When Garbage frontwoman and NME Icon recipient Shirley Manson inducted Blondie into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, she paid tribute to Debbie Harry’s “unassailable position in rock history” as the icon “who invented the archetype by which all other stars who have followed in her footsteps have been measured.” The pair went way back – Shirley’s pre-Garbage band Goodbye Mr Mackenzie once opened for Blondie, they’ve dueted live, and appeared on the American Gods track ‘Tehran 1979’ together. One Blondie album track ‘Words In My Mouth’ even originally started life as a Debbie-penned submission for a shelved Shirley solo album.
But now the two titans as reuniting again, as Garbage are special guests on Blondie’s epic 2021 arena run of shows, called, with fitting humour, the ‘Against The Odds Tour’. It will coincide with the first authorised Blondie Archive project in the band’s history. NME caught up with the legendary Debbie Harry via phone from her home in New York for a quick chat about what to expect from the shows, lockdown life, and her love for Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘WAP’. Check out our interview and the tour dates below.
Hello Debbie! How’s it going?
Debbie: “Well…it’s a shit-storm.”
That pretty much sums up 2020! How have you been coping with the pandemic?
“At first, I guess we’ve all gone through a series of responses. You’re alone for a couple of weeks and it starts to get strange. Most of the people I know are pretty sane – I mean, they’re nuts, but they’re also very sane! So you just have to deal with it and be observant.”
What have you made of Trump’s no-mask non-socially distanced rallies and the trend of COVID-denying rock stars like Van Morrison and Ian Brown?
“As far as Van Morrison’s concerned, he’s a wonderful, extraordinary talent, but he’s also completely mad. I mean, he has a history of very strange behaviour so it doesn’t really surprise me. And after all, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. As far as conspiracy goes… huh! If this is a conspiracy, then the biggest fucking genius in the world has created it! I mean, that is insane. Totally insane! When it comes to our president, white supremacists respect him not necessarily for himself but because he’s achieved the presidency. There’s a lot of kudos that hangs on the word ‘president’. A lot of people fall for him, but this is not a good guy.”
On a cheerier note, you’re touring with Garbage which feels like the ultimate meeting of like-minds…
“We’ve toured with Garbage before and I adore them. We met Shirley early on when she was in the band Goodbye Mr Mackenzie. Back in those days, we were managed by Gary Kurfirst at the same time, so our paths have crossed over the years. She inducted Blondie into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. So total respect and admiration for Garbage and for Shirley, and I love the music. We have a great show – I think it’s the dark side and the light side, and it makes for an interesting contrast. We tend to be a little more poppy and Garbage is more on the heavy street-rock side.”
You recently reunited with The Gregory Brothers to ‘Songify’ the Mike Pence/Kamala Harris VP debate. How are you feeling about the upcoming election in November?
“It’s important people get out there and vote these crooks out. I’ve made a short video that Rob Roth [regular collaborator responsible for the ‘Doom Or Destiny’ video] directed that’s based on the music to my solo song ‘Bike Boy’, encouraging people to vote. I hate to throw the word around, but I think The Gregory Brothers are genius. Good satire is something I’ve tried to include, lyrically, in Blondie songs, so I appreciate and love what they do.”
As the writer of the first rap song to hit Number One in the US with ‘Rapture’, what have you made of the Black Lives Matter movement?
“Of course you know my heart is with the protestors and since I have been so greatly and positively influenced by black artists and music, it couldn’t be any other way. It baffles me, in this day and age, how anybody could not be forward-thinking and realise that Black Lives Matter. In this country and the UK, immigration and migration of different cultures always benefits us artistically and creatively. It’s a stimulus, and adds to the greatness of humanity.”
Miley Cyrus recently covered ‘Heart of Glass’. Have you had a chance to talk to her about it?
“No, we haven’t actually spoken, but we’ve written back and forth and I congratulated her on doing something that was uniquely her with ‘Heart of Glass’. I thought she did a great job and I liked the way the performance looked and she’s a force to be reckoned with. I’m really proud of the fact she did our song and made it uniquely hers.”
What can you tell us about progress on your 12th album? Will you air new material on this tour?
“We’ve talked about it and there’s some stuff in demo form, but we haven’t nailed it down because we haven’t been able to go into the studio. The songs aren’t totally shaped. We’re really at a very elementary beginning stage. One of the things we did on the last album was to actually be in the studio and have everybody playing and develop the songs that way, and I think we’ll probably try that again.”
Last time we spoke, you were set to record a track that Johnny Marr had written. Will Blondie’s next album follow a similar collaborative course to your last album ‘Pollinator’ – which contained tracks penned by the likes of Sia and Charli XCX?
“Well, no Chris [Stein, Blondie guitarist and her main songwriting partner] has several tracks and there’s one ballady-type song our producer John Congleton came up with that we’d love to do. I’m looking forward to getting something from our keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen, who’s written a lot of our new songs in the past. But no, we’re not going to approach it like ‘Pollinator’. If somebody submits a song that we absolutely die for, of course we’d do it, but we’re not going to ask this time.”
Do you think the current COVID or political situation will feed into the lyrics?
“I don’t see how it couldn’t. I think it has to. I don’t really have things that are very specific and actually say: Why didn’t you vote? Or I might do a song called ‘Vote For Me’!”
You could finally be the USA’s first female president…
“Oh God, what a terrible job! Who would want such a horrible job?”
“Oh Jesus, that’s another madness, right? But I guess you gotta stay positive, even though there seems to be a new spanner in the works every day.”
Blondie recently wished Cardi B Happy Birthday on Twitter. What did you make of the biggest video of the year ‘WAP’?
“Oh yeah, I love it! I LOVE it!”
Do any of the criticisms of it – such as Russell Brand saying their outfits and image panders to the patriarchy – remind you of the sexism that was written about you when you first started out?
“Well, I guess yeah. You know, everybody has to say something. If there’s something to be said, someone will say it. Whether you agree with it or not is another story. Cardi B is outrageous and she’s overtly sexual, so ‘Wet Ass Pussy’ is quintessential Cardi B. It’s very sexy and hot and naughty – perhaps even dirty – and the good thing is it hasn’t been censored. At first I was going: ‘Wow, I wish I could do something like that’, knowing full well that I couldn’t. But I wish I could!”
Blondie’s 2021 ‘Against The Odds’ UK tour date with Garbage are below. Tickets are on sale from 10am on Friday October 23 and will be available here.
Saturday 6 – M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool
Monday 8 – Utilita Arena, Birmingham
Tuesday 9 – AO Arena, Manchester
Thursday 11 – Bonus Arena, Hull
Friday 12 – Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham
Sunday 14 – The Brighton Centre
Tuesday 16 – Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
Thursday 18 – The O2 Arena, London
Saturday 20 – The SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Sunday 21– First Direct Arena, Leeds