Chrissie Hynde -- Pretenders lead singer, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and Akron, Ohio native -- has never been easy to peg.
Hynde has been rocking the world for four decades, during which time she lived most of her adult life in London. She’s also one of the entertainment world’s biggest animal-rights supporters. She also found her song “My City Was Gone” serve as Rush Limbaugh’s radio show theme song.
In an interview calling from her London home over a cup of tea, Hynde reflected on her career, explained the story behind the surprising Limbaugh connection and explained why she feels that even in our troubled times, the world has never been better.
HIT: Sometimes artists get upset with their music being used by politicians, like Bruce Springsteen with President Reagan using “Born in the USA.” You don’t seem like a conservative, so how did “My City Was Gone” wind up as the theme for Rush Limbaugh’s radio show?
CHRISSIE HYNDE: I’ve been here since 1973, so all my references are not American. I’ve never seen “Saturday Night Live.” I never saw Roseanne’s show, so I didn’t really get the controversy there. I didn’t know who Rush Limbaugh was. But people were chasing me in airports, telling me, “You’ve got to stop him!” I said, “Should I listen to him?” They said ‘No, he’s terrible.’ Well, first of all, I’m in a rock and roll band and I don’t like people telling me what to do. I just got fed up with everybody telling me what to do.
So I investigated and he was using a certain number of bars where he didn’t have to get permission. I don’t give a f***, there’s your answer. But if a politician I didn’t back was using my song for theme song, that’s hardcore. That’s different degrees. My dad loved Rush Limbaugh.
After many years of being criticized about it, we said if we ever get proceeds from it we’ll send them to PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals]. I don’t know because I don’t give a f***. The whole idea for me to be in a band is subversive. I’ll vote, but I’m not very vocal in my political opinions because I don’t give a f***.
HIT: What inspired your involvement with PETA and animal rights activism? And do you have any hope things will get better?
HYNDE: I think we’ve made progress in every aspect of culture and are in an amazing place in the world. I don’t think anything should be killed or abused, I’ve been into this since I was a child. There was a gay married couple I was visiting in France who adopted a couple of Haitian kids and when I walked home that night, I thought that was pretty cool because you wouldn’t have had that happen 20 years ago.
FAST FACT: Chrissie Hynde has a daughter from her relationship with Simple Minds lead singer Jim Kerr and a second daughter from her romance with Ray Davies.
We’re in such good shape in so many areas of the culture. In the South in my lifetime, some rock band members couldn’t stay with the rest of the band because of prejudice. PETA has made incredible inroads into animal welfare and exploitation. I don’t think there should be animal sanctuaries. Farms should be the animal sanctuaries. In my future scenario, farms are the sanctuaries and the animals should be retired, not killed. Change happens because people brought about justice. People want good things and good things have happened.
HIT: You’re a native of Akron, Ohio but moved to England when you were 22 in 1973. What inspired the move?
HYNDE: I wanted to see the world, didn’t want to stay in America, with its encroaching car culture. I loved English music, culture, fashion, everything. I was an Anglophile even before the Beatles, but that was the clincher.
I didn’t know I was going to be in a band. My destiny was to get my ass over here. I fell in love with London and I’ve been very loyal to London. I love traveling and seeing the world, and I’ve been here since I was 22 and I’m 67 now. I’m American, from Ohio and have an American accent. All my background was listening to underground radio there in the ’60s.
I was raised in Ohio, but spent three-fourths of my life here so do the math. My band is English, my crew, all the people I work with are all here now. I’m even having a cup of tea.
HIT: You took a few years off from the Pretenders from 2012 to 2016, and did the solo album “Stockholm” in 2014. Now you’re back with the band. How have things changed?
HYNDE: It was only a solo album in name. I was so tired every time I did an album, with people saying “It’s just you” rather than the band because I had lineup changes. So I said, F*** it. Call it anything” when it came to “Stockholm.” I finally thought I can’t keep talking about this, so I called it a Chrissie Hynde album. I don’t feel like a solo artist but you want to change it up a little bit. Nothing changed, all that’s changed is I started writing songs on my own and I learned to collaborate. With my latest album “Alone” from last year, we just said to call it the Pretenders.
HIT: Early on, two Pretenders passed away from drug problems. And over the years, aside from drummer Martin Chambers, you’ve had a lot of lineup changes. Some bands have three or four main members who last for decades, like the Rolling Stones or the E Street Band. Anything you can say about that in general and how does that affect your writing or performing?
HYNDE: I really love bands, I grew up on bands and bands are my first love. But now rock and roll as I know it and love it is 50 years old, and things change. I think that everyone, the great thing about a band is that personalities are feeding off each other and setting up others to do their best, and bringing out the best of everyone in the band is the whole point. You have a sound unique to those people you wouldn’t have if you were alone.
Whether they die or leave, eventually if you’re in a creative mood you won’t repeat yourself forever. A painter changes up techniques, a serious novelist might have a style but they change to a different name to write something like crime fiction. Anne Rice does it with all her erotic novels under a different name.
When you’re trying to create something you need to be stimulated all the time. When it becomes formulaic because you’ve done it a few times, that’s a dangerous place to be, because it becomes mundane and going through the motions. Whenever you’re going through the motions, get the f*** out of there especially onstage, because the audiences can tell, and it’s cheating them.
To hear the complete interview with Hynde press play below (be warned: she swears often)