"I said I’d never go solo…" – Chrissie Hynde
Chrissie Hynde has sold over 25 million records as the frontwoman and lead singer of pop-rock legends The Pretenders, but has never officially gone solo before. Although the lynchpin of the band and, for many of the band’s big hits, the only songwriter, Hynde has always recorded under the band’s name, until now.
After being introduced to Swedish songwriter Björn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn and John fame, Hynde spent two years with him, writing and recording what would become Stockholm, her first solo album.
We chatted to her about its making, why radio still matters to her and why she decided not to make a new Pretenders record in favour of this Scandinavian adventure…
You’ve said that you don’t really feel like this is a solo album, but it’s the first one to have your name on it, this must be a bit strange…
“I’m used to it now. I really the guys in Stockholm who I made the record with, to join a band with me and tour the thing, but they’re busy with their bands and their wives, so I had to come back to London on my own.”
“I’m a little embarrassed, I said I’d never go solo and this was more of a collaboration than any of The Pretenders records, I wrote those songs on my own, then the Pretenders would then lead their talents to the track. This was a real collaboration, it was a blast. A lot of artists, especially solo artists, don’t even write music, so it all depends on how you look at it.”
How did you get introduce to Björn Yttling?
“My publisher suggested him to me, that is how it’s done these days, they put songwriters together. Normally it would take me a while to want to write with someone, I’d have to really get to know them. I have written with other people in the past and that’s worked out well, I really enjoyed working with Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly and I discovered something new.”
“I met with Bjorn, I’d listened to some tracks of his I liked, maybe Lykke Li. So I went over there and we wrote three songs in three days, so I thought this might work. They could only do two or three days at a time so I went back over a lot, over the course of about two years.”
Did the songs come together quickly?
“They did. Most quickly than anything I’ve ever done. But recording was so spread out. The last Pretenders album took 11 days, this took two years. Not that it matters how long it is, who cares when you listened to the record?”
How did recording compare to working with The Pretenders?
“It’s always fun, you go into a studio, it’s painted dark blue, there’s no light, it always feel you’re in a basement and you’re with a bunch of nerds. I love it. I really feel at home when I see guys on lighting rigs, getting ready for the show, but I love recording too.”
Why did you title the record Stockholm? Did you get to like the place? Or does it sum up the record?
“I spent those two years with those guys who I couldn’t convince to be in a band with me, so I thought I’d pay tribute to them by calling it Stockholm. It’s a very fertile city, musically, lots of studios, lots of bands, I really miss that. Throughout my career I loved it when there a scene going on, I was in London in the punk days when everyone was carrying a guitar and everyone was in bands, it was great. It’s more dissipated now with the internet, scenes don’t need to be regional anymore, people are looking at screens.”
Did you get to like Stockholm?
“I did grow very fond of it, I didn’t have a lot of time, I was mainly growing from the hotel to the studio. But I did wander around, through cathedrals and markets, it’s a very fine place.”
Can you hear much of the city in the album?
“I think music is pretty universal, it has Swedish players all over it, so in that sense yes, but I don’t think you could place it that specifically.”
You’ve described it as power pop, is that what you were looking for going in?
“I had no idea what I was going to get. I didn’t even know that Bjorn was in Peter, Bjorn and John until the fourth time I went there. I knew Bjorn wanted it to work for radio, which was important to me, because I love radio. I love hearing music in public, you could hear the same in Sao Paolo as you could in San Francisco on the radio. Power pop is about the best description I can give it. It’s hard to describe, I’m not sure how categories work anymore, the R’N’B I grew up isn’t R’N’B now, these categories move around so much.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“All kinds. There’s a song on there inspired by this books I was reading about the Comanechi Indians. Normally I would go in and Bjorn would suggest a title, one day he said to me ‘Dark Sunglasses’ and I thought ‘You can’t title a song Dark Sunglasses’, that’s the oldest cliché in the book, but he was right, it’s a great title. He’d give me a name and it’d trigger something off. Lyrically, it’s just whatever was running around my head.”
Is that always how you write? Do you write lyrics as you go?
“I’ve never written anything in a notebook that’s ended up in a song. I have millions of lyrics in notebooks, but they’ve never made it. Here they’d give me an idea, maybe a top line melody and I’d sit down and write it, usually in about 30 minutes.”
Are you going to take it out live yet?
“I haven’t decided, I’m not sure people would want to hear 11 new songs, I imagine they’ll want to hear older stuff. I’d like to, I had to put a band together for these shows, who I like a lot, so I’d like to tour with them, but I’m not sure we’d sell any tickets.”
Would you be okay mixing Pretenders song in there with your new stuff?
“I’m not sure I would, I’ve got a Pretenders band too, I’d have to figure it out. I’ve done numerous guest songs with other artists, so I can guess I could pull out a few of those.”
Why did you decide to do this rather than a new Pretenders record?
“I met Bjorn and I thought we could do something. The other guys are busy, my guitarist James is doing another band called The Rails, our bass player moved to New Zealand, everyone’s spread out. We’d done a lot of touring, this was regrouping in my head.”
Chrissie Hynde’s new album Stockholm is out now and can be previewed by clicking on the icon on the right-hand side of the page.