"Every night we are fighting for our reputation"
Interview with Simple Minds
By Robert Pally

Simple Minds are clearly a band from the 80ties, that still attracts a big crowd at their concerts. In the interview Jim Kerr speaks about politics, good and bad times, failing and the future.

E.C.: Simple Minds have been together for 26 years. How does that feel?

Jim Kerr (44): Today, it feels good. Maybe 4 years ago I would have said that I am feeling tired, not really enjoying it anymore. But for some reason just now it really feels good and that's why we are doing it.

E.C.: Have you ever thought that the band would last that long?

Jim Kerr: No. How could you possibly imagine that? Simple Minds came out of the remains of a punk band (Johnny and the Self-Abusers). If we had made it then (in the late seventies) to the end of the summer, it would have been an achievement. It was a chaotic time. It wasn't about career or long term plans. But from the first gig on we felt: this is fun, great, great fun. If you could make a living of this it would not be bad.

E.C.: What is the motivation for you to keep on going in these days?

Jim Kerr: (thinks) No one likes to think one dimensional, but this is what we do.

E.C.: So it has also become a bit of a job?

Jim Kerr: No, because I began when we were at school. Its now past the job stage. There was a period when it was a job. Now it's past that because we don't really have to do it. We have been fortunate and lucky. And it's not some story of having to do it in order to pay the electricity bill.

E.C.: When was it then a job for you?

Jim Kerr: A job is a even a hard word. Lets say when we were playing stadiums it was something like that. But it was more a balance thing. Then we spend more time on the business side then on the artistic side. When you spend more time on that it's more of a job.

E.C.: You and Charlie Burchill are the only two original members left. What keeps you together? What is special between you?

Jim Kerr: It was always a kind of our thing. Charlie and I know each other since we were 8 years old. Without taking away the contribution, everyone we worked with has contributed. I think we are smart in this way. We work with people with ideas. For Charlie and I, we never, I shouldn't say never, got to the point were we felt tired of it and we thought that there are no more songs to be written. In Rock'n'Roll terms I think we are a traditional partnership. We need each other, we like each other, we have conflicts with each other but we are also best friends.

E.C.: You started off in the punk band Johnny and the Self-Abusers and turned then in the 80ties into a stadium rock band. This is some kind of a contradiction. Punk was also rebellion against stadium rock band. Is this a normal contradiction of life?

Jim Kerr: (thinks) No, I would turn that around and say: What we did was punk. We did what the fuck we wanted to do. It wasn't fashionable to play stadiums. The press hated us. The Clash wouldn't have liked you. Johnny Rotten wouldn't have liked you. But fuck them; we wanted to do what we wanted to do. And we would tell you, this is shit (laughs) or this is good. We didn't take anyone else's rules. We wanted to experience things and then see if it is really shit or good. We wanted to make our own challenges. We didn't want to live by anyone's code. Of course we all live by codes but we wanted to make them up as we went along. I often felt that the people who said that they wouldn't play stadiums were the ones that never got the chance or would fail. Beside that did our theatrical music perfectly fit into stadiums. Recently I read again the first review of one of our gigs in the NME (New Musical Express). Even then the guy said that we were a stadium act although we were playing a small venue. It was our way really.

E.C.: What of the things you tried turned out to be shit?

Jim Kerr: Let me think about that. The one thing I have to say: Once you got on a kind of a treadmill it wasn't possible to get of. And if you were tired and without energy you still had to do it. Maybe you were booked for concerts one year in advance. When there was no room left for spontaneity. But don't get me wrong. It's a difference between then and now. But what if someone said: Don't you want your album be number 1 in the charts? Today we came here. It's really beautiful. I went for a swim. We play tonight. I had something nice to eat. The balance is good, life is good. Then it will all about 6 hours of interviews. The American agent coming in asking "What is the budget for the Australian tour?". Do you see what I am saying!!?! There is a price to be paid for it all. But we enjoy 90% of it. And we have always been grateful, and always knew we were fortunate. But there was a period where it was a bit ridiculous. That's what I would have changed. I would have organised time better.

E.C.: When was that?

Jim Kerr: The end of the 80ties and the early 90ties. We ran out of gas in a sense that it was a bit like in a jumbo jet with no fuel. We got this big thing but we don't where it is gonna go.

E.C.: You often changed your musical styles. Was this a kind of a sign that you got bored, a new definition or an adaptation to current trends?

Jim Kerr: In a way it was that we got bored. Although, in a sense you don't change. First of all you want to entertain yourself. Because if you are not entertaining yourself you will not entertain anyone else. For the desire to entertain oneself you start to change and play. But also without being arrogant we were talented enough to try out different styles. I mean some bands can only play rock music. We had a broad imagination and off course, as I already mentioned, worked with good people. From the producers we worked with Trevor Horn and Steve Lillywhite. People that would push you into a territory and you maybe wouldn't think you could go. But once you were there you really liked it. I agree, when people speak to me about Simple Minds. I always ask them: which Simple Minds do you mean? Is it the early punk band, the synthesizer artrock, the New Romantic, the New Wave Pop, the stadium rock or the political rock group?

E.C.: You went through ups and downs as band. What does success mean for you today?

Jim Kerr: Off course when you put out records you want as many people as possible to hear it. That's one side. When we were younger our parents used to say: Well, the real success is to be happy. We would say: fuck that (laughs). But actually, it's kind of true. I swear I was staying here in 1984 in this hotel. Our band was just breaking through. I remember that I was miserable then. Probably we were not playing so good and probably I was feeling that it was my fault. And maybe there was something else going on in my life. But today, the sun was shinning, I went to swim. We have just been in Italy, Portugal and Spain. Tonight, I am pretty sure that we will play a great concert. You can't really get more successful than that. Off course there are other things connected to success that are important: Things have to be paid for, promoters and record companies have to be happy. But there is another success, not success, more satisfaction. This is probably more important.

E.C.: You are were talking about record companies being happy. The album "Our secrets are the same" should have come out 4 years ago but didn't because your label didn't like it. What happened then?

Jim Kerr: That's not true. Our record company did like it. "Our secrets are the same" is a special album. But the problem was that we had been away for too long. Because of that the album was not a priority for EMI. But they said that they would find a release day soon. Unfortunately, EMI was then supposed to join with Warner Bros, BMG or someone else. Because of that everyone apart from big names were put on hold. Charlie and I would not take it. We went there and made a fuss. We said, give us our album back then. When lawyers took over the whole thing went into a strange direction. But we wouldn't accept it without a confrontation. It had more to do with that. But we hate to talk bad about record companies because they have been good to us. In general when you have a long career there will be periods when not all things go right. This was just one of those periods. And then when it was time to get our album back we didn't want to release it. It already had appeared on the internet and we already had a new album. The good news for those who are interested, "Our secrets are the same" will see the light of day. People that have heard it do agree that it is special album.

E.C.: Where will it appear, on EMI?

Jim Kerr: EMI will put out box set this year a with a lot of rare material. Radio sessions and outtakes. A part of this box set will be "Our secrets are the same".

E.C.: Will there be a new album soon?

Jim Kerr: We are working on new songs but it's not sure when a new album will come. In the last 2 years have been too many releases that it wouldn't be wise to put out a new record. There was this covers album "Neon lights" (2001), a real album "Cry" (2002), "Early Gold" with songs from our first 3 records, this box set and on top of that in November a 2-pack DVD. That's a lot of products. Although we really enjoy writing new songs, the reality is that there is no need for a new album at the moment. And for a tour we don't need a new one, we already have 15 albums. Lets be real: when we play live it's about the whole journey anyway. We will play songs from every album.

E.C.: Looking back, the 90ties looked a bit like an odyssey for you. The music business changed and new trends came. You seemed to try to fit in. Was it like that?

Jim Kerr: Yes, we tried and failed. But it's important to fail, its important to get it wrong. This can be very valuable. Sometimes we did go into the right direction but not long enough. For example our album "Néapolis" (1998). It was a commercial and artistic failure, but in retrospective I feel that we went into the right direction but we needed to go another 20 kilometres, we only went 5. If you are going to have a long, or had a long career, at times you are gonna be lost, at times you will find it. Its how you react to the failures becomes interesting.

E.C.: In the 90ties up to now bands came and went very quickly. The press and the people needed constantly new faces. Was it hard for you to adapt to that?

Jim Kerr: There is nothing I can do about that. All I can do is do my thing. Off course I think about that, but what can I do? So I try to forget about it. Where are Blur, where are Cast, where are Oasis? It might be interesting in the future for them if they come back, or whatever.

E.C.: For a 90ties revival?

Jim Kerr: (smiles). Another thing is that we never thought that anyone owed us anything. It would be wrong for us to ask for anything more than we got. There are artists much more talented than us that didn't make it. I remember Neil Young that had 4 or 5 albums where he was a laughing stock. He was a complete joke.

E.C.: I remember his synthesizer album "Trans" (1983). He was maybe also trying to find his way.

Jim Kerr: Also Lou Reed had period where he was searching. Then he released "New York"(1989) that changed it all. And Van Morrison had a similar period. These are the people that do it through good and bad. If there is a role model for us, then it's a kind of them.

E.C.: Your commercial heydays were in the 80ties. But funny enough your concerts still sell very good. Could you think of an explanation for that? I hope its not because of the 80ties revival?

Jim Kerr: It's a contradiction, probably. We are a band of our generation. For 5 or 6 years we had stopped. We lost interest or people lost interest. But there are still a lot of people that saw Simple Minds and saw great gigs. It's not a thing of revival. But definitely, there is a cycling thing, not just in music. Some things that seem at the moment will be a few years later interesting.

E.C.: Like Disco music!

Jim Kerr: Yes, exactly. For tonight, the people will have expectations. We have not only live up to them but in a way surpass them. We have to create something that not reminds them on something they had before but something that they haven't been getting recently. We are great live band. Maybe they were going to concerts that were not that good. The thing about new talents is that they are full of potential. But its not only until they really worked out their full potential before it really becomes something. You hear an album and think it's beautiful. Then you gonna see the band and they suck. How can they be good anyway? The don't have the experience. But back to your question. I think that we turned with our last album "Cry" in the right direction again. In Switzerland it did well. This helps for our concerts. Every night we are fighting for our reputation. Its not like we are on the top of the charts and we can lean back. Every night fight.

E.C.: So you also want to prove yourself again to the people?

Jim Kerr: Yes, but first of all to ourselves. But in doing that subsequently to an audience.

E.C.: What can people expect from your current live shows?

Jim Kerr: A really great live band, although that does not sound that special. But it is quite special. And certainly in our case the people can expect songs from the whole journey. Every night we play 8 to 10 songs that people would expect, and then we have another 10 songs that we change. We try to keep our "hardcore" and "greatest hits" fans happy.

E.C.: You have appeared at Live Aid in 1985 and at Mandela Day in 1988. Are you still involved in political or social activities?

Jim Kerr: They were such landmark events, global events. Those things don't exist anymore.

E.C.: About the war on Iraq?

Jim Kerr: There are events that you make go on and write and there are events that make you speechless. That's how I feel now. For example, I have nothing original to say about the involvement of our own prime Minster Blair now. Things have so much changed in politics. It used to seem a polarity. Right / left, black / white, apartheid / anti apartheid. I have lost all faith in the political process. It's all a scam, its all a careerism. Although there are a few honest politician. But they way they have to work with the media is really strange. But back to your question: We wrote an anti-war song "Belfast child". I don't think we can do a better one. The issues are still the same, human exploitation, human rights, devastation of war, only the geography changes. We a kind of wrote those songs. I am not saying that would never write something again. In fact we are working on something, but it will not appear right now when you expect it. At the moment I think a lot about the whole emigration thing. That sort of plaid re emigrant. That's something that inspires me at the moment, not the war. It's maybe not a big story but a fascinating one. How people are forced to get up an leave to go to another place. The trials they have in-between. My own grand parents are emigrants. They came from Ireland to Glasgow, forced out in a sense. It's a story of our time, I think.