THE REAL PRE­TENDER

Chrissie Hynde’s de­but solo al­bum was a great leap into the un­known, she tells Iain Shed­den

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story -

CHRISSIE Hynde has a rep­u­ta­tion as a qual­ity song­writer as well as be­ing the dis­tinc­tive voice of the Pre­tenders for al­most 40 years, so it fol­lows that she could call on just about any­one to play gui­tar on her de­but solo al­bum, Stock­holm, which is re­leased next week.

Rock leg­end Neil Young would be a good choice, for ex­am­ple, and he shows off his fa­mil­iar, gutsy gui­tar chops on Down the Wrong Way, one of the 11 songs on the new al­bum, which Hynde recorded in Swe­den with lo­cal pro­ducer Bjorn Yt­tling.

Less dis­tinc­tive than Young’s con­tri­bu­tion, but 10 times as sur­pris­ing, is the wild, bluesy gui­tar lines on an­other song, A Plan Too Far. They come from some­one just as fa­mous, but not rated in the pan­theon of gui­tar greats — John McEn­roe. Yes, se­ri­ously, that John McEn­roe.

“He can play,” says Hynde, 62, an old friend of the ten­nis su­per­star. ”I know John be­cause he loves rock ’n’ roll and we al­ways in­vite him on stage when­ever we’re in New York with the Pre­tenders. I’m al­ways en­cour­ag­ing him to give up ev­ery­thing else and be in a band be­cause that’s what he likes. So far I haven’t suc­ceeded.”

The McEn­roe play was de­signed to im­press Yt­tling, whom Hynde didn’t know be­fore mak­ing the al­bum. “He had a ten­nis rac­quet in the stu­dio,” she says with a laugh. “I no­ticed that. I men­tioned that I knew John McEn­roe, and that was the first time I got a re­ac­tion out of him. So now I’ve got the hang of this guy. So the next time John was in town (Stock­holm) for some se­niors thing, I made sure I went there for a record­ing ses­sion at the same time. I got John to come to the stu­dio just to get a re­ac­tion out of Bjorn, which I did. It was great. Of course then I had to go to the rest of the se­niors cham­pi­onship with Bjorn. He was just thrilled. I never re­ally watch the ten­nis.’’

Hynde, ooz­ing the smarts and sex­i­ness that have been a fea­ture of her steady rock ’n’ roll jour­ney, is in a good place, it seems, as she em­barks on this new stage of her ca­reer. The poster per­son for thou­sands of fe­male (and male) rock wannabes since the late 1970s doesn’t find it odd that she should be go­ing solo at this point in her life. For most of her ca­reer she has been iden­ti­fied as the only real Pre­tender, as mu­si­cians have come and gone from the band through the decades, some of them in tragic cir­cum­stances.

“I’ve been told by people for 25 years that I should use my own name and I’ve been told by people that the Pre­tenders is re­ally just me,” she says. “I’ve bat­tled against this for years. I just want to be in a band, I work best within a band, but people have their own ideas, so on this one I re­lented.”

The new al­bum, fea­tur­ing Swedish mu­si­cians other than the two celebrity ring-ins, was a marathon project, spread across two years and 20 or so ses­sions in Stock­holm. The Pre­tenders’ last al­bum, 2008’s Break Up the Con­crete, was done and dusted in 11 days. While it’s her name on the cover, Hynde de­scribes the al­bum as “the most col­lab­o­ra­tive work I’ve ever done”. Most of that part­ner­ship was with Yt­tling, of Swedish band Peter Bjorn and John. The pro­ducer, whose cred­its in­clude Sarah Blasko’s a ward- wi n n i n g al­bum As Day Fol­lows Night, cowrote many of the songs on Stock­holm and has brought a pop­pier sen­si­bil­ity to Hynde’s tra­di­tion­ally r o c k - f r i e ndl y Pre­tenders ap­proach. She was aim­ing for some­where be­tween ABBA and John Len­non.

“I’m used to sit­ting down with a gui­tar and writ­ing a song, so go­ing over to meet this guy Bjorn was a new ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says. “And agree­ing to try some things … for me it was a lot of fun just to try some­thing like that with a stranger and it trig­gered off a lot of cre­ativ­ity. He would give me a bit of a song to lis­ten to on his lap­top, then he’d piss off for a while and by the time he came back I’d writ­ten a song. So it was fun and it was un­ex­pected.

“Some­times it’s ag­o­nis­ing and you get re­ally down on yourself if you’re not able to ar­tic­u­late. A lot of song­writ­ers suf­fer that way. This wasn’t like that. I’d take notes back to Lon­don and I went back to Swe­den about 20 times be­cause we could only work about three days in a row. We’d get two or three songs per visit.”

Yt­tling’s pop ve­neer is ap­par­ent on songs such as You or No One, Dark Sun­glasses and In a Mir­a­cle, al­though there’s room also for heav­ier fare, par­tic­u­larly when Young gets go­ing from the off on Down the Wrong Way. It took Hynde a year to get around to ask­ing the Cana­dian star to con­trib­ute to the track.

“We started off for months re­fer­ring it to it as the Neil Young song, just be­cause the chords sounded like Neil Young,” she says. “Then I would try to f..k with Bjorn a lit­tle by say­ing, ‘Oh I’ll get Neil Young to play on this.’ Of course I didn’t mean it. I would never ask Neil Young, on a solo record, out of re­spect for one of the gods. It wouldn’t oc­cur to me to do that. But the truth is I’ve toured with Neil and he is just a potsmok­ing hip­pie. He’s the easy­go­ing Neil Young that ev­ery fan wants him to be.

“Af­ter about a year of talk­ing about it, I thought: ‘ Why not ask him?’ We put in a call. Later he was in town (in Lon­don) do­ing some shows and his man­ager called and said he had one day free. ‘If you can or­gan­ise a stu­dio he’ll do the song.’

“Bjorn was on the next flight to Lon­don. Neil had never re­ally done any over­dubs like that so it was a high spot in my ca­reer.” AS a girl grow­ing up in Akron, Ohio, and later as an art stu­dent at Kent State Univer­sity, Hynde had no great am­bi­tions as a mu­si­cian, al­though she did play in a few fledg­ling bands. She was pas­sion­ate about mu­sic, though; about bands. “I grew up lov­ing bands,” she says. “That’s when I got the most fiercely in­ter­ested in mu­sic. It was all about bands.”

It was also about get­ting out of Ohio, so in 1973 Hynde bought a ticket to Lon­don. She spent the next few years work­ing there, first as an ar­chi­tect’s as­sis­tant, then in a va­ri­ety of jobs, in­clud­ing a stint at Vivi­enne West­wood’s cloth­ing store SEX. She had short pe­ri­ods in Paris and back in the US be­fore set­tling again in Lon­don in 1976, just as the punk scene was tak­ing shape. That was her open­ing, al­though it took a few at­tempts and a few bands be­fore she made a break­through.

“Mainly I was clean­ing houses and liv­ing on a pretty low level,” she says. “I knew I wasn’t go­ing to go back to the States per­ma­nently.”

She played gui­tar briefly in punk acts such as the Moors Mur­der­ers and Johnny Moped, but still was un­sure about her call­ing.

“I liked the idea of be­ing in a band,” she says, “but be­ing a girl I didn’t ever feel it was go­ing to

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