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philadelphiaweekly.com - 6th November 2007
Sound the Siren
With her first solo album in 14 years, Deborah Harry can still get it done.
by Tara Murtha
More than 30 years after forming the band that ordained the communion of New Wave and punk, Deborah Harry still rocks the same DIY attitude and experimental spirit that netted Blondie more singles than a hometown stripper.
Icon or not, Harry isn’t content to lounge about stargazing into punk’s storied past. A Jersey girl in a folk band doesn’t become canonized as “the Marilyn Monroe of punk” without more than a little moxie.
Her new album Necessary Evil was produced mostly by Williamsburg- based duo Super Buddha (Barb Morrison and Charles Nieland). Collaborators include Jazz Passengers’ Roy Nathanson and Bill Ware, the Toilet Boys’ Guy Furrow, and usual suspect Chris Stein.
Necessary Evil scours the last few decades, then boomerangs back with the best bits and pieces. Chilly synth sounds zipper through deep boiler room beats on the dance tracks. High school hooks that could’ve alley-ooped right out of an angrier Avril’s songbook pierce through the pop tunes, while ’90s riot grrl riffs slice big chunks of rowdy Olympia fun. There are even echoes of Newcleus’ “Jam on It” in there.
PW caught up with Deborah by telephone from N.Y.C. for some girl talk about fashion and what’s up with men these days.
How are you feeling on the cusp of the Necessary Evil tour?
“I feel pretty good. I have a lot of work to do in a pretty short period of time, but I’m looking forward to doing some shows. I did a bunch of them with the Cyndi Lauper True Colors tour.”
You’re referred to as a fashion icon. Ever thought about putting out a fashion line? Are clothes as exciting to you now as in the early days?
“I like clothes. I like fashion. I’ve been approached several times over the years to endorse a line or possibly design and launch a line of my own. I don’t really consider myself a designer in the truest sense of the word … I guess in a way the reason people think of me as a fashion icon is that I did it such a long time ago and it stuck, and some of the things I was wearing back then have become normal. That usually happens in fashion anyway, you know—trends start and the kids start wearing stuff that maybe is a little fun or weird. It gets taken over and co-opted by designers.”
I saw a spread in Glamour that featured Debbie Harry’s signature look and then offered items like a $795 striped shirt and $1,000 shoes.
“Considering that most of the stuff we wore was free, vintage or secondhand, it’s kind of amazing how it goes around.”
In interviews you’ve said this album is about love. And sex. Got love and sex on the brain?
“And who doesn’t?”
What would an admirer have to do to court the affections of Debbie Harry?
“I guess they’d just have to be, you know, uh, friendly. Able to hold up a good conversation. Someone who’s pretty much comfortable with themselves and not really afraid of me.”
It’s hard to find those fearless men.
“Yes it is! Everyone seems to be very fragile or thin-skinned. I like to have a good time, I like to laugh. It’s that simple for me really. Whoever is out there and likes to have a good time and tell some jokes and make me laugh, you know, look me up.”
I’m going to switch gears to talk about your method as a songwriter. Do you have any writing rituals, or has your method changed over the years?
“I put myself into the frame of mind by being open to ideas and paying attention to ideas and taking notes, and I try to think about phrases that ring true. Then I develop a story or some kind of phrasing around them that polishes them up a little bit. I guess it’s sort of a state of mind.”
The first time I remember seeing you act in film was in Heavy —that was an amazing performance. How’s a film performance different from an onstage persona for you?
“Usually in acting, in film, there’s a script or story [or character] someone else has written and created, so my responsibility is to bring that to life and make it appear as realistic as possible, versus when I’m onstage I’m completely responsible for everything I do. Being onstage is big. You’re dealing with a live audience. There are usually hundreds of thousands of people in front of you, and your actions have to be big. But on film you’re working into this little lens, so everything has to be very intense—as big in intensity but very focused and small so that it’s related to the size of the eye. It’s just that one eye looking at you versus hundreds or thousands of eyes.”
A biopic film seems inevitable. You get to cherrypick the lead actress. Any ideas?
“It’s been rumored I would be working with Kirsten Dunst, but nothing’s been decided yet. I haven’t got a script or anything—it’s just an idea that’s been kicking around for a while. You never know how these things are going to turn out, but I’m just keeping my fingers crossed.”
Fri., Nov. 9, 8pm. $39-$49. Keswick Theatre, 291 Keswick Ave., Glenside. 215.572.7650. www.keswick theatre.com
philadelphiaweekly.com - 6th November 2007