Blondie Interview with Jimmy Destri

KF: How did you get into the music business?

JD: I'm from a musical family. My uncle - my mother's youngest brother - was the drummer for a late 50s early 60s rock band called Joey Dee & the Starlighters who had a hit record in America. They were on the Dick Clark show and I saw my Uncle Joe on TV and said, "That's what I want to do!" He was a one-hit wonder, had one song then went into construction and every time I said I wanted to go into music he said, "Don't do it!" But I disobeyed and here I am.

KF: What kind of training did you have?

JD: None. Beatles records, Stones records.

KF: After Blondie broke up, you went into construction?

JD: What I did was I bought a company that bought and sold old buildings and renovated them. It's a little more complicated than construction and I made a lot of money, which was good because when we left Blondie I had no money.

KF: What were those years between the break-up and now like for you?

JD: It was really good for me to prove I could do something in another business and it wasn't just like lame walk, that we (Blondie band members) did have some sort of special chemistry together and because I think we're all pretty bright people.

KF: What else did you do during that time?

JD: We were doing really well, I was making some good money, but Eileen, my wife, God bless her, said, "Get out of this, you're really sad." And I was. I went to England and I started producing records and doing remixes, and I did a bunch of remixes with people like Prince, one for INXS. I did some bits of production and compilation, you know, muddling along, when I got the phone call from Chris Stein in the spring. I was in London and my wife called and said, "Chris Stein called." And I said, "Chris never calls. What's it about?" So I called him from London and he was like, "Let's do it again." Click. You know, "click" right after that, so it left me a lot of time to reflect and that's how Chris is. My initial reaction was bewilderment, but happiness too.

KF: How was it coming back into the industry?

JD: Well I never really left because we kept control of our catalogue. When we broke up we were a name. You know, it wasn't like "safety swab", it was "Q-Tips", or it wasn't "puffed rice", we were "Rice Krispies". So you have to watch where "Rice Krispies" are being sold. A lot of Blondie albums were still out there being sold. Also we left just before the CD boom and they wanted to buy all our rights off us because they saw we broke up and didn't have much money. They're real shady bastards, the people in the music business, you know, so we said no and CDs came out and we started making royalties hand over fist, which was really good.

KF: Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you work as a songwriter? Do the lyrics come first and then the music, or the other way around?

JD: Usually it's music first. Sometimes a song will spill out in 15 minutes like Maria. Sometimes it will take a year like Atomic. Atomic was pieced together from every spaghetti western I ever saw and a bunch of other things - there's so many influences in that song it's ridiculous. Sometimes a song will take a lot out of me, sometimes it will just brush off, and I'm like, "Wow, that's cool." I pay a lot of attention to my lyrics, I really like my lyrics, I really like to write lyrics. My father was an ad copywriter and I watched him for years trying to make four words sum up the whole product and I learned a lot, so that helped.

KF: What was the inspiration behind Maria?

JD: Desire. Teenage desire because I have a teenage daughter and she's pretty beautiful and I watch all these boys gawk at her. I put myself in their shoes thinking about what I used to do with girls back then. I wasn't a very forward guy at all, I was like from afar and I'd go home and write a poem about her - I was really a sad little bastard. It sounds cute but you don't get any attention that way. So Maria is about desire and the whole idea of using the Ave Maria thing is a way of saying she's on a pedestal, she's almost holy. It's not a religious thing at all, I don't believe in religion really.

KF: Which song is your proudest songwriting accomplishment and why?

JD: Rules for Living, which is on the upcoming album (The Curse of Blondie). It's absolutely the best song I ever wrote in my life. I started it in 1987 and just finished it. It's not a single, it's the greatest love story I've ever written. I'm not going to say anything about it - just go out and get it kids!

KF: Chris recently posted about watching one of the Japan concerts, and how it was a unique first time perspective for him.

JD: Oh, I bet!

KF: When you had to miss some of the concerts last year, did you have a chance to watch any of the shows from backstage, and if so what new impressions did you have about the band from that vantage point?

JD: I did. I tuned in to some things, saw some on videotape. I wasn't as happy about being away as Chris was. He was away for a happy accident, the birth of a beautiful child. That was the time I hurt my hand. I was sad to be away and it's really nice to be back.

KF: What do you think about the relationship between the music industry and the Internet?

JD: I think it's great. I have no problem with MP3s and all that.

KF: Even if you don't get the royalties?

JD: Even if I don't. Because the way I see it, I was around when cassettes came out and everyone said, "It's going to be the ruin of us, they're going to tape right off the radio... " Didn't happen. I think any kid that has a PC and a burner and all of that at home can afford a CD and the quality of the CD is better and the download takes forever unless they have even more money and high speed connection, but if they have that much money they're going to go out and buy a record. Also, for the ones that don't have that much money, they're hearing it from their friends and that's a free advertisement. Do you know what advertising costs? So the Internet to me is the greatest chatroom in the world, you know it can be three people or 30,000 or 3 million, it's still not going to hurt you because they're talking about Blondie and if they're talking about Blondie...

KF: Do you feel management supports the Internet sufficiently?

JD: I would like to have more direct involvement. I talked to Louis about this. I like Louis a lot. I don't like leaving some things in the hands of management, especially our management company, who are very good and very efficient, but they're not thinking about Blondie all day long. We are and so are you guys. When you're thinking about the Internet, you're thinking about Blondie and we really appreciate that, so let's get together between ourselves. If we have a problem and want to get some kind of endorsement and want management to use whatever machine they have to pick up something, fine, but I don't think everything should be directed from management. Management is there to be a tool of the band. So if Louis, and Barry, are doing the Internet thing, then that's who we should speak to.

KF: Is there a Blondie sound or a sound that defines Blondie?

JD: When we came out with Heart of Glass, Chrysalis said it didn't sound like Blondie. Then we did Rapture - "Doesn't sound like Blondie." Atomic - "What's this? Where's the pop song?" Tide is High - "Doesn't sound like Blondie." Maria - "That sounds like Blondie!" We said, "That sounds like Blondie because it's a rock song." That's one out of five singles. I don't think there's a Blondie sound at all but there's a Blondie approach.

KF: What's the Blondie approach?

JD: Get the idea across rather than the form. The greatest band in the world... there's two great ones. The greatest artists in the world were the Beatles, unarguably and they put the idea before the form all the time. Nothing sounded alike whereas with the Rolling Stones the form dictated all the ideas. It was that sound "danananarrgggh" which they knew better than anyone in the world. So that's where we're like the former. I'm not saying we're like the Beatles - we're not like Oasis who try to be the Beatles. I think we copy their philosophy, so whatever ideas we are able to get across as musicians we will do.

KF: How much pressure is there from the music label for you to come up with the hit singles?

JD: A lot.

KF: As a band you've pushed a lot of musical boundaries. When doing the kind of work that turns you on creatively, how much do you also factor in the need for a hit when you're putting an album together?

JD: I think we do really good records when record companies leave us alone because we are capitalists. We want to sell records, we want to stay at the top especially after a reunion when we wanted to make a dent. It just so happens that the music we liked all our lives happened to be popular music so sometimes the things that satisfies us also become hits so if we just concentrate on what satisifies us, usually we make hit records. Again I'll go back. When we wanted to do Parallel Lines, they (the record company) said, "Make a good pop record," but we wanted to do Heart of Glass. We really wanted to do that, and songs like Fade Away and Radiate. And Heart of Glass was a hit. When we did Autoamerican, exactly the same thing. They said, "Go in and make just like Eat to the Beat, a great pop record." And we went in and made Autoamerican and we loved Rapture and Tide is High. They thought it was insane but it was number one and two in America for two weeks.

KF: A lot of American fans are desperate to know when the single and album are going to be released in the US. What's the story there?

JD: I know, and we're going to keep them a little more desperate! No, serious now, because I really want a dedicated label in America and I don't think we're going to get a dedicated label until they smell a hit somewhere else.

KF: So they're waiting to see how it will fare outside the US?

JD: No, not the labels. The labels are ready and wanting us but I would rather negotiate a label deal with a hit record under my belt.

KF: What's been your most outrageous tour or concert moment?

JD: Oh God, um ok. About five years ago we played an awards dinner - a great Italian tribute to artists and they happened to give us an award, which was really nice. We got this beautiful Versace-looking award with a golden mask, Roman Polanski was there and all these dignitaries. They asked if we'd do a song, so we're playing it. Clem gets up, stands on the drums, the drums fall over, Clem falls into Leigh, Leigh falls down, the neck of his bass hits the mike, the mike goes down on this woman in a $3000 gown, champagne goes all over her. Clem gets up and thinks it's a punk rock moment, picks up a chair and the guy in the front who's sitting next to Polanski is like, "Don't hit me!" Polanski is in hysterical laughter and the Italian promoter who booked us was sitting round with a cigar saying, "Theeeese eeez going to be a good tour!" It was very funny.