Blondie and the clever Kiwi
Blondie's new album is out now and it contains a song written by a Christchurch musician.
"Our band, Dukes, supported Blondie and the Pretenders on their 2010 New Zealand tour," Matt Barus explains.
"At the show in Waipara they watched from the side of the stage. After the show guitarist Chris Stein asked if I wrote songs for other people. I said ‘no, not really'. He said ‘do you want to write some for our new album?' I thought he was just being kind. Anyway, I didn't do anything about it."
Barus said the group's manager, Lorraine Barry, kept in touch with Stein via email.
"Time went by then Lorraine, our manager, said, ‘what the hell, he asked you to write songs, do it'."
Barus says to get a feel for the music he listened to Blondie's 1978 album Parallel Lines.
"I'm not savvy computer wise at all, I've got Garageband on the laptop. I did a couple of songs, I Want to Drag You Around and Hollow Man. They were really rough demos."
His wife, and Dukes bandmate, Lauren Mitchell, sang over the top of the demos.
"They were a lot more punky, more raw, a plonky bass, roughly mixed guitar. I flicked them off and didn't hear back for ages, maybe a year," Barus says.
Five-time Grammy Award winning producer, Steve Lillywhite, who has worked with bands including The Killers, U2, The Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Morrissey, David Byrne and XTC, emailed Barus saying Blondie would be using I Want to Drag You Around.
"He said he'd send me what they were working it up to be. He asked if I minded if he changed it, they wanted to double the length of it," Barus says.
"That was back in 2011, it's been a slow gestation period. Mine was a two-minute, quick, punk song. When they sent it back it had an electro beat, I didn't like it as much as our one actually, I thought ours was a bit more urgent."
Stein, a founding member of Blondie, says when they performed with Dukes on their New Zealand tour in 2010 he was impressed by their "great combination" of classic rock, modern electronica and world beat.
"When I later listened to some of their tracks online I was really pleased," Stein says. "And I thought about doing the Self Control track, too.
"Matt then sent us a demo for I Want To Drag You Around and I thought it was fantastic. The version he sent sounded like him and friends sitting around together, maybe in a living room, doing the song. It struck me immediately and we began developing a larger version."
Produced by Jeff Saltzman, the song is the third single off Ghosts of Download, American band Blondie's 10th album. It is part of a two-disc package named Blondie 4(0) Ever, released to coincide with the band's 40th anniversary.
The package contains the new studio album along with a disc of Blondie's greatest hits which was re-recorded last year.
I Want To Drag You Around was BBC Radio 2's Record of the Week on April 19.
When Barus wrote the song he was sitting in his "shed" in suburban Christchurch.
"I was looking at the cover of Parallel Lines from 1978," Barus says. "I read something which said that the band were annoyed by the photo because Debbie Harry is standing in front. She was so cool and sexy back in the day, she still is. I was thinking she must be a kick-ass woman. If she had a guy she was after she'd kick their ass. I liked the idea of her just dragging him around, that's where it came from. Now she'd maybe drag them around gently."
Barus says the song he sent to Stein is "identical really", to what returned. It is longer but has the same guitar lines.
"I was hesitant about putting a beat into the song, I didn't want to direct it exactly.
"Maybe I can do my own version, a Clean-style version?"
Barus and Mitchell, who recently became proud parents of a baby girl, are working on an album for their own group, Terrible Sons, but Barus says they would be keen to write more for other artists, too.
"Lauren writes quite a bit for Sola Rosa and other people. It's harder writing for other people because your filters have to be different. We really enjoyed it, it would be good to do more of it if we could."
Barus admits that out of the two songs he sent to Stein, he thought the other song, Hollow Man, was better.
"Maybe it didn't work for whatever reason?," Barus says.
"Wow," Stein says. "I don't recall the second song right now. I should revisit it."
Blondie's 10th album Ghosts of Download, part of two-disc package Blondie 4(0) Ever, is out now.
- The Press