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Interview: JIM KERR (Simple Minds)

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Photo Credit: DEAN CHALKLEY

Walk Between Worlds is the new album from Scottish band Simple Minds. It is the band’s eighteenth studio album and their first since the release of Big Music in 2014. With their previous album being well received by critics and fans alike, far from wanting to kick back and put their feet up, vocalist Jim Kerr tells me in our recent interview that the band wanted to run with that momentum on the new record. “We were as amazed as anyone else with the final result and so it really grew out of that impetus and an old head of steam that Simple Minds had been working on for the last six or seven years. There was a period where we were not doing so much but that all changed about six or seven years ago, and we’ve been touring and releasing music pretty much constantly since and that head of steam also played into it, as well as the confidence and experience that we have of working and writing as we always have done. The writing is the product of the partnership I have with Charlie Burchill, my song writing partner and guitar player. He comes up with the musical goods and it’s up to me, lyrically and vocally, to try and pick out what the music wants to say and what the atmosphere is; what the emotion is.”

Walk Between Worlds was produced by Simple Minds with Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg, both of whom worked on the previous album, Big Music. Somewhat like a classic vinyl record, it is an album of two distinctly different sides; Side 1 being a more guitar driven, young new-wave sound while Side 2 has a more dramatic sound, with the title track and ‘Barrowland Star’ both featuring orchestrations. “The orchestrations were recorded at Abbey Road and I think some of those songs, as you can imagine, benefited immensely as a result of that. It was an interesting experience. Well, for anyone it would an interesting experience going to Abbey Road, knowing what Abbey Road is and knowing where it stands as an historic pantheon recording studio; the name of the studio says it all. But for us it was actually quite more interesting because on our first album recorded in 1979, the producer at the time, John Leckie, had cut his teeth as an engineer at Abbey Road and had worked on Beatles stuff and Pink Floyd stuff. For the young Simple Minds who had never made an album before, he thought it would be a great experience for us to get some time at Abbey Road so in 1979, we spent a week at Abbey Road and to give you the context of that, not only had I almost never been in a recording studio in my life but I’d barely been to London and so it was a huge thing but I have to say, whereas half the band really responded to it and got excited about it and inspired by it, the other half of the band kind of shrunk in their shells and I was one of the latter half. I really didn’t enjoy it. I felt like I was at the University of Rock ‘n’ Roll and every day I thought ‘what am I doing here?’ It was only a week, but it felt like going for an exam. I couldn’t relax. Fast forward forty years and, having been around the block a few times, it was lovely to go in there and just enjoy the historic surroundings and enjoy those amazing musicians that have gathered together to play the orchestration on those tracks.”

Talking some more about the song writing process for this album, the singer explains, “These days mostly all of the songs have developed over some time. You get one or two that turn up just very much in the moment and you go with them. For us, if we’re not touring, like anyone else we work Monday to Friday just on ideas and some of them become fully formed; some of them just work straight through; some of them almost arrive fully formed and then you get the other ones, the other half that are murder and just slip through your fingers and there’s something missing. They trick you into thinking they’re finished and then you go back and there’s something missing and often there’s something that was on the back burner or whatever and so we always have a whole stock of things we review when it comes to making a new album.  ‘Barrowland Star’ first appeared, believe it or not, something like eighteen years ago. I mean, we haven’t been working on it for eighteen years, but it arrived and then got lost, then came up maybe five years later and we had another crack at it… and it got lost again.”

Jim admits that he likes to read about how other artists work. “Not just music but any art form and that’s the way most people work, apart from young artists because they’re not old enough to have that under their belt yet. I think quite often big successes are ideas that have been wrestled to the ground over years. I think that’s the thing. You think they’re good ideas but they’re just ideas and sometimes you wonder how much good is in it. We can we expand on it and all that stuff and sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes songs and ideas find their own time. Sometimes you have something that’s good but there’s something about it… like ‘Magic’; we had that idea for a long time and I kept putting the brakes on it. Magic. What can you say about magic? It’s been done a million times. There’s no mileage in superficial magic. What does it mean?  So, it never went anywhere fast and then I guess the last time through, I started thinking of ourselves as young kids starting this band and we really did believe it was magic. You know, you do this stuff and you play it and you have no idea what it is and after all these years, there’s still a huge mysteriousness about music and how it works. Therefore, I found my way of talking about the magic involved.”

The band has recently done some shows in the U.K. where tracks from the new album have had a small test run. “We did more than a handful but not too many as a kind of a showcase for the new album and got a great reaction. People were super complimentary,” he says. “I actually didn’t think we were that great, I have to say because of the fact we were playing the songs for the first time. I always think you have to play a song twenty or thirty times before it really embeds itself. But people seemed to love it. What was apparent was that, even though we were playing them for the first few times, it was quite easy to see that some of these songs could easily become Simple Minds classics within their own time.”

And will we get to see Simple Minds perform the new material here in Australia any time soon?

While there is no tour confirmed for the immediate future, Jim speaks warmly of the band’s connection here and says that they would love to return. “As I see it, apart from having a great time there, Simple Minds always feel we owe Australia our best every time we go because Australia was one of the first places and I remember being in Melbourne in 1981, staying in St Kilda and playing the bars and clubs in Melbourne and apart from the reaction we were getting there, we were learning the ropes. We were learning to be ourselves. We’ve got fond memories and there are a lot of friendships that we forged back then that are still with us now.”

 

by Sharyn Hamey

 

Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2018.  All rights reserved

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