Blondie Blondie

One of New York's finest and most commercially successful outfits to emerge out of the 70's new wave and punk explosion were Blondie. The later part of the Seventies saw Blondie ride a rollercoaster to the dizzy heights of world conquering success. But sadly in 1982, it all grinded to a halt when the band split amidst the turmoil of infighting, lawsuits and excesses. In 1998 after 16 years apart the band's 4 main founding core members - singer Deborah Harry, keyboardist Jimmy Destri, drummer Clem Burke and guitarist Chris Stein got back together, added a couple of new members to the line-up and recorded their hugely successful comeback album No Exit.

With the recently released follow-up album The Curse Of Blondie continuing the band's successful creative streak, they embarked on a world wide tour which in August of 2003 took in sold-out shows in Australia. Australia hold's an important role in Blondie's career and success as way back in 1977, it rewarded the band with their first ever hit single anywhere In The Flesh.

While in Melbourne to perform two sold-out dates, Australian based music journalist Joe Matera sat down with Jimmy Destri (who by the way both share the same birthdate of April 13th) to talk all things Blondie; past and present.

Joe Matera: The Curse Of Blondie conjures up more than it's fair share of the spirit of Autoamerican?

Jimmy Destri: "Yeah, we tried to be a little more loose on this record. And we did a bit more of what we wanted. Our previous record No Exit, was sort of easy because we got together and we were all amazed that we still sounded the same. Like Clem, Chris, Debbie and myself just got in a room and it sounded like Blondie! So we just said, "Lets go for it, lets make an organic record, lets grab a producer and get in there and make a record." And it was really quick but I think it was also really fresh, organic and funny.

JM: What was the creative process like then in the making of The Curse Of Blondie compared to it's predecessor No Exit?

JD: On this one though, we had a lot more time because both Chris and I now have 48-track digital studios. It was really easy to just go in there and write because the ideas can be put down right away there at home. You don't have to wait for the band to try it. I write everything on a guitar because I'm such a terrible guitar player (laughs) so it keeps me simple. The process itself of making the album's tracks, for me was about going into my own studio, choosing what I wanted to bring in coloring wise, and actually start to put the textures in there using a boom boom bah boom boom boom bah. Then when I brought it to the monster himself Clem it changed and got a little more thicker and richer. Then later Chris' guitar went on and it got better and beyond my expectations.

I can spend a long time in writing a song from it's conception and really putting it into the right direction. And without having anybody in there between me and the band like a producer would have to be. And because I write on acoustic guitar, it's now a lot easier for me to finish a song. But I have to add that in the process of making this album there were a lot of things that got in the way. And one of them was September 11th.

And September 11th wasn't something that actually stopped the recording process. It was just, for me anyway, it was the attitude of "Why the fuck make a record anyway"? Cause all I wanted to do was just grab a gun and go shoot that fucker! And I don't care about what political leaning you may have, everybody in New York at that time wanted to go grab a gun and shoot the fucker. And for six months I was like "Who cares? Leave me alone, I'm worried about my country now and my city and my life literally". So it took about six months for me to really get back into. And Chris decided to move too because he was like two blocks away from Ground Zero.

JM: Is it true that you ended up losing those pre-September 11th session master tapes?

JD: Yeah, what happened with the masters was that we had one producer in there and he was working with us on those first sessions; which I'll call the pre-September 11th sessions. I'll only use that as a cut off date as that created a period of apathy where we did nothing. Anyway those pre-September 11th sessions were sort of packed up and taken to England for mixing. And when we decided we didn't want to work that sort of way anymore, they were mysteriously hijacked and went missing for a long while.

I found out from Chris when he called me up one day and said "Lets not fuckin' worry about it. It's a small thing in our lives". And you know what? He was right, so we went back to writing. We had to start from scratch all over again but what we wrote afterwards turned out to be better! We did eventually get the other stuff back later anyway.

JM: Australia was the first country anywhere in the world that gave you a hit with In The Flesh. On the back of it Blondie did their first Australian tour in 1977. What recollections do you have of Australia of that first tour?

JD: It was really definitely Oz, if anything else man. I mean, the first place to have a hit record from a "New York downtown punk band" is Australia? It was fuckin' weird. Countdown's (note; Countdown was to Australian music what the Top Of The Pops was to UK's music scene) Molly Meldrum made the classic mistake where he played the wrong side of the record (X-Offender) and it became a hit! And we still thank him to this day! But it was very fuckin' strange to come to Australia in Summer (U.S. Winter). And it was like "Wow, oh my God look, there's bats in the trees!", like in the (Kings) Cross in Sydney. When we had arrived in Perth first, it was just dreamtime. It was like an aboriginal dreamtime.

Our first audience who came to the gig in Perth, hoping to hear "In The Flesh" and maybe some old standards along that line, were agape! I think we won over two out of the three thousand that were in the audience (laughs). It just went on and then a little scene started to happen. I ain't saying we were part of it but we started to notice bands and people in bands saying "Wow we love the shit you do" and it was really cool.

Then to top the whole thing off Michael Gudinski (tour promoter) put us into a holiday camp on the Great Keppel Island. It was like a bonus at the end of our tour. Gudinski told us if we played the gig we could stay there for the week. So we played the gig, and on Great Keppel Island, we almost lost Chris and Clem in the water! They almost drowned and Debbie and I were on the shore going "Oh my God, what are we going to have to do here now?". I turned to Debbie and said "Well at least it will be good press" (laughs). But it was really Oz, you know. That first trip to Australia was like another world to us.

JM: When was the last time you had a listen to The Hunter album?

JD: I probably listened to that album a few years ago.

JM: In retrospect do you now think that album had any good songs on it?

JD: There were definitely some good songs on that album. Like the cover of The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game was great, you know that Smokey Robinson song and Dragonfly and Danceway also. For me Danceway was more like "I've got to come up with a song in five minutes? Shit!" You see Mike Chapman (producer) was a task master and he was like "Yep Jimmy, you have to write a song and you have to have it done tomorrow!"

The one or two I wrote for that album were very... I had just finished my solo album and I was a little written out, so I was like "Oh no, how can I come up with any song?" So I started thinking about Mickey's Monkey since we were doing the Smokey Robinson number and I just started thinking about it's beat and it just came out of that beat. So that's how Danceway came out of, out of that Mickey's Monkey beat, and we loved that beat. That's the only contributions I think I made to that album.

JM: When Blondie were making The Hunter album the band were also experiencing their most turbulent period ever which eventually led the band to implode.

JD: Yeah, that period when we were making The Hunter, I was pretty much drugged out. I was sowing the oats for my own solo album, so I was looking forward more to that than releasing The Hunter album. I was also having problems with the label that were mostly personally but as a group, we knew it. I think we all knew that it was the end. We all knew this was going to be our swan song, that this was it so it was pretty depressing in the studio for me anyway. Therefore we started spending too much money which is something you do when you get depressed. Like we would say "lets get a string section and a horn section and try The Tide Is High or Island Of Lost Souls again". But it just didn't happen, there was nothing there. Like with Parallel Lines and Automerican there was a spark like a "yeah" while with this one it was more like "when is this going to be over?"

JM: Speaking of producer Mike Chapman what was it like working with him?

JD: He was a very good producer, a very good producer. He wasn't very technical but he was very organic and he was a very good mixer on his own too. I mean he knew the console like nobody else I've ever seen. He would say things like "Jimmy, if you shut out the lights, I'll be able to EQ by ear" without even looking at the console! He taught me a lot about making records, that's what Mike did. And he was another member of the band at that point, and he was just like in there with us. And from Parallel Lines and onwards, Mike was integral, he was really integral as we couldn't go in the studio without him. Because we were all fried and we were a bunch of crazy kids at that point and I think Debbie was the only true professional one at that point. Chris is a great writer but Chris was like off in space as I was off in space. But as far as the recording process of those albums, we all learned a lot from Mike.

JM: Have you kept in touch with Frank Infante since the break-up?

JD: No, not really. Frank and I were never really close. Nigel and I were close. We actually asked Nigel to do this reunion thing but he thought it was going to be too much of a gamble as he had a big record company job. So he said no but he sued us! But that's all water under the bridge now so I don't like to talk about that.

JM: My personal favorite of all the Blondie albums is Parallel Lines. Can you tell me a favorite story of yours related to that album?

JD: Sure, here's a favorite recollection of mine. There was a band I was producing at the time called The Student Teachers. At that time I was producing a lot of the young indie New York bands like Revelons, the Comateens and Brian Setzer's first group Bloodless Pharaohs. Also at the time I was in love with the drummer of The Student Teachers because she was just beautiful and I ended up living with her for four years. Anyway I said to the band one day "Do you want to come and see Blondie"? And they were all like "Yeah". So I brought them into the studio and mind you, we had been up for like two days drinking and all. When we walked in the whole band (Blondie) were in there glaring at me going "Where were you"? So I went "Oops, I gotta go now"! (laughs)

So I came back about a day later and they (Blondie) were all asleep on their couches in the studio and Mike Chapman whispers to me "Come here".

"Why?"

"The record's finished."

"The record's finished?"

"Yeah, it's finished. You want to hear it?"

You see, I had done all my keyboard parts like a week before. Anyway while everybody were still asleep he puts on the record and he cranks it up full and everybody jumps up screaming! Mike goes "Ok guys, your record is done". (laughs) And we sat there and listened to it all and we went "This is a fuckin' great record". And it was the first time ever that I said "This career is really going to work". Because after hearing that album I was like "My God... " From that moment on, Mike Chapman was our man.

JM: Any chance of another solo album from you in the near future?

JD: I've been asked and I'm definitely thinking about it, but I've got to ask my wife. If I'm going to lock myself in the studio for a year, I need to talk to them about it. Because you know, I've finally learned that this is just part of life and life goes on. I have two kids and I've got a wife and I'm very happy now. My daughter is going on a scholarship in Journalism while my son will probably be like me. As everytime he sees an instrument, he's got to stop and try and play it as he's like really into it.