Magazines + Newspapers

Beat Magazine

23rd December 1998 – Page 28
Australian magazine


THE critics are scrambling for the thesaurus to heap praise on their live shows. There’s lines out of the front of each venue they’re playing, with scalpers having a field day naming their price for tickets to long sold out shows. The crowds are screaming, a new album is already being hailed by insiders as one of the most impressive of next year and there’s demand from all over the world.
And most interesting, this is Blondie in 1998, rather than 1978. The band, fronted by living pop icon Deborah Harry, are back, currently in the midst of a UK tour. They’ve spent three years making sure their reunion isn’t seen as a cash-in or embarrassing to their legacy. “I was a little trepidatious before it started,” says guitarist and songwriter Chris Stein. “We were all a little nervous but it’s been going very smoothly. It’s weird, I don’t remember it ever being this hassle-free.
A new album, No Exit, is released in January, with a new single Maria hitting radio any day now. “At first we were approached just to do another greatest hits album with two new songs,” says Stein, “but nobody really felt comfortable with that. Having a new record makes everyone feel OK with doing this.”
The new album was started with classic Blondie producer Mike Chapman, then scrapped. Craig Leon, who also worked with the band during their heyday, completed the job. “It’s a lot more minimal than the older stuff,” says Stein. “The old records had that Wall of Sound/Phil Spector approach. If there’s one major difference about music in the ’90s it’s the minimalism. Bands like Chic and Talking Heads were ahead of their time.”
Stein says No Exit retains the Blondie trademark of diversity, ranging from ska (Screaming Skin) to rap (No Exit), swing (Boom Boom In The Zoom Zoom Room) and classic pop (Forgive and Forget, Nothing Is Real but The Girl). “I’m out of the loop when it comes to listening to new pop music,” says Stein. “I don’t hear the radio unless I’m in a taxi cab. All my inspiration is internal. There is a rap track that is fun, initially it was like Gangsta’s Paradise, then it became a gothic thing about vampires. Maria, the single, is so accessible it’s amazing. It’s a strange mix of stuff, like some weird Buddy Holly modern dance rap thing that’s really easy for people to get. People pick up on it when they hear it for the first time.”
New songs were submitted by other writers, including Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes, but the end songwriting was mostly done in house. “We did two of Nick’s songs but everyone felt they were rehashing to old sound, so we canned them for now,” says Stein. “We wanted to make something that picked up where we left off, doing what we think should be done now. If anything makes it sound like the old stuff it’s just that it’s the same people, the personal styles involved. We didn’t try to repeat ourselves. There’s always the approach of taking a lot of the old styles and putting it through a filter to make something new. But we’re interested in the new music not the old days.”
However Stein say’s he’s more comfortable with the history of Blondie, with the live shows being 80% hits with only a handful of new songs. “We’re only doing four new songs,” says Stein, “the rest are crowd pleasers. Five years ago I wouldn’t have wanted to do it like this. The last tour Debbie and I did we only did two Blondie songs in the whole set. Now I have this whole nostalgic connection to it that makes it more positive. I really missed doing all this stuff and being the centre of attention, that’s for sure. Until something is there you don’t realise how much you missed it.”
Stein says he can’t really see the influence of Blondie on the pop charts since their split. “It’s hard because it’s very subjective. It’s weird, when Blondie were going there was so much criticism. People forget how much flack Debbie got for being too overtly sexual, she got so much criticism for doing all the stuff on stage that was accepted for guys. Evolution is a slow process, hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to look back and say that was bound to happen. Now I see that there’s as many women in rock and roll as men, it wasn’t like that when we started, it was very much a boys club.”
Neither has the man who wrote hits such as Heart of Glass kept an eye on Blondie covers. “I never pay attention to what’s on the radio. I was only a real record fan when I was a kid in the 60s, that was the only time I bought records. When I was in a band I paid attention to Patti Smith and the Ramones and Talking Heads and the bands we played with. That’s only because that was people I knew and it was personal.”
After Blondie’s split, Stein suffered from a genetic disease pemphigus (“that was definitely stress and drug related, it took a few years to recover but I’m fine now”) and started a record label. He says Blondie’ success was big but a bad record deal with Chrysalis meant the finances were’nt huge.
“We never made a real lot of money,” says Stein. “But I’m comfortable, I don’t need a job. But when I hear about U2 making all these millions of dollars from one record and supporting half of Ireland it’s astonishing for me. We generated so much money but for other people. On one level it’s frustrating but Keith Richards says you pay for an expensive education.”
A new deal with a small US label (through BMG) means the band have the creative control missing from their Chrysalis deal, a fact Stein uses to explain his dislike of the endless Blondie remix albums since their split.
“That shit is based on the fact that record companies realised they could have more than one hit with the same record,” says Stein. “That shit is appalling, we had such a shitty deal with Chrysalis that they could do that to our songs. The Stones and the Beatles had enough control not to let that happen. God knows you’d never see a fucking dance mix of Sympathy For The Devil.
“Remixes have nothing to do with someone wanting to do something better, it has to do with record companies wanting to make more money. Or at least not in our case. It’s not creative, but at the same time there is an audience for it. I like house and rap music, and we did reach a younger club audience, so there might be some good coming from it. But we could have done the remixes ourselves, taken a different approach. My problem with it is that someone can take a vocal off an existing track, put any rhythm they like underneath it and call it Blondie.
“Our new label gives us a much better deal. This is the first time we’ve done the cover art for example,” continues Stein. “The music industry is changing. Our manager is making a lot of enemies by coming out and saying that record companies won’t exist for much longer because of the Internet, and he actually runs our record company as well. That book, the Hitmen, every name in that book is someone we dealt with. There’s a lot of younger people in the industry now trying to be honest. It’s a different mentality.”
Their live show is attracting new and old fans (“There’s people who say they were four when we first hit”) and Stein says the hits appear pretty much as the public remember them. “Call Me we do more like a blues shuffle than the original electronic version, but it’s not too radical, it’s not Bob Dylan or anything.” Despite a lawsuit by some former members, Stein says the Blondie juggernaut cannot be stopped. “The band is way better than it’s ever been, this is the best incarnation of Blondie, that’s all I can say. If this record is successful we’ll sure do another one.”
No Exit (BMG) out early 1999. Blondie play New Year’s Eve at The Falls Festival in Lorne.

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