Blondie's Chris Stein on Panic of Girls, Wild Style, and Modern Pop
Blondie guitarist Chris Stein sounds slightly surprised by my call. "Hello," he asks, with a strange kind of hesitance. But it just takes a second for him to start going, rattling off details about the new Blondie record, Panic of Girls.
Blondie's Chris Stein and Debbie Harry
The record is not without flaws -- considerable ones -- but charming, nonetheless. On "Love Doesn't Frighten Me," Stein and guest Elliot Easton of The Cars rock out, and "Sunday Smile," a cover of the song by Beirut (whose Zach Condon plays trumpet here) is enjoyable, with Debbie Harry sounding more like herself than much of the album.
Stein and Harry have always been at the heart of Blondie. Though their romantic relationship dissolved in the '90s, the duo hasn't severed creative ties. Stein took some time to discuss crafting a new album, his varied hip-hop and pop past, and what music he's in love with today.
Blondie is scheduled to perform Tuesday, October 4, at the Foundry on First.
Chris Stein:Man, last time we were in Phoenix it was 115.
Up on the Sun: We are under that now, but still upwards of 100.
Was the last you guys were here when you performed with Pat Benatar?
Yeah, maybe. That sounds about right.
You guys have just issued a new record, Panic of Girls.
It's been overdue.
The last one, Curse of the Blondie, was --
It was eight years ago, but I have a 6 and an 8-year-old. I got to spend a lot of time with them. It took awhile [but it was] distracting [laughs]. But I'm lucky, I don't have to go to work every day. So, it's great.
So you've watched your daughter grow eight years since the last album.
They come on tour with us. It's cool.
The new record features a lot of new sounds. Were these songs written within those eight years, or mostly new songs?
Yeah, no. I don't know if they were that [old]. Maybe a year or two. Generally, we don't really try to reference the old stuff, it just comes out sounding like us...with the instrumentation and vocals and stuff. I don't try to deliberately sound like Blondie, it just happens that way.
The record also features some work from Cars guitarist Elliot Easton.
And Zach [Condon, of Beirut]. Also Professor Louie, a local accordion player in the New York area.
I hear him most in "Le Bleu" --
Yeah, and a little bit on the Spanish style one, the cumbia ["Mirame"].
"Le Blue" has a French lilt. Is that where your heart lies musically?
That was an homage. We were listening to a lot Jacques Brel and all that kind of stuff, but I did that with a friend of mine, Gilles Riberolles, in Paris. I produced him back in the '80s with his band. I really enjoyed working with computers, sending tracks back and forth.
He used to work for Rock & Folk magazine. I did some work with his band, Casino Music.
There are a lot of different sounds on the record, it doesn't seem to stick to one thing.
We come from the urban environment. We are subject to constantly hearing tons of stuff. Just comes down to what we like, so to speak.
You were involved in Wild Style.
I played on a lot of it. I produced a couple of tracks. It was very eclectic. Everybody put in their two cents in to that. I produced two tracks on the soundtrack. We pressed up white label records that had maybe 12 songs on 'em, and those were given out the DJs who were in the film to scratch with, and I played on all of that stuff.
Blondie's "Rapture" is one of those first moments were hip-hop and pop music met in full force. Are you still listening to hip-hop?
Yeah, yeah. I like Nicki Minaj. Some of the biggies. I like a lot of modern pop music [though], more than hip hop. I really like Rhianna, Katy Perry, Gaga. All that stuff.
Those are artists who have integrated some hip-hop sounds, kind of in the same way Blondie did, without being "hip-hop."
I really like the minimalism of modern pop music. Some of that Rhianna stuff where it's just, like, one synthesizer and a drum on some of the tracks. It's terrific. I love all that stuff. I'm not any kind of purist as far as having to have guitars and stuff.
That said, having Easton play on "Love Doesn't Frighten Me" sounds like a lot of fun.
Elliott is awesome. Yeah.
Were you guys fans of Beirut?
My wife discovered him pretty early on. Tremendous band. I'm lucky in my position to be able to email people or whatever and hear back from them. We started talking, and finally got to go see them live in Philadelphia.
I don't know if most people would hear Beirut and here Blondie as an influence.
I see a lot of fighting on YouTube about which version is better. It's just different. They are one of my favorite bands at the moment.
There are a lot of people involved in this record, but you and Debbie's name is all over the thing. You two still collaborate?
Debbie is writing better lyrics now than ever, but you know, it's weird. Everybody in the pop music scene is still all about youth culture. We'll see what happens.
Did you imagine you would still be doing Blondie at this age?
I never gave it a thought. I probably took too much for granted at the time.