Chrissie bids to be real Pretender as she goes solo

More than 35 years after forming The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde is going solo.

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Chrissie Hynde is going solo
Chrissie Hynde is going solo

"Don't let this exotic Ohio accent fool you, I've lived in the UK for 40 years," says Chrissie Hynde by way of introduction.

Despite her time in Britain - she moved here in 1973 after becoming obsessed with the idea of working for music magazine NME, which she later did - her American accent is still relatively strong, but underneath that, there's a sarcasm and bite that could only be from British shores.

"You think I'm cynical?" she asks. "Oscar Wilde said the cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. I don't know if that's true about me. But don't get me wrong, I hate everything, so if that makes me a cynic, so be it."

She goes on to detail a normal day in her life. "You want to know about the lifestyle of the rich and famous," she says, mockingly. "Well, where do I start?"

It turns out Hynde spends a lot of her time at the cinema, "normally on my own so I can leave if I'm not enjoying the film and not have an argument". She also dines in her favourite restaurants, again, on her own, so she can read while she eats.

"I'm in a book group too, because I like talking about books."

An image springs to mind: Hynde, in customary skin-tight black jeans and vest, jet-black feather cut almost unchanged since the 70s, sitting with a group of middle-aged mums discussing 50 Shades Of Grey or the latest Jilly Cooper, all blissfully unaware who the lady with the exotic Ohio accent in the corner is.

"No, it's nothing like that," the singer says, herself amused by the idea. "I'm the least famous person in my book group. Miranda Richardson is in it, and some others who I won't reveal."

Hynde might play the misanthrope, but you'd be hard pushed to find a more entertaining person to hang out with.

It's clearly what drew the producer of her forthcoming album, Stockholm, to work with her. The producer in question is Bjorn Yttling, formerly of Peter, Bjorn And John, best known for their whistling ditty Young Folks, soundtrack of a million TV adverts.

"I didn't know who he was," says Hynde. "I'd flown to Stockholm to work with him three or four times before the penny dropped and I said, 'Oh, you're the guys from the Homebase ad'."

In The Pretenders - the band she formed in 1978 after drifting in and out of several punk bands - Hynde wrote all the songs. Despite releasing nine albums together, the most recent of which being 2008's Break Up The Concrete, Hynde's debut solo album is actually her most collaborative yet (and there's a grimace when the term 'solo album' is mentioned).

"It's a goddam awful phrase," she spits. "I never wanted to be solo, and I said a thousand times I never would, so it gives me a cold chill to see my name out there on its own.

"This wasn't for something for the public to know, but now it's happened I have to explain myself... I like being in the background, I'm not the show-off that you think I'm going to be," she says, letting her guard down for a second.

"I like getting on stage with the band, but that's as far as it goes. It's squirm-making, and I don't think of myself as a singer songwriter. I offer what I can do, which is to sing and play guitar, and then the band make me look good."

Each of the songs on the album was co-written with Yttling, which was a new way of working for Hynde. Before sessions began, she had no idea whether they would even get on, let alone be able to write together. Her playful nature got the better of her, however, and before long, sensing they'd get along famously, she began testing him.

"These Swedes are stoic people," she says. "I saw it as my duty to get a rise out of him."

It started when walking into Yttling's studio for the first time and Hynde spotted his tennis racket leaning up in the corner.

"I'm a terrible name-dropper, but John McEnroe is a good friend so I told Bjorn and he was impressed. I thought, 'Now I've got him', so the next time Mac was in town doing something I had him on the phone, told him the address of the studio and to come over. He was there within 40 minutes, and I got him to play on one of the songs."

She went one better in New York, where she'd arranged for her and Yttling to have lunch with tennis' former super-brat - but he couldn't make it, so instead Hynde sent Yttling over to a nearby tennis court to play against his idol.

"At that point, Bjorn owed me big and had no choice but to finish the album with me."

The next 'big name' on the record is even bigger: Neil Young. He's another good friend of Hynde's, one of the many iconic musicians she's supported on tour over the years and subsequently become pals with.

"We had this song on the album [Down The Wrong Way] I kept referring to as the Neil Young Song, because of the chord progression. It sounded so like Neil Young," she says, explaining how this collaboration came about. "By the time we were recording it, I'd grown to really like messing with Bjorn, so I thought I'd just ring Neil and ask if he'd play on it. I know him, but it's not something I'd normally do."

The mercurial Young agreed, and before long, he was in a London recording studio performing his first-ever guest spot on another artist's album.

"It couldn't be anyone else playing," says Hynde, still finding it hard to believe he said yes. "He does sound like the best of Neil in the solo he plays, it's amazing."

Hynde will perform the album at Meltdown, the annual arts festival at London's Royal Festival Hall, this year curated by another friend of hers, UNKLE's James Lavelle.

"I won't be playing any of the old Pretenders songs," she asserts. "I can understand why there are acts out there playing all their old music, but it doesn't turn me on. If you're not making records that people want to buy any more, or that even speak for themselves, then play the hits.

"I'd rather do something that feels right, right now. Playing old hits isn't that much fun, unless you haven't done anything for the last 35 years," Hynde concludes. "For me, I've done a lot in the last 35 years."

n Hynde's album Stockholm is out on Monday.

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