Q’s With Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr On Years Of Touring And Nostalgia

Simple Minds
Paul Bergen / AFP / Getty Images
– Simple Minds
Simple Minds play the Paradiso in Amsterdam Feb. 19.

It’s safe to say that Simple Minds holds a special place in the collective American memory. 

This is thanks to their performance of anthemic “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” at the end of the decade-defining, John Hughes-directed “The Breakfast Club.” But it would unfair to attribute the band’s success to that movie, as they created plenty of fan favorites since they formed in Glasgow in the last 1970’s, such as “Alive And Kicking,” “Belfast Child” and “Someone Somewhere.”

And the group remains popular. As recently as last year they played a European tour with plenty of sold-out dates, including shows in Olympian Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, selling 2,151 tickets and grossing $149,694, and at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, moving 2,188 tickets and bringing in $153,328.

 The band is poised to kick off its first North American tour in 20 years, launching at Sands Bethlehem Center in Pennsylvania. The outing will hit theatres and auditorium around North America.

 The band’s frontman, Jim Kerr, spoke to Pollstar about the tour and his love for the States, as well as the band’s place in pop culture and nostalgia.

 How are you preparing for the upcoming tour?

We’re all excited. It’s our first North American Tour in 20 years so we want to make sure we’re ready for it. Truth is, we’re already playing dates. We just finished a European tour, and we’ll play more European and U.K. dates before we go to the States. So, we’re ready for it.

What are the major differences between touring Europe and touring the U.S.?

We’ve always had it in our head that the Americans invented rock ‘n’ roll. In England you can get away with being no good live, because its more about the vibe or the fashion, so you can kind of get away with it. But in the States people smell it a mile away. You’ve got to deliver. I’m aware of these [U.S.] towns and cities and I’m aware of their musical heritage. You must have your chops together and better be good, or else how dare you play there.

Any U.S. cities special to you?

If you asked me when I was a kid, around 13 or 14, that I was going to go to the States and do 30 or 40 dates, which ones am I looking forward to the most? I would say every single one of them. I still feel that way.

Sure, it’s great to be in New York, it’s great to be in LA, it’s great to be in Chicago, but if I’m walking on stage in Oklahoma, I’m still going to give the best performance I can. There are places you travel and it’s not just about the gigs.

I don’t know about the current generation, but my generation grew up with American music and movies. We all feel, even if we haven’t been there before, that so much of America is familiar to us. It wasn’t called media back then, it was just the stuff that surrounded us. There’s not much else to say, it’s American and it’s great.

 You guys are industry veterans. How has touring changed throughout the years?

Well, in a sense not much has changed. You do a soundcheck and you go out and give them a show. It’s the same thing but not in a “Ground Hog Day” kind of tedious way.

 It feels more like growth, we are still dealing with the same thing, we still take that 10 minutes before we go on, wherever we are. You might be doing 50 or 60 dates on a tour, but we always take 10 minutes individually and try to focus on that night because that is the only night that counts for the audience.

They don’t care where you were last week or where you are going tomorrow, tonight’s the night. It’s only human. Some nights someone might not be feeling up to it a couple of hours before the show or something like that, or maybe some crap-thing happened in the world and it takes the wind out of you. But when it comes time to go on stage, you’ve got to blow people away, especially now since it is not cheap to go see a band.

People invest a lot, in our case some of our fans haven’t seen us in 15 or 20 years and they invest a hell of a lot emotionally. They come excited and a part of them is probably thinking “it won’t be like it was in the old days.” And you’ve got to leave them at the end of the night thinking, “God, that was better than I thought it was going to be.” That’s the challenge, but it’s how we live our life.

Simple Minds seems to have a special place America’s memory of the ’80s, partly because of “The Breakfast Club.” Can you offer any thoughts on that?

We’d like to think that we were one of the bands of our generation and that movie was important to subsequent generations, too. It still kind of gets riffed on. Particularly in the States, those John Hughes movies are a part of popular culture.

Having that big flagship song at the end of the movie, it was never really meant to be like that in the sense that no one ever came to us and said, “There’s going to be this great movie that for decades kids will love.” What really happened was they came to us and they said, “There’s going to be this teen movie, do you want to do perform this song we have for it?” And we said, “No, we don’t want to do someone else’s song.” They said, “But the (songwriters) are good.”

We ended up meeting them and they were really good people, so we did it thinking it wasn’t going to do any harm. And we had no idea that it would be this long-lasting, iconic thing. It’s given so many people so much pleasure, and it only took us a couple of hours to do.

Americans seem to be obsessed with nostalgia. As a band that is often associated with a specific time in American pop culture, can you offer any insights on that?

I don’t have an exact answer to that question, but it chains into it. I remember years ago my oldest son, who is 25 now, when he started going to Glastonbury eight years ago and that is sort of the rite of passage to go there. A bit like Coachella.

I asked him — and there’s a lot of bands who play there — but I’d ask who he was looking forward to seeing. And he’d tell me who he wanted to see, and I would go, “That’s all the old guys.” So, I would play devil’s advocate and ask why he wanted to see all the old guys. He told me that they were authentic, they’re the real deal. I thought that was interesting, authenticity.

I don’t know if it’s a rejection of current music or just an idea. When I was young I wanted to know what was coming out that year. I wanted to ride whatever the current wave was.

But what you are talking about, nostalgia, you see it in movies, TV, you see it everywhere. People get fucking nostalgic for their breakfast it seems. But it’s different in my case. If I go to New York next week, I’m not looking to be nostalgic but if I walk past a hotel that we stayed in 1979, I’ll start to piece together my past and I might dwell on it. But I don’t obsess over it.

But it is common. It’s even with in the art and in some songs, production-wise. My songwriting partner, Charlie Butcher, he buys up old equipment that he once had and sold because he tells me he can’t get that old sound. And he’ll plug it in and yeah, it has a great sound that’s much better then whatever we’re working with now.

So, I think there are different types of nostalgia. I remember looking up what nostalgia meant, and it was going back to the Roman times when soldiers would get homesick, they couldn’t focus because they were sick for a different time and a different place. True nostalgia like that, I’ve never had.


Do you think nostalgia plays a part in keeping fans coming back to Simple Minds?

Yeah, I’m sure. If we put tickets on sale — you see it all the time now, when we announce tickets on the social networks, some people look and go, “I saw them with Joe and Billy and whoever and it was a great time.” Maybe that’ll make them want to go again and a lot of the time they do. They want to hear their old band.

 I saw The Who last year, and I saw them when I was a kid but at that time I was too young to really understand what The Who meant. But I saw them recently and I was very fortunate to be near the amplifier. I wasn’t looking to be nostalgic but at one point I could feel my eyes moisten and not because of the volume. You’re never going to hear that fucking song again.

I mean between the gear and the way he hits it, what it means and the record it plays in – it’s a bit like “could we build the Brooklyn bridge again?” No we couldn’t. I mean those craftsmen aren’t around anymore and the mentality — they would do it differently now. I mean you probably could, but it wouldn’t be the same, wouldn’t have the same significance. It was that moment in time that makes it unique.

Records and music particularly, in a different way from photographs or film, although they do it too, but music is more potent to me than images. It takes me to that time and that place. Why it’s able to do that, I don’t know. There are some records that I can’t even listen to because I get disoriented.

It’s like — I don’t know if you remember what Formica is?


I do not.

It’s this cheap imitation wood stuff and my parents, when I was growing up, had this Formica kitchen table. The radio was on it and before we went to school the radio would be on in the morning. That’s when I would hear “Eleanor Rigby.” Whenever I hear “Eleanor Rigby” now, it takes me to that Formica table, I mean I can actually feel it. That’s how transportive it is. How does it do that? I don’t know.


What are some newer bands that you find exciting? I know you played with Arcade Fire in Ireland about a month ago.

Yeah, what a show they put on, I mean they always do. But this was on another level, it was amazing. They’re just one of those bands that come around and they don’t sound like anyone. It’s their own thing, their culture, their vision,, their way of doing it. They’re not so new anymore but I’ve enjoyed seeing their success and I wrote a few songs with them a few years ago. They’re impressive.

Other bands, The War On Drugs, that album they had last year, they’re from another time but they are hell of a band.

Simple Minds tour dates and ticket information can be found at the band’ website by clicking here..