After 15 years, sure, there are a few grey hairs and a few extra pounds but the band that were around at the conception of new wave sound like they have just picked up where they left off.
Blondie are back.
Jimmy Destri says their seventh album “No Exit” is 15 songs about nothing.
The band finished of 1998 road-testing their new vehicle though Europe and brought the New Year in downunder.
Original members Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, Jimmy Destri and Clem Burke spend an afternoon talking about the future with Paul Cashmere.
Paul Cashmere: When you go back to the early days, Australia was the first country Blondie had success.
Jimmy Destri: Yes. “In The Flesh”. The story was they played it accidentally. I’m not sure how much.
Chris Stein: He (Clem) claims he actually saw the clip where he played it and announced it as “X-Offender”.
Clem Burke: Ian Meldrum.
Jimmy : This whole thing is one big mistake
Chris : The legend is he played the B side thinking it was the A side and the reality is X Offender would not have been a hit because it was too aggressive and crazy. So they played the B side which was “In The Flesh” and that became a hit. It was really not representative of any punk sensibility. That’s all. Over the years, I’ve thought they probably played both things but liked one better. That’s all.
Clem Burke: It wasn’t representative of the rest of the record but it was the forerunner of the power ballad I guess.
PC: Take us back to just after “The Hunter”. When did the band disband and how long ago did you decide to get back together.
Clem: It was probably disbanding all through that last tour.
Jimmy: It was never one thing where anyone said “let’s stop”. We just stopped.
Chris : You can only be with a group for so long when you stop talking to everyone. That’s not good for logistics.
PC: Now in that period in time when you weren’t together, the band kept getting bigger. Were you noticing that?
Deborah Harry: Not at first, but in the late 80’s, early 90’s it started to become apparent. The catalogue was continually being reworked by Chrysalis EMI and our reputation had grown since we stopped.
Clem: I think at what happened, we gained a lot of credibilty from all the bands in the late 80’s who were initially fans of ours. They started their own bands and you saw a big influence of what we were doing on music and that kind of fed on itself and gave us a lot more credibilty. We became more acceptable in that way and that continued because of that. If you had a band like Elastica that said they liked Blondie and Blur dressed up as Blondie. All those little sign-posts popped up, bands like No Doubt.
Jimmy: After the band broke up, songs like “99 Luftballons” came out and took our formula, not that we ever had a formula. It was just one aspect of us that they copied. That went of for a little while.
PC: Let’s go over what you’ve been doing individually over the last few years. Deborah, you were most recently with The Jazz Passengers. Is that going to continue?
Deborah: Occasionally, I imagine I’ll jump up and sing some songs with the Jazzbo’s. I think that that was a really good musical experience for me and we’ll see what happens.
Clem: When the band was stopping I met Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox. I did the first record with them when I was still in Blondie. I continued to work with them and did the “Revenge”. We did this big Australian tour around ’87. Right after Blondie stopped, I had this band called Chequered Past with Steve Jones (Sex Pistols). I just continued to make music. I made this album with Mark Owen and Craig Leon produced the album at Abbey Road. I was working on that right as we began talking about putting Blondie back together and was glad that I could get Craig involved.
Chris: I haven’t been doing a lot. Mainly Debbie’s stuff. Otherwise I’ve just been introspective thinking about why I was getting high for all those years.
Deborah : Chris wrote a lot of material. I had three solo albums and Chris wrote a lot of material on that. We did two world tours with that.
Jimmy: Right after Blondie broke up, I produced the first album for Danny Goldberg’s label, an album by Joey Wilson called “Going Up”. It was a big hit in Billboard and Joey went immediately into AA. Danny went on to become this big media mogel. Because of Joey Wilson I was invited to produce “War”, the U2 record with Steve Lillywhite. I had a four week drunken lost weekend where I didn’t do anything. I went on to New York and my drunk weekend went on for another two years. I got all fucked up and I left the business and started a family. Then, when I went back, I started doing sessions with people, with everybody. I left on a really high note and drank my way back to a low note.
PC: The title of the album “No Exit” is a great album title. It insinuated that this time around it’s till death do us part.
Deborah: Well, as Clem says, there really is no exit because we have this identity and we can’t get away from that. It’s beyond anyone’s control. There is no exit. I guess in a way it’s a blessing too, because you have an identity and what more can an entertainer want than to have this established credibility with the public. It’s a gift.
PC: The title track sounds like the son of “Rapture”.
Deborah: I wasn’t really sure about making this a gangsta rap but Chris came up with the idea of making it more gothic. Originally we called it “Gothic Cups” and it was about this vampire character. Then we bought Coolio in and Coolio put his little twist on it. We went semi back to the gangsta rap but it also has a social conscious because of the vampirism of culture and drugs.
PC: How did the association with Coolio come about?
Deborah: I worked with him in a show in Belguim called “Night of the Proms”. He seemed like a nice guy. We had a further synchronistic relationship through Andy at the record company and it sort of evolved. We just tossed around ideas about who would be the logical person to have on the record and Coolio was on top of the list because of his musical content. His stuff has really got this big full picture.
PC: How did the album evolve from the songwriting to the recording to what we have now?
Jimmy: It was just a hotch potch.
Clem: We did a lot of pre-production in Chris’ basement and went into it naturally. Instead of booking some studio, we’d take a set of drums out of his garage and Chris has a studio in his basement. We kind of played the songs and let them evolve that way.
Chris: If anything, we left it pretty low tech. It was a combination of low and high tech.
Deborah: Basically it was based on song ideas, whether we liked melodic themes. A lot of times we would change the arrangements together, but most of the time, Chris or Jimmy or whoever would write the songs would come in with a tape and we would decide and work things up.
PC: Did you write exactly that amount of songs for the album?
Chris: We have never worked with a lot of shit and then narrowing it down.
Deborah: We sort of shave it down right away. We don’t waste time on ideas that we don’t think are worthwhile. We commit ourselves to ideas that we are strong about.
PC: You’ve done a few shows to date. What remains from the old days and how do the new songs mix in with the old?
Chris : Now it’s all crowd pleasers at this stage. Maybe that’ll turn around. But at the moment we are playing everything that everyone wants to hear because it makes it easier for us.
Clem: We do about five new songs in the set. The new songs are really incorporated well into the set. People seem to be appreciating the new songs.
Deborah: Well, we’ve sculptured the show in to include the new material in such as way that it is an easy understanding for an audience who has never heard the material to understand where we are coming from. We put them in places that pull them through the songs, with what surrounds them. We incorporate the material the best way we can.
PC: What about the blend of the songs. Were you surprised when you got up to perform the old and the new all in together?
Deborah: It sort of took us a while the best places to put the material. It has to become a logical show with the essence and the feeling of what we are.
PC: What is the must do Blondie song?
Clem : Probably “Heart Of Glass”
Deborah: Yeah “Heart Of Glass” is one.
Clem: People tend to like “Dreaming” and “Hanging On The Telephone”.Deborah: We had a lot of airplay with “Atomic” in Europe because it was used as a word-cup commercial. That got a really high response. “Call Me” gets a good response.
Clem: It’s a funny thing with “Hanging On The Telephone” because we were on a tour in Japan and there was this guy called Geoffrey Lee Pierce who you may have known from The Gun Club. He has since died. There is a song on the album that is a tribute to him. He sent us a tape of new songs and “Hanging On The Telephone” was one of the songs on there by a group called The Nerves. Coincidentally, Peter Case, who is the singer songwriter with the Plimsouls, who I have just worked with, was also in The Nerves. That seems to be a very requested song.
PC: Didn’t “Heart Of Glass” start off years earlier as a rock song?
Chris : 73 or 74. We used to play it in bars.
Clem: There was a couple of inspirations. Everyone has a different theory. If you talk to Mike Chapman he’ll say he revamped the song. I know two of the big influences behind revamping the song were the group Kraftwerk which really didn’t exist when the song was first written, and also for myself it was “Stayin’ Alive”. It was always referred to as the disco song and to this day that record (Saturday Night Fever) is one of my favorite songs as unpunk as that sounds. I think it’s a great record. I was trying, for the drums, trying to get that groove that JR Robinson did for the Bee Gee’s. It was always called the disco song. When disco became more prominent, it always had a disco beat and Jimmy had the synthesizers.
Deborah: We had the song before Jimmy started playing in the band and with Jimmy joining and the technology the song evolved along with it.
Clem: I think Jimmy had a lot to do with that song.
Chris: He was the keyboard player and we bashed it around a synthesizer. It was that beat and that pulse.
PC: Jimmy, tell us about the new single “Maria”?
Jimmy : It’s just typical boy can’t get girl. There’s nothing more to it. This is my take on the album. It’s 15 songs about nothing. My favorite album is Roxy Music’s “Manifesto” because it’s titled Manifesto and then it says nothing. I think that is so ironic, it’s cool. What I try to do and what I think Debbie tries to do with lyrics is you write something down and it’s open to interpretations. It’s better to touch 14 million people than 1400 I think. It’s a basic lyric about a guy who can’t get the girl and you can read into it what you want.
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