Eastern Daily Press - SATURDAY - 22nd September 2007
8 - Still On Track
At 62, Deborah Harry is still making music. The former Blondie frontwoman tells Andy Welch about her new sound and the 'scary' life of a solo artist.
Rock of ages
[Picture Caption: Deborah Harry, frontwoman of Blondie and an icon of the music industry, has just launched her new solo album - Necessary Evil - 14 years after her previous one.]
With a new solo album now out, after a 14-year gap, Andy Welch talks to Deborah Harry about her new sound and why Blondie is such a big part of her life.
AN ICON IS SOMEONE OR SOMETHING CONSIDERED AS REPRESENTING a set of beliefs or a way of life. So says the Cambridge English Dictionary anyway, so who are we to disagree? It's a word thrown around so often, and rarely with much justification, but when it's used to describe Deborah Harry, there's virtually no other word that will fit the bill.
Now, 14 years after her last solo album, the Blondie frontwoman is back with a new collection of songs, Necessary Evil.
"It's been a while, yeah," she breezes in her New York droll. "It's just serendipitous really. I got into writing some songs, and then my manager suggested I put out a solo record. I thought, 'Why not?'."
And why not indeed? Especially when some of the songs on the album are as strong as its opening track and current single Two Times Blue.
"That was the last song we wrote, and it was curious because I woke up with these things running through my head," Deborah, 62, explains. "I was thinking 'two times two' and all these other things associated with the phrase, but then I was booked into the studio one night and when I got there I said I'd had a really interesting idea for the hook of a song.
"The producer said he'd woken up that day with a song in his head too, so started playing it. I sang the lyrics I'd written along to it, and it all worked. It was very serendipitous. It doesn't always happen like that, believe me," she laughs, before explaining a more typical approach to songwriting.
"I don't write all the time, but I do have lots of ideas and keep a record of them, you know. This time around, I had access to a production team, and it was easier for me to get into a studio and work with them, and they also helped me write the songs.
"It was an effortless thing, it wasn't like I was under any pressure to do it. It was just something I had time for and was interested in."
While Blondie were known for their new-wave punk-pop, Necessary Evil sees Harry embracing a much more contemporary sound, with elements of rock, dance and electronica in places.
For the album, she worked with a number of co-writers and musicians - one of which was former partner and Blondie guitarist Chris Stein - who have helped bring new sounds to the recording. She says working as part of a large group was an enjoyable experience.
"I think now that I've worked like this, I would always like to work like this in the future. I would come in with an idea, a lyric maybe, and some idea of a melody and then we'd work it up in the studio. It was very immediate and Barb (Morrison) and Charlie (Nieland) played all the instruments, except for the drums that we put on later.
"I don't know about another record just yet, but I don't see any reason why there wouldn't be another soon. But then the record industry isn't what it once was, so I don't know how the business end of it all will pan out.
"I'm always getting ideas for songs, whether I do them as myself or as Blondie, but I am open to another album, definitely."
Of course, Deborah's best known for being part of Blondie, and while her solo career has been successful containing a number of hits, such as French Kissin' In The USA, it's fair to say nothing she's ever done has quite matched her output during the band's heyday. Saying that, what is Blondie, and what is Deborah Harry, has become unclear over the years, even to the artist herself.
"It's hard to separate, apart from the sound, perhaps. The sound of this collection is a little edgier, less polished than Blondie, but, yeah, it can be confusing."
Quotes from the singer like the following don't help clear up the issue: "You know, when I woke up this morning I had a realisation about myself. I was always Blondie. People always called me Blondie, ever since I was a little kid." That line featured in a tour booklet, further blurs the boundaries between Deborah, her character within the band and the band itself.
"I know it's scary without the band, though," she continues with a giggle. "I guess it's both scary and liberating at times.
"Initially, I felt a little strange being on stage with different musicians. Only three musicians as well, usually it's six. I did a little tour and I felt naked and weird, but I quickly got over that."
Looking around the current music scene, it's impossible not to see Deborah's influence, stylistically or musically, on some level.
Karen O of trendy New Yorkers Yeah Yeah Yeahs most definitely knows a thing or two about Deborah, rehashing some of her styles when the band made their breakthrough a few years ago, and she has also been a major inspiration for Madonna, Courtney Love, Garbage's Shirley Manson and countless other female pop stars.
"Ultimately, I'm very flattered by it all," beams the singer when asked how she feels being cited as an influence by today's musicians.
"What we did is a part of people's inspirations I guess, but I certainly drew on a lot of sources myself. It happens every generation that people are influenced by things they've seen before.
"None of us live in a vacuum, and that's how we learn things. Nowadays, people can actually study rock 'n' roll, but when I was coming up, it was not part of any curriculum anywhere. You had to be self-taught, so naturally you would learn from people you were listening to. It's inevitable."
Necessary Evil was released this week.