Sim­ple Minds Find the Right Sonic Mix­ture That En­ables Them to Walk Be­tween Worlds

Sound & Vision - - PERFECT FOCUS - Mikemet­tler

When the time comes to record new mu­sic, vet­eran bands of­ten run the risk of be­ing trapped try­ing to repli­cate their past suc­cesses to a sonic T by play­ing it safe and serv­ing up a rel­a­tively pale com­pan­ion to the rec­og­niz­able sound they’ve es­tab­lished over their ca­reers.

It’s some­thing that was clearly per­me­at­ing the brain­waves of Sim­ple Minds front­man Jim Kerr and his song­writ­ing foil, gui­tarist/key­boardist Char­lie Burchill, as the pair be­gan to con­struct the tracks that would com­prise their new stu­dio al­bum, the aptly named Walk Be­tween Worlds (BMG).

“You want to keep the essence of the band and put the stuff you’re known for up front, but at the same time, you only want it to be retro to a point,” ad­mits Kerr (kneel­ing in photo). “You want it to feel like it’s got a con­tem­po­rary heartbeat and it’s an ex­ten­sion of the story—but it’s not the same old story. Know­ing that, you’re damned if you change, and you’re damned if you don’t. Change—but don’t change too much! Change, but only just enough.”

To that end, Sim­ple Minds show they’ve changed ex­actly enough over the course of Worlds— eight tracks on the stan­dard edi­tion, 11 on the deluxe ver­sion—by deftly walk­ing the fine line be­tween de­liv­er­ing up­lift­ing sin­ga­long an­thems (the in­stantly se­duc­tive tone of lead track “Magic”) and push­ing the au­ral en­ve­lope (the syn­t­hand-gui­tar-meshed for­ward thrust of “The Sig­nal and the Noise”). I got on the line with Kerr, 58, to dis­cuss how he’s de­vel­oped his per­sonal lis­ten­ing skills and the se­cret to the band’s longevity. With the sweet sound of Worlds, Sim­ple Minds have suc­ceeded in trans­port­ing the lis­tener some­where else, mak­ing sure there’s not even the slimmest chance we’ll ever for­get about them.

MM: Since the core Worlds al­bum has eight songs, I have a feel­ing you guys very much thought about pre­sent­ing it in vinyl terms.

JK: We cer­tainly came to that, yes. In the re­cent era, al­bums just got too long. I don’t care who you are—i don’t think any­one has 12 great, qual­ity songs to go with, so if you can make those 42 or 43 min­utes count, then I think you’re onto some­thing. And if you can give the lis­ten­ers a flow—some­thing akin to what we used to think of as Side 1 and Side 2—then that just seems to work.

MM: Your voice is in fan­tas­tic shape on this al­bum. What’s the se­cret of keep­ing at the top of your vo­cal game?

JK: I’m one of these rare things— I’m a Scots­man who doesn’t drink! (both laugh) For years, I didn’t go to sound­checks be­cause once I started a tour and had a few dates un­der my belt, I wanted to save my voice. But I go to sound­checks all the time now, mainly be­cause I wanna lis­ten to the house PA. And if it sounds amaz­ing, I get them to play records over them!

MM: So you’ll play artists like Ge­n­e­sis or T-rex over the PA be­fore a show, be­cause you know how they’re sup­posed to sound? JK: Yeah! It could be that, or even some vo­cal mu­sic from a Welsh choir. T-rex is def­i­nitely gonna get played, as is Bryan Ferry, and The Vel­vet Un­der­ground. When the au­di­ence comes in, I want to be lis­ten­ing to “Let’s Dance” [David Bowie’s big 1983 hit].

Some­times, when Char­lie and I are de­bat­ing about some­thing on a song, I’ll go, “I know what that’s gonna do com­ing out of the PA! Never mind the speak­ers here in the stu­dio—once that track starts over the PA, we’re al­ready in over­drive be­fore we’ve even got­ten to the verse.” I know how that first 60 sec­onds will be an event for peo­ple.

MM: You’re now look­ing at cel­e­brat­ing 40 years of Sim­ple Minds. Did you re­ally think you’d still be do­ing this gig all this time later? JK: Back when you’re only 18 or 19, you don’t even know what next year’s gonna be. What I can tell you is the am­bi­tion then is the same now—it’s ex­actly the same. We wanted to write songs, we wanted to record them, and we wanted to take them around the world—and by do­ing so, we be­came a great live band. And 40 years later, we’re for­tu­nate inas­much that we’re still be­ing al­lowed to get out there and rise to that chal­lenge. Peo­ple are com­ing to the show think­ing, “Ahh, can they still cut it? Is it gonna be what it was?” And you just wanna be bet­ter than they think you’re gonna be.

An ex­tended ver­sion of the Met­tler-kerr Q&A, in­clud­ing a dis­cus­sion of why record­ing a string sec­tion at Abbey Road helped Kerr come full cir­cle from when he “froze” in that sto­ried stu­dio in 1979, ap­pears in the S&V In­ter­view blog on soun­dand­vi­sion.com.

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