Chrissie Hynde has been one of The Pretenders for over 35 years, selling 25 million records and scoring eight top ten hits, including two number ones. So why now, over 40 years since she moved to London from Ohio in a bid to follow her artistic dreams, has one of the most iconic female rock stars decided to release an album under her own name?
Al Gordon finds out…
Chrissie Hynde’s answer to the question is simple, and remarkably casual… “Just because I’ve been asked about it for 30 years and I thought ‘you know what – why not?’ Every time I put a Pretenders album out people say ‘it’s just you, isn’t it? But no, it’s just you, isn’t it?’ but it’s not, it’s always been a band.” And the irony now is that this solo project has been more of a co-operative process than any Pretenders album ever was, because Chrissie co-wrote all the songs.
“Normally, with The Pretenders,” she goes on, “I write the songs and take them to the band. And this was a collaboration. But none of the guys I was working with in Sweden were prepared to leave Stockholm and the projects they were working on and come to London and join a band with me. So I was stuck with just me.”
The ‘guys in Sweden’ include Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn and John (famous for their omnipresent Young Folks single), who began working with Hynde after a chance meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. As it happens, Hynde’s publishers had already played her some of Yttling’s music and put him forward as a potential collaborator, something she says “happens all the time these days, as it used to do it many years ago; there is lots of co-writing.”
Working in Stockholm influenced not just the album title (Stockholm), but also the sound, which Hynde described as a cross between Abba and John Lennon. “Obviously, it has got a very Swedish feel, it was made with all Swedish guys so it has that flavour. It is a fertile place as far as music making goes”.
But Yttling is not the most famous name on Stockholm: the legendary songwriter Neil Young appears on one track, Down The Wrong Way. The 62 year-old Chrissie describes it as “the highlight of my career!” Is that really how she feels? Is it true that she’s as star-struck as the rest of us?
“There is no question about it. If you play guitar, then you adore him. I only got him to play because I wanted to impress Bjorn. That’s the only way I got the guts to ask him in the first place. I knew him a bit, but not to the extent where I could ring him up and ask him to play on my record. But the song already sounded like him, so it was perfect.” And it did impress Bjorn Yttling, she says, so that was defnitely mission accomplished.
And in an even more unlikely twist, the album also features some guitar work from Hynde’s long-time friend John McEnroe (yes, that John McEnroe…), who swapped the tennis court for the recording studio to appear on A Plan Too Far. You cannot be serious?
“Whenever I am in New York I will drag him up onstage and he is one of these guys that just loves rock music. And Bjorn is a tennis fan, and when I realised that I thought ‘okay, okay, let’s get John in the studio.’ Bjorn was thrilled to meet him. Because people love John. Of all the famous people I have met, he is one of the most beloved. He’s a real man of the people. He’s the bad boy, and people relate to that.”
Hynde has always had something of a rebellious streak herself, and has long been vegetarian and a champion of animal rights. Today, though, she is railing against what she calls ‘glory rock’. What does she mean?
“Family values, wholesome ethics. The thing I like about rock ‘n’ roll is it is irreverent. It has become too reverential. Oh look, I don’t know. It wasn’t meant to be a statement. But there’s not enough ‘fuck off’ anymore.’
Does she think she has mellowed over the years?
“I don’t know. I suppose if I’m still saying ‘f**k off’ then I can’t have mellowed too much”.
This much is evident: for Hynde, the music is paramount and everything else comes secondary – just the way it has always done.
“I’m not too bothered about whether a record does well or not because I’ve always not really cared that much. I’m not supposed to say that, because I’m supposed to be more ambitious. But really? I don’t care too much.”
Chrissie Hynde plays the Royal Festival Hall on 14 June, five days after the release of her debut solo album, ‘Stockholm’.