It’s not everyday you get to chat to the likes of Chrissie Hynde. So, when I was presented with the opportunity to talk to her while working at The Guardian Guide, I more than jumped at the chance – I leaped (but only metaphorically of course. One must maintain their professional dignity).
I got to ask about something close to both of our hearts: singing. Turns out she thinks everyone should sing, whether on stage, at the local karaoke or when you’re alone because it’s better than talking. Unfortunately, she didn’t sing her way through the interview. But this is what she had to say:
Singing is one of our god-given, joyful experiences and everyone should take advantage of it. Every religion in the world uses singing because it takes you to a higher place. Even if you’re crap, it lifts your soul because your voice is part of your physical body. We have an expression in the studio, “mind to tape”. It’s what everyone wants you to do instead of fucking around in the studio. But with singing, there is no ‘tape’; it’s physical and whatever is in your mind, it comes out. When you walk up to the microphone and sing, there’s no interpretation of a musical instrument, your voice is just there and it’s just your emotional repsonse. Singing is better than talking. It’s the purest form of music.
I wanted to sing ever since I was about five. For some people, you just know all your life it’s what you want to do. But of course, I had no idea if I could sing and I remember praying to god that I could.
Growing up in the 50s, it was listening to stuff on the radio that influenced me. My family were musical but we only had three records in my house at home and I don’t remember them being played. I only remember the covers because Julie London looked hot on one of them, you could see her clevage, it was almost pornographic back then.
My dad had a harmonica and my mum played the violin, but they came from a traditional background and a time when people didn’t pursue their dreams. My brother, Terry, also played the clarinet and then moved onto saxophone. When I was eight, I requested a baritone ukelele for my birthday and Terry bought me a book of chords. Later, I got a guitar. I didn’t think I could be in a band. I had to wait because I couldn’t play with the guys, I was too shy, still just singing when I was alone.
You don’t know if you can sing until you sing in front of the microphone. The first time I did, it was a trauma. I was about 16 and in a band Sat. Sun. Mat. We played a few covers in a church hall like Traffic’s 40,000 Headmen, you know, quirky stuff. I wasn’t a natural, born show off, at least not on stage, so I had to overcome that. I had a long time to get The Pretenders together. By the time I did, I’d had so many different jobs: waitressing, modelling in art colleges, framing pictures, selling handbags, an architect’s assistant; the fear of singing was not enough to stop me because the fear of waitressing was always worse.
I’m not a musician but I am musical and I have listened a lot. People like Dionne Warwick, Iggy Pop (and all the english groups of that era), informed my voice. My inspiration was taken from the more androgenous aspect of the music. I liked the Shangri-Las but I was more influenced by listening to the guys in the bands.
I shut myself in a closet when I was learning to sing. I sang a lot of Jackie Moore and Candi Staton songs just to see if I could find the notes. It’s important to remember that the thing you find most embarrassing about your voice is probably the most unique to you. It’s natural to try and stamp it out because it’s too personal. Iggy Pop has an obnoxious American accent, like me, but he didn’t seem to care, he was just himself.
Sing, even if you just sing alone. Go to the karaoke where everyone is too busy getting drunk to notice what you’re singing. I went to a karaoke bar in Antwerp and I loved it. I think it’s the best type of entertainment. I went up on stage and I was Marvin Gaye. And that’s the beauty of it, you can be anybody. Everyone has a go. Singing just feels right. I hadn’t sung much before I was in my band. I’m totally untrained, I’ve had no lessons, I don’t do any special vocal exercises and I’m a rock singer. Everyone has to sing, you just have to.