How to succeed in music – twice – by Blondie guitarist and songwriter Chris Stein (pictured, left)...
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Blondie, ‘Heart Of Glass’ (1979, and the band’s first UK number one)
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Make Your Sound Stand Out
“The downtown New York scene in the ’70s was competitive, but it was also very familial too; everybody was really close and in various cliques. We were always very eclectic… It took us longer to figure out a sound – the Ramones and Talking Heads had a very narrower focus about what they were doing, style-wise. Our stuff was all over the place – for years we were feeling around and experimenting. Maybe that helps, I don’t know.”
Beware: Sex Sells
“Debbie [Harry’s] physicality and her effect on people was unique in that group of people. There was a lot of male chauvinism that was going on, too – the music scene was a complete f*cking boys club. It was not split down the middle, 50/50, the way it is today. We were somewhat protective of her, but in retrospect it seems absurd. [Notorious Rolling Stone music writer] Lester Bangs did this whole tome on her overt sexuality and it’s so f*cking innocent compared to what’s going on now.”
Relieve The Pressure
“Our rise to fame was intense. All that pressure was probably a contributing factor to the dissolution of the band. We worked for such a long period without any breaks, for five years almost straight through – always being on tour and having to deliver records. It affected my relationship with Debbie, too. Maybe we wouldn’t have split up if we’d had a normal life.”
Find A Manager Who Likes You
“Back in the old days, there was a tendency of management to let the record company lead and push the whole project in whatever direction they wanted it to go. Nowadays, I think that’s long gone – the manager knows they have to stand up for the act. A good manager has to identify with the artist. I think when the manager sees the artist as a product then it’s f*cked.”
Watch Your Finances
“Keep your taxes current. We had a guy, in the two years we made the most money, and he didn’t pay our taxes. But that was like the ’70s accountant mentality: to look for loopholes and try to avoid paying taxes. I don’t think they work like that anymore. I was definitely smoking too much pot and didn’t pay any attention to the business. I trusted all those guys, just because they said, ‘Well, you can trust us.’ Maybe one should train themselves to read people better.”
Second Chances Are Possible
“Over the course of 10 or 15 years after we split, I kept seeing more and more references to Blondie from other musicians – but when we first stopped, that wasn’t going on so much. There was a snowballing of people referencing us; I started hearing the songs on the radio more, so it seemed like the right moment to reunite. I had people saying to me: ‘If you don’t do it now you may never do it.’ I always had it in the back of my head, and it was very gratifying to have the second chance be successful too.”
Enthusiasm Is Not Enough
“You really have to work hard. You have to go out and play – you can‘t just sit in your basement and do your computer. If you really want to make it, you have to be able to function in front of people.”
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Blondie, ‘A Rose By Any Name’ feat Beth Ditto (2013, from the forthcoming LP ‘Ghosts Of Download’)
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As told to Simon Harper
This interview appears in issue 94 of Clash magazine. Go get your thumbs all inky.
Blondie play this summer’s Glastonbury and V festivals in the UK, and many more overseas. Click to their website for full details. The band’s new album ‘Ghosts Of Download’ is due for release later in 2014.
Related: more Rock And Rules features.