In her early 20s, Chrissie Hynde moved from Ohio to England at the perfect moment: The dawn of the British punk rock scene. She played with musicians who would later form influential bands — perhaps you've heard of The Clash, or The Damned? — and went on to form a band of her own, The Pretenders.
Now, Hynde has released an album of her own, arguably her first such release — though, as NPR's Kelly McEvers quickly discovered, it definitely isn't a "solo album" in the artist's mind. Hynde began writing songs with Bjorn Yttling, one of the members of the band Peter, Bjorn & John, and ended up recording the entire album with him in Sweden — hence its name, Stockholm.
In an interview that at times turned brutally honest, Hynde told McEvers about the influence of Vedic culture on her songwriting, how both Neil Young and John McEnroe (yes, that one) ended up playing guitar on the record and why she's not a fan of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hear their conversation at the audio link.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Thanks for sticking with us here on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Kelly McEvers. When she was young, Chrissie Hynde moved from Ohio to England at, like, the perfect moment - the dawn of the British punk-rock scene. She played with people who'd later form bands like The Clash and The Damned and then went on to form her own band - The Pretenders. Let's be clear here, I am a pretty huge fan of The Pretenders so when I got the chance to talk to Chrissie Hynde about her new solo album I was psyched. She was not super psyched. By that point, she'd already talked about the album a lot and she was just kind of done. And in true punk rock fashion she was brutally honest.
CHRISSIE HYNDE: Sorry if I don't sound joyous, but I've now told the story to the point where I'm just about to cut my wrists.
MCEVERS: So let me tell you the story of this album, Chrissie Hynde started writing songs with Bjorn Yttling, one of the members of the Swedish band Peter, Bjorn and John. And she ended up recording these songs as an album with him in Stockholm, Sweden, thus the album's name "Stockholm." Of course, don't ask Chrissie if this is a solo album or not. She says, it's not - but putting her name on it was just a marketing thing. So I figured, I couldn't go wrong by asking about the songs, right? Like this one with a pretty provocative first line.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN THE WRONG WAY")
HYNDE: (Singing) I have become what I criticized, oh, oh, oh. Oh, oh, oh. The porn queen in my deck of lies. Where was you?
MCEVERS: I feel like there's, like, a therapy session in that line. That's from a song called "Down The Wrong Way." What is that song about?
HYNDE: What is it about? If I have to explain to you what it's about then I feel, as a songwriter, I didn't really succeed with the song. So I would just say don't listen to it anymore.
MCEVERS: Well, I mean, we did listen to it and it's interesting, you know, you say, I've become what I criticize, the porn queen in my deck of lies, where were you in a caravan next to a fairground ride. I mean, yeah, the lyrics it's not a mystery to unlock but, I don't know, what are you saying to yourself in this song?
HYNDE: Well, now this is going to turn into therapy session. I've become what I criticize actually comes out of Vedic culture, probably the jewel in the crown of Vedic culture is called the bagovekeda (ph). And that is a reference to something in the Vedas that you do become what you criticize. And then, the where were you, was a reference to a film I love called "The Bad Lieutenant" with Harvey Keitel. When he's walking through a church and he's sort of hallucinating because he's really got himself into trouble and the statue of Christ comes to life and he's crying and he's going, where were you - talking to God. That's the reference to that. And, you know, if you really want me to go on with every line in the song, you know, it's going to take a long time.
MCEVERS: (Laughing) There's another really great thing about that song, right, and it's Neil Young.
HYNDE: Well, I think that's a little overrides the lyrics in my estimation.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISSIE HYNDE SONG, "DOWN THE WRONG WAY")
MCEVERS: I mean, you can't miss his guitar, his style. How did that come about? How did you guys end up working together on this album?
HYNDE: Well, when I was writing with Bjorn we were working on this song and I kept referring to it as the Neil Young song because it sounded like that. And then just kind of get a reaction out of Bjorn I facetiously, once in a while, would say, of course I could always call Neil and get him to play on it. But I would've never done that if it was really a solo album because, I mean, I wouldn't dream of calling on God and say, can you do me a favor? But I did because I did get a rise out of Bjorn and then after about six months I thought, God I actually could call Neil. I've toured with him, he's a friend of mine. I like to think it's the best of Neil Young on one song - in his solo.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISSIE HYNDE SONG, "DOWN THE WRONG WAY")
MCEVERS: And he's not the only one on this album, the only guest appearance. John McEnroe, tennis player John McEnroe, is on this album. How did that one happen?
HYNDE: Well, he also plays guitar and he's been a mate for many years. He's very spirited and, as you can tell if you listen to his playing on the album, he's got a lot of personality in his playing.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISSIE HYNDE SONG, "A PLAN TOO FAR")
HYNDE: You know exactly who's playing the guitar when you hear him. And Bjorn Yttling is a big tennis fan, so that was another way I was trying to [bleep] with him. Because these Swedes are real stoic, you know, you can't get a reaction out of them very easily. So when I saw a tennis racket in his studio I thought, oh OK. So the next time that McEnroe was in town doing one of these Masters of Tennis Championships I left a message and said, I am in the studio. So he was in the studio within 40 minutes, of course Bjorn was losing it. I managed to get John to hit a few balls with him so, you know, he sort of owes me for life and that's where I like my men.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A PLAN TOO FAR")
HYNDE: (Singing) Looking now, this is where you are - a big blue sky and a plan too far. Pretty baby, oh, we shouldn't stop with big blue sky with a plan too far.
MCEVERS: You have had a difficult relationship with people who seem to be more interested in fame than in making the music, you know. I know that the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, for instance, is something that you just don't have a particular love for. Do you not like being famous?
HYNDE: It's OK. Let me talk about the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, see the thing is, when I got in this game, again, we're really going back now - because I'm old school now. But I'm very traditional and I think, you know, there's rules but there's no rules. So in being traditional, as far as rock 'n roll, to me it's anti-establishment. So what happened with the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame is it was put together by people who wanted to be in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame and wanted it to be an establishment. And if you're trying not to be part of the establishment, like, that doesn't really fly. We're living in a Grammy culture where everyone is clinging to their little statue crying. And I kind of can't handle that very well, like, I get embarrassed very easily. So, you know, I have to bite a bullet and, you know, go along with it because if you decide you're not going to go and collect your little award or you're not going to be inducted, then you've made a stand and I'm not even trying to make a stand. I just don't want to go.
MCEVERS: That's Chrissie Hynde. Her new album is called "Stockholm." It's out now. Chrissie Hynde, thank you so much for keeping it real.
HYNDE: I guess.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DARK SUNGLASSES")
HYNDE: (Singing) Wasted behind your dark sunglasses. Wasted behind your dark sunglasses. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.