Simple Minds are on top of the world with a brand new album Walk Between Worlds which has already spawned the singles Summer, In Dreams, Barrowland Star and Utopia which is arguably up there with their best. Walk Between Worlds was produced by Simple Minds with Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg. It is an album of two distinct sides, very much the old-school album format that singer Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill grew up with as music fans. In addition to classic Simple Minds anthems and revisiting their new wave roots, the album also explores more cinematic sounds, with the title track and Barrowland Star both featuring dramatic orchestrations recorded at Abbey Road. It was a real privilege talking to the legendary Jim Kerr about making the album and the possibility of an Australian tour.
You must be feeling on top of the world with how well the album’s gone. It seems to be doing really, really well.
Yeah, there was a period a few weeks ago, I woke up and I thought this is a bit of a dream, is this really happening? Because, not just the reaction, but the kind of things people have been saying. The kind of things I didn’t expect people to be saying at this stage of the game. Yeah, you’re right, it feels great.
Is it also a bit of a surprise? Given the traditional concept of an album seems to be in decline but for Simple Minds, it’s almost the opposite, where it’s the most successful album you’ve had in twenty odd years or so?
Indeed and in a strange way it’s given us an extra belief again, because all around, doom and gloom, no one really listens to music anymore. Well, no one really cares about albums! They play a couple of tracks and that’s it and everyone streams. Of course, there is absolute merit in saying all of that but nevertheless we can only see the world the way we operate within it. We still love the sense of a good album, a group of songs that come together, and feel like they work with each other, even feeling like they have some underlying narrative but above all else, feel that they have quality throughout. That’s what we were hoping we could achieve with this record, that people would maybe sense some of that and if so, then great. That’ll encourage us even further as we go on.
Earlier you mentioned at this point of the game, I guess at this point of the game it would be quite easy to sit back and rest on an awesome back catalogue of hits. Is it still really important for Simple Minds to be creative and find new ways to ultimately express yourself?
Absolutely. I also say that, at this stage of the game thing I said with some, not irony, but something like that. The truth is, that in a lot of artistic forms people are only coming into their stride when they get to our age. Whether its writers or painters or whatever. It’s something I think about but, for some reason, in our game, you’re meant to arrive fully formed, and you shine bright with all that youthful exuberance. Things are never quite as good as they were in the early days. People run out of steam, or ideas get thin on the ground and that does happen, but who’s to say once you get past that, and once you find a new kind of view, or get to the other side, is there nothing worth saying? Is there no music to be taken from a different position? I would like to think that our new album dares to imagine that there’s a lot of great music could still come.
Absolutely. Is it just as satisfying now finishing off an album, as it was maybe in your first few albums?
I’ll tell you the greatest thing about it is when the record came out and all that, I managed to get away for a week or so. I’m speaking to you just now from Sicily where I always come when I want to clear the head. I go walking and all that stuff. Well, I do that in Scotland as well, but not this time of year. When I arrived at the airport the other day, Charlie Burchill’s in Thailand just now, he’s taking a bit of a break, and when I arrived at the airport, an email comes up, and there was an MP3 of a new idea Charlie had sent. It sounds brilliant. I’ve spent last night working on it. When you feel good it propels you on.
When you were working on it in the studio, did you kind of have that feeling, as these songs were starting to unfold, that you had something quite special this time round?
There was a defining point when you work on an album. I think this goes back to the whole thing of album, CD mentality, when you work on things, you work on sixteen, seventeen ideas and then, you know you’re going to whittle it down to about thirteen tracks or so because, between bonus tracks and all that stuff… that’s a nightmare. It’s just that everyone has their different feelings, and different songs have different strengths and you know that there’s some lesser songs, but there’s still something about them that you like and blah blah blah. You get attached to them all.
At this point, I came in and said, “To hell with this. Let’s get rid of all the stuff. Get it down to eight songs that we think hang together well and bring this narrative. Let’s think of it as forty to forty-two minutes.” because no one’s got more than forty minutes of great music. We took an axe to a lot of stuff and when we put it together, to answer your question, it was a bit like, “Wow, this sounds potent, and this sounds focused.” Then we did start to get kind of excited.
The stuff that you said you axed, does that get revisited? Or will it find its way as B-sides?
Yeah it does. The very fact that we work on idea to begin with means there’s something in it that we think is worth while. For instance, there’s at least a couple of tracks that ended up on Walk Between Worlds. There’s one, Barrowland Star, there’s a reference to it more than seventeen years ago (laughing). It could have been called something else but, obviously there would have been something about it also making us not pursue it because there would be a piece missing, or maybe the melody was strong but the lyric was crap, or all these things. I’m always interested in how other people work and I don’t mean just musicians, whenever I read about, it could be anyone, from filmmakers to playwrights. Often people are working on ideas that they’ve had up their sleeve for a long, long time and maybe something they’ve revisited for the third or fourth time.
Are the songs quite clear in your mind as you’re starting out in this process of how you think they might sound or how they might go? Or, is that just something that kind of evolves as you start writing, finishing off, and then going in and recording them?
It’s different now obviously from back in the day because technology has changed, and the whole digital thing has endless options, which, it’s not always a good thing because you can chase your tail and you can over write stuff, and then you lose it, it slips through your fingers, and then you go back to it, and you can’t carve it out again. I have to say, between Charlie Burchill, I know I’ve got to give credit to the production team guys we’ve been working with for quite a while now, ten years. Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg, they’re brilliant when it comes to showing you the options of how things could be. It’s a strong team.
It must be really awesome as well having the best of both worlds. Touring with an awesome back catalogue, and then also touring with a new album now?
Well it is, it can be problematic in the sense that there’s never a perfect set and there’s so many songs. Often, it’s the amount of stuff that gets left out and we even forget about songs. Sometimes I’ll trawl through something, and something will come up on YouTube, and it’ll be one of ours, and I’ll go, “I forgot all about that. We should play that in the set too”. There’s a certain point where the amount of stuff is overwhelming and but I say there’s no perfect set, a great set I think as far as most of the audience is concerned, is something that gives a sense of the entire journey the band’s been on. There’ll always be the landmark songs that you have to play, and you’d be churlish if you didn’t. There’s also different fans within fans. There’s fans that’ll like the greatest hits, there’s fans that like the early days, there’s fans that are new to it now. It’s also a challenge for the new songs because look what they’re up against. I mean, they’ve got to hold their own among a set of, certainly in Simple Minds terms, a set of classics.
Is Australia in the mix for a tour?
Nothing would make us happier. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the affection the band has for Australia and how much we enjoy ourselves there. The affection goes back to the fact that Australia was one of the first places, if not the first place, to give Simple Minds the kind of encouragement, the kind of pop success that we never thought we would have. I’m talking about back with Love Song and Countdown and Molly Meldrum and all that. The other side of things, playing in the bars, pubs and clubs in Australia back in those days, when we were still learning our chops, we needed the encouragement, and we certainly got it. Ever since, we’ve always held Australia within our hearts. It has a special place in our story. We were there a couple of years ago, so we’re probably due for another turn. As I say, nothing would make us happier for that to be the case.
Interview by Rob Lyon