CHRISSIE HYNDE: PRETENDER WITHOUT PRETENSE
By Paul Freeman (1994 Interview)
There's no pretense about the recently revitalized Pretenders. The new album, "Last of the Independents," proves that Chrissie Hynde, the creative force behind the band, has at last found a lineup that fully complements her energies.
Hynde's sensuously sneering vocals first grabbed attention with the Pretenders' no-nonsense, self-titled 1980 debut album. "Pretenders II," released the following year, was the last album by the original band. In '82, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon both died of drug overdoses. By '86, drummer Martin Chambers left the fold.
Numerous players have attempted to fill the voids. Hynde often had to employ session musicians. But subsequent albums, despite moments of brilliance, have failed to deliver the cohesive punch of the first two attempts.
The newest incarnation of the Pretenders is capable of making an electrifying impact. Chambers has returned. Guitarist Adam Seymour, formerly of the Katydids, meshes perfectly with Hynde. And completing the roster is ex-Primitives bassist Andy Hobson. This lineup is heard on four cuts - "Money Talk," "All My Dreams," "977" and "Love Colours" - on "Last of the Independents."
Having found the right chemistry, Hynde is taking the Pretenders on its first U.S. tour in eight years. "I've wanted to have a real band all along. The fact that two guys in my band died has made it very difficult to maintain the original lineup," she says, sardonically. "I never wanted to use session musicians. I never wanted to go solo. But I was struggling to keep my thing alive.
"You can't rush these things. You have to wait for the right people to come along. You can't buy that in a shop. I waited three years for Adam to be out of the Katydids."
Hynde is enjoying the camaraderie of the band. "We all like each other and respect each other musically. It's very balanced. I'm not the Miss Bossy Boots that you might think I am. I simply do my job."
Hynde relishes the rigors of the road. There's only one aspect she hasn't missed. "I could do without the intensity of the fans. I love the fact that people want to listen to the records, come to the club and dig the show. But I don't like people getting too close and thinking they have some relationship with me personally. That makes me run a mile."
When it comes to protecting the privacy of her two daughters, Hynde is like a lioness. Ray Davies of the Kinks is the father her 11-year-old. Simple Minds vocalist Jim Kerr is the father of the 9-year-old. Since her divorce from Kerr, Hynde, who proudly and defiantly sings "I'm a Mother" on the new album, has raised the two girls on her own. The children approve of Mommy's touring.
"I don't want anyone to see them or talk to them. I don't want anyone to know their names. My kids are going to have a totally anonymous, nice existence."
It's not that Hynde can't understand the craving to cling to idols. It's just that she doesn't want to be on the receiving end of consumptive worship. "We're all fans, aren't we? I can still remember, years ago, one night in London, seeing Keith Richards park his car and go into a liquor store. I was absolutely elated by that," says Hynde, who grew up in Akron, Ohio, but has lived in England since she was 21.
Now a young 42, she is a fan of alternative band Urge Overkill's music. It was hearing them that sparked Hynde's urge to play live with the Pretenders. "I really hadn't seen a band that had excited me in a while. I can't get enough of Urge. They confirmed to me that rock bands are what I love. I can't just love my own band. I've got to have bands out there that attract me. I love a scene."
When she arrived in London in the '70s, Hynde became part of the emerging punk scene. Today's grunge bands have often been compared to the punk rockers. "Grunge is America's answer to punk," Hynde says. "Usually, America gets things about 15 years later than England.
"Grunge and punk can be compared in terms of significance," she says, "but they're from different cultures, so they've got to reflect different things, different times. Punk was very much about the class system. We don't really have one in America, at least not one as defined."
Hynde credits the punk movement with giving women an opportunity to achieve greater prominence in rock music. "I loved the punk scene, because of its agenda of non-discrimination across the board. It was at the point that I knew I was not going to be a novelty."
Hynde rejects the notion that only now, in the '90s, women are being fully accepted as rock musical talents. "That's total bull. It's just thateverybody's suddenly talking about it. I've never had any problem being accepted. I've always been slapped on the back. People have always wanted women in rock. We are the fans. We are the ones who service the guys, for Chrissakes," she laughs.
"It's just that not very many (women) can do rock very well. I guess it's biological. Where's our female Jimi Hendrix? I haven't heard her yet. Girls, what are you waiting for? We obviously just aren't as well equipped. Socialprogramming isn't the problem. Too many women just can't cut it."
Many women who are currently making their marks on the rock scene cite Hynde, an admirable blend of tough and tender, as a primary influence. "What's that got to do with me?" is her response to the notion. "I don't feel that. No read-out on that has turned up in any of my chakras or any psychic capacity. So I don't think it has anything to do with me."
With a wry and sympathetic smile, she ponders the exuberance of the new crop of rock artists, male and female. "Of course they should rebel while they're young and have the energy. But it gets harder and harder to find things to rebel against. It's all been done. I understand the despair of the youth culture. But I can't put my hand on my heart and say I can be part of it anymore."
Hynde has, for many years, made sincere and dedicated efforts to change the world. She has been particularly involved in environmental and animal-rights movements. "There's always been a sense of futility in certain aspects. But that doesn't mean that you abandon the project. I feel deeply that it's part of a spiritual revolution. It's being addressed, and I sense a sort of renaissance."
Hynde's spiritual side is often cloaked by an edgy, confrontational attitude that tests strangers. For ammunition, she has frequently turned to the 1973 Don Siegel thriller, "Charley Varrick." The album title, "Last of the Independents," refers to the motto painted on Walther Matthau's crop-dusting plane in that movie. It's Joe Don Baker, who plays the hit man pursuing Matthau, who made the strongest impression on Hynde. "For years, I've used Joe Don Baker's lines, which is why everyone thinks I'm such a hard a--."
Hynde, one of rock's truly independent souls, hopes to continue making hard-edged music for years to come. "Maybe when I'm 55 I'll settle down and get married. Maybe I'll never want to do that. Right now, I want to perform.
"When you start out," she explains, "you're hungry and it's like you against the world, fighting to get your band across. After success, you have to dig deeper and deeper to find the right motivation. I'm finally finding that it's just to get on stage and have fun. That's what it's all about."
Chrissie Hynde continues to be one of rock musicís most vital forces, as her recent collaboration with Welsh singer-songwriter JP Jones proves. Keep updated by visiting www.thepretenders.com.