January 15, 2018 Interview – Jim Kerr of Simple Minds
Dreams are merely thoughts and images projected in the mind of a sleeper, but what happens when they break free of illusion to become reality? Often the goal of many who dare explore their own creative aspirations, a little band out of Glasgow, Scotland named Simple Minds have been living out their musical fantasities for forty years now. Driven by passion, Simple Minds rose to fame during the 1980s with a sound uniquely their own.
Very much an important part of the New Wave movement, their style unifying Pop, Rock, Blues, Soul, and Synthpop launched them to platinum selling albums. Forever etched in the history books with hits such as 1985’s “Alive and Kicking,” and the decade defining “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” there is so much more to Simple Minds than meets the eye to the casual listener. Recently we caught up with founding lead singer Jim Kerr to talk the years gone by with the band, their latest album –Walk Between Worlds, baring their soul in live performance, and so much more.
CrypticRock.com – Simple Minds has been together four decades now, and, in that time, have attained a mass of international success while continuing to grow as a band album to album. First, tell us, what has the journey been like for you and the band?
Jim Kerr – First of all, we feel blessed that we are given the opportunity. We grew up in Glasgow, Scotland and we didn’t know anyone who was in a band, nevermind anyone who had written a song or had a record deal. The idea that we could somehow imagine how our lives would unfold was beyond the pale. Forty years now, looking back, I say blessed because generally that is how we feel. If you said to us forty years ago what is it you want? We had no idea about success or what it meant, we had no idea of riches or fame or any of that. I am confident we would have said to you, ‘We want to write our songs, record them, take them around the world, and in doing so, become a great live band.’ Here we are forty years still getting the chance to rise to that challenge. That is what our lives essentially have been about.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly has been a great and lengthy run of success for the band. One of the most distinctive aspects of Simple Minds is the band’s diverse sound. From the early days in the 1980s, you displayed a great ability to shift from Synthpop to heavier Rock, to even some Gospel leanings. How important was it for the band to be able to expand their sound like you did?
Jim Kerr – Well it is nice that you notice that. I agree with you and, in agreeing with you, I have to give credit to the musicians, the guys in the band, and the various lineups of guys we have played with. We had a vision, but it was a very broad vision. It was based on the music we loved, and the music we loved was from all types you already mentioned. Inevitably, at some point, these different things were going to start to come out.
The trick was somehow to hit on that diversity, but don’t lose the identity. Some people can play the Blues, some people can play heavy, Electro, or Dance. To do it and maintain, so when you put it on, despite the change in emphasis in style, you still felt the spirit of Simple Minds, that was really the task. Throughout all the records, that is what I really marvel at. Despite all the chops and changes, different tones, it is still all Simple Minds. I guess that is just the DNA, just as the DNA of an individual, it is unique. It is great to have had a chance to work on such a wide palette.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, and it definitely shows in the band’s discography. In recent years, Simple Minds continues to put out some great music, including 2014’s Big Music, 2016’s beautiful Acoustic in Concert album, and now Walk Between Worlds, due out February 2nd, 2018. What was the writing and recording process for the latest work?
Jim Kerr – Again, great that you mentioned those records. Some records you put out you are happier with the results than others. Over the last few years, the records have been shaping up real good. The reaction has been really good from the critics and fans. We toured and we are on a high from that. We wanted to get going, we almost kept going from promoting Big Music and let’s just get it started. Sometimes albums take on their own nature and own plans. We kind of just really started off from where we left off with Big Music. First of all, we hoped the record would have a vitality. As you mentioned, we are forty years in, cool, but you don’t want to sound like you are forty years in. (Laughs)
You want it to be energetic, you want it to sound like you still love doing this. You want it to sound like you are still having a ball to do music, and that you still have it all to prove with every album that you do. We are hoping that record would excurse all of that, but as great songs with a classic Simple Minds sound and somehow with a contemporary sheen. They had to evoke some of the good times of the band from the past, but they had to be very much in the moment. These are all great plans when you write them down. (Laughs) Actually doing them is something else, it can slip through your fingers, but we not unhappy with the results.
CrypticRock.com – This album has a mix of styles as well, and while retaining a classic Simple Minds sound has a very modern flair as well. Thematically, it seems to flow very well. Was it the band’s objective to make a cohesive album start to finish?
Jim Kerr – Yes, ideally it has to feel like a narrative. You don’t even have to know the narrative, but it has to feel like a narrative. You want to feel that this is a statement and the songs are connected. You want to feel there is a story going on here, there are themes that are interrelated.
We would hope a record would feel that. Why? Because the records we were brought up on sounded like that I suppose. Of course the records we were brought up with usually only had eight or nine tracks. There was a great focus to them. The thing with a CD when it came about, you could put a lot more music on them. When you get to eleven to thirteen songs, the focus goes. We decided to try and really knuckle down to try and make our thing more focused I guess.
CrypticRock.com – It works well as a very pleasant listening experience. With Walk Between World set for release February 2nd, you are touring Europe through 2018. You will actually be playing the new album in its entirety at select shows. What led to that decision?
Jim Kerr – It is quite good because it is very much a hardcore thing. There are all levels of fans, some fans like the hits, some fans like a certain album. When you come with a new album there is an idea. When you are a classic band, a lot of people want to hear the songs they grew up with, so you may play a few of your new songs, but not all of them because they can’t handle it. Sometimes you have to just say, this is a great body of work, we are going to play it, come along. People are coming along. Especially around the time the record is coming out, it gives a chance to make a bit of noise about this eight or nine songs. Because obviously they will go by, we will film some it, and really it is for the promotion of the record of course.
CrypticRock.com – People will enjoy hearing it. It is exciting because some of these songs, you may not play live again. It is very special.
Jim Kerr – That is true. Actually, I don’t think we have pushed enough what a unique thing it is. I guess it is! We have so many songs, and we are going to tour further, the chance you are going to play a whole record is very simple, sure. I can say that working on them and rehearsing, they are working out great. I can’t wait to play them live! It is funny, with new songs there is a bit of dichotomy about the past.
As much as you look forward to playing new songs, that is evident you are moving on, it is a new chapter to your story, new songs are a bitch to play. (Laughs) Usually it takes, let’s face it, a few weeks of touring, but you really get them. I compare them to your first week back at school from summer, you get your new blazer, your new bag, your new shows and everything feels a bit stiff. It never feels that relaxed until you done it a few weeks. We don’t have a few weeks this time, we have to hit the ground running. That is a nice challenge.
CrypticRock.com – That is a great analogy right there. You have to break the songs in live to feel comfortable with them in a live setting.
Jim Kerr – Yes, you can play them in the rehearsal. Performing them is a different thing, performing them means you have to play them without thinking about them. That takes time.
CrypticRock.com – There is no question. It has been a while since you have been to North America. The last time you visited was around 2013. Will you be back soon?
Jim Kerr – It has been way too long and of course no one is more frustrated about it than me. Also, no one is more excited about the possibility about changing that than me. Essentially, of course we want to play, but for it to make sense I think it would be better to package it up with another band of similar statuary. That came close a couple of times, but for whatever reason, didn’t come through. I would say it is imminent and I am really looking forward to it when it happens!
CrypticRock.com – That will be very exciting. Fans in North America are hungry to see the band live again! As you mentioned, Simple Minds are a very strong live band. What do you feel it takes to develop into a live band; the chemistry involved?
Jim Kerr – It is funny, of course, after all the experience; we have literally done thousands of gigs now, and you learn so much along the way. I will say to the band every night, ‘Listen, this is easy, we just have to do one thing.’ They will say, ‘What’s that?’ We laugh and I say, ‘We have to be brilliant every night!’ If we go to New York, Chicago, Detroit, Vancouver, or Toronto, we are not there every week of the year. People might see us once, it might be the only time in their life! When we go on stage, we not only want to live up to their expectations, and hopefully surpass it, but even for us, there is another kind of pride. It is not just us saying, ‘Listen to the new record’ or ‘remember this?’ If anything, we are saying, ‘This is what we have done with our lives, the next two hours is the essence of what we have done with our lives.’ If that is what is at stake, even a social medium gig is not acceptable.
CrypticRock.com – That is a really passionate outlook to have, and there is no doubt it bleeds through in the live performance. As mentioned, in 2016 you recorded a wonderful acoustic album/live concert. In this set, you provided a unique take on the popular hit “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” What are your feelings about the song?
Jim Kerr – The song has pretty much been there the whole way. It will always be an outsider song in a sense, we didn’t write it. We pour our hearts and soul into it, that is for sure. The success belonged to the movie, we don’t have a problem with that. In fact, if we do have a problem with that, it is the fact that we feel guilty that we got so much success with this thing that had so many other factors involved apart from us. But, come on, that song has been a bit iconic, especially in The States because of the tie in with the movie. It means so much to so many people. Whenever we go to play it we drop any negativity. We are into it a hundred percent. It was a good one to try and transpose it into an acoustic format, it worked really well.
CrypticRock.com – It did work beautifully! That acoustic set saw the band rework some songs in a unique way. What was it like to refresh these songs which have been around a while now?
Jim Kerr – It was great. We had to find our way of doing it. We didn’t want to do the sort of bongos on the beach thing with two guys sitting on stools and that is all. (Laughs) That would have worked for a couple of songs, but we still wanted to do this acoustic thing where we stripped things back, but we still wanted it to be energetic. We still wanted it to be dramatic and atmospheric. That was quite a challenge. Going back to stuff that you did as, really a young man, more times than I would have thought, Charlie and I looked at each other and went, these songs are better than we knew. Listen, we always thought they were good songs, but we thought it was to do with the production and all that stuff. I don’t think we were quite as well informed about the raw material of which we created. That was nice to feel that and to go, “Glittering Prize,” this is a great song. We were amazed at the craft in it. We didn’t know we had that craft when we were young, we were still feeling our way. It turns out we had more craft than we thought.
CrypticRock.com – It is fascinating when you look back on things in hindsight like that. Last question for you. On CrypticRock.com, we also cover movies, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have any favorites?
Jim Kerr – The original Blade Runner (1982). When it first came out it was a cult hit, it wasn’t a mainstream it. They would quite often show it at midnight in London. We would go down after spending all day in the recording studio and go look at the first Blade Runner. Looking at that first Blade Runner in terms of Sci-Fi, and marveling at that soundtrack as well, that is the movie that instantly springs to mind.
CrypticRock.com – The original is fantastic. Did you see the latest film, Blade Runner 2049, yet?
Jim Kerr – I haven’t seen it yet. I missed out seeing it in the big cinema. My son was talking about it recently. Everyone liked it, but it seemed there was some hesitation that it was overly long or it somehow didn’t quite deliver was the impression I got. I haven’t seen it myself yet though.