Having witnessed the birth of punk and survived rock star marriages, addictions that claimed friends and lovers and the rollercoaster of fame, finding her perfect lover in the shape of virtually unknown songwriter JP Jones was the last thing Chrissie Hynde could have expected.
After stumbling into each other in a West London pub two years ago, neither probably envisioned they would soon be crooning love songs to one another. And while the gulf of a 28-year age gap doomed their romance right from the start, the pair share the fruits of that attraction on the album Fidelity!
“Well most people, they meet in a bar, and they start a relationship and later on they find out that it’s totally unfounded and it’s not gonna work,” Hynde says on the line from a hotel room in the US where she and Jones are on tour with their band, the Fairground Boys. “And that’s exactly what happened to us! But the thing with us, I wasn’t working in a shoe store and he wasn’t working in a surf shop. We were both singer-songwriters, so we thought, ‘Hey, let’s get it on’.”
Recorded in a few days in a studio in Havana, Cuba — which inspired the title — Fidelity! is a raw, emotional album that plots a course through heartbreak, sorrow and, ultimately, redemption. It sounds very much like what it is: two people baring their souls.
“We did that because we didn’t know anyone would ever hear it. It was just us, talking to each other,” Hynde says.
“And that’s why it sounds like that,” says Jones, “because there was no intention of releasing it. We didn’t think of it as writing an album. When we came back and we demoed [the songs], we actually thought it was really awesome.”
“Well I actually thought it was the best thing I’d ever done,” Chrissie Hynde goes on. “When I listened to the demos we’d made I realised that this was a foregone conclusion. We had to see it through now. That was not our intention originally. We were just trying to express ourselves through each other.”
There could be no better example of the heartfelt emotion of Fidelty! than in the chorus of the very first track. “I found my perfect lover but he’s only half my age/He was learning how to stand when I was wearing my first wedding band/I found my perfect lover but I have to turn the page,” Hynde sings on “Perfect Lover”, while describing herself as a sinner and a “hotbed of addictions”. Even for an artist who is known for her honesty, here she truly holds nothing back.
“I never intended it to be so graphic. We never intended to make an album,” Hynde says again. “We were just singing songs to each other, and those were the songs you hear on the album.”
“Someone earlier today said that each song was like a separate chapter of a book,” Jones says. “It’ s literally about what we were feeling at that moment. It wasn’t thought about… we were just talking to each other through these songs. Looking at each other while we were writing them. It’s a really strange way of doing it, I guess, but it just happened so quick it was amazing.”
The feeling and openness of Fidelity! has struck a deep chord with audiences who have found themselves relating to its themes of sweet sorrow and hope, as two people in love face the impossibility of their relationship and work through a yearning and desire that cannot be.
“Oddly enough to us, a lot of people responded to it because they relate to it. And not just because of our situation, but because of their situation,” says Hynde. “Which is, you meet someone, you fall in love, and for whatever reason – religion, homophobia, um… adultery, you know people go 20 years keeping a relationship clandestine because they’re already married… It’s been amazing the response we’ve had from people who say they relate to this, and they’re in totally different situations. And I think that’s what songwriting is all about.”
While she has worked with some of the greatest names in the history of music during her career, from Frank Sinatra, Ringo Starr and Tom Jones to INXS, U2 and UB40, this is the first time Hynde has released an album under any other name than The Pretenders. This project is that special to her.
“I’ve colloborated occasionally,” she says. “I’ve never colloborated with someone who I’m writing the songs about. We are each others’ muse, as it turns out. So it’s amazing to write with someone who, um… it’s not like we’ve collaborated because we’re trying to write a hit. Or because we thought we could write a good song. We collaborated because we had no choice.”
As strange as it may seem, Australia has a direct connection between JP, Chrissie and the Fairground Boys.
“If it hadn’t been for Australia, we would not be having this conversation now,” Hynde says.
“I didn’t write any songs until I was 20 years old and I was going out with a girl from Sydney,” Jones explains. “I used to teach myself to play Pearl Jam songs and stuff, and she told me that I should write songs because she thought I had a good voice. I recorded it and she entered it into The Times Student Songwriter of the Year Award, and I won it. So I thought, ‘Fuck, maybe I’m all right at this’, and started a band.”
That band, Grace, recorded an album for EMI in 2007 and toured throughout the UK, but failed to make any kind of impact. Dumped by the label and at a loose end when Grace split, his management was in the process of relaunching him as a solo artist when he said hi to Hynde at a pub in London and they fell for each other. “Australia” tells the tale of that fateful meeting, and their promise to one another.
“It’s a metaphor for taking each other away to a far away place,” says JP. “But you know, I was living in Shepherds Bush in London which is full of Aussies. We’re always pissed in pubs around there, and that’s how we met – in a bar. And we thought Australia was very fitting for this far away place that she’s taken me to, and I hope I’ve taken her to.”
“You definitely have!” Chrissie chimes in.
I casually admit to the pair that even though my preferred musical taste tends to lean toward the heavier end of the metal spectrum, it was quite easy for me to be swept up by the bitter-sweet harmonies and strangely uplifting combination of rock,blues and roots of Fidelity!
“Awesome!” crows Jones. “That’s great to hear.”
“That’s the best thing I’ve heard for… probably two weeks!” says Chrissie Hynde, before expressing one of her long-held beliefs. “Because, you know, music is a colourless item. Music should transcend all those categories that the industry has. Music is what touches your soul. I fuckin’ love heavy metal! It’s not my genre, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me.”
Chrissie Hynde has a reputation for being reticent when talking about her personal relationships, both past and present. Fidelity! is a frank, shameless examination of a love affair. There may be some brave enough to suggest that with this album, Chrissie Hynde’s famously fearsome reputation for being reticent when talking about her personal relationships may have softened.
“Well you know, I don’t do internet, I don’t do Facebook… you know, that’s why I’m in a rock band, because I don’t really give a fuck,” she says with typical directness. “And then, everything changed when I met JP. It changed the whole course of my life. I’ve had so much fun. You just take what comes to you in this life, and he came to me, and he’s changed everything for me.”