The Pretenders Turn The 'Screw'

Excerpted for

After more than 20 years and seven albums with the majors, the Pretenders make their indie-label arrival Nov. 12 with the Artemis release "Loose Screw." Artemis executive VP Michael Krumper sees it as reflective of a larger trend. He notes, "You look at examples of any number of acts that have returned to indies after having been at majors ... It's not like they stopped making good records years ago -- it's that people stopped noticing."

Since its debut in 1980, the band -- which today includes founding vocalist Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers, guitarist Adam Seymour, and bassist Andy Hobson -- had been part of the Warner Bros. family, via their association with the Sire imprint. "Well, Warners dropped us," Hynde says. "My manager said, 'Look, if you're not that interested, let us go.' In the cold light of day, I would say they dropped us, to simplify things.

"Artemis feels a lot more like Sire did when they signed us in the first place, [before the label] got consumed by Warners," she continues. "It's feeling like a return to form with us. We had a very happy relationship with Warners for years. But toward the end, not only did I not know where their headquarters were, but I didn't know who was in the company or anything about it anymore. We weren't selling bucketloads of records, and corporations don't like that, so they drop you."

Hynde says that the group's free-agent status brought it a remarkable amount of freedom in the studio. "We made this record before we were signed," she says, "so we knew we could make the record we wanted, how we wanted, and if anyone liked it enough, they'd want to sign us. And Artemis was the company who liked it enough."

Cut with producers Kevin Bacon and Jonathan Quarmby, "Loose Screw" returns to the classic, sleek Pretenders pop sound. But it also includes reggae-inflected numbers and tunes with a strong R&B feel.

Hynde says, "We [always] wanted to make a sort of reggae-influenced record. What Warners would have said is, 'In America, they don't know what reggae is, so don't do it.' But we were free at last. I've been wanting to make a reggae album ever since I heard reggae for the first time in 1974, when I went to England. By no means is this a reggae album -- there are three tracks on there which are like reggae songs."

A strong R&B orientation can be heard on the tracks "Time" and "Kinda Nice, I Like It." Hynde says, "I kind of messed around with it on [1986's] 'Get Close.' I was in an R&B band in Cleveland in 1975. I moved to London, and then back to Ohio, and I was in an R&B band called Jackrabbit. We were doing Isley Brothers songs and stuff. That's really when I learned how to sing, and that was by listening to Candi Staton and the singers of that time. I've kind of downplayed that-not as much as I've downplayed my natural country voice, which I would hope that no one ever hears."

Artemis' promotion of the album includes a strong Internet component, according to Krumper: "We're launching a gorgeous player, where people will get to hear the whole of the record. It's on We've also hired an independent Internet marketing company called Special Ops to get this out there everywhere they can. We set up a promotion with Amazon where people can stream the record if they buy it in advance."

The Pretenders are planning a January 2003 tour of theaters to promote the album. But the group has already done what Hynde describes as an "awesome" eight-show stint with the Rolling Stones in September.

"It's been amazing," she says. "The audience has been generous to us. They haven't told us, 'F*** off and go home, we want the Stones,' although I wouldn't blame 'em if they did. It's a compatible audience, our audience and the Rolling Stones' audience. I don't think those people feel put out that they have to listen to us for 45 minutes."

Excerpted from the Nov. 9, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the members section.

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