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Debbie Harry Is Our June/July Cover Star

Music
Photographed by Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello. Styled by Karen Levitt. Dress by Sportmax, hat by Danny Deluxe.

At 71, she brings her inimitable, iconic style to a new Blondie album—their 11th—and an international tour. Because what else is she going to do, retire?

The following feature appears in the June/July 2017 issue of NYLON.

Like the quintessential New York girl that she is, Debbie Harry arrives at a West Side Manhattan rehearsal studio, running late, looking glamorous, and feeling frazzled. “It’s just been a lot of pressure,” the singer, songwriter, and actress says of her life lately, as she deposits several overstuffed totes in the makeshift lounge area and lets out a weary sigh.

Harry and her band Blondie have a new album, Pollinator, for which they solicited songs written by a mix of peers (Johnny Marr, Laurie Anderson) and artists they’ve influenced (Charli XCX, TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, Dev Hynes). As tends to happen in the lead-up to a big release, everything is going on all at once: The grueling European press tour just ended, Harry has barely had a second to hang at home with her dogs, and now it’s all about what to wear at tomorrow’s video shoot and getting the new material properly rehearsed and, oh yeah, figuring out what to play onstage during the upcoming world tour. Harry flings a handwritten set list—“That’s the third one”—onto the coffee table and collapses into one of several grotty leather couches.

Photographed by Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello. Styled by Karen Levitt. Stylist’s own customized dress.

“We have over 40 years of music and only an hour to satisfy the audience and also play the new music. There’s absolutely no way to do all that,” Harry explains. “It doesn’t compute, really.” The 71-year-old singer adjusts her giant shades and unzips her thrift-store jacket, revealing a Vivienne Westwood T-shirt (a gift from the designer herself) featuring a photo of a pair of bare breasts in their anatomically correct location. “They’re almost in the right spot,” she jokes. “I’ll hike this one up a little. Come on, girls.” Then it’s back to managing expectations: “I’m just going to get up there at the beginning of the show and say: ‘No tears. You’re not going to hear “The Tide Is High.” You’re not going to hear this one; you’re not going to hear that one.’”

This is the version of Harry that is familiar to most: the jaundiced, bawdy punk vixen—sexy, pissed-off, charismatic, and intimidating. It’s the version you’ve seen staring back at you, through countless photographer’s lenses, since Harry and her then-boyfriend Chris Stein formed Blondie in the burned-out wasteland that was 1970s New York City. It’s the version you could have been electrified by if you were hanging out at CBGB around that time. While the Vietnam War raged on interminably, Nixon was being impeached, and Son of Sam was on the loose, Harry was taking the club’s stage for the first time, alongside the other founding members of the CB’s arm of the American punk-rock world: Television, the New York Dolls, and the Ramones. Blondie became the scene’s breakout superstars, going on to sell a staggering 40 million albums (and counting) and outlast, in many cases by decades, nearly all of their peers. But Harry occupied an uneasy cultural space: Her unabashed sexiness made her controversial in the punk world, where androgyny reigned and prettiness was suspect, but her favored hem length, hair color, and general edge (plus those strong New York vowels) made her too Pink Ladies for the mainstream. By the late ’70s, however, when New York City, followed by the rest of the country, was looking for a face and a sound to both tap into the era’s dirty beauty and defy its paranoid ugliness, Harry and Blondie were right there. And that’s where they’ve remained, avatars of beautiful weirdness inhabiting their own corner of the rock ‘n‘ roll universe for four-plus decades.

Photographed by Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello. Styled by Karen Levitt. Stylist’s own customized dress, tights by Wolford, bracelets by Alexis Bittar.

“Debbie Harry featured heavily in my childhood as a badass beauty with balls, which, of course, is what I wanted to be when I grew up,” says Sia, who, alongside the Strokes’ Nick Valensi wrote the synthy but gritty “Best Day Ever” off Pollinator. Newcomer Maggie Rogers, the latest Next Big Thing rock girl to be launched from the New York scene, puts it even more directly: “Debbie Harry is the ultimate queen. I mean, she’s a pop icon, a punk icon, a rock icon, a dance icon, and a style icon. Just, like, how does one person shine so powerfully?! Seventy-one and still balling? Fuck, I wanna be her.”

Of course, the members of Blondie don’t consider themselves iconic. “We’re a cult phenomenon!” half-jokes Stein, who’s joined us on the gnarly couches. Harry chuckles. You know how elite racehorses prone to debilitating nervousness are often paired with calmer-natured companion animals? He’s the soothing pony to Harry’s high-strung thoroughbred. (I mention this as someone who has more than once fled a West Village bodega in awe after seeing Stein inside with his kids buying something exciting like soap—I consider his coolness to be paramount.) She rarely does interviews without him by her side, and you can see why. The guitarist’s wry geniality works like a tonic on her.

“He’s such an artist and he’s so brave,” mocks Stein, digging into a good-natured rant about a piece critic Bob Lefsetz recently wrote, in which he praised Drake for pushing boundaries and taking risks. “Drake has a mega fucking fan base and a mega push! Of course he can do anything he wants!” he exclaims, shaking his head. And Blondie? “No way!” Harry chimes in, finally taking off her sunglasses and smiling. “We’re indie!”

Photographed by Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello. Styled by Karen Levitt. Shirt by Danny Deluxe.

Even after the Grammy nominations, multimillions in sales, induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and consistent name-checking by the most compelling firebrand rock stars of each subsequent generation—from Madonna to Karen O to Katy Perry—Harry still feels like an insurgent, a defiant, defensive outsider. She’s still a sensitive rock kid with a chip on her shoulder. “It’s a trick to make this all work,” she summarizes, gesturing around the room, with its dingy framed posters of past jazz greats like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane and slight stink of burned coffee. “I think we’ve all felt like that at one point or another, like, ‘Aww, what the fuck? Why bother, you know?’ But then you start playing and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, this is why.’” Harry is putting herself through the rigor of releasing Pollinator, Blondie’s 11th studio album, not out of allegiance to the image of rock cool she’s been assigned to represent, but because making music is, as it always has been, Harry’s primary means of coping with being alive. “This is what we do and that’s that,” she says with a shrug. “We have our survival system set in place. This is it.”

That survival system was hard won. Born in Miami, Harry was adopted as an infant and raised in suburban New Jersey by Richard and Catherine Harry, who ran a local gift shop. The singer has spoken in the past about how her awareness that she came from somewhere else, from someone else, gave her permission to lean into what was already, even as a young girl, a nascent sense of restlessness. But she wasn’t rebellious in the standard Behind the Music sense. Yes, she pushed against the constraints of 1960s America—she wore all black, she didn’t rush to find a husband—but Harry also dutifully graduated from high school and Centenary College and was always close with her family. (Harry’s mother once bragged to Rolling Stone that her daughter had only ever missed one Christmas at home, even after she started touring.) Still, New York and everything the city represented beckoned, and after college Harry moved across the river, with the usual thinly sketched but deeply felt plans to pursue the creative life, acting or painting or singing or something.

Over the next decade she worked as a secretary at the BBC and, more notoriously, as a Playboy Bunny and a waitress at Max’s Kansas City, all while playing in assorted bands. But it wasn’t until Stein joined the Stilettos, the girl group in which Harry was singing backup at the time, and the pair split off to do their own thing that she started to gain creative traction. “I probably would’ve quit many times if it wasn’t for him,” Harry says of Stein, affectionately.

Photographed by Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello. Styled by Karen Levitt. On Harry: Jumpsuit by Topshop Unique.

Richard Burton famously called Elizabeth Taylor “beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography.” He could have been talking about Harry. Her face was—and still very much is—powerful, the aesthetic equivalent of whatever Babe Ruth had in his swing or Henry Miller had in his pen or Serena Williams has in her serve. But when you consider the cultural landscape Harry encountered when she arrived in ’60s New York City, the way she looked was a liability before it was an asset. She would eventually be cast as the Marilyn Monroe of punk and become one of Warhol’s muses, but before that she was just a bottle blonde with a thing for heavy makeup in a world of Natural Women like Carole King and Joni Mitchell. Yet there Harry was, pushing 30, singing backup in a folk band called Wind in the Willows while wearing cutoffs and kitten heels onstage at many of the same Greenwich Village clubs that Freewheelin’-era Dylan had just made famous. She came to the city in search of what Stein lovingly calls “the rot”—the seedy underbelly—not to make things pretty, but in search of ugliness. “It’s too civilized now,” Harry says of New York. “When it was crumbling and rotten it was kind of great.” Harry forged her creative identity as a grime-seeking outsider, and it has remained her way of relating to the world well after she became famous, as central to her sense of self as that peroxide shag is to her look.

That permanent-underdog self-image, and the will to survive that accompanies it, has come in handy over the decades. By 1981 Blondie were enjoying the spoils of their greatest commercial success, “Rapture,” the slinky dub/disco gift from the music gods, which, thanks to Debbie Harry’s deliciously anodyne rap (“I said don’t stop, do punk rock”) became the first No. 1 hip-hop single in America.

And their reach wasn’t confined to the States. “Blondie were a regular part of the soundtrack to my teenage years,” says former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, who wrote the track “My Monster” for Pollinator. “They were huge in the U.K., a very big pop band who were cool and smart. No one didn’t like them.”

Photographed by Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello. Styled by Karen Levitt. Jacket by Maje, shirt by Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh, choker by Creepyyeha.

But it was part of the proverbial rise before the fall. Within the next two years, Blondie discovered they were nearly broke, having been ripped off by a shady manager; Stein had been hospitalized after collapsing backstage and was subsequently diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease; and Blondie were on indefinite hiatus. Harry has ruefully referred to the era that followed as her “ice cream years,” in reference to the stress-related weight gain she was mercilessly mocked for in the press, all while contending with the fallout from her band’s split, the uncertainty of launching a solo career, her partner’s unstable health, and, reportedly, drug addiction. By the end of the ’80s, Harry and Stein—then seen as one of rock’s most enduring couples—had parted ways, though they obviously remain very close friends. Harry is godmother to Stein’s two kids with his wife, the actress Barbara Sicuranza. “Do we have to keep talking about it?” Harry snipes sweetly, when Stein returns to his Drake rant mid-interview. “I’m going to become a solo artist if you don’t watch out!”

In the ’80s, Harry did just that, releasing three solo albums over the course of the decade (two more, in 1993 and 2007, would follow), and branching out into film, most notably in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, John Waters’s Hairspray, and Martin Scorsese’s contribution to the anthology film New York Stories. In 1997, Harry formally reunited with Blondie, and by 1999 they were releasing their seventh record, No Exit, to a music world in which Millennium by the Backstreet Boys was far and away the best-selling album of the year. Once again, Blondie had found their cultural sweet spot: wild and weird punk-rock kids infiltrating a blown-out, hyper-corporate musical landscape. Their first post-reunion single, “Maria,” became the band’s sixth No. 1 hit in the U.K., and they haven’t stopped touring or recording since. In 2014, in honor of Blondie’s 40th anniversary, the band released Ghosts of Download, a two-disc set featuring both new originals and re-recorded versions of their greatest hits, a fitting reflection of a group that has managed to come across as both esteemed veterans and hungry upstarts. It’s in that context that Harry now suits up to present her band’s latest album.

Photographed by Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello. Styled by Karen Levitt. Shirt by Danny Deluxe.

“Wardrobe,” Harry says firmly, when I ask about the first thing she thought when she woke up this morning. We’re still at the cavernous rehearsal studio, but have moved, at Harry’s suggestion, to an even less glamorous tech room down the hallway from the lounge. Under garish fluorescent lights, surrounded by discarded bits of equipment, we now sit. “It’ll be quieter in here,” she says. She’s been taking pictures of items in her closet, honing an onstage look for the upcoming tour. Harry takes fashion seriously. She takes all kinds of art seriously. In fact, something that made Blondie stand out from their peers even in the beginning was their cultural and creative inclusiveness, the way they recruited artists from other genres to collaborate with. In the “Rapture” video, Harry co-hosts what appears to be the coolest loft party ever with the so-called “Man from Mars” (choreographer and dancer William Barnes in a gleaming white suit and top hat) and guests like Jean-Michel Basquiat, graffiti pioneer Lee Quinones, and, of course, Fab Five Freddy (Grandmaster Flash was supposed to be there but stood them up). It remains both a filmic representation of the Blondie fantasy world—just a rock girl and a few of her artsy pals hanging out on a random night—and, amazingly, a semi-accurate reflection of how they actually operate. “I don’t know if there was a moment when we said, ‘OK, we’re going to ask other people to give us material,’” Stein says of Pollinator, which came together around the idea of “cross-pollinating” with Blondie peers from many generations. “But that became the theme of the thing. We put out word and started getting a lot of stuff back.”

Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio co-wrote “Fun,” Pollinator’s lead single. “We met at a festival and Tunde [Adebimpe, lead singer of TV on the Radio] and I were struck by how down to earth they are,” he recalls. “I have felt an overwhelming sense of wonder about Debbie since I was a teenager. Her voice makes me want to know how she sees the world.” But quickly, Sitek says, he felt like he was just chatting with a couple of fellow rock nerds. “When I got over my fan-boy attack, we got to talking about music, imagination, gratitude, photography.” It’s that sensibility—of the childlike joy that comes from just goofing around with your other weirdo friends—that fueled Harry’s move to New York in the first place, grounded her connection to Stein, and continues to inspire her approach to life and art. It’s also what animated Pollinator. But as is typical with her and with the band in general, she’s loath to wax nostalgic about the past or sound even remotely self-serious when talking about the present. “I think she just liked ‘Pollinator’ because it sounded like ‘Terminator,’” jokes Stein of the album title. “Yeah, initially,” Harry agrees, laughing, then wiping her eye. “I have an infected tear duct,” she says to Stein. “You’ve been getting into bar fights again?” he quips. “Yeahhh,” she drawls. “I’m not crying enough. That’s what’s wrong. I’m holding back the tears.” A minute or two later she tells a story about a mutual friend’s cat, once rambunctious, being cured of its insubordination by a freak accident. “It’s very sweet now because it went through the dryer,” Harry says. “She didn’t know it was in there, but she [started] the machine and then opened the door and the cat jumped out. Very affectionate, that one. I think you just gotta put ’em through the dryer.”

Photographed by Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello. Styled by Karen Levitt. Jumpsuit by Topshop Unique.

This is the side of Harry you don’t see staring back at you from behind her Wayfarers in one of those countless amazing images. Of all the rock stars I’ve ever interviewed, Harry is among the most impressive, the most influential, the most genuinely iconic—but also among the goofiest and least interested in her own legacy. How does she know when a song is right for the band? “You don’t, really. I mean, if you like it?” Harry answers. Don’t young women come up to her on the street all the time? “You know how it is,” she says, shrugging. “It’s pretty much the same whether you’re famous or not. You hear: ‘I went to school with a friend of your friend,’ or ‘I saw you on such and such Instagram.’” When did she last hear Blondie in public? “I heard us in a Target bathroom—it was ‘The Tide Is High,’” she says with a wide smile. “Amid the sound of piss falling into the water, ‘Tide Is High’ seems appropriate. Tinkle to ‘Tide’!”

Harry’s sense of humor will serve her well in the upcoming spin cycle—the European leg of Blondie’s world tour, followed by summer dates with Garbage in the States. On the tour bus, Stein, the culture vulture, will consume his usual mad quantities of television and film. “He has to be forbidden, otherwise he stays up all night,” Harry says, shaking her head. She prefers “a nice chunky book.” And that’s where you’ll find her for the foreseeable future, tucked away in her bunk on the road with her Kindle. “Right now I’m reading that Donna Tartt book The Goldfinch,” she says. “It’s the second time I’m reading it—I’m enjoying it more this time.”

Hair: Michael Matula at Mudhoney Hair Salon. Makeup: Guy Furrow. Manicurist: Miss Pop Nails. Photo Assistant: Ivory Serra. Stylist’s Assistant: Naomi Kotter. Special thanks to Splashlight Studios.

NYLON's June/July issue is on newsstands 5/30. Buy it now.




Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

"I am honored to share this bonding experience with my own daughter"

In a heart-warming Instagram photo, Serena Williams shares the history of hair braiding and the importance of the tradition. The tennis player shared a photo of herself braiding her daughter Olympia Ohanian's hair and spoke about how "honored" she was to be able to "add another generation" to the tradition of the practice.

The photo shows Williams attentively braiding her daughter's hair while Olympia smiles, obviously loving the experience. Williams noted that hair braiding was created by the Himba people in Namibia, Africa, and that "we have been braiding our hair for centuries." "In many African tribes braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe," she continued.

Williams pointed out that braiding is a bonding experience. "People would often take the time to socialize," she wrote. "It began with the elders braiding their children, then the children would watch and learn from them. The tradition of bonding was carried on for generations, and quickly made its way across the world."

Williams closed her post with a sweet message about her daughter, saying that she's "honored to share this bonding experience" with her.

See the post, below.

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Courtesy of Adidas

The Stan Smiths are a must-have

Adidas just shared its capsule of sneakers paying tribute to Keith Haring, and TBH I can already feel my wallet emptying (and they're not even on sale yet). The new collection features three shoe silhouettes, all including the late artist's iconic imagery as embroidered designs.

The standout style of the collection is the Rivalry hi-top; with bright blue and orange stripes and piping along the edges, Haring's stars and cartoon bodies, in black thread, pop right off. If you're looking for something less over-the-top, the quirky white Nizza Hi RF sneakers show a snake wrapping around the back of the shoe and chasing one of Haring's cartoon bodies toward the toe. There's also a minimal embroidered design on the toe of a classic Stan Smith pair. Look a little more closely at the tongue though, and you'll notice the traditional image has been swapped with a caricature of Haring himself.

Peep the three silhouettes, below, and set your calendar for the official drop at the end of the month.

Adidas, Rivalry Hi Keith Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

Adidas, Nizza Hi RF Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

Adidas, Stan Smith Keith Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

NYLON uses affiliate links and may earn a commission if you purchase something through those links, but every product chosen is selected independently.


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Photos by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Hopefully this one will be typo-free

In an Instagram Live on Thursday, Taylor Swift announced that she would be creating a collaboration with fashion designer Stella McCartney inspired by her upcoming Lover album. Although she kept it vague, we can only assume that the two are working on a collection of luxe merch.

Swift noted in the announcement that she has been friends with McCartney "for a really long time," and that the designer already heard the new album. "I respect what she creates, how she creates it," Swift continued. "There's so much whimsy and imagination and romance to the clothing that she designs." Swift has been wearing McCartney's designs "a lot recently," so maybe we should have seen the collab coming.

One eagle-eyed fan pointed out that Swift wore Stella McCartney rainbow-hued shoes during her Wango Tango set. If the collab is anything like these shoes, you can bet I'll be copping it as quick as I can.

Swift detailed in her Instagram Live that the album Lover would be all about romance, which makes McCartney and her feminine designs perfect for the collaboration. We just hope that this collection doesn't have any typos, like some of Swift's "ME!" merch did.

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Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

And spreads the message that "we all got crowns"

Late on Thursday, Taylor Swift dropped a new single, "You Need To Calm Down," and announced her forthcoming studio album, Lover, out this August. Following her lead single "ME!" Swift continues to spread her message of self-love and call out haters—particularly the homophobic ones—in this latest song.

Swift "ended homophobic locals," as one fan put it on Twitter, with one particular lyric: "'Cause shade never made anybody less gay."

Along with the song, Swift shared a lyric video via YouTube which made her sentiments even clearer. With her lyric, "Why are you made?/ When you could be glad?" she spelled "glad" as "GLAAD," referencing the queer media advocacy organization.

Swift sings of homophobic protestors in the second verse: "Sunshine on the street at the parade/ But you would rather be in the dark ages/ Makin' that sign must've taken all night." In the pre-chorus, she adds, "You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace/ And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate."

Swift additionally comments on women being pitted against each other—"We see you over there on the internet comparing all the girls who are killin' it"—asserting that "we all got crowns." There's nothing trolls can do to rain on her parade anymore.

One fan pointed out the possible symbolism of the crown lyric. In "Call It What You Want," track 14 on Reputation, she sings "They took the crown but it's alright." Now on "You Need To Calm Down," track 14 of Lover, she sings that there's not just one crown—we all have them.

Some fans are pointing to the double meaning of the track title. If I had a dollar for every time someone said those words to me in a totally condescending way, I'd probably be richer than her! What woman hasn't been told to calm down about an entirely not-calm situation or while expressing their distaste?

During Swift's live stream for the release of the song, she also announced a fashion collaboration with designer Stella McCartney, a peek of which we got during the singer's WangoTango performance.

Lover is set for August 23 release.

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Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features

"I was like, 'Did I sleep with this critic's girlfriend, or what?'"

The day I meet Jim Jarmusch, the sun hangs so bright and hot and yellow and solid in the sky that it's hard to believe that it will actually set at night. It's one of those New York June days that suggests we might be in permanent daylight; it's got a completely different feeling than the crepuscular atmosphere of Jarmusch's latest film, The Dead Don't Die, which takes place in a small town in what feels like one long twilight, maybe the last one.

But for today, Jarmusch and I are sitting at a table in a sun-filled restaurant, though we're in the shade. We're in a part of the city that used to be very punk rock, and is now very NYU, yet being there with Jarmusch, who looks so at home, like he's holding court in the booth (it helps that Larry Fessenden, an old friend of Jarmusch's and a writer/director/producer/actor, who appears in The Dead Don't Die, happens by the table to say hi), makes the area feel a little punk rock again, even with all the sun.

The Dead Don't Die is a very punk rock zombie movie, by which I mean: It's not very scary, but it is very cool, and even when it's sneering, it's a little bit tender. Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny as a trio of small-town cops who fight back against a nascent zombie apocalypse caused by fracking, the film is cast with a who's who of Jarmusch regulars, like Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, and Fessenden, to name a few; but it also features younger stars like Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, and Luka Sabbat—and there's a real earworm of a theme song, courtesy of Sturgill Simpson.

Below, I speak with Jarmusch about the movie, being a dilettante, and why he only reads his negative reviews—which is definitely one of the most punk rock things I've ever heard.

Photo by Gareth Cattermole/ Getty Images

This was filmed on a pretty condensed shooting schedule, right?
It was a very rough schedule. A very difficult one, actually.

We only had seven weeks to shoot, and we had to shoot Adam Driver out in three weeks because he had to be delivered to Star Wars, and the financing of the film was incredibly grueling and took a long time, so we were pushed so far that we had about one month of prep, and then three weeks with Adam. And then all these different actors coming in and out; I don't know how Carter and Josh, the two producers, organized it all. And then we'd shoot 15-hour days, and halfway through, I had walking pneumonia; I had two coats; it was 95 out; I was shaking. You know, just weird stuff like that. But it's all okay because we had such great people—our crew—everybody. And then, the visual effects were very taxing and complicated.

How did that all work together? Because there's more than one decapitated head.
Yeah, it's a mixture. First of all, we mixed prosthetics with makeup with masks for some of the zombie stuff, but all of those effects with the decapitations, we had to just imagine. So we had to choreograph everything and then only imagine kind of what it would be like, which was, for me, very abstract because I'm not very versed in visual effects. You know, you had to really kind of trust your instincts, because Adam Driver's chopping away with a machete with no blade.

It could've been a machete, it could've been a lightsaber, who knows? So, to what degree is this a sequel of Paterson with Adam Driver's character's last name being Peterson?
Well, I just do these things to amuse myself while writing, you know? Bill Murray in Broken Flowers was named Don Johnson, and in this, I gave him the name Cliff Robertson. Tilda Swinton's character is Zelda Winston. Rosie Perez is named Posie Juarez. You know, I'm just kind of amusing myself.

And Peterson, Paterson. While we were filming Paterson I was always teasing Adam that the next one, we would make was gonna be a sequel about a psychopathic murderous bus driver named Peterson. Tag line: "Get the fuck off my bus!" Or "Next Stop Hell!" You know, stuff like that. It's just to make them... I love trying to make Adam Driver laugh, because he has a very odd and wonderful sense of humor, but it's on the dry side, so I'm always joking around with him between work to try and see what makes him laugh.

But yeah, there's no sequel of any kind, and I don't think that way, and I don't plan, and I don't see my films from the past ever again. I just look toward the next thing.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features

What was the original concept for this? When did you start coalescing all of these different elements into knowing that you wanted it to be your next film?
Some years ago after Only Lovers Left Alive, Tilda kept teasing me, calling me, saying, "When do we do the zombies? When are we doing the zombies?" And in between I made Paterson and Gimme Danger, but then after those I started writing the zombie one, and my original conception was: I wanna make a film that's really funny and silly like Coffee and Cigarettes, where people talk about whatever nonsense I want them to, and I want to get actors I love, you know? So I thought, okay, if I make a zombie film, I can have a structure where different groups are cordoned off against the zombies, and the zombie attacks will be intermittent and not very long, so I'll have long lags where they're just stuck there, like in the house of The Night of the Living Dead, where they can talk about any kind of nonsense. So that was my first idea, and then when I started writing it, for some reason, I wanted to have a small town, Centerville, and I just followed my intuition, and it became this, I don't really know why beyond that.

What is it about small towns that make them the perfect setting for existential terror?
They're insular. They're kind of… everyone kind of knows each other. It's controllable by the characters. It's believable that everyone kind of know each other. I don't know. I'm not very good at analyzing that. And also, this is not a horror film because horror films use devices that are necessary to frighten people, like suspense, and then you get scared. We have no interest whatsoever in that. This is more of a metaphorical zombie film, but I would not call it a horror movie. It's a comedy with zombies with a kind of sad ending. Beyond that, I don't know what it is.

And horror nerds may not like it if they're expecting creepy, creepy, scary thing! They're not gonna get it. They're not gonna get that delivered to them.

What's interesting about it is seeing who fights back against this existential dread. Or, like, Chloë Sevigny's character, Mindy, doesn't fight, she is on her own separate trip, avoiding the end till she embraces it.
It's a character film. It's not even a plot film, really, although critics say that about all my films. But Chloë… it's a complicated thing, because when I first called Chloë, I told her... I wrote her a letter, and then she said, "Yeah, yeah I'd like to do this." And I said, obviously, this is not a feminist character. She's reactive. She's our sort of "Scream Queen." She screams like six times. But Chloë is the master of reaction, and I love watching her react.

She definitely feels like a stand-in for what a normal person would feel during these absurdist experiences, which is nice to have. It's not necessarily that you need a relatable character in a movie like this, but...
Yeah, but she's an empathetic human that's in a job with some authority, but in a small town where that means taking care of whatever, you know, as a police officer, pretty minimal [stuff]. There's not a lot of rampant crime or anything going on… or anything at all, really.

Credit : Frederick Elmes / Focus Features

A lot of people are going to be projecting tons of different meanings onto this film, like with all your films. To what level do you participate in that or pay attention to that? Or, once you're done making a film, is it just out there, and you just let people project onto it whatever they will?
I've always felt that anyone's interpretation of a film that I write and direct is probably more valid than my own. Because it's a funny thing, the beauty of films is going into a world—or a book or whatever—but going into a world that you don't know, and you are entering a world, and it takes you. And if you wrote it, and you were there filming it, and you're in the editing room every day for six months, the mix, and all that... I can never possibly see it. I like hearing what friends or people I know... I like Q and As after screenings because they have no agenda except their interest. I like that a lot, and I value that. I don't really like to read a lot of reviews unless they're really negative. I love the negative ones.

You do?
Yeah, because they must be very far from me in their perception of the world, and that is interesting to me. But I try not to read a lot...

I think you're probably the first person who I've ever spoken to who says they like to read the negative reviews.
I really like them. The worst one I ever got in my life, I laminated and used to carry in my wallet. It was a brief thing from a right-wing French [paper], maybe Le Figaro or something, of a film called Dead Man that we made, and they said—this is the English translation—"The French intelligence celebrates Jarmusch in the way death and blind parents would celebrate their retarded child. Jarmusch is 33 years old, the same age as Christ when he was crucified. We can only hope the same for his film career." I was like, Whoa! That is harsh! I'm keeping that one!

It gets personal.
But that was vicious. I was like, Did I sleep with this critic's girlfriend, or what? What happened? It was really... the knife was sharpened, you know.

That speaks to a very specific kind of agenda for sure.
A friend of mine Amos Poe, he's sort of a mentor of mine, a punk filmmaker, whatever, and when we were young when he made, in the late-'70s, one of his films—The Foreigner or Unmade Beds—the New York Times called it "the cinematic equivalent of kindergarten scribbling," and he put that on his posters and put "New York Times" and we were like punks, we were like, "Yes! Amos! That's great!"

I mean, it genuinely is a pretty great pull quote, and I think also a little bit oblivious to the charms of a kindergartener's scribbles and what the value is in that anyway.
Yeah, it was kind of accurate in a positive way, and they intended it as very negative.

In this film, there are so many actors who are veteran actors, but there are also a lot of younger actors. What do you like about the combination of that dynamic?
I just like the variety of sort of world perceptions—indicated in a very minor way when Bill Murray's character says, "I've known Hermit Bob since we were in junior high," and Adam's character says, "Oh, wow! That must've been like 50 years ago!" And Bill says, "Yeah. It was." But just the kind of difference of perception of age I find as I get older really interesting. And I'm very interested in young people, especially teenagers, because I think they form our sense of style, of music, of so many things, and yet they're kind of pushed around and treated badly and constantly told, "You don't know how the world really works! You're just a teenager!" But they gave us poetry. They gave us Mary Shelley and Rimbaud and chess masters, and all the great music comes a lot from teenagers. So I tried to keep a pulse, that's why the three teenagers, I would not let them turn into zombies. There are only four people [who don't get turned by zombies]: those three that are delinquents, and the Tom Waits character, who's already removed himself from the social order long before.

When the zombies become zombies, they all have one inciting thing that they're still pursuing in the real world. Do you have one thing that you think you would pursue if you were a zombie?
You know, it's hard because I'm a self-proclaimed dilettante. I'm interested in so many things, I don't know if I would be breaking into a bookstore, or if I would be in the alley outside of a movie theater, or if I would be trying to get into a guitar shop. I'm not sure. I have a lot of interests.

I mean there's a way in which it's a really tender portrayal of the human impulse to just seek out these things that they love.
It's not totally a critique; it's their vestigial memory of some things that they were drawn toward, whether it was power tools or oxycontin.

The Dead Don't Die is in theaters now.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features