"I was just goofing off," Hynde recalls, bubbling like she's still a cool twenty-something bohemian from suburban Ohio. "I didn't want to be a waitress forever. I was a big Anglophile that listened to all those rock bands from the '60s, and I thought, 'I want to go to England.' And I fell in love with the place."
Born in 1951, Hynde bridged the gap between old-time rock & roll and the punk generation, writing songs that have proven to be timeless. In the first minute of the Pretenders' eponymously titled 1980 debut, the punky "Precious" established Hynde as sexy, tough and occasionally vulnerable. After a few rough-and-tumble tunes, "Brass in Pocket" (the song Scarlett Johansson performed in Lost in Translation's karaoke scene) gleamed with greatness that would emerge in transcendent songs like the smash ballad "I'll Stand By You."
The band's nine-album discography includes two platinum albums, two gold discs and a gold singles collection. (The Pretenders also released the boxed set Pirate Radio in 2006.) Its first three albums cracked Billboard's top ten, with 1984's Learning to Crawl peaking at No. 5.
Rather than chasing rock & roll excess, she made do with more than enough. Thirty-four years after Hynde left home, she generally leads a low-profile existence as a mother, surfacing to campaign for animal rights. But despite the hiatuses, the group is far from forgotten.
"Chrissie is one of those rare women rock artists who sustained a career with integrity over a long period of time," testifies Joan Jett, who first met her as a young teen in the Runaways. "Her music is unique and wonderful. I can't say enough about my admiration for her work against mistreatment of animals. Like me, she is a vegetarian, something I further love about her."
Generations of rockers have taken notes on Hynde, but when she looks back on her career, she's not necessarily impressed.
"I've been overrated, if anything," says Hynde. "I'm just doing my thing."
B-Sides: When you started out, was it odd being one of the few women on the scene?
Chrissie Hynde: I never thought about that. I never thought about women too much. It seems to me that more girls were in bands when I started out than now. Now it seems like they're sticking their tits out and trying to be porn stars. I don't get it.
What rockers do you think have aged well?
[Iggy Pop] fucks my head up every time I see him. I had to go out into the parking lot for about half an hour after. And I know the guy.
What does it take to keep it together as you get older?
Forget the aging thing. Either you're in it or out of it, bottom line.
Why haven't you made a push to be a constant presence like many rock personalities do?
I just like to hang out and goof off. And it's very hard to do if people are looking at you. I just want to be ordinary and do my thing. I'm not interested in having any more fame I don't want any more of anything, to be honest. I just want to get through my life. The only fun in life, for me, is to hang out at the mall with a Slurpee in my hand and hang out like everyone else. What else is there?
Start Againand Again
Had theSTART's keyboard-sparkling 2001 album Shakedown! been released just a few years later, the LA band would have been superstars of the neo-new-wave revival. Instead, rap-metal was still king of the hill, and theSTART's label eventually folded which was just the start of the challenges that band co-founders Aimee Echo and Jamie Miller faced in the next half-decade. (Hardships experienced include, but weren't limited to, an unstable band lineup think Spinal Tap's drummer revolving-door and further lack of labels/funding). 2005's Initiation came out on the punk-friendly Nitro Records, while the band's latest, Ciao, Baby! is on dance-friendly Metropolis Records. Feeling like the album theSTART have always wanted to make and the one on which it sounds the most comfortable Baby contains robotic electro-dance gems which give Goldfrapp, Ladytron and even Gwen Stefani a run for their money. B-Sides chatted with the ever-amiable Aimee Echo, a personable frontwoman who speaks with the comfortable demeanor of a trusted old friend.
B-Sides: What did you guys like about Metropolis Records?
Aimee Echo: They were fans of ours. Basically what was happening we turned in our demos to Nitro, and they were kind of just sitting on them and didn't give us the go-ahead. It turned out there was going to be a bunch of changes. We found out because of those changes, we had an out, because they were not going to be able to fulfill their contract with us. We said, 'Can we go?' they said, 'Oh yeah, you can go. We're sorry if we fucked up your life in any way.' It was really amicable, we love them to death. It was nothing personal. Coincidentally, the same day that happened to go down, I got a call from the owner of Metropolis saying, 'I know you guys have a record deal right now, but if you ever need a new home, we're here.' I was like, 'That's really bizarre and oddly coincidental.'
One door closes, another opens....
But like, immediately! He called and left a message, I talked to Nitro, and checked the message, like, three hours later. That's how it went down. It was that close of a time frame. It was bizarre.
Metropolis is the perfect label for you guys, but for some reason it never crossed my mind ever that you guys should sign with them.
[In 2002] we had that EP we put out ourselves we didn't have a manager, we weren't actively seeking to do anything. We were just trying to be a band, trying to recover from the letdown of the first record being destroyed. When the Nitro thing came along it was like, 'Sure! Oh, you want us? Cool!' It was kind of the same thing with Metropolis. We weren't looking to leave Nitro, but the whole thing went down in a 24-hour period. It was like, 'We have a place to go, awesome!'
Ciao, Baby! reminds me of Goldfrapp and it seems natural for you guys to sound like that.
I'm a huge fan of Goldfrapp, especially the later albums. We have similar influences: I'm a huge T. Rex fan, I'm a huge dance-rock fan....I was into Portishead for a long time. It's weird when you make a record, what you get to put on it and where you're at in your life, and what the recording allows you, and who's around you at the time, how that influences you. It was just so cool, for this album....Jamie and I made all the decisions on everything. There was no real input from label, management, nothing. It was really fun to be left alone.
You can make the record you want to make.
With Shakedown! there was all this fancy record-label talk about focus tracks, what we were going to do here. Some of the stuff got underappreciated during the recording process, because they were focusing on certain songs that they thought would be singles. [Whispers] I don't think that's fair! [Laughs]