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Chrissie Hynde: Going It Alone With The Pretenders

Chrissie Hynde was recording a solo album when she realised it really belonged to the Pretenders. She tells us why Alone isn’t such a bad place to be...

Chrissie Hynde sidesteps into the London restaurant, an indomitable riot of colour and character and devil-may-care hair, shrugging off her leopard-print coat to reveal a Mothers Of Invention T-shirt. She doesn’t do handshakes, prefers to fist-bump. Famously down-to-earth, she’s happy discussing local buses and Tubes before I think to ease her in by discussing her new album.

“Well, maybe we should start with, ‘Who are the Pretenders?’” she tweaks, not one to acquiesce for politeness’ sake. “Because otherwise I’ll spend half the time explaining the same thing I’ve tried to explain for about thirty years…”

The 65-year-old is opinionated, talkative, prone to digression and fabulously entertaining.

The Pretenders formed in 1978, a few years after the Ohio-born Hynde had moved to London, landing slap-bang in the birth of British punk. Spectacular early success was followed by tragedy as founding guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon died (of drug issues, aged 25 and 30 respectively). The golden-voiced Hynde has kept the flag flying with varying line-ups ever since.

Today, as she explains, the Pretenders are one thing live and another in the studio. The imminent US tour with Stevie Nicks will involve her and her band of almost a decade (though they all work on other projects): James Walbourne on guitar, Nick Wilkinson on bass, Eric Heywood on pedal steel and early-days drummer Martin Chambers. The studio, however, sees a different approach. The new Pretenders album, Alone, was begun as a second Hynde solo record (following 2014’s Stockholm), but once it got going, all concerned felt it walked and talked like a Pretenders album, and therefore was one. The driving guitars, loose, lean-gutted arrangements and sweet’n’strident vocal delivery just screamed Pretenders, even if many of the songs were about the strength found in solitude.

It was recorded in Nashville with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys as producer, guitarist and all-round “captain”, and he brought in members of his side project The Arcs, as well as Johnny Cash’s former bass player Dave Roe, plus a cameo from one Duane Eddy. The album fully recaptures that Pretenders mojo that has latterly been hit-and-miss, as various producers strived for the balance of bite and beauty that characterised the group’s early years. (Those first two albums stand up among the most pinpoint-accurate post-punk poetry ever made.) There have been many high points since, of course, but Alone – knocked out quickly, fiercely and with a big sense of fun – has rediscovered the mix of fiery and forlorn within which that voice best states its case.

“Every time I do another album, people go: but it’s just you, isn’t it? And I have to say, ‘No, it’s not,’ because it’s a band. I didn’t intend on keeping the name, but when Pete and Jimmy died, I kept going because I wanted to keep the music alive. I always think of the back catalogue as the band’s, not mine. When I made that Stockholm album, it just felt like it was time for a change, to reboot. Feelings shift. I like to think the Pretenders is synonymous with the best band you’ll see this year. My role is kinda to set everyone else up. And, y’know, provide some songs.”

So for these sessions, were Dan and his crew honorary Pretenders for the duration?

“Well, we didn’t know that – we’d assumed it was another solo. I mean, it’s just a name. Then people we played it to said how great it was to have the Pretenders back – that’s how they were hearing it. I sent a long email to Dan explaining the history of the band and why this and why that, and he sent one line back saying, ‘Call it whatever sells the most albums.’ [Laughs] It’s more than that though. It’s what feels right.”

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