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Q&A: Chrissie Hynde

The Pretenders' smoky-eyed songstress looks backward over their career, and focuses on the present with the belated UK release in 2008 of their Break Up The Concrete album.

When asked why Break Up The Concrete didn't come out in the UK until now, the Telecaster-wielding tomboy who still styles herself as though she were Keith Richards' kid sister replies: "Because we didn't have a fucking deal." There are many sides to Chrissie Hynde, but the gutsy, streetwise femme fatale has always tended to dominate. Some 30 years after Hynde made the classic Pretenders and Pretenders II albums with Jimmy Scott, Pete Farndon and Martin Chambers, Classic Rock is here to, among other things, air a theory that she’s always been a softie at heart. “Me a romantic? I’m not even sure what that term means,” responds the smoky-eyed singer. “All I know is that all my men want me back.”

When last we spoke you said you didn’t care if you didn’t write another album; you felt you had nothing left to say.

Uh-huh. And most of the time that’s still the case. Today I just got the number six bus to Piccadilly Circus, then walked to the Krishna Temple and had the greatest lunch. I rarely feel that I have to be at home writing songs.

All that said, some new-ish Chrissie Hynde songs have emerged in the shape of Break Up The Concrete.

Yeah, but there’s no formula. And I’m certainly not prolific. I wrote another new song the other day, though. It only took about 14 minutes and I’m pretty pleased with it. You never know what will inspire you – a guy you meet, maybe.

On the new album, _The Nothing Maker _celebrates the life of an ordinary person, someone who isn’t interested in being a rock star or any other kind of artist.

What I was getting at is that art is so overrated these days. I hate the way everyone judges people by the art they create or collect or like. Some people spend more money on a painting of a horse than they would on a real horse but, frankly, which is more beautiful? Even if Van Gogh was standing here right now – and I would kiss his feet a million times if he were – he couldn’t paint a horse that was more beautiful than the actual fucking animal.

So the records we choose to buy say something about us?

Not really. They don’t tell people who you really are. If I say I like Maria Callas and I like Elvis Presley it tells you that I’m an awesome chick, but ultimately it’s just musical taste. It doesn’t tell you the important stuff like ‘Is this person kind?’ I’m not saying that I’m not judgemental about people’s tastes, because I am. But my cultural tastes still don’t tell you who I am as a person.

We were intrigued by the lines in Love’s A Mystery that go ‘Lovers of today/Have become too well-versed.

I’m talking about sexual performance, I guess. All this stuff about how to increase your pleasure or your partner’s pleasure is all over the media. Everything has become so graphic that it's actually taken all the heat out of sex. It's supposed to be dark and mysterious, not clinical.

The Pretenders have only released two albums in the last decade. Why do your records take so long to hatch these days?

Part of it is that I just don't want to bore people. I go into a newsagent to buy tobacco and I see the same fucker on the front of every publication month after month. Some celebrities have to be in your face all the time. I resent that. No one person is that interesting.

The album has a wonderfully raw and spontaneous feel.

We did two songs every day. Martin [Chambers] is still my favourite live drummer, but I wanted to use Jim Keltner on the album for certain feels and grooves. I’m not saying we made Exile On Main Street, but we made a pretty fucking good record and it only took 11 days. It was amazing, really, because a week before we started I had no confidence and I thought I might as well go hang myself.

If Jimmy Scott and Pete Farndon were alive today, what kind of music do you think they’d be playing?

Who knows? I can’t imagine I’d still be in a band with Pete, though. We fired him from the band right before he died. I had real problems with him because of the heroin, and somebody who died in the bathtub with a needle in his arm probably wasn’t going to clean up. The second tragedy was that Pete and I loved each other and we’d started the band together, but we’d amassed a little too much personal history. There was this tremendous sense of disappointment.

And Jimmy?

Well Jimmy – and let’s be clear that Jimmy wasn’t a junkie – would have gone on to play with all kinds of people had he lived. He loved so many different kinds of guitarists. I do suspect that Jimmy and I would have come back together as musicians at some point.

How do you view The Pretenders’ back catalogue now?

It’s weird. I have a pathology of themes that always show up in my songs. My approach hasn’t changed that much. I’m still writing about Akron and I’m still writing about trains.

You bought a house back in Akron not so long ago.

I’d been estranged from my family, and they are so old now that I wanted to be there more. I hadn’t lived there for 36 years. Just recently I was sitting in my loft apartment listening to the running order of the greatest hits CD we’re putting out with the new album. My City Was Gone came on, and of course it’s all about going back to Ohio and seeing that my city has changed. I hadn’t heard the studio version of that song in 20 years, yet there I was again looking out on the old skyline. I could see that some of the things I’d talked about losing were starting to come back. That really cheered me up.

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