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spinner.com - 13th December 2007

Deborah Harry Goes It Without Blondie on Record and Onscreen

Posted Dec 13th 2007 5:00PM by Steve Baltin
Filed under: Spinner Interview

After spending the past several years touring and recording with Blondie, frontwoman Deborah Harry has finally stepped back into the solo world with 'Necessary Evil,' her first album without her Blondie cohorts in 14 years. Still, the band mates she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 with aren't far from her, as Chris Stein lends his production talent to a couple of tracks on the record.

Nonetheless, the 62-year-old singer and actress felt it was important to do this one on her own, and she did just that. Harry was involved in all aspects of the release, including artwork and marketing. When she talks to Spinner on a rare day off for her, it is apparent she is loving the hands-on approach. That was just one of the things -- along with her next acting role, what love is to her, and how she's getting better with age -- that this true New Wave icon had to say in this engaging conversation. 

There's a lot of talk about love on 'Necessary Evil.' Is that a central theme to the album?

I realized at the end that I was referencing relationships a lot and the idea of actually finding out what is love. So I ended up writing that song ['What Is Love'] because it seemed like everything that I was writing about was about relationships, and most popular music is actually written about that. As a matter of fact, most things that we read in our lives, or films or books, it's usually about looking for love.

What is love to you, then? 

I don't know if I really have an answer. Judging from my work experience collaborating with different people and being in a band, I think love is being able to step down from your ego trip and to make room for another person and to be able to share an experience with another person and not be the one who has to be the most paramount person or the one who does all the talking or the thinking -- unless, of course, the other person wants that from you. So it's the idea of actually sharing, I guess.

What are some of your favorite works of art about love?

I liked 'Pan's Labyrinth.' I think that is a strange look at love. Totally brilliant. It was so bare and yet so elaborate. The honesty about people's nature and in a way it was very traditional, the way children's nursery rhymes and stories tend to be very horrific and very brutal. In a child's world, the world in life can be very, very brutal. But yet that's where we learn about love. I also really like 'Shakespeare in Love.' I thought that was kind of beautiful and acted really well, and I love Shakespeare. You can't do better than that, really. It's so insightful. I like Leonard Cohen's stuff. There's one song, 'Waiting for the Miracle' -- a taste of it was in 'Natural Born Killers.' 'Natural Born Killers,' of course, was a great love story [laughs]. 

Have you done any recent acting?

I actually have done something with that very same director, Isabel Coixet, who did 'My Life Without Me.' I did a picture with her, 'Elegy,' from a Philip Roth book. She changed the name; the book is called 'The Dying Animal.' 

What part do you play in 'Elegy?'

'Elegy' is about feeling your mortality, especially with men that have been in a marriage for a while. And then, suddenly, they feel their mortality and start going out with younger women. That's what this is about, hence 'The Dying Animal.' So, Ben Kingsley is the lead character, and he's a real philanderer. He always goes out with one or two of his students; he's a literature professor at a college. And his best friend is Dennis Hopper's character, who's also sort of a lad. I play Dennis' wife, who's separated. My scene is a very small part. I hope it doesn't get put on the cutting room floor. But Dennis is dying suddenly, he's got a tumor or something. And my scene is with Dennis on his deathbed, and Ben Kingsley comes walking into the bedroom 'cause he's back at home. And it also stars Penelope Cruz as Ben Kingsley's love interest. So it's kind of a really hot picture. 

Is it much different working with Ben Kingsley and Dennis Hopper from being onstage with Chris Stein or whoever?

It's fantastic. I have to say that just watching them work was just so, I know this is going to sound strange, but comforting, because they've got to the point in their minds where there's nothing else they're really obviously thinking about except that they love doing their jobs. And they're completely focused on it and it's just that. They have all of their pride issues and ego issues so well in hand and they understand themselves so well that they're able just to do the job simply and beautifully, and it's just great. It's a joy. 

The music industry places a heavy emphasis on youth, but you're seeing a lot of artists, like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, who continue to put out relevant and great work. Do you feel like that your focus is something that comes with age as well? 

It's true. We all aspire to get better and better usually, and that takes time. And in the art world, fine arts, it's totally expected that you would continue working until you can't hold a paintbrush anymore or whatever it you're holding [laughs].

You mentioned earlier being very busy promoting 'Necessary Evil.' Do you feel more of a connection with this because it is your first solo album in 14 years? Also, being a smaller label, does that allow you to be more involved?

It is a small indie label, but I feel very good about just being able to keep everything nice and simple, and decision-wise I'm right there for any type of decisions that have to be made. And because it's such a much simpler operation, I feel very at ease about it. I don't feel like things are happening that are way, way out of control that are maybe a little bit artistically out of line. I feel like this is really manageable and sort of "OK, this is really moving along nicely, and I haven't had a lot of people sort of breathing down my neck about it." It's very nice. 

Going back to the record, do these songs span a long time, or were they written in a concentrated period?

They span about a year, a year and a half. And I did it when I would come off the road. I had been doing a lot of touring with Blondie. And so when I would come home, if I had a week or two, I would just call up and set up some studio time. I started initially funding the project myself, so it was really just a labor of love, truly, and I was really digging doing it. I just built up this pile of songs that I liked and actually put out a couple of them and sent them out to clubs, just having fun, really. Some of my friends were DJs, and I just wanted to put stuff out there. That was 'Dirty and Deep,' the original version; and the second one, I think, was 'Charm Alarm,' the duet with Guy Furrow.

On this record you worked with Chris Stein, and Supper Buddha did the majority of the production. What did you look for in the people you collaborated with?

I don't really play an instrument. I struggle a little bit to bang out a few notes on the guitar, but it's nothing I can really rely on for songwriting that much. So I mean collaborating for me is an absolute necessity. And what I look for in working with other musicians is that they're so chill about who they are and what their talents are that it's about having a good time and keeping a good vibe, and not worrying about ego and who gets credit for what. It's about making the best thing, making the best recording or writing the best song. And that's really when it turns into a great project and a lot of fun, and you get the best result that way, too.

Recently you've worked with Lily Allen. Is there anyone on the horizon you think is evolving pop music?

I think everybody evolves, because what we all do is study everybody else's work and listen to other people's stuff, so it becomes this layering effect. I love the new M.I.A. I think it's really great, really interesting. There's a girl that I know in New York, Heloise and the Savoir Faire. Elijah Wood started a label, and she's got a CD coming out. She's so talented. She's just a really interesting and funny person and terrific musician, as well.

Link: spinner.com - 13th December 2007

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