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Inside Borders

August 1999

Return of the Rapture

Emerging from New York’s new wave underground in the mid 1970s, Blondie was always praised for their daring mix of styles ranging from punk to disco, reggae to rap. After a few years of struggle, Blondie exploded all over the world with the Parallel Lines album, which featured the legendary “Heart of Glass.” But tensions within the band, and the near-fatal illness of founding member Chris Stein, caused Blondie to fall apart in 1982. After 16 years apart, the band has reunited. Their new album, No Exit (Beyond, 1999), is a stunning testimonial to their amazing legacy. Forget any notions of ’70s retro and nostalgic treading on old musical ground, No Exit is as fresh and innovative as any album released in the past five years. Just as they were 20 years ago, Blondie is still on the cutting edge of the sounds of the time. All 14 songs are very different but share that infectious, pure-pop energy that makes music last forever. Lead vocalist/founder Deborah Harry is one of the most important figures in the history of rock. Not only did she help make it acceptable to have a strong female frontperson for a rock band, but her charismatic, sultry aura paved the way for countless stars-to-be, from Madonna to Courtney Love. While enjoying a brief break on the band’s US tour, Harry shared some thoughts.
IB: What prompted the regrouping?
DH: It’s just one of those things where all the pieces fell together, and we did it. Of course, there is a blow-by-blow description, but basically, that’s it.
IB: Tell us about the new album.
DH: We just tried to put together the best material that we had, and it just sort of worked out. We tried to put the pieces of music to their best advantage, shall we say.
IB: How did you hook up with rap artist Coolio for the “No Exit” song?
DH: I worked with Coolio on a show in Europe for six weeks, and just decided that “No Exit” really needed a lead, a guest appearance, to play another character.
IB: There’s a lot of talk about the 1980 song “Rapture” being the first popular rap song. Is that what you set out to create with that song?
DH: Well, we were fans. Chris and I were fans of the local rap scene in the Metropolitan area of New York, so we had been to some gigs, and we had met some of the early rappers. We just liked the medium. We liked the way it sounded, and we thought it was really a breakthrough, a real “discovery” kind of thing, and so we wanted to include it in a song.
IB: How has the reaction been by your fans to the new material?
DH: I think that it’s been met with favorably by the fans. I think the fans were really sort of nervous about what the record was going to be like, and I think that they feel really good about it. At least that’s what I’ve heard. I don’t know about the universe, but it seems to be selling.
IB: Was there any point during the hiatus that you felt or foresaw that this reunion was going to happen?
DH: No, absolutely not. Not in my wildest dreams.
IB: When did you think, “Yeah, this is a good idea”?
DH: Chris said he was very interested in doing it, and I like working with Chris. I think he writes really great songs, and he likes to take chances, and I enjoy his company. He was very persuasive, so I listened. Foolish me.
IB: Even back when Blondie’s first albums were coming out, you had the same delicious mix of sounds. But obviously, back then, if there was a genre you were categorized as, it was punk and/or new wave. Can you speak to that?
DH: I think it was sort of a misnomer. The punk scene of the ’70s was more of a time period than a musical style, and I think that was a bit of confusion in the press. And hence, the title “new wave” that came out afterwards. The bands that we played with were vastly different from one another, and they were mostly labeled as “punk” bands. It never really made much sense to me. I think it also has to do with an attitude of making change. I think that’s what most of the bands were about. Making more aggressive statements in their music, and being less like “the good ol’ boys.” And also, I think it was a breakthrough because there were more girls in the bands. That was a new issue of that time. Being a woman in rock now is very legitimate, and not looked on as a novelty like it was back then. It’s a reality now.
IB: Talk a bit about the tensions in the band that caused the breakup.
DH: I think that most of the tensions were caused by bad management, actually. I mean, egos are always difficult to work with. When you’re in a band, egos are quite freewheeling.
IB: Where do you go from here?
DH: It’s hard to know. I think we’d like to make another record. That would be really, really good. Everybody likes to write and record. It’s hard to predict. I don’t think anybody would want to say, “We’re going to do this for the next five years, come hell or high water!” I think it really depends on how we’re received, and what kind of business we do, and whether our management is still interested in working with us. There are so many factors, so many variables, and so many little pieces that have to come together. If we don’t have the right business manager, or the right agent, it just doesn’t work. We’re fortunate right now that we have some great people with us.
IB: Are there any newer types of music that you feel have influenced the sound on your new album?
DH: I think that house and bass music, stuff like that, has been listened to by some of the guys. I think that we all listen to everything, and it filters in somewhat. I think we just wanted to make a Blondie record, whatever that means. Just make a really good-sounding, good songs, lots of good material kind of record. I think that, in a lot of cases, albums come out nowadays with not much material on them, and we really wanted to make sure that we had a lot of good songs.
IB: When people think of Blondie, generally the first thing they think of is yourself. Was that an intentional choice when you were developing the group way back when, or was that just kind of the way things turned out?
DH: It seems like a moot point, actually. I mean, I’m the singer, and I stand in front. I founded the band. I think that it’s just natural. That’s what most people identify with initially. I think that more people know who lead singers are in bands than anything else, because they’re telling the story. They are the ones that are communicating to the audience, and that’s what they listen to. I don’t think that most people can analyze a bass line, or break music down into its elements. They hear a song, and they like the melody, and they listen to the lyrics, so naturally they identify with the singer.
IB: Has there been a moment during the entire reuniting process that affirmed for you that you were doing the right thing?
DH: I think probably the most outstanding thing is that I haven’t stopped working and recording since Blondie broke up. I’ve done four solo albums, and three albums with the Jazz Passengers, and toured all over the world constantly. But it’s very funny that most people come up to me now and say, “Oh, wow! You’re back in music! This is great!” And I find that completely unnerving, but yet completely reaffirming, that perhaps I am doing the right thing, because people understand and know Blondie. And it’s sort of an automatic thing that people know about. We’re getting such a good response, that I guess that’s all I need to know.

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