Q&A: Chrissie Hynde

Rolling Stone interviews Pretenders frontwoman

The Pretenders, singer and guitarist Chrissie Hynde, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, drummer Martin Chambers. Farndon is seen cupping his hand as he lights a cigarette. January, 1979 Credit: Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty

In 1978, Chrissie Hynde, an Akron, Ohio, native living in London, formed the Pretenders. The band's 1980 debut, "The Pretenders," featuring guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bassist Pete Farndon and drummer Martin Chambers, shot to the Top 10 after the single "Brass in Pocket" became a hit. Since those days, Hynde has weathered the tragic deaths of Honeyman-Scott and Farndon and tumultuous liaisons with the Kinks' Ray Davies and Simple Minds' Jim Kerr. She ended a hiatus three years ago with "Last of the Independents," powered by a reinvigorated band that includes Chambers.

How did you learn to play guitar?

I had the Mel Bay book of chords. I never played along with records. If I'd been able to play along to records and learned to become the guitar player that I aspired to be – which I never could be – then I wouldn't have been forced to write my own songs. That's probably what got me started. I wanted to play the guitar badly, and I had to write my own shit 'cause I couldn't play anything else.

Who were your early inspirations?

Jeff Beck, though I never had a hope to play like him. An early Bowie album, Hunky Dory. At that point I thought maybe I could grow up and abandon this rock fantasy I lived in. Then I heard Hunky Dory, and that just put me right back to where I was when I was 14 again. Because Bowie talked a lot about Iggy Pop, I went back and discovered the Stooges' album Fun House. Iggy Pop could arguably be my No. 1 hero.

Did you have any female role models?

The idea of a role model goes against my idea of why you'd get into a band. You're not modeling yourself on anyone.

When and why did you move from Ohio to England?

I left the States when I was 19. I was so desperate – I felt that if I stayed where I was, I was going to commit suicide.

Did being a chick prevent you from getting into a band?

Oh, no. There were the Slits. There was Siouxsie, and Gaye Advert, who was in the Adverts. That was the beauty of the punk thing: That kind of discrimination didn't exist in that scene.

Were there any advantages to being a woman when you started out?

The advantage was people thought there weren't many women doing it, so it made me stand out more.

Has there ever been a specific moment in your career when you felt alienated because you're female?

At the very early shows, when we didn't have much in the way of dressing rooms and the guys could maybe piss in a sink if we couldn't get to a toilet, I'd have to ask them to turn around while I would piss in a pint mug. Then I felt alienated-slash-embarrassed.

Are there double standards for men and women musicians?

I don't think there are. That's the beauty of rock. It's what Charlie Mingus described as "the colorless island that musicians live on" that goes beyond these distinctions and discriminations.

Has parenthood affected your music career?

Family stuff is more important than this other stuff. I took eight years off when my kids were starting school. What children really love is routine; they love to know when their bedtime is, what they're going to have for breakfast. So I was happy just to hang around and not do my own thing very much.

Are women artists judged more negatively when they age?

If your image has been reliant upon your looks. If you start out sticking your tits out and coming on as a sex symbol, you have to be prepared to face up to it – because time waits for no one.

How does one age gracefully in rock & roll?

By not getting burned out. The mythology of sex and drugs and rock & roll – if someone can not get caught up in that. Alcohol and drugs are the fundamental fuckup of our generation. The day you become addiction-free is a day of great liberation. As you get older, you dig deeper into the creative well to find out what the real source is.