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40th Anniversary

In Conversation: Debbie Harry and Santogold

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NY: Who is truly punk today?

S: I’d say Lil’ Wayne.

DH: There’s a difference between someone who’s really thinking about music and living it and someone who is basically just a cover band. But I just saw a band called Creature at the Mercury Lounge the other night. They were on at 7:30, completely unheralded in any way, and they were fantastic.

NY: So you still get out and catch a lot of current bands?

DH: I try, yeah. I mean, it’s not easy, but I drag my sorry old ass out.

S: I feel the same way.

NY: What’s your favorite band right now?

S: I really enjoyed Vampire Weekend’s record.

DH: I’ve been listening to a lot of songs by MGMT.

NY: Do you think that hipsters evolved from punks?

DH: Hipsters?

S: It’s what everyone calls young guys now.

DH: Really? I just want to say grunge.

S: Hipsters, honestly, there’s nothing there! Everyone wears the exact same thing. My song “L.E.S. Artistes” is about fakers, people who are self-proclaimed artists but really just go out in the Lower East Side and Williamsburg to be scenesters.

DH: The point of being punk was to be an asshole and not to be put down for it.

S: You mean like embarrassing yourself, not being good?

All of a sudden there was this flood of cheap, strong drugs. It felt like the sort of thing to keep everybody quiet.

DH: Not being the best. Being a fool. Making a bad decision and saying, “Oh, God, why did I do that?” And then saying, “Okay, but I could do this, and I could save some of that.” That’s when you really absorb it, and it becomes a signature, and audiences want it. I can’t imagine what they would have done with Nina Simone today.

S: Yeah, that’s what artist development is meant to do: make quality, lifelong artists. And we don’t have a lot of those anymore.

DH: Well, it’s also because record labels, at one time, actually were into artist development. That doesn’t really exist anymore.

S: I think a lot of artists discover it’s bad that the media grabs things right away. You just get thrown out there, on the spot. There’s no time to prepare. If you’re a perfectionist, you’re worried about all the press and having everything plastered online. The turnaround for everything is quicker. Even outfits—you wear an outfit twice, and it’s like, “Put that one away.” You wear it in France, and you think you can wear it somewhere else? No. The photos are online.

DH: It’s absurd.

S: Plus, you have to do way more press, so you’re always running through everything. Nobody knows what’s going to be important because blogs like Stereogum and Brooklyn Vegan have so much power. Every artist I meet now has lost their voice. Also, if you get one hit, you might not be ready to sustain it. So bands come and then they’re gone immediately. No one cares. No one says, “This is an artist that’s going be around for ten years or ten records.”

DH: There has always been a disposable culture, but the turnover now is just so fast.

S: You used to go on the road before you had a record out. So you’d learn how to perform, and you’d start to build a fan base.

DH: Yeah, I don’t know what you call most groups these days. They’re not really individuals, they’re just like producer-driven cookie-cutter things. It’s just showbiz. And it has nothing to do with …

S: Art.

DH: I mean, where’s Suicide when you need them?


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