Debbie Harry
Photo by Thomas Laisné

Debbie Harry: “The music speaks for itself”

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Short Profile

Name: Deborah Ann Harry
DOB: 1 July 1945
Place of birth: Miami, Florida, United States
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, musician

Blondie’s six-track soundtrack Blondie: Vivir en La Habana is out on 16 July 2021 via BMG. Rob Roth's documentary feature, Blondie: Vivir en La Habana screened at the 2021 edition of Sheffield Doc Fest.

Ms. Harry, as the lead singer of Blondie, you've been a music icon since the seventies. At what point did you first realize that you're a rock star?

Wow! (Laughs) You know, the fickle finger of fate, you're only as big as your last hit! Actually, I think it was when Blondie stopped working for a long period, and I'd started the band Dirty Harry and doing some solo things. I came back in the nineties with Blondie, and in an interview, I was asked, "How does it feel to be an icon?" I had never really thought of using that particular word. It was kind of shocking, and I wasn't so sure about it. But I guess with the passage of time and looking back at some of the things I did and some of the things we did musically, it really was iconic.

What do you think has contributed to that continued success over so many years?

Well, I think anybody who joins a rock band or starts a rock band works very hard to build an audience. We worked very hard for many years and had the help of the record label Chrysalis. In combination with that hard work, I've done a lot of press and photography over the years. It works! What can I say? We're very happy and very, very, very proud that people like the music. That's why we do it in the first place.

“I am recognizably known as Blondie — but we are partners. It is definitely a group identity.”

Did Blondie's fame also maybe make it difficult for you to try and do your solo projects?

Yeah, on the negative side, when I wanted to do something solo, all I ever heard was, "Can't we call it Blondie?" I mean, I am recognizably known as Blondie, and it was my idea for the band's name — but we are partners, and we all have shares in the band. So for me to use the name, it didn't work right. Blondie is definitely a group identity. I also didn't really have a good label relationship when I went out on my own, and I didn't have a strong push behind me as a solo artist, so there was a limited engagement, as it were. But I had fun doing both. I think some of the best songs I've written or made lyrics for are on some of those solo albums. And I was always hopeful that my work, my lyrics, would be used in a film.

And you got your wish in 1980 with "Call Me" being featured as the title song in American Gigolo.

It's odd how those things work out, isn't it? When Chris Stein and I first started working together, we talked about all these composers, Nino Rota, Henry Mancini, and soundtracks and things that we liked. So for somebody to put a Blondie song into a movie, it was a big highlight for us, it was a big moment. And working with Giorgio Moroder on "Call Me" was sort of like a dream come true.

Were music and imagery always connected for you? How did the marriage of those two worlds come together for Blondie?

Well, what's been great about this new documentary, Blondie: Vivir En La Habana, is that it's so beautiful and so cinematic. It has a little more to offer than many documentaries because it is so visual, and I think the credit must go to the director, Rob Roth. We've been working with Rob for many years, and maybe we know each other too well! But the visual aspect is another thing that Chris and I shared from the very start. He went to the School of Visual Arts, so his way of thinking was very often coupled with an image, with a visual scenario or something like that — and I also think that way. It sort of becomes like telling a story in pictures. It was almost automatic, not something that we had to discuss and create.

It seems like music is almost second nature to you. Can you imagine a life without it?

That's hard to say because I mean, I will always love, love, love, love music. God, that's a terrible, terrible thought not to have music. I don't know if I have an answer for that.

“I'm a part of the machine, so to speak. When all of the gears in the machine are functioning properly, then we do a good show.”

This pandemic and lockdown must have been brutal for you in that sense, not being able to perform at all.

Yeah, that's been very difficult, but I guess maybe I'm not so needy! I think listening to music is equally as fulfilling as performing. So I'm glad that we're getting a chance to come out and play. I know it's going to give me a sense of safety after all that everyone's been through and the threat to humanity… But it's hard for me to say because I haven't really started performing yet.

You've played hundreds of shows over your career. Do you still get nervous before a performance? Is it adrenaline that gives you the push you need?

It's a very polite cocktail! (Laughs) No, you know, I think it's a combination of excitement, fear, determination – a lot of different elements go into it. But for me personally, to avoid extreme stage fright, I have always looked at what I have to do for shows as my job. I had to focus on doing my job correctly, as I'm a part of the machine, so to speak. When all of the gears in the machine are functioning properly, then we do a good show. So I try to think of it in a workmanlike way, and that sort of gets me over the hump.

Does playing in different locations impact your performance?

I don't know that it does! I don't speak any languages fluently other than English. We played in Cuba in 2019, I would have liked to have a bit more convergence with the audience, but I guess the music is what people are there for anyway. The music speaks for itself, and whatever messages I have to convey are usually in the music. It has always been that way.