She’s the iconoclastic leader of the Pretenders, and she’s special, so special. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is…
After playing, writing and gigging for so many years, do you ever hit the wall musically? And what motivates you to push through that wall? —Jimi Mitchell
Do I hit the wall musically? Well, you know, I goof off a lot. I just do music when I feel like it, really. What motivates me? It’s just fun to get onstage with the band. I’m not that ambitious, so I don’t feel driven to write all the time. I don’t agonize over it.
On your new album, Break Up the Concrete, you played with the legendary drummer Jim Keltner. What’s the difference between playing with him and [longtime Pretenders drummer] Martin Chambers? —Janon Pierce
Well, I think Martin is the best live drummer ever, but on this album I wanted to get away from the standard rock sound. Everyone in the world wants to play with Jim, and I knew I could throw ideas at him and, since he’s a jazz drummer, he could get his head around anything. We did the album in less than two weeks. I would just explain what I wanted the feel of the song to be like, and Jim would do his magic.
I’ve always felt [original Pretenders guitarist] James Honeyman-Scott was one of the most underrated soloists in rock. I’m curious about his solo for “Kid.” Did he work it out ahead of time, or was it improvised in the studio? —Morgan Hubbins
I don’t really know how he worked it out, but I do agree with your point. Someone explained to me that he was the last great guitar hero. In all subsequent Pretenders lineups, every guitarist tells me that they are huge fans of his playing. But yeah, we all hold him above and beyond the rest. And he died when he was only 25, so who knows what he could’ve come up with.
The Pretenders’ rustbelt rock has always reflected and championed blue-collar class values and Midwest life. Does your Akron upbringing and ties to Northeast Ohio still inform your work? If so, how? —Pete R.
Yeah, it always has. I have that kind of blue-collar/biker mentality. I’m a very ordinary person, and I always feel comfortable with, you know, sitting on a park bench next to whoever happens to be sitting there rather than be with some red carpet people. I don’t relate to the celebrity world so well.
You’ve said that James Honeyman-Scott played an influential role in the direction of the Pretenders’ sound, but I’m wondering as a guitarist or songwriter what specific things did you learn from him? —Joe Bagadonutz
We just complemented each other. He brought the melody out of me, and I got him to rock a little more. I crazied him up a little bit.
To my ears, Break Up the Concrete seems more aggressive and rocking than your last record, Loose Screw. Do you agree with this, and if so, what influenced this change? —Mitchell Thompkins
Well, I certainly agree. Going in there and banging it out live and making this record the way all records used to be made really helped the vibe. All of our performances, even the vocals, were done live. I think the only overdub we did was adding an accordion over something. I think the record is a bit rough, but that’s good.
What was your inspiration for [1984’s] “Middle of the Road”? Was it based on your experience getting hounded by the press? —Jeff Rhymer
“Middle of the Road” is a reference to the Tao Te Ching, or “The Middle Way” [a fundamental text of Taoism]. I’ve never been hounded by the press. I mean, we need them and they need us, but I’ve found if you don’t court them, then they won’t bother you so much.
From what I understand, Jeff Beck is one of your favorite guitarists. Is it because he’s a fellow animal-loving vegetarian, or maybe you admire him for his peerless and inimitable fretboard virtuosity, or maybe it’s just his haircut? —Brien Comerford
Well, he’s just a fucking genius. I mean, he’s Jeff Beck! What’s not to love? He’s one of the best living guitarists, and he’s just a lovely guy. He’s been a hero of mine for so many years. I have tried to copy some of his haircuts, but I can’t say as much about his playing, since I’m a rhythm guitar player and all.
I love your use of open chording, like on “Back on the Chain Gang.” What other guitar techniques do you feel embody the Pretenders’ sound? —V. Zukowski
Oh, I didn’t even know there were open chords. I guess strong rhythm and having players better than me around me characterizes the Pretenders’ sound. It’s not really about who’s the best at what; it’s about who does the job.
As a female guitarist, I’m encouraged by your ability to make it in a male-dominated genre. I’m wondering, what were the highs and lows of being a female guitarist in the music industry back when you started? —Christine
It was never a problem for me. I had good tunes, and I always brought out the best performances in the people around me. I never thought about it too much. Even during the punk days, it was never too much of an issue. Anyone can pick up a guitar and go. I never felt any discrimination. Actually, I think it was easier back then for me, being that I was the odd one out, or the “novelty".