On 2nd February 2018, Simple Minds will release Walk Between Worlds, Their first album of new material since 2014's Big Music. It is a relatively concise affair, with its eight tracks rocketing past in 42 minutes. It is also an album of two distinct sides, very much the old-school album format. Side one tracks such as Summer and The Signal And The Noise revisit the glassy guitars and new wave dance grooves of the post-punk era whilst the second half explores more cinematic sounds, with the title track and Barrowland Star both featuring dramatic orchestrations recorded at Abbey Road.
The album is bookended by two songs about faith, Magic and a Sense Of Discovery. The first is a reflection on the desire and hunger of youth.
Mark Millar recently caught up with Jim Kerr to discuss the album and more.
Simple Minds have been together for 40 years. What's the secret of you and Charlie Burchill's long-lasting relationship?
JK: I don't think we have worked that out ourselves. (Laughs) There are a million factors. We have worked with many people through the years and had different band members, but I think you have to be a specific type, and we were born a certain type. We lived on the same street, and we were just lucky that we met each other. We were fortunate that we had the same interests and we enjoy each others company enough. It does get intense as well, but I think the one thing is we have never been bored with each other. Charlie is still able to surprise me, but outside of that, the one thing we have in common is this thing called Simple Minds that we have played a massive part in creating. It's the longest thing that has been in our lives outside of the relationship we have with our parents, so it's the absolute mainstay.
Did you go into the recording of Walk Between Worlds with any preconceived ideas of what kind of songs you wanted to write about and how the album should sound?
JK: We work all the time. It's not like back in the day where we would get six or seven weeks, where we would go into the studio and go with the first eight tracks and cross our fingers that they would be good enough. In many cases, they were good enough, but it's not like that now. Charlie is the kind of guy who gets out of bed, and while he is having a cup of coffee, he will already be cradling a guitar or sitting at his piano or whatever. He will only be musing, but he is already planting seeds and coming up with stuff. Every month or so, he will send me a batch of four or five ideas, and after about half a year, there is a load of stuff there which we go through. We have our different favourites, but we ask ourselves, "what feels right for the moment, what feels right for the next thing." So it starts to dictate where we should be and what feels right, so we go with it.
Walk Between Worlds is an eight-track long album split into two sides. It flows well with shorter songs in the first half and longer epic cinematic tunes in the second half.
JK: Yeah, we think that worked well. We all lost the plot way back in the day when CD's came and liberated vinyl which was limited to forty minutes or ten songs. We thought, "oh great the CD is here we can, put on thirteen songs." - Well, nobody has got thirteen good songs, no one! The Beatles, Prince or David Bowie never had thirteen good songs on an album. If we have got forty minutes which in our case is eight songs, and somehow we can keep the quality throughout and position them nicely so that there is a good narrative, then at the end of that, you should feel fulfilled.
Some Simple Minds songs have an extended gestation period to develop. The song Magic was one of those, and the final track Sense of Discovery has been around since the Lostboy era.
JK: Yeah, we are getting a great reaction from those songs, but you always get someone saying, "I heard about those songs years ago. They're old songs you are churning out." And I'm like, "hang on a minute; you dick." (Laughs) It's excellent when songs announce themselves, and they just come and go. The song Magic, for instance, was always pretty much there, but sometimes something is missing, and you don't know what it is. Sense of Discovery was the same. Sometimes the language of the song doesn't feel right for the times, or there are times when you hear the song later through different ears, and you think it feels right now.
Two nights ago, Charlie and I were coming back from a radio interview in London. We started talking about the first gig we ever did in the car, which was forty years ago last week. And we spoke about a song we opened the set with. It was a song called Act of love - it never made it onto an album. But a lightbulb went on in our heads, and we thought, "that was an amazing riff. We should go back to that." And we really can't wait to go back to it. That song could be the record-breaker that could turn up forty-two years later on an album if we sort it out. You're right. Some songs have a long gestation period, but that doesn't mean that they are old songs - it just means that they are works in progress.
The final track on the album, Sense of Discovery, features a melodic refrain from one of your biggest hits, Alive and Kicking. Was there a particular reason for this?
JK: I was driving everyone mental because the version we had the arrangement of was pretty much the same arrangement as we had way back in the Lostboy era. Everyone liked it, and they were saying, "what is the problem? It's great. Can we move on?" And I was saying, "no, something is missing." But I couldn't articulate what it was. While we were stripping the track down one day, I listened to this guitar part that Charlie was playing underneath a load of other guitars. It had this prominent rhythm which was precisely the thing I had in my mind, and lo and behold, I was able to demonstrate it then, and it became the last piece of the jigsaw.
Alive and Kicking is such an epic sounding song. And for me, it was my introduction to Simple Minds. What can you remember about writing the song?
JK: I loved it from day one. I think it started with Mick MacNeil, who came up with the chords and the verse and the intro and as soon as he did, it was one of those 'hair on the back of the neck' moments I remember thinking. But there was a long way to go after that, and again we still had to come up with that unique thing. Don't You Forget About Me had just been number one in America and Jimmy Iovine, our producer, said: "you have to come up with something that can live up to and follow on from that, and you need something epic." We were already going there. He was driving us on. I suppose when it got to recording Robin Clark's backing vocal sealed the deal.
Simple Minds songs always have excellent titles. Do they come to you first before the music?
JK: The titles do they are separate. Ever since I was a kid, I have had this notebook. I don't know why but I had little pieces and stories in the book. It always struck me how language could work and how different phrases could strike you in different contexts. I suppose I always thought about song and album titles to be as striking as book titles. Sparkle in the Rain is one of my favourite album titles. You will laugh when you hear where I got the title from. We were working in the Townhouse studio, and it was a horrible day. I went outside and jumped into a taxi, we had a day or two to go before finishing the album, and we still didn't know the title. The cab pulled up next to a bus stop, and a guy was standing reading the paper. I can't remember what team it was but let's say it was Queens Park Rangers who had played the night before. And on the back of the paper, it said "Queens Sparkle in the Rain." And I liked that.
It's become a thing for bands to go on the road performing their classic albums in their entirety, such as U2 recently with the Joshua Tree tour. But Simple Minds are doing the opposite and playing a brand new album in its entirety for the live shows. Where did you get the idea to do that?
JK: I know. We did an acoustic tour recently, and U2 did the Songs of Experience tour around the same time. They performed under a lightbulb in their show, and on our acoustic tour, we were under a chandelier - Quite a difference. (Laughs) When we delivered the new album Walk Between Worlds, everyone around us was saying, "you've got to play this; you've got to play the whole thing." And apart from that, it's eight songs. It would be too much if it had been thirteen or fourteen songs. But it flows well and is a statement of intent. It's going to sound amazing.
The format of the new live show sounds very interesting. With three parts: a performance of the album, a live on-stage interview, and a classic Simple Minds set.
JK: Yes, during the acoustic tour, you might have noticed that we did quite a bit more talking and why not? It feels to us like we are in a room with friends. We like to break it down and show a bit of humility and maybe show a bit of humour and talk about things. We aren't going to go on and on. There will be a bit about explaining the album, talking about it and playing it. We will also play some stuff from Sons and Fascination and Empires and Dance. At least it will be pretty unique because we probably won't do it again.
What album by any artist or band would you like to see performed in its entirety?
I'm a big fan of the Who; sometimes, they will perform Tommy or Quadrophenia in their entirety. I've just not been lucky enough to be around when they are doing it. Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run would be great in its entirety, or to go and see Chic if they performed their breakthrough album or a Stevie Wonder album would be amazing.
Simple Minds have had many hit albums over your 40-year career but Is there an album or songs in your catalogue that you thought should have charted higher and maybe received more credit than it did?
JK: Honestly, we don't think that way. There have been individual songs that surprised us. I believe Hypnotised is a great song and still, as we speak, is one of our lesser-known songs. There are so many factors involved that have often got nothing to do with the songs - radio play or the timing and all that stuff - you always need a bit of luck.
Simple Minds are now more influential than ever, with bands sampling your music and people like James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers stating the band's influence. The Horrors track 'Still Life' sounded very much like Simple Minds. How does it make you feel to be inspiring new artists?
JK: We are still inspired by the people who inspired us. When we make records, we are still listening to Lou Reed, David Bowie, The Doors and Roxy Music. We are still in debt to all the stuff we grew up with, and if we in any way have inspired others, it feels great.
What keeps the band going after 40 years?
JK: Apart from the fact that we enjoy it. Since we have been kids, we have been creative. I got up early yesterday to work on a song that I am going to demo tomorrow night. No one is making me do that, and no one is screaming for new stuff, but I want to get this thing out of my head - I'm excited about it. If I get it out of my head, I will be able to move on to something next. It's not always like that we have had periods when it's been like getting blood out of a stone, and those periods are horrible.
Does the song have a title yet?
JK: Well, it has a title called Love Til You Hate Me. It's a good title. It might not come out for twenty years when I'll be eighty. (Laughs) It better come out before that. It might not even be perfect, but the point is to get to the great; you have to go through the good, the bad and the indifferent. But maybe I'll go into the studio to work on the track and meet a young engineer who will work on the next album. You have to be engaged.
Do you have a record that you always return to?
JK: Although it's not my favourite David Bowie album, I find myself playing Lets Dance the most. I love the mood of that record - maybe it takes me to a time and a place. Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane and all those classics are landmark records. I don't think Lets Dance is one of those, but it was a significant return to form MTV record, but I seem to play it a hell of a lot.
What have you been listening to recently that you could recommend?
JK: I loved the last LCD Soundsystem album. It was terrific, and the recent War on Drugs album - it didn't get much heat, but it's great stuff.
Simple Minds - Walk Between Worlds
4. The Signal and The Noise
5. In Dreams
6. Barrowland Star
7. Walk Between Worlds
8. Sense Of Discovery
DELUXE EDITIONS INCLUDE THE BONUS TRACKS:
1. Silent Kiss
2. Angel Underneath My Skin
3. Dirty Old Town (live)