In March 1981, Blondie made music history when the band’s song “Rapture” hit number one on the U.S. music charts. It was the second single from their fifth album, Autoamerican, and it featured not only a funky disco beat but also, more memorably, a lengthy rap coda — it was the first time rap was featured on a chart-topping tune.
By the time Blondie broke up in 1982, the group had numerous hits — “Call Me,” “Heart of Glass,” and “Hanging on the Telephone,” to name a few — and had evolved beyond their initial punk rock categorization into a group known for integrating myriad genres in their numbers, including new wave, disco, and reggae.
After a 15-year hiatus, Blondie reformed, released No Exit, and scored another chart topper with “Maria.” Now on tour for its latest record, Pollinator, the band is stopping by the Santa Barbara Bowl on Friday, July 7, for a co-headlining show with Garbage. In a recent phone conversation with Chris Stein, the Blondie cofounder and guitarist spoke of the band’s latest record, collaborating with other songwriters, and how the touring has become easier.
You used a variety of songwriters on Pollinator. How did you choose the people you worked with or the songs that you decided to record? It was kind of all over the place. Some of the people we sought out, and some people we ran into. We went to [producer] John Congleton; I think we went over at least 30 songs. Some people, we’re really excited to reach out to … people like Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio. We were at a festival with them and thought they were really great. I hadn’t seen them live before, and we started talking.
Although the songs are written by different people, there is a cohesiveness to the album. Well, John is really smart; he has a good idea for direction. I mean you have to do a more rock-and-roll, organic approach with the whole band; [our] previous record had been more electronic.
I like Pollinator because it pays homage to your signature sound yet feels contemporary. We’re lucky to have good producers all the time. Even the old stuff we did with [producer Mike] Chapman to me doesn’t really sound dated.
Has much changed in terms of the recording and touring during the four decades you’ve been making music? Well, yeah, the changes to the music industry are dramatic. The bones of it have stayed the same, but a lot of the mechanics of it have changed considerably. The culture has changed a lot.
Is it still just as fun? Yeah, the touring stuff is not as much of a struggle as it was at times.
“Long Time” is one of my favorites from Pollinator. Writing credits are given to Deborah Harry and Dev Hynes. How did that collaboration come about? I don’t know how much writing Debbie did on it; she just sort of nuanced it a little. Deb sang on a couple of demos for him like three years ago, or more, and they’re just sitting around for a while, and when we started putting all this material together, we got on our computers — just came about like that.
Another one I really like is “Fragments.” Well, I found that on YouTube. I was watching [the blogger Adam Johnston’s] movie review — he has a movie channel called “YourMovieSucks.” He’s got, like, half a million subscribers, and he’s really great. And then I’d started seeing bits of music he’d recorded stuck at the end of his movie reviews, and I was attracted to this one track a lot. … When I played it to Debbie, she liked it. Everyone was enthusiastic about it.
I love the way it’s dark and slow in the beginning and then picks up tempo. The lyrics are very interesting, too, and Debbie sounds great. [Johnston] wrote it when he was 17. I still haven’t met him; I’ve only been in touch with him online. He said he was kind of singing it to himself, the “Do You Love Me Now” chorus.
How did you choose what would be your first, second, and third singles? Usually, the record company will play songs for radio people; that’s how that usually works for packaging.
How about Garbage — have you toured with them before, or is this the first time? No, but we’ve known Shirley [Manson] for a really long time. And they’re great, so I’m looking forward to it — should be good.