MERCURY: One thing that occurred to me is that you—not Chrissie Hynde—get stuck doing the interviews for the Pretenders. Does it get tiring to talk about the past all the time?
MARTIN CHAMBERS: It can be, but it's part of what you do. It's great being able to just turn up, play drums, and leave, but there's a lot more going on. It's a different world today than it was when we started. This has got to be done.
Now that you're older, does it seem more romantic to be in the van or to be playing the small club shows, as opposed to the way it is now?
I don't mind one way or the other, as long as we're working. You know, performing live has become important again. I mean, it always used to be, and then it became the music industry. I think now that the way recordings are pushed around, I think it's ever more valuable to actually see a band play live. That's the real end of it—people making noise together in a rock 'n' roll band is a very specific thing. It's a pretty special thing, actually.
When you think about it— I believe it was 1980 when the first album came out— Pretenders was a very divisive album between what rock was, and what punk was becoming. But it seems like you guys were able to straddle the line. But when I look back now, you guys were just a rock 'n' roll band…
Did you kind of take pride in the fact that you weren't able to be pigeonholed?
We just did what we did. We've got reference points from all sorts of genres in our music, and it's whatever it takes to make the song work. It's all about the music, and that's really it. If Chrissie comes up with a song, or whoever comes up with a song... we're all totally unconscious of where we individually draw our parts from. There's nothing new under the sun; it's all been done before.
We never really thought of ourselves as a punk band because we have a lot more going for us than just 1-2-3-4, and away you go. The "new wave" and all that, I had no idea what it was. I just know that what we were doing was based in rock, plus there's a blues element to it, and R&B... it's all in the mix somewhere. We just do what's necessary for the song to work.
Sometimes they don't and they never make it onto an album. There is a body of songs lying around that nobody has ever heard because they never quite came out. They were always the 12th or 15th song on the list, so they never quite finished up being a completed song. There's a lot of material people don't know about. It's like painting. Lots of great artists, they would do 20, 30 paintings before they get one they could show to anybody. It's a process.
Is there an art to knowing when you just have to let go of a song and realize that it's never going to come to a full realization?
Yeah, but you never know... you can save it at the 11th hour by just having a brilliant thought from someone else that just turns the song on its head. You've got to have patience with some songs; others are just immediate. Chrissie's very good at that, especially lyrically and musically. She's got very good taste. She would never allow a rubbish vocal with a line or two in it—she just steers clear of the smelly stuff.
After 1983 and into the late '80s, things were rough for the band, correct?
Yeah, it was very difficult. Chrissie was having a hard time cause she lost her right arm with Jimmy [deceased guitarist James Honeyman-Scott]. You know, we'd sacked Pete [Farndon, bassist, also deceased] because Jimmy couldn't work with him. But that was the way it was. Then Jimmy died and then Pete as well, it was an awful mess and to lose 50 percent of your band—and the fact that they were my best friends—it's really difficult. But we've managed to get over it with some great lineups, and fortunately now we have a really great lineup.
I got that impression from an interview you did previously. You really like the current lineup, don't you?
Yeah. Chrissie had sacked Adam [Seymour, guitarist], a great player, and just needed some fresh blood to turn it all on again. It was a very brave thing to do, to sack somebody without knowing whether we're going to find somebody. We needed to. She was saying to me on the phone, "We need to find somebody that wants it. Somebody that's going to be great. We've basically got to dig up Jimmy."
No matter how great the songs are—and they are great—you play "Message of Love" 1,000 times and I imagine that you need a kick in the ass to want to play it again.
I love playing it. Of all the songs we ever did, it's a song we only ever recorded in the studio; we never rehearsed it.
We were in Paris doing the second record and Chrissie just kind of went "doot doo doot doo doot doo thing. Do it like that." We just sat down and played it in the studio, got an arrangement, and recorded it straightaway. It took us three or four days to work on it and get it right. But it was good fun.
The first Pretenders record is one of the five greatest debut albums of all time. Is that okay if I say that?
Wow. I guess so.
It's just choice, personal choice, but it's a great record. Let's mention [producer] Chris Thomas here, shall we? He did the first three records and during that period he also did Wings, Sex Pistols, and Never Mind the Bollocks. He did all sorts of records. Badfinger. Dark Side of the Moon... I mean, Jesus, the guy's a genius!
I think the most important question I wanted to ask you is, did you have a name for the facial hair you had on the second album cover? That is some treacherous stuff you had there.
You know, I was born in a farming community and when I was a little kid everyone seemed to have these muttonchops, or, whatever you want to call them. What do you call them over here?
Sideburns, yeah. When I was old enough to have facial hair I grew them straightaway and got kicked out of school until I shaved them off.
Those were amazing, they almost reached your nose.
I was thinking of growing my nasal hair right up over your top lip to the point of your nose and have a little point coming out. Just develop the nasal hair.
That would have scored all the chicks.
Oh yeah, for sure. They like a bit of facial hair.
If I happen to see you in a bar somewhere, what am I buying you for a drink?
That's a good question. Almost anything. I only drink on two occasions: when I'm thirsty and when I'm not.