There's Something About Harry
By Michael Martin
To celebrate the anniversary of their founding, the band is embarking on a massive world tour and releasing a double album: one disc, Deluxe Redux, is rerecorded versions of their biggest hits, “Heart of Glass,” “Dreaming,” and “Call Me” among them; the other, Ghosts of Download, is all original material. It’s the best album they’ve made since they re-formed (the others had their moments but were mixed bags of the jumble-sale variety). It has a sleek electronic sound not like classic Blondie. Harry agrees.
“It’s a composite,” she says, assembled with a number of contributors, with Harry and Stein sending MP3s back and forth to writers and the producer. “It wasn’t like [early] Blondie, where you were physically in the studio laying down tracks and overdubs,” she says. “It’s freeing — the digital kind of mind, it works more like the human mind,” she says. “You can jump between things, and you don’t have to physically do something to make it happen. You think it, and it’s done. That’s what the digital thing is. I used to sit in the studio for hours thinking, Oh my God. How do they do it? It’s so dull, it’s so boring. Over and over again. So I was totally down for digital.”
In addition to the duet with Ditto, Ghosts features a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” reinvented as a ballad. “We were doing it live, and it was so much fun to do. Everybody just got right off on it,” says Harry unironically.
She sounds terrific, and Deluxe Redux’s remakes of the band’s classics sound uncannily similar to the originals. How does she feel about her voice these days? “I sometimes wonder,” she says a little wistfully. “I’ve practiced, you know, and had some training since the beginning, gotten some good advice. You live and you learn,” she says.
Today, she’s more of a humble tradeswoman than pop icon. “I’m happy to be working. Working’s always been important to me. I don’t know that I’d be very healthy, mentally, if I wasn’t working all the time. It might force me into other creative avenues, which could be interesting. But I like to make money.”
“There are a lot of really good reasons for me to not stop,” she continues. “But one reason for me to stop would be that I sometimes feel it’s age-inappropriate. The way I grew up, it was a cultural medium that really was only for the youth. Now it’s really changed; it’s for everyone. But it lingers in the back of my mind: Am I making a fool of myself, jumping around on stage, singing these songs from 40 years ago that have nothing to do with my emotional life or anything to do with my social life as they once did? Some of them, however, do have a certain amount of truth in them, so I can live with that. I enjoy making a fool of myself, basically.”
Back in the day, the band had no concept of an existence 40 years in the future. “It was sort of a day-to-day thing,” Harry says. “I think the only objective that we had at the very beginning was to be able to make a record. And you know, become stars,” she says with a laugh. “It was pretty much a roll of the dice. It gave us a lot of freedom in some ways, and it made us deal with the industry as artists being creative, and not specifically following the rules. But I can’t say that I thought more than a few months in the future.”
But things turned out all right. Is she happy with where the band is now? “Well, yes and no,” she says. “I’m very happy with the music that we’re making and the shows that we’re doing. I think they’re terrific. But I wish that more people would hear our new music. We’re sort of at a level in the industry where we play large festivals, but our own gigs are in theaters of not usually more than 5,000 and 10,000. When we do festivals with, like, 50,000 to 80,000 people, and they’re singing our songs, it’s great. So then when a promoter says to us, ‘Well, we can’t book you there because, uh, you’re not going to draw enough people,’ it’s very difficult to accept that.”