23rd Feb2011

History Lesson: Jim Kerr and Simple Minds

by Todd

There was a time when Simple Minds were one of the biggest bands on the planet. When John Hughes used their song Don’t You (Forget About Me) in his film, The Breakfast Club, they were embraced by MTV and the mainstream. I remember their amazing live shows and considering them to be on the same level as their comrades U2. Their early albums were a fascinating study that took them from minimalism to kraut-rock tinged masterpieces. And at the height of their fame, they suddenly appeared to implode, disappearing from mainstream view. Did video kill the radio star? Lead singer Jim Kerr spent some time with Todd, discussing songwriting, the pitfalls of fame and the plan for the future.

TDOA: Simple Minds were one of those rare bands, who’s records are on the “favorite albums of all-time” list for many. When you were recording records like New Gold Dream or Sons and Fascination, were you aware that you were recording something really special/timeless or do all records feel that way while recording.

JK: Thanks for the compliments! Well, we knew that the sounded very special to us, not that we were entirely satisfied. But no doubt we were jumping up and down when tracks like The American, Trance As Mission, New Gold Dream, Someone Somewhere In Summertime etc were coming out the studio speakers. Until then we were barely promoted anywhere so it was natural for us not to be sure that people would get the chance to hear – nevermind actually buy in to what what we were doing.

TDOA: For those that don’t remember, Live-Aid was an event that was so epic that it’s hard to explain to the younger generation. Can you talk about the experience of playing it?

JKL In the history of rock and pop there will never be anything as big as Live Aid. Woodstock was small potatoes in comparison. We played for 15 mins but my heart was in my mouth for each and every one. It passed in a blur but history was made as rock became totally global.

TDOA: Obviously, your partnership with Charlie has been a key part of the equation with Simple Minds. In the beginning, how did the bulk of the songs get written? Did they generally start with Charlie’s guitar melodies, your vocal melodies or from other members?

TDOA: SM music evolved out of both Charlie and myself trying work out tunes and melodies on his brother’s acoustic guitar. After which I would write words and top line harmonies that we would then take to the first rehearsals and work out with the band. Once Mac Neil and Forbes joined up, they brought a lot of firepower to the songwriting and instead of having a couple who could write, we were all coming up with song ideas. Many of those ideas were only sparks, but they would be exciting enough to instigate “jams” and we were a great jamming band in rehearsals. Now, jamming gone wrong, can lead to much indulgent dross. That was never the case with our band and many of the key songs came from the whole band taking a flyer on an initial solitary miniscule idea.

TDOA: You worked with Steve Lillywight on Sparkle in the Rain, who seemed to appear on virtually everybody’s album in that period. Some other bands have expressed regret with his work, so I’d be interested to hear your opinion. Can you talk about the process of working with him and what he contributed as a producer?

JK: Steve had tremendous energy and areal straightforwardness about him that was contagious. He captured what who we were and what we were doing perfectly at that time. He also enhanced it by ways of his own imaginative talents. He worked quickly as hell with no room for introspection. He loved great rock bands and knew what was needed. Any doubts, listen to “Waterfront” – still sounds amazing!

TDOA: How did “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” come to be featured in The Breakfast Club?

JK: Director, John Hughes loved the sound of music from the UK back in those days. When he was writing screenplays, he would listen to Cure, Furs, OMD, Minds and more. The UK sound inspired him to want to include our kind of bands despite the fact that his films are quintessentially American. The contrast worked nevertheless and as Breakfast Club has become a film of its generation likewise DYFM is a song of its generation.

TDOA: In retrospect, any regrets in being a part of that soundtrack?

JK: Nah! Okay, the success was a little out of proportion especially as we were always natural slow burners and to many it seemed like we were some kind of “overnight MTV band!” for that reason we refused to include it on our subsequent album – it was a movie song after all. But come on, how can you gripe about being No1 on The Billboard charts back when it really was something to be on Billboard!

TDOA: Simple Minds’ popularity coincided with the emergence of MTV. Did you enjoy making videos or was it something that was essentially forced upon you?

JK: A total pain in the ass always!

TDOA: When I interviewed Dave Wakeling from The English Beat, he told horror stories of the things bands had to do to get on the radio. Did you find it to be a sordid, even corrupt business?

JK: Sordid? Corrupt? Sounds like ancient Rome. But no not at all, A&M had a great promo department, they spent the dollars in whatever way necessary, we were not involved in anything that we did not want to do.

TDOA: So many bands have clearly been influenced by your style. As we get older, some people feel like the music of their generation was better than the new bands. Do you share that sentiment or do you still hear music that moves you?

JK: I hear less originality; everything seems a nod too much in the direction of something else.
You hear good stuff. But the gap between good and great is colossal. You also have to remember that some things appear great when in fact they are mostly reminding you of something that was genuinely great but occurred a long time ago. Need to say that our influences still hang heavy on us. Bowie, Roxy, Doors, Eno, VU etc, just that I hope we came up with something that was still of our own.

TDIAL On your website, you recently referenced having 40 some ideas for new songs and you’ve recorded several. When will we hear them and how do you plan to release them?

JK: All that will unfold at the right time and things are underway to make sure that it does. Most important is to keep creating, do that and things will keep moving. The danger with being long in the tooth is that it becomes easy to calcify. Better keep the engine ticking over – keep playing, recording, producing!

TDOA: We’re excited to hear about the greatest hits tour that you’ve scheduled for 2011. Will you play in America or have you given up on us?

JK: We don’t give up on anything. It is not for us to decide if we will come. Promoters need to make offers that make sense, that make it worthwhile in every sense. American promoters that is. It would be a lie to suggest that we are inundated with offers to tour America at the moment. I mean, there are offers but they don’t make sense…yet! But it will and probably when we are all least expecting it!

3 Responses to “History Lesson: Jim Kerr and Simple Minds”

  • bunnee

    their songs were so anthem-like, why the overbearing stage gestures? doesn’t match the impact of their music, jim, yer not a vegas act

  • David Hampton.

    To me Simple Minds emphasized an era that was supposedly dominated by U2. There shouldn’t be comparisons. The Minds were ( and still are), an exceptional band in entirely their own right. No mention of world rock influences during the 80′s & 90′s can ignore nor fail to acknowledge their contribution. Streetfighting Years remains one of the great albums of its time and stands the test of time to this day. I am grateful for my Simple Minds collection.

  • admin

    Thanks for the comment, David. I agree that Simple Minds were magnificent. They were absolutely compared to each other, during the “Don’t You” days. In retrospect it was probably the record label, as much as the media that were at fault for creating this. In the end, it probably did a disservice to Simple Minds, as Jim was never comfortable with the level of scrutiny that went along with that level of fame.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Get Adobe Flash player