Blondie's Chris Stein Is Still a Pop Music Fan, as Long as It's Not "Fucking Formula"
Chris Stein, third from left, with Blondie's current lineup
The eternally relevant Blondie are gearing up to support their newest album, Pollinator, with a co-headlining tour with Garbage. I spoke to guitarist Chris Stein via phone about the album's many songwriting collaborations with artists such as Blood Orange's Dev Hynes (on "Long Time," below), Sia and TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek. We also spoke about the evolution of pop music and what it's like for Blondie to stand at the center of a pop music revolution they started nearly four decades ago. Stein speaks nonchalantly, like someone whose rock & roll lifestyle has become closer than second nature.
You recruited strong new songwriters like Blood Orange and Sia for the new record. What was the process of choosing your collaborators?
They all came under different circumstances. We’re big fans of Sia, she’s great, so we approached her and she had these tracks she’d worked on [to give us]. Dev, we’ve known him from [L.A.]. He’d done some tracks with Debbie [Harry] that were just kind of hanging around. So we worked those in. We just took on this theme of curating a bunch of songs from different writers.
You and Debbie were principal songwriters when Blondie started. Why have you decided to branch out to different artists?
We always wrote the majority of the songs. This record is the only one that is heavy on outside sources for material. It started with the Johnny Marr track that everyone was really enthusiastic about. We had a lot of music submitted; [producer] John Congleton went through 20 or 30 different pieces of music.
Do you still talk to any of your original collaborators like Fab Five Freddy?
Yeah, I just saw him a couple of months ago.
Do you have an opinion on how hip-hop has morphed over the years?
Well, Freddy comes from a jazz background, so he was ready for it, and maybe I was, too. I would talk to all these record company guys in the late ’70s, and almost 100 percent of them said, “Oh, this is a fad. It’s going to go away.” Now it’s dominating the music business all these years later, so that’s gratifying.
Is there anything in the current music world that is new to you, and that you’re still trying to adjust to?
I keep seeing new forms and approaches. I really like reggaeton music, and modern Latin music and cumbia. It’s been going on [in pop music] for about 10 years, but it’s still kind of fresh, where those beats cross over into non-Latin-language music. That Daddy Yankee and Bieber track was a big breakout track. I was really drawn to that kind of stuff right away. It’s very sexy.
What was the theme for this current album?
There’s no overall concept. It’s not a big master plan; we do what we’re attracted to. The lyrical parts are about love, yearning and relationships, so I think it just comes together automatically.
Thirty-plus years ago, you turned pop on its head, and I think now pop caters to what you’ve done. So many artists are benefiting from being a part of your lineage. Do you think Blondie is a staple of what pop music has become?
Yeah, to a certain extent. We’re still here doing it. Debbie did a song for the TV show American Gods, and the track she sang on was referencing Giorgio Moroder, so things go in cycles.
Can you sum up in a nutshell the reality of what it is to watch pop music grow and change since the ’70s?
There’s a tremendous amount of formula that I think was always going on, and what I always say [is that] music has always been 50 percent craft. I listen to pop radio in the car and it’s so fucking formula, but there’s always one or two things that really stand out. So, what can you do? There’s always stuff that resonates, like that Major Lazer track, “Lean On.” That’s one of my favorite pop songs ever. It struck a chord with people.
I think beyond music, Blondie has a style and attitude that resonates.
The longevity aspect is there, too. I don’t know how many of these bands are going to keep going. I’m pretty sure Gaga will be around in 30 or 40 years, but I don’t know who will and who won’t.
Are you, Debbie and the band still BFFs?
Yeah, I’m really close to Debbie and various people in the band.
Do you all fight?
I don’t really fight with Debbie. [laughs] It’s kind of like The Office. You watch The Office? There are aspects of that in the band dynamic.
Blondie perform at the Hollywood Bowl with Garbage and Sky Ferreira on Sunday, July 9. Tickets and more info.
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