Home Blog Chrissie Hynde: ‘I’m more relaxed now. Ageing is like being a pothead again’ – The Guardian

Chrissie Hynde: ‘I’m more relaxed now. Ageing is like being a pothead again’ – The Guardian


The Pretenders frontwoman and punk pioneer takes questions from Observer readers and famous fans on her relentless creativity spanning half a century, rethinking her hippy youth, and her cruelty-free farm
Chrissie Hynde has called the Pretenders’ new album – their 12th – Relentless. The name fits. Since she moved to London from Akron, Ohio exactly 50 years ago, there has always been a defiant, determined, take-on-all-comers momentum to the singer’s storied life and career. Hynde worked first at the New Musical Express in its heyday, and in Vivienne Westwood’s Kings Road shop, Sex, and so was a formative spirit in British punk, involved at the beginning with the Clash and the Sex Pistols (she almost married both John Lydon and Sid Vicious in order to obtain a work permit). The Pretenders’ eponymous first album, released in 1979, was one of the all-time great rock debuts, showcasing not only Hynde’s era-defining voice, look and attitude but also her indelible songwriting gift on tracks that included Brass in Pocket, the first new No 1 of the 1980s. Since then, like one of the band’s driving guitar lines, she has never let up.
Performing a memorable set at Glastonbury in July, with friends on stage including one-time bandmate Johnny Marr of the Smiths and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, Hynde’s voice, still so pure and edgy and seductive in its phrasing, transported the crowd across five decades of the Pretenders’ music, from Back on the Chain Gang and Don’t Get Me Wrong to tracks from the new album. Relentless inevitably addresses some of that inspiring longevity. “We don’t have to get fat / We don’t have to get old… We don’t have to fade to black,” Hynde sings, and, at 71, she seems living proof of that faith. She is an advocate for keeping on keeping on, as she told NME, with “no abatement of intensity. It’s the life of the artist. You never retire. You become relentless.”
As well as being a pioneering woman in music, Hynde has focused that intensity on other parts of her life. She is the devoted mother of two daughters: Natalie, from her relationship with Ray Davies of the Kinks, and Yasmin, from her marriage to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds. She has been an outspoken and effective campaigner for issues close to her heart, particularly animal rights and environmental issues; from the 1980s onwards she was fronting action against animal testing and the fur trade, and creating pressure groups for more plant-based and organic food in supermarkets. A vegetarian since her teens, she is now a champion and supporter of a model dairy farm in Rutland, based on ancient Indian Vedic principles of doing no harm. She is, she says, these days far more interested in finding solutions than in protest.
Having lost many friends and band members to drugs and addiction over the years (her first songwriting collaborator and Pretenders guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott, died after a reaction to cocaine aged 25), Hynde is these days drug- and alcohol-free. She has even given up smoking. She has lived alone for a decade or more, in north-west London, where she paints – portraits and landscapes and abstracts – and writes. A book of 200 of her paintings, Adding the Blue, came out in 2018. She published an autobiography three years earlier, Reckless, which recounted in unflinching detail not only her early music journey but some of the darkest events of her life, including the trauma of gang-rape by a gang of Hells Angels in the 1970s. She could not have written the book, she said, until her parents in Ohio, Bud and Dolores, had died.
She has always been deeply sceptical of the trappings of celebrity. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 but has often said since she would cheerfully give up the dubious honour. “I was living a happy life in Rio when I got the call I was being inducted,” she once recalled. “My heart sank because I knew I’d have to go back for it as it would be too much of a kick in the teeth to my parents if I didn’t. I’d upset them enough by then, so it was one of those things that would bail me out from years of disappointing them – like moving out of the US and being arrested at Peta protests and my general personality…”
This interview took place in a photo studio in Islington last week in a break from a touring schedule that has taken in 50 gigs already this year, some in intimate clubs, some at stadiums as special guests of Guns N’ Roses. In a couple of weeks the band will head to the States for more of the same. Hynde is no great lover of the business of album promotion or journalist’s questions (as she once admitted to the Observer: “I can’t be arsed usually and it doesn’t help that I’m not a show-off… OK, on stage I am, but only on stage”). Though she was adamant she didn’t want any fuss, it took her a little while to settle; she wasn’t keen on sitting in a dressing room with strip lights and mirrors – too much like the dentist’s – which prompted her suggestion that she would rather be having her teeth pulled than sitting looking back over her life again. But she warmed to the idea once a calmer place to sit had been found – she is, after all, nothing if not a trouper. The first question came from her old friend Paul McCartney, and we went on from there.
You’re from Akron, Ohio, why don’t you eat meat?
Akron wasn’t a farming place, it was full of tyre factories. It was known as the rubber capital of the world. Why don’t I eat meat? Gosh, it’s been so long now. There wasn’t a moment. It started back in hippy days. I heard the word “vegetarian” and thought about it for about a minute, and decided, yeah. I was 16 or 17. Since then I’ve gone to jail because of it, I’ve been in Peta for many years. I had a vegan restaurant at one point. It’s what made me friends with Linda [McCartney]. But why? Well, because I don’t see any reason to kill an animal if I don’t have to – if an animal is trying to kill me, well, maybe. But my real question is: why does anybody do that if they don’t have to? It blows my mind every day of my life.
Writer and frontman and bassist of the Membranes
How is your cruelty-free ahimsa farm doing?
Ahimsa is a Vedic term, meaning non-aggressive. It’s kind of like yoga farming. It’s doing well. We have about 40 cows on the farm, which is in Rutland. We don’t slaughter the male calves. There is no artificial insemination. We let one bull in the field run with a cow if it’s time for her to get pregnant. The cornerstone of Vedic culture are the four principles of cow protection: number one, never kill a cow. Number two, the calves must suckle from their mothers. Number three, you milk by hand. Number four, you give the oxen meaningful work. If that is done you replenish the topsoil, you don’t need any fossil fuels. So that is my number one interest. How often am I there? Well, I’m there when I can be, but, you know, I’m also a rock singer.
We live in a time when protest is being restricted but – with a climate and biodiversity emergency – is more important than ever before. Still, there is a dearth of protest singers. Is it time for songwriters to put pop to one side and to pick up their pens with more purpose?
I don’t think songwriters should do anything except what they want to do. Which is express themselves. It’s good for people to protest, but everyone knows what the problems are. What we need are solutions. That is what the ahimsa farm is about, trying to set examples of what could be done. Do I think people should pick up a guitar and sing about it? Well, you know, Masters of War was a great protest song – but I’m not Bob Dylan. The thing with art is that it’s personal to you, it’s self-expression.
Christine Ellen Hynde is born on 7 September in Akron, Ohio, to Dolores, a former model, and Melville Grant “Bud” Hynde, an employee of Ohio Bell telephone company.

While an art student at Kent State University, joins the band Sat Sun Mat. On 4 May witnesses the Kent State shootings, in which four college students protesting the Vietnam war are killed by the Ohio national guard.

Moves to London, working successively at an architectural firm, NME and Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s clothing store Sex.
Meets bassist Pete Farndon, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and drummer Martin Chambers, and together they form the Pretenders. They release their self-titled debut the following year, with the album’s third single, Brass in Pocket, reaching UK No 1 in January 1980.
Honeyman-Scott dies of heart failure caused by a cocaine overdose; the following year, Farndon is found dead following a heroin overdose.
Natalie, Hynde’s daughter with the Kinks’ Ray Davies, is born.
Marries Jim Kerr, lead singer of Simple Minds, and they have a daughter, Yasmin, the following year. Between 1997 and 2002 she is married to Colombian artist Lucho Brieva.
I’ll Stand By You, a ballad from the Pretenders’ sixth album, Last of the Independents, is released as a single to wide commercial success.
Opens vegan restaurant VegiTerranean in Akron, serving Italian-Mediterranean food; it closes in 2011. She later becomes a supporter of Ahimsa, a slaughter-free dairy farm in Rutland.
Releases her first solo album, Stockholm; it is followed by Valve Bone Woe in 2019 and Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan in 2021.
Releases memoir, Reckless: My Life As a Pretender.
Publishes book of nearly 200 of her paintings, Adding the Blue.
Kathryn Bromwich
With regards to songwriting – from the first spark of an idea to playing it in front of 10,000 people, which is your favourite part of the process?
Chris Bacon, Observer reader, Derry Farm
I suppose everyone has their own way of doing it. I don’t really like talking about my way of doing it, partly because every time is a bit different. In terms of performing, I think there’s this idea that you get all this energy from the audience – and that’s great. But really, I always get off on the band. And if anyone else likes it… well, great.
Don’t Get Me Wrong taught me about “light refracted” and Brass in Pocket about “Detroit leaning” and how to “use my sidestep” to get attention. Where does the inspiration for such lyrics come from and do you know when you’ve written something which will be an earworm?
You pick up phrases. “Detroit leaning” is an expression I heard that was used to describe the way someone leans back in their car seat with one wrist on the wheel, an affected way of driving. “Use my sidestep” – we were all doing skanking reggae dancing at the time and I think it was a reference to that. The phrase “brass in pocket” came from some guys in Wakefield I knew, in a band. They had been to the dry cleaners, and one asked: “Was there any brass in pocket?” I heard it over dinner. Light refracting? Sometimes you are just looking for a word that rhymes. But it’s funny, I don’t even think of myself as a songwriter or even a musician. I just feel as if I’m doing my thing, and I’ve got away with it. I started writing because I wasn’t good enough to play along to the radio and I was too shy to play with the guys in my high school. I had to write my own tunes, so I had something to play when I was learning my baritone ukulele.
Writer and former Labour minister
The standout track from the Pretenders’ first album is the epic Lovers of Today. In its last line you sing that you’ll never feel like a man in a man’s world – is the music industry still a man’s world and have you ever felt like a man in it?
Have I ever felt like a man? No. When I was 17, I read Charlie Mingus’s autobiography. He described this island, this colourless island, where musicians and artists lived. And that’s how I’ve always thought of it. Writing music is not about gender, race, or any belief system, none of that sort of thing. I have been asked hundreds of times over the years, especially by female journalists, if I had to work harder because I was a woman. Or I had to fight more. But the truth is, I actually feel I was probably given more credit than I was due, because I was a novelty. I was a girl doing this.
Not many people know that you were at Kent State University when the National Guard shot and killed four students (the subject of the Neil Young song Ohio). That must’ve have been insane. What are your thoughts about that time?
That’s a huge subject, Johnny. I was there; I heard the shots. I was right in the middle of it and I knew one of the guys that got killed. We were protesting at Nixon invading Cambodia. Was it a defining moment for me? Well, I already knew I wanted to move on. I knew I was never going to finish school, that I was just biding my time [to get away]. But if I’m honest, my lasting thoughts on that whole wider situation is that all of us hippies were conned, in some ways, by the peace and love thing. During the Vietnam war there was a draft system, and if you were in university, you didn’t get drafted. My dad had been a marine in the war and my parents were hard- working ordinary people. They didn’t go to university, but they worked to put me there. All of us who were against the war, we were in the university, but the kids whose parents couldn’t put them there were in Vietnam. That is what us hippies didn’t see. We’d see Green Berets coming back from Vietnam, you know, and we’d be shouting and giving them the finger and everything. Now I’m ashamed of that. Those kids were 19, like me, but they didn’t have a choice. Looking back, I realise I was conned and got it wrong. No politician sent their own kids to Vietnam. If they’d had to, they would have thought differently about it.
Where do your strength and determination come from?
Anne McDonell, Observer reader, London
If there is any, it probably comes from the fact that I always had a job since I was 16. Because then I had no choice. I did waitressing and modelling in art colleges and making picture frames and cleaning hotels and houses. And I prefer doing this. So a lot of strength and determination comes from having no choice. I find it interesting when I hear people say, you know, why is Paul McCartney still playing? Why is Bob Dylan on the road? It’s because it was what we chose to do. We like it.
Film-maker and DJ
What is the purpose of music?
For me, it’s a matter of divinity. It’s a way of connecting us with the supreme and finding a sort of self-realisation. If you hear birds singing in the morning, that’s maybe the purest form of it. Music awakens the spirit.
Cillian Murphy tells me he reads four or five novels a week when he is making a film. Do you read books when you’re on tour – or are you too busy trashing hotel rooms?
Ha ha, very funny John. I do read on tour. I don’t understand people who say that they don’t read novels. I mean, I’ve never read a self-help book. What could you learn from that? But you can learn everything from a great novel because it can lift you into this transcendental state of understanding. And, wow, John Banville is a master of that. His books make you activate all of your imagination: what the people in them look like, what they sound like, what they smell like. I was a bad student. I never really got through the school system and I certainly didn’t get any good grades. But I knew from an early age that you can learn everything from books. What am I reading at the moment? Tender Is the Night, for the first time. I bought it at the airport the other day. And before that I read the most recent Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun, an odd, wonderful book.
What is the most extravagant [dressing room] rider you’ve ever asked for?
My version of a rider is to strip everything out of the room and put it out in the corridor or outside the tent, because I don’t want very much [around me]. I ask just for black tea. English breakfast, not Earl Grey. And a mug, not a cup. I think once someone must have put berries on my rider because I always seem to get piles of blueberries. I don’t eat them. If you have to get on stage and sing, you don’t want to eat anything for about four hours before you go on. Certainly not bars of chocolate or anything. It’s kind of dangerous, because you will eat it if it’s there. Or I will.
Musician, Suede
Who was the funniest Sex Pistol?
It would have to be John [Lydon]! And John is the one I was probably the closest to in the early days. I just remember taking long walks with him. I’m closer with Paul [Cook] now than I ever was. Steve [Jones], I have a certain history with; Sid [Vicious] was probably too fucked up to get philosophical or funny. He went down in flames very fast. I still see Glen [Matlock]. John had this cosmic consciousness that I don’t think he’s recognised for. But if you go back and look at the bands he liked it was like, Van der Graaf Generator. That side was always lurking there, under the surface.
Former Sex Pistol
In retrospect, was it the best way to engage Mike Smith of the Dave Clark Five in conversation by banging out Bits and Pieces on the pub table when he came in for a swift half while we were sitting in the Roebuck together one lunchtime in 1976?
I don’t remember that. But I will say that Dave Clark Five were a great band. They were massive in America and Mike Smith was one of the great British rock singers. They were from Tottenham, local boys. I remember when they showed Bits and Pieces on television in America. They were wearing these sort of Cuban-heeled boots. The camera just started on their boots. That made a huge impression on me.
Rolling Stones guitarist
I love your painting. And I love your voice. So when are we going to paint and play together? And which painting are you most proud of?
Ha! Well we were actually supposed to get together and do something today, after this. But Ronnie blew me out. He said he couldn’t find a studio. A Rolling Stone who can’t get a studio? Right. I noticed it was Mick’s birthday yesterday. Though I don’t think Ronnie will have a banging hangover today, like in days of yore. But thanks, so much. Ronnie is my neighbour – we live around the corner from each other [in Maida Vale]. And which painting of mine am I most proud of? I wouldn’t say proud of any of them. I’ve got them all stacked up in the warehouse somewhere.
Author and co-founder of the Women’s Equality party
It has “annoyed the fuck out of me lately”: that was you on feminism in 2015. Since then, progress for women has stalled or, in many cases, reversed. Feminism can indeed be fucking annoying, but would you now agree that it is urgently needed?
Well, first, I think I’m a poster girl for feminism. There’s nothing about me that is not feminist, through and through. Is feminism needed? It has a different agenda every decade as it must and as it should. When I grew up in the 60s, as a teenager, I thought we fixed it. You know, I thought we could move on from that, and women could do what they wanted. The big change for me was pre-birth control and after. Only 80 years ago, women might have had 30 pregnancies including miscarriages by the time they were 50. I think modern feminists sometimes forget that. Some of the problem since has been what people are watching on television, you know, Sex and the City, things like that. That put it way back. I mean, who talks about dating? I never went on a date in my life. In certain areas, yes, of course, there’s equality that has to be addressed. But in the arts, I don’t see that. I don’t want to let Catherine down. Because I’m sure she’s doing great work.
We share a love for Sarah Siddons’s grave and monument in Paddington Green and have watched it being restored. Is there another monument you admire that needs some TLC?
I still pass Sarah Siddons daily, Rufus, to make sure someone hasn’t knocked her nose off again. Someone took a crowbar to her. But don’t worry, Rufus, she’s still looking good. Another monument that I would like to see restored? Well. OK, I don’t know if they count as monuments but any of the Oscar Niemeyer buildings that are starting to crumble now because they’re made out of concrete. I was living in Rio at one point, in the building that had his studio is at the top. One time, it was during Carnival, I was with the guy I was going out with at the time, and we got in the lift with Oscar Niemeyer. When we got out and my friend turned to me he said, that was the soul of Brazil, not Carnival. He was right, I loved what Niemeyer did for Brazil. So I would go back and restore all of his buildings.
Is there a band or a musician you would love to collaborate with?
Michelle, Observer reader, New Jersey
Well, Iggy Pop offered me a song once. And we didn’t pull that off. And I always regretted that, because Iggy was always my number one when I was growing up. And then he wrote this song and he sent it to me. It was handwritten and everything. I don’t know what I did to turn him off the idea, but then I never heard from him. And he ended up doing the song with Kate Pierson [of the B-52’s]. The song was called Candy.
How did writing for a music magazine influence your songwriting and how you handled stardom later on?
Ezra Fink, Observer reader, Jerusalem
I didn’t intend to write for a music magazine. Someone I knew just offered me the job because I had opinions about bands and records. I never was a journalist. But they allowed me to keep doing what I did, because I started getting hate mail immediately. I was getting like 20 quid for writing some bullshit. And one thing I learned – no offence to you, Tim – is that most writers, they’re not qualified or anything. They are blagging it, mostly wandered in, like I did. Did that prepare me for fame? Well, nothing ever prepared me because I’m just the least gracious famous person around. If you want to call me a famous person. I definitely have failed at it. I like doing ordinary things like getting on the bus or the tube. I don’t like being approached. I don’t like being recognised. All of it makes me squirm.
I can’t believe that you’re 71, any more than I can believe I’m 61. Do you have any regrets about things left undone?
Jane, Observer reader, Texas
I don’t mind getting older. I do mind getting uglier. Come on, there’s only one thing we know of that is definitely going to happen to us. That’s all the information we have in this life. You know, a lot of my friends didn’t get old. I’m not a worrier, by nature – and there are so many great things about getting older. For example, I don’t think there’s very many things that I know now that I didn’t know when I was 16 – but there’s a big difference between knowing something and realising it. Realising something takes 50 years. I’m more relaxed now, if you can believe it. This is the real mellow version of me. Ageing is like being a pothead again. Though that’s not to say there are not things that wind me up daily.
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self, knowing what you know now?
Janet Shepherd, Observer reader, France
Put a cork in the bottle.
Having lost a number of band members to drugs, what was the point at which you said: “Right, I’ve had enough”?
Phil Curry, Observer reader, Kent
I think probably by the time I was in my 60s. For a long time you’d go to a funeral of someone who’d ODed and everyone would still be standing around the grave scoring dope and making [drug] deals. Because, you know, it’s an addiction. My advice would be, read Allen Carr – not the comedian, the author of books on the way to quit addiction – he’s a hero of mine. It takes a while. People think that you have problems, and that’s why you become an addict. But in my experience, most of us just wanted to get loaded, because all our heroes did it and we wanted to find out what it was like. It’s not necessarily trauma-born, but it certainly becomes a trauma.
Lead singer in punk band Penetration
Like me, you were in a band in a music business dominated by men. What advice would you give to young female musicians starting out today?
Do your thing. But I wouldn’t give advice just to women specifically, I would just give advice to anyone who’s getting into a band. And it would be the same as it’s been since the 60s: do what you want to do. And keep working.
If you were to choose three people dead or alive to have dinner with, who would they be?
Savoy, Observer reader, San Francisco
Jimi Hendrix. Elvis Presley. And Maria Callas.
In past interviews, you’ve said that [late band member] James Honeyman-Scott was the last guitar hero. What is your definition of a guitar hero?
Gary, Observer reader, Tampa, Florida
James was not the last, but he was one of the last. What’s the definition of a guitar hero? Well, one is someone who, at a party, will find another guitar bore, and they just go off into a corner and talk guitars for the next three hours. But guitar heroes are what rock’n’roll is all about. It was great to be on stage, for example, with both Johnny Marr and [Pretenders guitarist] James Walbourne at Glastonbury. They are both incredible. I’ve always had great guitar players in the band. It’s a point of pride.
You once answered a question about your personal life with the epically assured response: “Who the fuck wants to know?” I’ve never laughed harder. With that in mind, would you mind telling me how your personal life is going these days, you absolute legend?
Robert McLiam Wilson, novelist and Observer reader, Paris
It’s great, thanks. I have found that the best way to keep [your personal life] separate from the public is just not to have one.
Would you do it all again?
Helen Weddell, Observer reader, Winchester
No. Not if I didn’t have to.
The Pretenders’ new album, Relentless, is out 15 September via Parlophone



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