Without question, one of the biggest rock stars and sex symbols of the late 70s/early 80s was Blondie’s Debbie Harry. But the group’s music has proven to be just as enduring as Harry’s influence.
Starting out as a punk rock, power pop band straight out of CBGB’s, Blondie proceeded to take on a variety of styles including dance, reggae and even rap. The group topped the charts four times between 1979-1981 with “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” “The Tide is High” and “Rapture.” Decades later, Blondie is still going strong with an eleventh studio album, Pollinator, released in May. The rockers are also on the road for the Rage and Rapture Tour with 90s alt-posters Garbage.
I caught up with guitarist and co-songwriter of some of Blondie’s biggest hits, Chris Stein, before the group heads to Beacon Theatre on August 1 and Tilles Center on October 13 (with Nick Lowe as opening act).
Are there any earlier Blondie albums you could compare stylistically to Pollinator?
Maybe Eat to the Beat a little bit, which was not as tightly controlled by [producer] Mike Chapman. Everybody just sat down and did the basic tracks all together, and then broke them down, replaced things and did overdubs, which was kind of the approach of this record.
What are some of your favorite tracks off the new album?
I don’t know if I really have favorite songs. To me, it’s like movements in a larger piece. But I like “Fragments.” I discovered it on YouTube and thought it was really great, because it’s a bit of a departure from the usual stuff we do. Johnny Marr’s song [“My Monster”] is really great. We were out with the guys from BMG, and one of the guys said, “I have a song for you.” And I was like, “Oh brother…here it comes.” I was a little skeptical of the record label giving me material. Then when I heard the song, I was really pleased and played it over and over again. Constantly. That kind of led us into getting songs from other people.
Let’s discuss the tour with Garbage.
We’ve known [lead vocalist] Shirley [Manson] for years, since she was in Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie. We have a history with her, and those guys are terrific. We’ll see what happens with it.
Are you particularly looking forward to the show at the Beacon Theatre?
Yeah, that will be good. I think we are going to reprise our horn section people…It will be the only show we have those guys on.
How would you describe your relationship with Debbie at this stage of your career and life?
We’re just really close. She’s my buddy. We’re probably best friends. I’m really happy to see her get all this recognition for what she’s been doing all these years.
Do you keep in contact with the former members of Blondie?
I email [keyboardist] Jimmy [Destri] occasionally, but the other guys, not so much.
Looking back now, what are your thoughts on the when Blondie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006?
It was great. Everybody still asks me how much we paid Frankie [Infante] to do that bit. The guy hadn’t called me in 20 years, and then he’s complaining about us not playing with him! We might have considered it, but one of them would have had to have reached out.
If you had to pick one favorite Blondie album, which would it be and why?
I like Autoamerican. That’s the one when we gave it to the record company, they said, “We don’t hear any singles on this.” And then we had two No. 1s on it [“The Tide is High” and “Rapture”]. That one is pretty good. That’s the closest we came to a concept album, which was just about the American culture.
Just keep going. I’d like to do another record with [producer] John Congleton for sure. Debbie did some vocals for American Gods, the Neil Gaiman TV show, which was great because the show is great. It was nice to be a part of that. And Shirley is on that, also. Just putting an album together with a collection of songs is very time-consuming. The trend nowadays is for people to release single songs, so it remains to be seen.