The Unforgettable Journey of Simple Minds
Vocalist Jim Kerr on the band's new album, tour and his telepathic bond with his bandmate
The journey of Simple Minds started in the gritty punk clubs of Glasgow in 1977, travelled to small theaters and halls and on to massive stadium-rock appeal. Along the way, they became the most commercially successful Scottish band of the '80s. Forty years later, they're bringing their Walk Between Worlds tour to Atlanta for a show at the Tabernacle.
Lightyears away from their debut as part of a cheeky punk outfit called Johnny and the Self-Abusers, Simple Minds founders Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill are celebrating a lifetime of creating challenging yet accessible music - including the internationally known Breakfast Club soundtrack hit, "Don't You (Forget About Me)."
Released earlier this year, Walk Between Worlds takes the band's self-described art rock and updates it for modern listeners. The collection melds the best of the band's MTV-friendly '80s sound with its lesser-known progressive ponderings of the '90s. The result is an immensely entertaining set of lushly-layered anthemic pop.
INsite recently spoke with founder Jim Kerr by phone from the BMG Records office in New York City.
Are you excited to be back on the road to the States?
Hand to heart, this is what we've always wanted to do - to have a great live band and take it around the world. Unfortunately, it's been a while since we've been able to do the work in North America that we really wanted to do. At one point, I wasn't sure if we'd ever get the chance to get to America again. But now it's time for us to prove our worth.
Not only is this a long tour, it's also a long evening of music.
We felt that since we haven't been to the States recently, we thought we'd give a little bit more. We won't drive people crazy like a Springsteen thing that goes on all night but through the evening, we hope to give a real sense of our journey because there are levels of Simple Minds fans. The ones that go way, way back, then the MTV kids and the people that like what's going on at the moment. We like to throw in a few surprises, too, so if we can do all of that, it ticks a lot of boxes.
There's a lot of material to pick from, including the new stuff.
We really wanted to do something that would conjure up some of the ghosts of the past, by keeping to that classic Simple Minds sound. It has to have an energy that's vital, to show that we're really committed and that this is not just another album and tour. Judging by the audience reaction, we've gotten close to our heart's desires, so we have to be happy about that. We've been out about four months now, playing Europe and elsewhere and we've been including three or four new songs a night. They've gotta hold their own amongst the set of established songs and erstwhile classics. You can't just play them because they're new. But people seem to like what they're hearing.
That says a lot about the material because some of the crowd are probably hearing the new songs for the first time.
You know, back in the day that's the way it was. Before we had a reputation, you had to turn up and impress people. They were hearing it for the first time and liking it. So it brings a good challenge.
You did a solo record a few years ago. Now that you have the luxury of a solo vehicle, how do know which song to save for yourself and which to bring to the band?
Well, that actually came about because my partner Charlie became a father much later than I did. I was jonesing to work and he understandably wanted time with his family. But that's a tough one because as long it's my voice is there, people will associate it with both.
Every Simple Minds album, including the new one, contains a wide variety of styles, yet it still retains a readily identifiable band sound.
It's great that you pick up on that point, because a lot of people don't. I take pride in the band and we all have so many influences and styles, yet intrinsically that hodge-podge somehow comes together as Simple Minds.
How do you classify the Simple Minds sound?
I still think of us as an art rock band, to be honest. We can find the mainstream, but when I look at the lyrics and I hear what we're doing - I think that in the way Bowie was art rock, or Talking Heads were art rock, for lack of better terminology, that applies to us as well.
Everytime I hear Simple Minds, especially from the first few albums, I think of you more as a progressive rock band than anything else.
There ya go! Again, you're on the money. A lot of those songs came from just having an idea, setting up the equipment and the guys would just jam it out. The first gig I ever saw was Genesis and Charlie saw Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. King Crimson was a big favorite, so we definitely like that stuff.
You mentioned the word journey when we were discussing your career. This has been an incredible journey. It's definitely a long way from the Johnny and the Self-Abusers days.
(Laughs) I like to think it's all been downhill since then! But I was thinking the other day about the hutzpah we had to put out that Self-Abusers single and then break up on the day it was released. That was pretty punky.
That's the very definition of punk.
You can't get much more nihilistic than that, can ya? It seemed like satire or a joke, but it was really a catalyst to keep going. You know, how many people start a screenplay or a book or plan to do something - but then life takes over and they never finish it? In our case, Johnny and Self-Abusers made us get up and play. We weren't any good, but the joy of playing - and the reactions we got - made us think, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could do this for real?'
Then came Simple Minds.
You know, February that just passed, we celebrated 40 years from our first Simple Minds gig.
And the one constant all along has been Charlie.
I remember crystal-clear being eight years old and my family moved. My parents were unloading bits of furniture from the truck. My dad said, 'Get out th' way and go play.' I went out in the street and there were a group of boys. One of them was Charlie and that's been the story of our lives ever since.
That's a deeper bond than family.
It is! You don't often work or create with family, so in a sense Charlie has been more than a brother. We've been through it all and invented this thing. I arrived in New York two days ago. When I got here, I took a walk 'round the park and my phone pinged. I look down and it's Charlie. He said, 'Check this out!' He'd been working on something new and was excited about it. Often when we work apart, we'll both have the same sort of ideas. He'll want to go a bit left or off on a random idea and it'll be funny because I'd been thinking the same thing. It's quite remarkable. Now here we are, all these years later, still travelling the world.
Simple Minds plays the Tabernacle on Monday, October 8 at 8 p.m. For more information, please visit tabernacleatl.com.