NEW YORK — In 1980, Sire Records released the self-titled debut by the Pretenders, a band that blended everything from punk to reggae and rhythm and blues. Over the next 25 years, its members changed constantly — twice because of tragic deaths — but the legendary frontwoman, Chrissie Hynde, remained. A former waitress from Akron, Ohio, she has a voice as silky as molasses and the ability to write a song as tough as nails. Today, Warner Bros. is releasing the group’s five-CD box set, “Pirate Radio.”
WWD: How do you see the current state of music?
C.H.: I haven’t paid much attention. But it’s always the same. If there’s two guitars, bass and drums, and the right spirit, it’s rock ‘n’ roll.
WWD: Yet in Rosanna Arquette’s documentary, “All We Are Saying,” you say that rock ‘n’ roll died when stylists came along. What did you mean by this?
C.H.: Once MTV came in there, it became all about the way you looked. It became advertising. If you stuck your tits out furthest, you got heavy rotation. Well, good luck to ’em. But it wasn’t rock.
WWD: But as a musician, don’t you feel some sense of responsibility or need to be hearing, to be inspired?
C.H.: Not at all. I don’t feel a responsibility to anything. I don’t even really feel like a musician.
WWD: What do you think of yourself as?
C.H.: I don’t know. Just me. Someone who got lucky. I don’t have to go to work. I’m not waitressing. I can tour if I want. I can make records if I want. But there’s a big sacrifice to being that guy all the time. It means having no private life, no personal life. I don’t think, “My life is my music.” My music’s a hobby and my life is my life. I don’t want to be part of Grammy culture. It’s tricky, because on one hand, if good artists got nominated and won, it would help them. On the other hand, this whole system is working against them. So do you perpetuate it or pull the plug? I think we should pull the plug on it. Boycott it.
WWD: Do you see Madonna as being the beginning of the end?
C.H.: I’m not going to talk about that.
WWD: But it seems to be what you’re implying. When you were talking about who could stick her tits out furthest, who else could you have been referring to?
C.H.: I’m a rock person. I don’t really understand disco. I’m not a fashion person. So I don’t want to comment. So let me just say point blank: I f—ing hate all of them. And then these other artists who say, “I want to be the biggest band in the world, and play the biggest stadiums.” Well, you can also go f— yourselves. Hanging out with politicians. Get a grip. Get in a club and do what you do and shut it. I don’t want to play for the people who run the government. Why does it have to be mainstream?
WWD: Tell me about your current involvement with PETA? Do you still consider yourself an animal rights activist?
C.H.: Yeah, I do. I didn’t go to their last gala, but it’s like a volunteer army. You live your life everyday that way, and when the time comes for you to go out on the front line, you go.
WWD: Are there other causes you’re passionate about?
C.H.: Not particularly. I’m just trying to implement what I can to be a decent human being.
WWD: But you got involved with this one.
C.H.: Yes, because I’ve got the celebrity thing and if I’ve got it I might as well use it for something I enjoy. And what’s better than to f— up multinational corporations? The only thing better than that is to play guitar in a rock band.