Chrissie Hynde: 'I am very grateful to punk'

With her band the Pretenders, Hynde has blazed a defiant trail through rock’n’roll for four decades. Just don’t call her a role model – or invite her to an awards event

“That was 40 years ago,” sighs Chrissie Hynde with what can only be described as an auditory eye roll. “I’ve talked about starting this band so much, I don’t even know what I’m talking about now.” While Hynde’s band the Pretenders are part of an increasingly small number of groups still working after four decades, Hynde is not one to dwell on the past. She has little use for nostalgia, especially when the Pretenders have a new album out, Alone, and the group is touring through North America with Stevie Nicks.

Hynde’s lack of sentimentality extends to her own legacy, too, as she refers to herself simply as “a jobbing musician on the road with a band” and scoffing at the idea that musicians might be daunted to play with her in the studio. She also doesn’t want the accolades that come with such a long and successful career. “I fucking loathe the Grammys with a vengeance,” she said. “The whole idea of it, I don’t understand it, I don’t respect it, I don’t get it at all. I think it’s bullshit.” Nor was she flattered to be inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. “I call it the Rock and Roll Hall of Shit,” she says. “It’s everything that rock’n’roll isn’t. It sort of desecrates the name of rock’n’roll.”

In short, Hynde is not in rock’n’roll for the prizes: it’s in her blood. “If you’re an artist, you need to work,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re 12, if you draw, you draw. If you’re 85 and you paint, you paint.” And if you’re Chrissie Hynde, 65, you head back to the studio to make another album. “I’ll make music as long as I can sing and stand up and hold a guitar and I feel like doing this,” she says.

Hynde plays with Stevie Nicks: ‘I’ll make music as long as I can hold a guitar’
Hynde plays with Stevie Nicks: ‘I’ll make music as long as I can hold a guitar.’ Photograph: ddp USA/Rex/Shutterstock

Hynde is the only original band member to appear on the Pretenders’ new record. Two of the four original members – lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon – died in the early 80s, while drummer Martin Chambers has been only an occasional player over the albums that followed. Instead, Hynde has carried the Pretenders alone, enlisting talented session players and collaborators such as Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who produced the new album, the first Pretenders LP since 2008’s Break Up the Concrete. “He was No 1 on my wishlist,” said Hynde. They recorded the album in Auerbach’s Nashville studio, with Auerbach’s bandmates Leon Michaels and Richard Swift from his side project the Arcs helping out, and a cameo appearance from twang guitar legend Duane Eddy. They cranked out 12 vintage bluesy, soulful rock songs in just two weeks, another feat Hynde shrugs off as unimpressive. “If you have the material and everyone can play, that’s very doable,” she says.

On Alone, Hynde makes it clear that she still has plenty to say and through songs like the title track and I Hate Myself, she re-establishes her place as one of rock’s strongest voices. “Nobody tells me I can’t,” she sings on the record’s title track. “Nobody tells me I shan’t. Nobody to say, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’” It’s an ode to the independence that Hynde has been honing since she landed in London in 1977, fresh off the plane from Akron, Ohio, ready to start kicking her way into the punk scene. “It was kind of a do-it-yourself time and it was really not about musicianship, it was about personality and attitude,” she explains. “I am very grateful to punk, because I was a girl and I felt like if I got in a band I’d be kind of a novelty act, but punk was all about non-discrimination. No one cared, because it was punk, so you know anyone could do anything they wanted.”

While Hynde has found huge success making her own way through the largely male-dominated rock’n’roll world, she does not want to be anyone’s idol. She simply wants to make music and gets frustrated by the idea that she might be a role model for some other girl making music in her parents’ garage in Akron. “I can’t live my life doing that,” says Hynde. “The only thing I’ve ever offered the public is some music. If they like the music, that’s great, turn on the radio. If they don’t like it, switch it off. I have no other message, other than vegetarianism, which has always been exactly the same thing I said right from day one.”

Chrissie Hynde and Dan Auerbach: ‘he was my number one choice’
Chrissie Hynde and Dan Auerbach: ‘He was my number one choice.’ Photograph: Jill Furmanovsky

Hynde bristles when asked about feminism, when pressed on gender-related questions, or her status as role model. “I’m a songwriter and a singer. I don’t know why I’m called upon to make these proclamations about stuff that has nothing to do with me,” she says. “I don’t know why I have to keep qualifying it as if I’m running for president, you know? Just look at my track record.”

In short, Hynde simply wants to do her job, and wants everyone to let her get on with it already. She freely admits that she has made plenty of mistakes in her past. “Every five minutes we have to make a decision and chances are we make a bad decision, you know, because we’re human. We make mistakes,” she says. “Only a fool could live a life and say they had no regrets, but on the other hand you cannot allow that to impact your future. You know you have to move forward.”

For Hynde, that means touring the United States and working on the next album, which she says is already in the pipeline. Hynde is a rock’n’roll star, and that’s all she ever wanted to be. As Hynde says, “I just do what I do and frankly I’m just glad I got away with it.”


Melissa Locker

The GuardianTramp

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