The hypnotic, seductive heart of Debbie Harry beats just as strongly today as it did when Blondie first sparked a musical revolution on the airwaves in the mid-70s to early 80s, merging disco, tropical beats and rap into their punk-inspired pop. From the style of music to the cut of her dress, she’s had a lasting imprint on the pop landscape, with artists ranging from Madonna to Garbage to Gaga all owing a debt to the iconic New York trailblazer.
To celebrate their 40th anniversary this year, Blondie’s back with signature sass and spirit on Ghosts of Download, their tenth studio album. Not one to rest on their laurels, the new album brings a range of textures and flavours, from the Afro-Caribbean tempos of Cumbia to the band’s classic kinetic dance-rock combo. There’s a friskiness throughout, in songs with telltale names like “Sugar On The Side”, “Rave” and “Backroom”.
The day before Hunger spoke with Harry, Blondie drummer Clem Burke was quoted as saying the 68-year-old Harry, 11 years his senior, might be ready to hang it up after this album. Not so quick! Not only is she keeping creatively inspired, she also shows no sign of slowing down on the personal front, regularly hitting the dance floors of New York’s downtown scene and juggling lovers.
YOU GUYS HAVE TAKEN SOME LONG HIATUSES AS A BAND IN BETWEEN ALBUMS. I READ THE OTHER DAY THAT QUOTE FROM CLEM ABOUT THIS POSSIBLY BEING YOUR LAST BLONDIE ALBUM. I KNOW THAT YOU TWEETED THAT THAT’S NOT THE CASE.
No, it’s not. He was misquoted. I don’t want to make a fool out of myself, standing around and pretending to be some kind of rock singer, which traditionally is for younger people. I have a hard time thinking of myself as being old, honestly. I know that I am, actually. I just don’t feel that way, and I don’t think that way. I love doing music. I’m really fortunate to have such a long career doing it and part of the reason that I’ve had such a long career is because we did take off a long time in the middle. But I still kept working; I did all of those solo albums in that time period. It’s sort of like I just kept rolling and it feels good, it feels right. We’re not having super huge hits these days, but we don’t have a major label deal or anything like that. The nature of the music business, as you know well, has changed drastically. We’re in it for the music, we’re in it because we still have a fan base. It’s the business that we’ve chosen, and we’re lucky to be still doing it, really.
WHAT WAS THE THINKING BEHIND THE TITLE, GHOSTS OF DOWNLOAD?
It’s about creating music online or on your computer, and ‘Ghosts of Download’ would be the process; it sort of takes it to the sci-fi realm and also ghost stories.
HOW HAS THE DIGITAL ERA OF MUSIC AFFECTED YOU AS AN ARTIST?
It’s been great. I was just talking to Mr Rankin about this digital change versus the analogue, and there are some wonderful, juicy things about it, for all mediums. When I was in the studio [back in the day], often I would think, “Why don’t we just do this” and we couldn’t do it, because you had to do it mechanically, and you had to go from here, to here, to here, to get to there. And now you can just go instantly.
STYLISTICALLY, IT’S SUCH A GREAT MIX OF TEXTURES AND STYLES, IN TRUE BLONDIE FORM. WHAT DOES THIS ALBUM SAY ABOUT WHERE BLONDIE IS AS A BAND NOW?
This album is a little more far-reaching. It’s a bit more dance-y. We’ve done a lot more collaboration, with different musicians, singers and writers on this album than ever before. It’s an interesting period. I definitely think that it stems from massive communication. For instance, Chris got in touch with the guys from Systema Solar, who are on “Sugar On The Side”, over the internet because he had been listening to their music and really liked it.
YOU COLLABORATE WITH MISS GUY FROM THE TOILET BÖYS ON “RAVE”, WHICH IS ANOTHER GEM ON THE RECORD. THE LYRICS, “ALL DRESSED UP AND POLISHED TO SHINE / ON THE ROAD TO RUIN, ONE MORE TIME”, ARE CLASSIC BLONDIE.
I felt great about that one, actually. I like the line: “Do not disturb is on the doorway, we are both inside burning up the room rate.”
ANOTHER KINDRED SPIRIT, BETH DITTO, CONTRIBUTES TO “A ROSE BY ANY NAME”, A GREAT GENDER-BENDER OF A SONG.
My keyboard player Matt Katz-Bohen wrote the song as a play on words. The lyric, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl/ I’ll love you just the same” was about his unborn child at the time; they didn’t know the sex of the child. It was truly an inspired line. It also applies to all of the transgender people as well, so it has a beautiful double meaning. As far as putting Beth on the song, I’ve known her for many years and, wow, she’s a great singer.
WHAT EFFECT DID WORKING AS A PLAYBOY BUNNY EARLIER IN YOUR LIFE HAVE ON HOW YOU PRESENT YOURSELF OR VIEW YOUR SEXUALITY? I ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT YOU WERE EMBRACING YOUR SEX APPEAL AND PRESENTING IT WITH A BIT OF A WINK THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER.
You’re right. I appreciate my looks, and I know that a lot of the reason I was successful was because of my looks, but I have a very dark sense of humour. It doesn’t really go together. I’ve had gigs like the Playboy Club that were straight glamour, sexy jobs, and that didn’t raise my flag. I always wanted to be in music. I’m very fortunate that I partnered up with Chris Stein. I don’t know if I would have made it through the competitiveness of the scene without him. He was a very calming influence on me, and the odd thing about it is that the two of us, our personalities, really created a force. We balance each other really nicely, and it worked.
YOU TWO SPLIT UP ROMANTICALLY MANY YEARS AGO. IS THERE LOVE IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?
Well, I have been dating. It’s very positive.
WHO’S THE LUCKY GUY?
There are a couple of them, so I’m not talking. I’m happy to report that I’m a horny old bitch!
Pick up a copy of Hunger 5 to read the rest of Debbie’s interview, in which she talks revolutionary New York, fracking, punk and Pussy Riot.
Ghosts Of Download in out on May 12th in the UK and May 13th in the US.