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SIMPLE MINDS (JIM KERR) INTERVIEW [2005]

I THINK THERE'S A MASSIVE PERCEPTION THAT SIMPLE MINDS ARE THIS HUGE STADIUM ROCK BAND, BUT ACTUALLY FOR ME THEY AREN'T THAT AT ALL... PERSONALLY, 'MY' SIMPLE MINDS IS AN EXPERIMENTAL AND FAIRLY ELECTRONIC BAND, SO IS IT FRUSTRATING FOR YOU TO BE PIGEONHOLED AS THIS STADIUM ROCK MONSTER WHEN PEOPLE SIMPLY IGNORE OR ARE UNAWARE OF THE JOURNEY IT'S TAKEN YOU TO GET HERE?

I have to say that it is both frustrating, but also kind of understandable in as much as you rightly say, before we achieved big success we were one of the biggest cult bands around - we had four or five albums out before we achieved any sort of commercial success and they were pretty eclectic even if I say so myself - they ranged from the Avant-Guard and they were pretty cutting edge stuff and I think the album titles say it all... 'Reel To Reel Cacophony', 'Empires & Dance', 'Sons & Fascination'... I mean hardly mainstream, and certainly not 'Don't You Forget About Me'!

I think there was a gradual evolution, or whatever you want to call it of that path - I think that in the middle of the eighties Simple Minds both took part in some of the biggest iconic events - Live Aid and the Nelson Mandela concert - and we did a couple of tunes that became big iconic worldwide tunes, and those images, those worldwide images - apart from the cult following - would have been the only time people had seen Simple Minds; playing to thousands of people and me with my arms outstretched!

That's why I think there's such a very distinct impression of that, and yet for those 'in the know' I can understand how they could scratch their heads and go 'but wait a minute... it didn't begin there'...

IT'S ALMOST LIKE DIFFERENT BANDS, YOU'VE GONE THROUGH DIFFERENT STYLES SO COMPLETELY...

That's true, and when people ask me about the music of Simple Minds I do have to say 'But which Simple Minds are you talking about?' because I think it's fair to say of the descriptions of the work of Simple Minds - where we began as this kind of art-rock thing, then we certainly had a very electronic dance thing, we had a period of being in with bands like Echo & the Bunnymen, New Order, Joy Division...

We had a period doing the pop side of Simple Minds with 'New Gold Dream' and 'Promised You A Miracle', and then coming up to the sort of stadium side in America with 'Don't You Forget About Me' and 'Once Upon A Time' and then there was the, I don't know if it would be political or social songs; 'Mandela', 'Belfast Child' and so on and then there's the nineties obscure, what the hell... (laughs)

WHICH IS QUITE A JOURNEY I THINK... AM I RIGHT IN THINKING YOU ARE PROUD OF WHAT YOU HAVE ACHIEVED?

Well... I don't think 'pride' is a word we use a lot - I think there will be a day when we will sit around and that is exactly how we will feel, but yeah... we really like our band! We love our band and that includes the u-turns and including the mistakes and including the fuck-ups. I was saying to someone yesterday that in a sense to make the good albums you have to make the bad, to write the good songs you've almost got to write the bad ones - it's all part of the process so we've loved our journey, in fact we are still loving our journey... 99% of the ride, and above that we feel fortunate that we have had, and still have the opportunity to do what we do...

OBVIOUSLY WE'RE HERE TO TALK ABOUT THE NEW ALBUM AND I WILL COME TO THAT IN A MOMENT, BUT FIRST I WOULD LIKE TO JUST TOUCH ON ALL THE SIMPLE MINDS ACTIVITY OVER THE LAST YEAR OR SO; THE 'EARLY GOLD' ALBUM, THE 'SILVER BOX' SET, THE DVDs AND SO ON. YOU SEEM TO HAVE BEEN QUITE INVOLVED IN ALL OF THAT BUT WAS IT A GOOD PROCESS FOR YOU...

It was... once you get into it - we're not ones naturally to look back because we usually have a new idea up our sleeves, and it's the new idea that keeps us occupied, and thankfully we don't sit with the weight of our past when we're working - we don't get tied down by it in that sense, although in other areas it's hard not to acknowledge... but whenever you do those things you're always forced to look back and you do want to... I mean they are essentially more a record company marketing exercises than creative exercises but they are your past and therefore you want them to be dressed up and sound as good as they can be, so there is a pleasure when that turns out well.

DO YOU THINK THAT PROCESS OF LOOKING BACK AFFECTS WHAT YOU DO TODAY? DO YOU EVER THINK, WOW WE WERE REALLY ONTO SOMETHING HERE THAT WE DIDN'T QUITE BRING OUT, BUT WE CAN GO BACK TO THAT AND BRING IT BACK TO THE TABLE?

Well... the first part of that I'd say yes it does, the unfortunate thing is that it's easy to say let's go back but it's very hard to actually do without being a parody or without coming across as some sort of obvious eighties rehash... it is hard to avoid that.

Someone said - Brian Eno probably because he's the only one who would say something like this - that if we had a dinner party this evening and we had a certain group of people in a certain venue and we had certain food and drink, a certain wine and then we have the exact same people in the exact same place and the exact same everything a year from now the vibe would be different... because so much depends on what you've been through on that day or in that time and such - it might just be a subtle change or people might have had drastic changes in their lives, and it's similar with music; you can use an old guitar that you used on a record ages ago, or you can use a voice effect or whatever, but it somehow doesn't help to go back to the past really...

What we were wanting to do with the new album was to conjure up some of our previous sounds, some of those classic trademarks, but somehow for it to feel as though it has an energy from now...

WELL YOU'VE COMPLETELY ANTICIPATED WHAT I WAS GOING TO SAY NEXT, WHICH IS THAT - IN MY OPINION - THE ALBUM IS EXACTLY THAT... IT'S DISTINCTIVELY SIMPLE MINDS BUT IT'S ALSO UP TO DATE AND CONTEMPORARY, IT HAS THAT SOUND...

Well I'm really glad you say that because that's exactly what we wanted to do. You very rarely get the album you want - you go in with these things and then something else comes out and sometimes you're happy and sometimes not, but we are so happy that the effect that we wanted to conjure up is indeed impacting on people like yourself who are already listening to it...

We had one or two false starts where it wasn't working, but once we got to songs like 'Stay Visible', the opening track, and songs like 'Stranger' and stuff the hair on the back of the neck was starting to stand and we knew that this is what we used to do...

WHEN DO YOU FEEL YOU LAST ACHIEVED THAT ON AN ALBUM...

A long, long time ago... the nineties was really hard for us, and apart from anything else it was really hard creatively, because in a sense with the exception of Charlie and I, the band began to crumble toward the end of the eighties and the early nineties and we definitely missed the others and we had periods of self-doubt...

I think that when I listen to the albums from the past ten years there are a lot of things about them that impress me but I can hear how we were and that's mired in self-doubt or perhaps where we had great ideas but couldn't finish them off, or perhaps just didn't know where we were in the greater scheme of things, or even perhaps the thing we were talking about earlier, that perhaps we were drowning with the weight of the past on our backs.

It's been a long time I think since it has actually 'worked', but you know what? This is it... it happened the way we wanted it to happen and although obviously in terms of finding a market for it that's another challenge, but in terms of the raw thing - the actual piece of work, I think... job done!

YOU TOUCHED ON FINDING A MARKET THERE... HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR THIS ALBUM TO BE COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL?

It would be great... I mean it would be great for all the obvious reasons, but it's not really going to change our lives - I mean when I was twenty-four to have a big success was going to completely change my life but it's not really going to change my life now... it changes the tax return! It's not going to change my life in that it's... how can I say this! I kind of have everything! There's not really anyone who has got anything that I want... I'm trying to say this without sounding smug... the best way of saying this is that on a Saturday night in six months’ time after the album is out if it's sold five thousand copies then I know I'm going to be eating spaghetti with chillies, and if it sells five million copies then I'm going to be eating spaghetti with chillies!

Would I love it to happen? Would I love it to be on the radio? Would I love the taxi drivers who ferry me around every day to say 'I love that song you do'? Well, that would be great and then the cycle would be complete...

WITH THE NEW RECORD YOU'RE ACTUALLY ON A NEW LABEL AS WELL, SO I IMAGINE THAT IN ITSELF BRINGS A WHOLE NEW APPROACH FROM A BUSINESS SENSE?

Well, we are really completely self-financed and we own our own operations and then we kind of try to find a partner to deal with their things. Looking at this label, and not that I think we're the same story, when you see the job they did with Morrissey for example... they managed to take a - let's call it a 'classic' artist - and they managed to present it with a new life...

I ALSO THINK THAT IN COMPLETE PARALLEL WITH WHAT YOU ARE DOING; MORRISSEY ALSO PRODUCED HIS BEST WORK FOR QUITE A LONG TIME ON THAT ALBUM...

I think it is sometimes a cyclical thing... when I look at the artists I love, and the artists I grew up with - people like Lou Reed and Neil Young and David Bowie... it's not careers that they have, it's lives; they have periods when they get lost, periods when they produce weak work and then, just when you're thinking that maybe that's the last thing worth hearing they come up with another landmark. It does seem cyclical, or it can seem cyclical...

GIVEN WHAT YOU WERE SAYING ABOUT HOW YOU HAVE ALL THE THINGS YOU NEED, AND THAT YOU'RE COMFORTABLE WITH WHERE YOU ARE... DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU STILL HAVE SOMETHING TO PROVE?

I think you have something to prove every time you sit down to write a song, because although everything has changed within our lives and everything has changed within the world of music, with technology and the relevance of music and your own perspective and so on... the one thing that has not changed, when you sit down to write a song - which in a sense you're carrying within you - but don't quite know how to get it across... the a need to prove that we can still do it to ourselves still exists.

Every time we go on stage we have to prove that we're not just some sad old thing playing songs just to pay the electricity bill... we need to do things that make people say 'god, that was ten times better that what I thought it was going to be'. So yes, there's a tonne to prove!

I SUPPOSE THAT GIVEN THAT, IN MAY WAYS IF YOU'RE SETTING YOURSELVES THOSE KINDS OF GOALS THEN ACTUALLY EVERYTHING IS GETTING MORE DIFFICULT EVERY TIME YOU DO IT?

Well, it's more difficult if you're not on form, and you're not always on form you know? There's things that go on and life is just not like that, but if you're on form then things just seem to click into place...

I live in Sicily now and people ask me how that influences me... it doesn't influence the music directly, but it does influence the music in the sense that if you get up in the morning and you feel great you want to do something - your sense are alive, you're not dulled or anything, so where things aren't too difficult then I do think the semantics change...

NOW THAT YOU'RE AT THIS POINT - TALKING ABOUT THE RECORD, SETTING UP TOURING, THE WHOLE BUSINESS MACHINE COMING TO LIFE... HOW DO YOU FEEL?

Yesterday I started doing interviews at nine in the morning and went through to six o'clock in the evening and then to get to where I am today I had to travel for five hours... well, (sarcastically) poor me, and I called the producer on the phone and he said 'man, how do you do it - I feel so guilty sitting here by the pool', but this is my gig - his is to work on some tedious 'big sound' for twelve hours while I'm on the beach... everyone has their gig and this is mine.

You kind of just put the helmet on and you go to work and you've already done all this work on the record and if you want people to know you've it exists then you've got to be pragmatic!

SO WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU? I UNDERSTAND THERE'S GOING TO BE SOME SHOWCASE SHOWS AND THEN A TOUR...

That's right - we think that there's certainly more than one - maybe two or three - strong radio songs on the record and we want to be available for the next few months to promote them, because when you disappear to tour you're really not available anymore, so the next few months are really about promotion but yes, there will probably be some media gigs and then next year will be all about touring...

IS TOURING STILL THE THRILL IT ONCE WAS?

Indeed it is in terms of... again, I think what it is, is that it's managed a lot better, that thrill...

I mean when I was younger I would probably think about the gig for the whole day leading up to the gig and then by the time the gig came I would be exhausted! Now it's almost the opposite and I don't feel anything until about ten minutes before we go on and then I can almost switch on and instantly feel the adrenalin, what's expected of me and the importance of the gig, and I say importance because as I said earlier, if Simple Minds have a reputation as a live band it's because we have always appreciated that every gig is crucial - we don't just say 'oh it's alright, it's only Cambridge'... for the people there that night they don't care if you were in Amsterdam last week and New York tomorrow, tonight's the night, they've bought the ticket and they've been looking forward to it for weeks, they've met their friends and had a few drinks and then if you go on and your approach is anything less than 100% they'll see their friends the next week at a dinner party or something, people will ask how we were and they'll just say 'oh they were OK'... and we want them to go ' they were fantastic, I can't believe you missed it, you have to go next time!'...

ON THE WHOLE TOURING THING... GIVEN THE CATALOGUE YOU HAVE BEHIND YOU, HOW ON EARTH DO YOU DECIDE WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO PLAY?

Certainly the last few times we've played what we do is we've got about eight or ten songs that are the icons and we play them every night... it might sound strong to say we're obliged to play them but you've kind of got to play your greatest hits album which is maybe ten songs which are always there and then for the other ten or fifteen songs you pull things from the catalogue and the new album, but we chop and change those around which not only keeps it fresh for us but a lot of our audience comes to see us more than once and that way you really get to work your body of work...

JULY 2005

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