By: George Varga
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Chrissie Hynde has been the great (make that the greatest) Pretender for more than 30 years. But she’s now happy to just be one of the guys (make that the only gal) in a new band whose sole link to The Pretenders is Hynde herself.
Welcome, please, JP, Chrissie & The Fairground Boys, a group that’s giving Hynde, 59, a welcome jolt at a time when too many music legends her age are either retired or churning out their old hits on the rock nostalgia circuit.
“This (new) band is amazing,” she said. “That’s one thing I can promise you. Because, if I know anything, it’s a great band.”
An Ohio native who moved to England in 1973, Hynde and Fairground Boys co-founder JP Jones met in late 2008 in a London bar.
“I wasn’t intimidated,” said Jones, 31, a native of Wales. “I thought she looked hot. I knew who she was and was a big fan. Then she went on tour with The Pretenders and we texted each other a lot. She loved all the songs I sent her, and I thought we could make a great album together.”
So did Hynde. As soon as her tour ended, she invited Jones to go to Cuba. Guitars in hand, they got a penthouse suite in a Havana hotel and wrote the 11 songs featured on “Fidelity!” the debut album by JP, Chrissie & The Fairground Boys.
To add more spice to this impassioned musical mix, the two fell in love, but realized their affair was doomed before it could ignite. Or, as Hynde sings on “Perfect Lover,” the album’s first cut: “I found my perfect lover but he’s only half my age / He was learning how to stand when I was wearing my first wedding band / I found my perfect lover but I have to turn the page / But I want him in my kitchen and standing on my stage.”
“This is a surprise; I didn’t think I’d ever play in another band,” she said. “I didn’t think I was in shackles, but it is liberating to get on stage and not be required to do (any Pretenders hits). No one knows any of these new songs by JP and me yet.”
Hynde, Jones and their band will tour the U.S. this fall. The two spoke with us by phone from Los Angeles. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
QUESTION: With your new joint album now out, have the two of you done more interviews together in the past few weeks than you might want to recall?
HYNDE: We’re glad people are even interested and we want people to hear the story.
JONES: Although we’ve told the story often enough about how we met, drunken, in a (London) bar.
QUESTION: To begin with, and at the risk of digging a few holes and falling into them, I’d like to throw a few left-field opening questions at the two of you. The first is: At the end of the song “Your Fairground” on your debut album together, there’s a great, rising wordless vocal wail that makes me wonder if one or both of you is a fan of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the great, late Pakistani Qwalli singer. Are you?
JONES: No, never heard of him.
HYNDE: No. But I have a memory like a sieve. Is that guy a Sufi singer? He is? Nice.
QUESTION: On your song “Perfect Lover,” the sly vocal tradeoffs reminded me of the classic version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Ray Charles and Betty Carter. Were either of you channeling their musical spirit, or am I hearing something that only exists in my mind?
HYNDE: (laughs) I feel like we’re on a game show. Pass!
JONES: I love Ray Charles.
HYNDE: We’ll look it up. What’s it called again?
QUESTION: OK, I’m really striking out here! Last but not least, the chorus on your song “Fairground Luck” sounds like it might be a partial homage to Ben E. King’s classic “Lean On Me.” Is it?
HYNDE: Uhhh …
JONES: (laughs). Yeah, the melody in the verse kind of has it. I know what you mean there. I’m with you on that one.
QUESTION: Presumably, neither of you set out to make a great unrequited love album. Or did you?
HYNDE: That’s how I’d approach (making) an album, (because) usually I’m doing it by myself, sitting in a corner with a notebook, crying. This has been a blast, because if you have the choice of living with someone you get along with, or making it on your own, I know which I’d prefer, especially doing the things I love most in life, which is writing songs, being on stage and making records.
JONES: No, we never planned to do it at all. It just happened that way. We just wrote it. It just happened. Nothing in this whole thing has been planned; it’s been completely by feel.
QUESTION: So, are pain and heartbreak overrated or underrated as the impetus for writing memorable songs?
HYNDE: Well, it is certainly isn’t overrated because 80 percent of the songs we loved throughout our lives is about someone else’s heartbreak, which I suppose makes us feel a little less alone in our own disappointment.
JONES: It’s easier to write songs when you feel terrible about something.
HYNDE: It’s a refuge, a place to go and …
JONES: … channel
HYNDE: And many of the songs we love were written when someone was about to hang themselves. Usually, when you feel fantastic about the world, you don’t want to run home and get isolated in a room with your guitar. But you don’t have to be in a position of pain to write a song.
QUESTION: Do either of you ever create tumult in your lives, subconsciously, to get a good song?
HYNDE: (laughs) I’m laughing because some people do that. I have all the upheaval I need. (Screw) the songs. I want out of these things!
JONES: I totally agree. It’s hard enough anyway, writing songs. Chrissie said this and it’s a really good point: As a songwriter it’s not easy, because a lot of people relate to music and a lot of people relate to music because they can’t channel these deep, dark, horrible feelings about love. Whereas songwriters are able to do that and it’s really difficult, sometimes.
HYNDE: It’s also helped us in our lives. Who hasn’t sat down in a diner, having coffee, and you remember the first time you heard Willie Nelson singing ‘You Were Always On My Mind,’ because someone was able to express something you felt, but never put into words? It just gives you a (sense of) clarity. It’s like the difference between knowledge and wisdom.
QUESTION: JP, when did you first become aware of Chrissie and The Pretenders?
JP: About a year ago! (laughs) I used to have a poster of Chrissie on my wall when I was a teenager. It was with (1994’s) ‘Last of The Independents’ album that I became aware of them. I wasn’t aware of the earlier Pretenders’ albums then.
QUESTION: Chrissie, does it feel odd or funny to be involved with someone who only discovered you in 1994?
HYNDE: No. Because I’ve met many great songwriters and musicians that were 10 years older than me. It depends who came first — if it was the other way around, I would have had a poster of JP on my wall. He was destined to become a singer or a songwriter, with our without me.
To find out more about George Varga and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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