Taking a small, catlike bite of tropical fruit, Harry says: “We wanted to do a new album all along. I don’t want our 1970s stuff to be ‘it.’” Which is entirely understandable: Making a new record that matched Blondie’s epochal 1970s ones would be a tall order for anyone, let alone a band now comprising only three original members — Harry, her ex-boyfriend and guitarist Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke. Instead, they’ve done the next best thing: Panic of Girls is a catchy, modern set that’s recognizably Blondie, only with 21st-century electronic textures.
Currently without a record label (as are many veteran acts, casualties of corporate budget cutting), the band struck a deal whereby the album will initially be available with a special Blondie-themed edition of Classic Rock magazine, before a full release in July. In so doing, the band is pitching itself directly to longtime fans rather than those who have yet to discover it — ironic, given that during recording Harry was adamant the new album should sound “current.” The result, produced by Killers/My Chemical Romance producers Kato Khandwala and Jeff Saltzman, meets that criterion: The guitars have been mixed down, the keyboards have been brought to the forefront, and the whole thing gussied up with a modish electro-shimmer.
“I don’t want to be like the Temptations, kicking my legs out,” Harry says, swinging one leg up to simulate a synchronized dance routine. She seems to mean she doesn’t want Blondie to become some kind of supper-club revival act, although she adds: “We tried to make a classic Blondie album.” How would she define that? “We’ve always been concerned about producing good songs, and Chris and Matt [Katz-Bohen, the band’s current keyboardist] are prolific songwriters. [Harry is co-credited on six out of 11 tracks.] Our lyrics have sociological things in them, mixed up with romantic ideas and New York City hipness. We’re inspired by film, TV ... early on, we were inspired by comics, fantasy, science fiction.” She has said this, or something like it, many times before; even 40 years on, she seems captivated by New York’s hipster lifestyle. Does she get involved in production? “Not too tremendously. I don’t like sitting in the studio and hearing a song 10,000 times.”
Harry says she still thinks of herself as “ultimately just a Jersey girl,” despite having left New Jersey for Manhattan in the mid-1960s. But there’s not much Jersey in Panic of Girls — it’s a city record, with its slick dance sound and tongue-in-cheek covers of Sophia George’s 1985 reggae hit Girlie Girlie and Beirut’s indie-folk A Sunday Smile. “What’s-his-name [Beirut’s Zach Condon] came in and played trumpet on it,” she says. While Condon may not take “what’s-his-name” as a compliment, she mentions it because she says she enjoys working with new artists; she also recorded a track, Live Alone, with Franz Ferdinand for its recently released Covers EP.