Blondie on supporting Phil Collins in Dublin
Blondie are back with a new album this week. Founding guitarist Chris Stein spoke to David Roy about why their 11th LP, Pollinator, is something of a departure for the veteran New York band, their upcoming Dublin gig supporting Phil Collins and why he doesn't mind folks filming their shows
PERRENIAL post-punk pop favourites Blondie are back with a new album, Pollinator, and an upcoming Irish live date supporting fellow musical survivor Phil Collins at Dublin's Aviva Stadium.
The New York-spawned group's latest is their 11th album since they were formed back in 1974 by guitarist Chris Stein – but it's the first Blondie LP featuring a number of songs penned for the band by other artists.
For example, the euphoric discopop of lead single Fun was submitted by TV on The Radio man Dave Sitek, while the current Heart of Glass-esque synthpop teaser track Long Time was co-written with Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes.
Other collaborators on the John Congleton (David Byrne, John Grant) produced Pollinator – its title being both a nod to the way in which it was made and also "a literal reference to the bees, which we're concerned about," as Stein explains – include Joan Jett, Charli XCX, Johnny Marr, YouTube sensations The Gregory Brothers, Sia and Strokes man Nick Valensi.
Unsurprisingly, this diverse selection of creative inputs has resulted in an eclectic record: the throbbing new wave pop of Johnny Marr's My Monster sits alongside Sia and Nick Valensi's perky indiepop number Best Day Ever and the uber catchy 21st century discopunk of Gravity by Charli XCX, to name but three highlights.
Each song is given that unmistakeable Blondie sound thanks to Debbie Harry's distinctive vocals, often manipulated via a variety of effects and filters.
"The record is great, we never really approached one before where we just sought out material from other people," enthuses Stein (67), one of three Blondie veterans still with the band alongside Harry (71) and drummer Clem Burke (61).
"It wasn't so much collaboration as us just us getting stuff from people we admired and were interested in. They gave us full-blown finished demos and then we would just do our own versions of them."
Having enjoyed an impressive four decade long hit-packed musical career – Blondie are one of only two groups to have enjoyed number ones in three separate decades (more on this in a moment) – the band's influence on the indie and alternative rock world meant that they were not short of potential collaborators when they put out the call for Pollinator submissions.
"There was a variety of approaches," explains Stein of how their latest record came together. "Some people already had finished songs, but others like Johnny Marr wrote his specifically for us. My Monster was one of the first ones we got, actually, which was really great.
"Sia, we were just big fans of hers and her stuff is very universal. She wrote this track, Best Day Ever, with Nick from The Strokes. Joan Jett is an old friend of ours and she's heavily on the choruses of Doom or Destiny, a song Debbie and me wrote.
"She said yes as soon as we asked her too. We were surprised by how many people gave us material – a lot of stuff came in."
One of the more unusual tracks on Pollinator, the countryish When I Gave Up On You, came to the band courtesy of musical satirists The Gregory Brothers, whose current affairs fuelled 'Songify The News' viral videos made them internet sensations a couple of years ago.
"I was a really big fan of theirs for a long time, so when we started working on this we finally reached out to them," reveals Stein. "They're terrific musicians and, out of all the songs, theirs was the closest to a collaboration because we went back and forth with them a little bit.
"The song they gave us came out almost like a country, Fleetwood Mac type thing. It's different, and kind of the only thing of that tone on the record."
While Pollinator might be a new departure for the veteran band in terms of its songwriting process, it seems that the way it was recorded means that it's actually something of a throwback to the classic Blondie albums of the 1980s.
"It's more old school than the prior two records, which were done more by sending files back and forth electronically without everybody being in the same place," explains Stein, referencing Panic of Girls (2011) and Ghosts of Download (2014).
"For Pollinator, John Congleton had us playing live in the studio together. We'd record it all on tape and then dump it onto Pro-Tools afterwards, which was an interesting approach.
"John was really great to work with. He's a really bright guy and I hope we can do more with him."
When we spoke a couple of months ago, Stein was looking forward to releasing the new album and playing some of their latest songs live on co-headlining tours with Garbage and Cyndi Lauper.
"I don't know how many will get into the set, but we'll try and do four at least I think," he told me of how the Pollinator material would slot in around evergreen Blondie hits like Heart of Glass, Call Me and Atomic in the live set.
While some older artists have railed against audiences capturing their performances on video via smartphones and other portable devices, it seems Stein doesn't mind if Blondie fans choose to experience gigs through a digital filter.
"We did a show where there was this girl up on somebody's shoulders filming herself with her iPad," he tells me, "so on the screen of the iPad was a digital picture of her face, which was actually kind of entertaining for me while it lasted.
"It doesn't bother me, it's just part of reality. I see a lot of people being anti-cellphones etc, but I don't think it changes the experience for audience members that dramatically. Even if they are trying to record it, it's just bragging rights really – y'know?
"I think that if the technology had been there in the 1960s people would have been doing it back then. It just is what it is."
As for the band's upcoming Irish gig with Phil Collins, Stein believes that the Aviva Stadium show "should be a nice demographic between his fans and ours."
Finally, he reminds me that should one of Pollinator's tracks top the charts in the coming weeks, Blondie will become "the only band to have had number ones in four different decades."
"We're currently tied with The Bee-Gees for three decades," reveals Stein.
Blondie support Phil Collins at The Aviva Stadium, Dublin, on June 25. Tickets via Ticketmaster outlets. Pollinator is released today.