The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde Explains How She's 'Cleared the Decks' to Concentrate on a Variety of Projects


  • Jill Furmanovsky
The Pretenders’ singer Chrissie Hynde has a number of new projects currently in the works. She recently started painting again, picking up a hobby from her youth. And she’s become quite prolific at it too, though she admits she’s not officially “trained.” A book featuring about 175 photos of her oil paintings will come out by the year’s end.

She’s also writing a book about sustainable farming practices. In it, she advocates for slaughter-free farms, something she says “goes against any ideas of profits.” She describes the farms as something that will help restore the topsoil and keep it healthy, and she views it as a solution to an environmental crisis. She's spent the last four years doing research for the tome.

And she’s also just finished another solo album, which she describes as a “jazzed-up sort of thing” that’s due out next year. The recording is done, and it was just recently mastered.

While the Pretenders don’t have a new album due out anytime soon, she’s been assembling material and writing new songs with Pretenders' guitarist James Walbourne. Hot off a tour with Stevie Nicks, the Pretenders play with the Rails at 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 7, at Hard Rock Live.

“What else are you going to do with your time?” she says via phone from a San Francisco tour stop when asked about what prompted her to take on so many different projects. “My kids are adults, so I kind of feel like I did when I was 15 before I started smoking dope and getting high and wasting a lot of time. I have cleared the decks. I feel like I have a good decade left to finish up the things that I’ve started.”

Hynde says Black Keys/the Arcs singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, who produced the Pretenders’ last album, 2016’s Alone, was on the short list of people she wanted to work with as she started to think about that album. They both hail from Akron, and the Pretenders and the Black Keys once shared a bill at the Akron Civic Theatre.

Her manager got in touch with Auerbach’s manager, and the recording process launched. While writing for the album, Hynde would send songs to Auerbach; together they decided which tracks they would actually record.

The album’s title track celebrates being alone. It stemmed from a conversation that Hynde and Auerbach had during the initial recording sessions. Auerbach and his bandmates had been talking about the stuff they did over the weekend with their wives and kids, and Hynde realized that she was perfectly happy living alone and going to the movies by herself. Then, as she was waiting for a cab to leave on the last day of the session, she barked out the lyrics as she bid Auerbach goodbye. The resulting song comes off as a defiant rock tune that features snarling guitars and spoken word segments. It ranks with some of the Pretenders’ best tunes.

Alone also benefits from a top-notch studio band that includes bassist Dave Roe (Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Sturgill Simpson), pedal steel guitarist Russ Pahl (Blake Shelton), guitarist Kenny Vaughan (Lana Del Rey), keyboardist Leon Michels and drummer Richard Swift (the Arcs).

That talented group really brings the songs to life. “Gotta Wait” has a Black Keys-like garage blues vibe to it, and the single "Holy Commotion" even sounds like Hynde singing one of the Arcs' dreamy tunes. Atmospheric tunes like “Never Be Together” and “Let’s Get Lost” show off the band’s softer side. While the album suggests the band’s sound has shifted, it doesn’t depart from previous efforts. As Hynde puts it, like any Pretenders’ record, it features “ballads and quiet moments and a lot of rockers and punky things.”

When we talked to Hynde two years ago in advance of a Pretenders’ show at E.J. Thomas Hall, she indicated that returning to Northeast Ohio didn’t necessarily carry much weight with her. But when we ask her about what’ll it be like to come back home this time around, she has a different answer.

“I love Ohio, and I think it’s great,” she says. “Because I’m in San Francisco right now, I was just comparing house prices with those in Akron. San Francisco is as expensive as London. It’s off the scale. Nobody can live here. All these techies have come in, and rent control doesn’t apply anymore, so it’s been priced out. Ohio has beautiful neighborhoods, and there are good things going on in Ohio and in the country as a whole. Everyone is concerned about the current administration, but if you look past that, there have been great advancements on many social levels. Gays can get married and adopt children, and we’ve had a non-white President, things that were unthinkable 30 years ago.”

Though the Pretenders, who were inducted into the Rock Hall in 2005, have become a legacy act, Hynde says she doesn’t want the band to turn into a nostalgia act. Still, you can expect to hear at least a few of the group's hits when it plays Hard Rock Live.

“We always try to do a few songs we haven’t done in a while,” she says. “It’s a tricky thing because I’m not that comfortable resting on past laurels. We like playing, and we want to keep moving forward. It’s a great band, and we love what we do. It still think it's exciting [to play live].”

The Pretenders, the Rails, 8 p.m. Saturday, July 7, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $57.50-$89.50,

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