Chrissie Hynde, holding out for the independents “The thing that turns me on about music is the antiestablishment aspect.” Chrissie Hynde
Chrissie Hynde lit out of Ohio as a young woman, found her way to London, witnessed the birth of the punk scene and came up with her own indelible band, the Pretenders, in 1978. The picture of a tough, snarling frontwoman, Hynde continues her campaign with a different band (save for drummer Martin Chambers) on an arena tour with Stevie Nicks that stopped in town in November. The tour also provides time for the occasional headlining show, including one Monday at the Fillmore.
The tour started last fall, after the release of the first Pretenders album in eight years, “Alone,” and Hynde’s revealing memoir, “Reckless: My Life as a Pretender.”
We spoke with Hynde, 65, recently from Memphis, where she had just visited Graceland and had to be reminded that she was arrested there once (“I forgot about that!”).
What has it been like on the Stevie Nicks tour? It doesn’t seem like a natural fit.
I met Stevie over the years, and we like each other. I think the timing was right. I really didn’t know what to expect at all. We were in arenas with her and traditionally, I don’t like big venues. I like clubs and theaters. But I’ve been — in fact the whole band has been — surprised at how much we enjoy the arenas, because of just the way it’s lit and the sound.
We really liked it. So we took on another leg of it, which is what we’re on now. And then on our days off, we get to do our own shows. Which is great, because we get to do a longer set. But it’s slightly frustrating, because we go in, and we hadn’t played those songs for a while. It can put us in a state of anxiety, but that’s always good.
Your latest album was done with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Was it just a coincidence that he’s also from Akron?
It’s a coincidence. I probably left Akron before he was born. I left in 1973. I don’t know how old Dan is, in his late 30s? But he feels like he’s older than me. His musical sensibility is really sophisticated and very oldfashioned in a really good way. He really hears music in terms of vinyl albums — side one, side two. So he has all these elements, and his knowledge of music is very classical, I think, and very modern.
You call it “Alone,” and it follows your 2014 album, “Stockholm.” Was this going to be a solo album in the beginning as well?
The reason I probably called the “Stockholm” album solo is because I was asked for 30 years, “Yeah, but it’s really just you, isn’t it?” every time I did an interview, and it got so frustrating that I finally said, “Okay, so call it Chrissie Hynde.” But that didn’t feel right, so we went back to the Pretenders.
I think of this album as a Dan Auerbach/Chrissie Hynde album. But when people first listened to the album, they said, “Oh, it’s good to hear the Pretenders are back.” So I called Dan and said, “What do you think about that?” And he said, “I don’t care what you call it. Call it whatever sells the most records.” Q: I was looking at some of the duets you’ve done over the years. I had forgotten you had done “Luck Be a Lady” with Frank Sinatra. What was that like? A: I went in, as I always do, very, very unprepared. I think it’s just a throwback to when I was in school. I never did my homework, and I still can’t get my head around anything until I’m actually doing it. So I really let myself down often with my last-minute preparation.
The one that I think was probably my most favorite unknown gem in my mind was the one I did with Willie Nelson. I certainly guested with some of my favorite artists — Emmylou Harris, I was on an INXS album, I was on Mick Ronson’s last album. I’ve been on an Elvis Costello record. I sang background vocals for U2, and my name isn’t on that — “In the Name of Love,” I’m the background vocalist. Tons of stuff.
But you do it because you like the artist, you go in, you’re friends, you do it, and then you leave. I kind of don’t want to be in the mainstream. The thing that turns me on about music is its anti-establishment aspect. In my head, that’s where I’m at. I’d rather stay in the shadows. But not so much that nobody knows who I am and you can’t get gigs. So you’ve got to tread the middle ground all the time. Q: Amid all your rock songs, the 1994 ballad “I’ll Stand by You” has become something of a standard among younger artists. How did it come about? A: That was a very coldblooded attempt to get back on the radio. I was writing with Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, and their whole thing is to make hits. At the time, the Pretenders weren’t really on the radio so much. Then I realized how I had taken that for granted, being on the radio and how I missed being on the radio. Because that’s why I always made records, was to be on the radio.
So when I worked with Tom and Billy, that was really what I say was a coldblooded attempt to write something to get on the radio. To be honest, I was a little ashamed of it. I didn’t even want to put it on the record, because I thought it was a little bit too sentimental. It didn’t fulfill my rock credentials that I thought I had to have.
But I played it to a couple of girls who weren’t in the music business; they actually worked in a boxing management company. I like to play stuff for people who have nothing to do with the music business to get their real reaction of people who work in shops — you know, real listeners. And I looked over at these girls, and they both were in tears by the end of the song, so I said, “Yep, we’ll do it. Put it on the record.”
I really enjoy doing it now. I love it. I wouldn’t put anything out that I didn’t believe in. There are songs I like better than others, obviously. Q: Which ones? A: It just depends if there are songs we haven’t played for a while; when we bring them back it’s always good. We’ve got quite a few songs now, and we can only do so many. I think an hour-long set is perfect, but people expect more at your own shows. I mean, we could play three hours. But I don’t like to see anything for three hours. I just think it’s too long. I don’t think it’s a proper show. But that’s just for me . . . I think I would just become a bore. Q: One of the surprising things about your memoir is how big a role drugs played. A: Yeah, I was surprised myself. At one point I said this was a story about drugs. It wasn’t unique to me. Q: There is such a different kind of drug epidemic now. A: Oh, it’s a scandal. It’s a huge problem. I think it’s a bigger problem than we’ve ever had in this country. These painkillers are prescribed, they get Vicodin, OxyContin, whatever they get, they steal the pills, they get hooked on them. Everyone I know in Ohio is on pills.
Obviously, there are all sort of drugs that are lifesavers. I’ve taken them all. But I don’t take anything now. And I look around me now and I don’t see many people my age who can say that. The Pretenders Monday at 8 p.m. at the Fillmore, 8656 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. Tickets: $45. 301-9609999. fillmoresilverspring.com.
Chrissie Hynde, frontwoman of the Pretenders, and Dan Auerbach, guitarist and vocalist of the Black Keys. Hynde worked with Auerbach on the Pretenders’ latest album, “Alone,” their first in eight years. The band, featuring original drummer Martin Chambers, returns to Washington on Monday night.