh good, the 14 year-old in me is blushing.
CH: Aww... nice one mate.
Steve Nicks & The Pretenders Australian Tour Dates (via ticketmaster.com.au)
Hunter Valley, NSW Australia
Mount Cotton, QLD Australia
Yarra Valley, VIC Australia