Andy Kim & Kevin Drew Talk 'It's Decided,' Defining Success, Remaking 'Shoot 'Em Up Baby,' And Other Lessons Learned [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Andy Kim and Kevin Drew are a seemingly unlikely duo, despite both hailing from Canada. You probably know Kim as the industry veteran who co-wrote the Archies' hit "Sugar, Sugar" and classics like 1974's "Rock Me Gently" and "Shoot 'Em Up Baby." Drew, on the other hand, is best known for his indie music collective Broken Social Scene as well his two solo LP's Spirit If... (2007) and Darlings (2014). The two continually bumped into each other over the years and eventually formed a friendship. From there they decided to make music together.
The result, It's Decided, which dropped in February on Drew's label, Arts & Crafts, was a labor of love for the two musicians and marked a new chapter in Kim's story. The album explores the journey of a man who has seen both the ups and the downs in life, but is ultimately at peace with it.
Following their joyous performance of the lead single "Sister OK" on David Letterman last month, Music Times spoke with Drew and Kim about their relationship, the album, defining success, having a career in music, and life lessons they've figured out along the way. We detailed their success story in an accompanying feature, which you can read here, but below is the extended version of that interivew.
Kim and Drew will be performing at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles on April 7 in honor of the 60th anniversary of Allen Ginsberg's poem, "Howl." You can purchase tickets here. It's Decided is now available on Arts & Crafts as well as iTunes and Amazon.
MT: With your album being titled It's Decided, do you believe in predestination?
Andy Kim: I don't know if I believe it in the fact that it takes away one's decision making, but at the end of the day, I think you find yourself where you are and then you make the decision you were meant to make. It's really peaceful for me to say, "It's decided. It's decided that I really f**ked up there. It's decided that I'm in a traffic jam. It's decided that she still doesn't understand what I'm saying. It's decided that I still don't get it." So it's okay because it gives me the freedom to see it in that spiritual thought.
MT: How familiar were you with each other's work before you made music together?
Kevin Drew: Obviously I knew his hits, but I didn't extensively know the inner career. We had a wonderful moment where he was playing me some music under another name called Baron Longfellow, and he said, "Can I play some Baron Longfellow stuff?" And I said, "Sure please." And he pressed play on a song from the '80s that I immediately knew from being a kid and being in orthodontist's office and hearing it.
It's funny because I always liked that song, being a New Order kid and stuff. So when I heard it, I looked at him and said, "You wrote 'I'm Gonna Need a Miracle Tonight'?" And I literally think I was more taken back by that than by "Rock Me Gently" and "Sugar, Sugar" because we had become such good friends, and I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't.
MT: How about you, Andy? How familiar were you with Kevin's career?
AK: Well, I wasn't really focused on Kevin's solo career. Broken Social Scene I had listened to, and I understood the community of spirits he had in his band and that he continued on with a solo career and put other bands together and stuff -- kind of the major part of it. That's why for me, it was, I was struck by who he was, not what he was, if that makes sense. Or what he was and not who he was. Whatever goes first. So from that point of view, I just... You can have all the bling you want and pull up in a shiny car, it doesn't impress me; it's who you are that impresses me. And I think that's where the connection started.
MT: With your decision to remake "Shoot 'Em Up, Baby" was that something you wanted to do prior to going into this album?
AK: I never wanted to do "Shoot 'Em Up, Baby." I had already done "Shoot 'Em Up, Baby," so I wasn't really interested in reworking the song. But it was the first song that Kevin said, "Let's try to put this down." Before you know it, I'm just sitting there, telling myself that this will never see the light of day. I put my vocal on, but in the back of my mind this will never go anywhere. So [they ask], "Do you want to hear what you just did?" [I said], "No, let me just do as many vocals as you'd like me to do and we'll move on." I hated to start that way, but that's how it started.
Then when everything was finished, and Kevin had sequenced the album, he came over and played what became It's Decided. And I heard the beginning of "Shoot 'Em Up, Baby" which is the original, and then I actually heard a new vocal on there. I was just like "Okay, so I was wrong." I fought against it only to realize I was wrong all along, and so it was decided.
But here's what I learned along the way. I learned that I took a stance emotionally to say, "Okay, I'll do this, but I don't want this." And I learned that as the songs unfolded and as we started working together outside of this relationship, this friendship, that Kevin saw and felt where I should be. Because, basically, I did not. I never wanted to get in my own way, which I did.
KD: No you didn't. But I think anytime someone says I don't want to get in the way of myself, well then you're automatically doing it because you're putting yourself in that... I find if you're going to create mantras, create mantras that aren't' revolved around working against yourself because the moment you say, "Well, I'm not going to do this," you're going to do it. I think a lot of us -- and I don't know if this relates to the population, but I see it in a lot of musicians -- whenever there's some sort of "This is what we're not going to do," that's basically what's going to happen. We're not this sound, we're not that. It's always what you can't or you shouldn't or you don't want to.
MT: So then, just let it be?
KD: Yeah, exactly. Let it be. I drink too much, I smoke too much, I've had the best f**king time doing that, but I'm getting older. I don't want to have a massive mantra about it, I just want to find some peace with it.
If I could say something to Andy, it's that you actually don't get in the way of yourself, you don't do those things where you have mantras, where you're working against yourself or you're telling yourself you should not be doing something. You have a sense of peace about you, Andy, and that's why we're here. I found it unique, and I definitely found it refreshing.
MT: Had you written for anyone else before writing for Andy?
KD: I had not. I've written lyrics for people in the band or I've told people to change things here and there, but I never really sat down and said, "Here you go." I've never really been asked either.
MT: For It's Decided, were you writing from your point of view or were you trying to get in Andy's head and write from his point of view?
KD: I listened to him, and I felt him, and if I went to write anything, I wrote it through what he'd given me. I don't know how to write a song for a stranger, and I really don't ever want to. I know there's a whole living out there, and that's fine, but if you want to get a great song out of me, it's got to be personal.
Andy embraced that, and we had great times going over lyrics together. He'd say, "Try this; change this; shorten that; come in like this." So it wasn't like I wrote the song and said, "Sing it!" We were both there. We were together on it.
MT: Andy, with the material that he came back with, did you feel like he'd captured something that you were thinking or feeling?
AK: Yeah, you know I don't think you can honestly sing something that doesn't belong to you somewhere. I think that we are all the same and different in the same ways. I think the unique thing about Kevin is, well, I'll give you an example. We could be at a long table, and I could be sitting here, and he could be sitting over there, and everyone's having a conversation. I'm talking to somebody, and I tune out -- which I'm happy to do every now and then, just tune out -- and Kevin will recognize it from back there because he'll feel something different going on over the table and will want to know if I'm okay.
So the issue is that once you've entered into that room that gives you oxygen beyond your own oxygen, gives you a perspective beyond your own perspective -- it's what I think I've always looked for but could never find -- something that is honest, true and just, but also there to elevate. Kevin's probably tired of hearing me say this, but I've said this often enough, there's a wonderful quote by Kahlil Gibran that says. "Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit."
KD: He quoted that a lot in the interviews; I think you've read that.
MT: I've seen it. That and the thing about the heartbeats.
AK: It's true because at the end of the day what is it? When I came to New York, I had a dream. I didn't know what I was doing, and I was scared and lonely and all of that stuff. But it was that light, that beacon that kept me alive. So I was able to fixate on this dream because it became my friend.
When Kevin mentioned, "Hey, wouldn't it be great if we made a record together?" I kind of let a part of me go because I've written for myself, I've produced myself. There are certain things that I get emotional about, and somehow I was letting go of any preconceived "Andy Kim record," or "Andy Kim song."
I think It's Decided put me in an environment that is new to me. I didn't feel like I was risking anything. I just felt that this was correct. This was the moment to not be redundant -- although if you've read anything and as you've witnessed today, I am redundant.
KD: Well redundancy is comforting, and redundancy means you know who you are and what you want and that you haven't changed your mind, which is something that somehow in my life became like a cancer for me. So it's wonderful to meet someone who's steady with it.
MT: Has your outlook on making music or on life changed since working with Andy?
KD: [On music] it has not, because this is how I make music. My outlook on life, music aside, changed. I've learned a lot from this man. I have a wonderful family. I have wonderful parents. I like to be taught. I never thought education belonged in scheduled time under fluorescent lighting, and I believe if you know what you want in your life, then you can get it. I think that's actually the way to live. Hang out with people who know who they are and what they want. I don't understand the ones that don't. People without passion are dangerous people. They are absolutely, 100 percent dangerous people. I believe that.
MT: People's passions often are outside of what they do for a living.
KD: I just want to say something though. I have a staff that I'm actually responsible for, who runs Arts & Crafts. If you're working in the music industry, you're not working 9-5; you're not. It's a 24-hour job, and you can see the passion in the hours that people put in.
So, it's important to realize that people need wins. That's all they need. They need a pat on the back to keep going, they need to be told, "Good job." You need to say, "That was a great decision." They need to know if they make a decision and it doesn't work out, that's okay, I'm there for you. I'd rather you take a risk and fall then not take any risks at all and be safe. I mean, where do we go from there? You have to understand that that's what we all need. We all need to know that we're doing a good job at what we're doing. And the wins in this industry are few and far f**king between.
MT: So you've both called It's Decided a labor of love. But to be popular, to be famous, to be successful as a musician, do you have to almost have a pathological ego?
KD: You have to be very competitive. Very competitive.
MT: But it's almost unnatural to be competitive with something that has to do with love.
KD: Not for a lot of people. I have a lot of successful friends and most of them have a very great understanding of passionate business, and they know how to burn a bridge and not look back. They know how to promote themselves within hanging out with their families, and they're very good at it. If you're not manipulating, you're not out there, you're not doing it, but you have to answer to you when you go to bed at night.
In no way am I saying that the people who I know that are successful are also manipulators of evil or anything like that. I just think they're doing what they're doing, and if you want something done, you do it yourself and have a great team behind you that believes in it. And all the success stories that I've seen, whether I believe deserving or not, have been very calculated and have had a very great understanding of passion and commerce.
MT: So with something like this album, which came out organically, it was...
KD: A very bad business plan.
MT: Well it wasn't about business, essentially.
KD: No, and that will probably be to our detriment.
MT: Do you think it's possible to make something out of love then deal with the business part after?
KD: I don't know. I know that Andy's a businessman. He started his own independent label. I know he's very much a businessman. I'm a businessman in the sense that everything I learned, I learned from my father, and that there's things that I just don't know.
MT: Well do you think that honest, real, true music -- and it has been the debate forever -- can eventually find fame without being degraded?
KD: No, it can't. You have to degrade yourself to get out there.
MT: There's no way around it?
KD: No, but at the end of the day, it's just about what you go to bed with. If those people go to bed at night and can kiss their husbands or wives and kids, then they're good.
AK: Well, first of all, you have to define what success is. From what I've understood, Leo Tolstoy, who wrote War and Peace, was a very unhappy man, but he noticed that most of the population of Russia had a more peaceful thought than he did. So he took it upon himself to find out why the great Leo Tolstoy did not have the peace that someone who had a quarter of his talent, one millionth of his fame, one hundred thousandth of his blessings had. He found that they believed in God. So at the end of the day, what is success? Is writing a song that becomes an anthem success? It's all ephemeral.
MT: Now that you're talking about success. How are you defining it at this stage in your career?
KD: Let me step in here and see if I'm right. I think one of the most successful things is to look in the mirror and feel happy. Downright look yourself in the eyes and feel good. Nothing gets more successful than that. I've been told many times, "You've got so much, why are you constantly talking about what you don't have?" And I think it's just a human reaction.
Andy lives in no competition with anyone else, where I obviously do. I look to what other people do. But I think that success, the success that Andy is talking about, this record, most people told us it was going nowhere. But it's a guy looking back at life, and it was fantastic to me.
Do you know how amazing it was to be involved with a record that didn't have to do with a man and a woman breaking up? It was next level sh*t. Wow, this is actually about a man burying his folks, living life, the ups and downs, the things that have happened. Cancer surrounded us while we were making this record. People died. We had all kinds of shootings going on the summer we started. Shootings everywhere, kids getting killed.
And it's been really refreshing to me after putting out how many records I've put out, to have an actual real love story to it. To have the history of Andy and to have the history that I've made so far within the world I live, and to come together. This is a success story. It just is.
MT: Success on a human level.
KD: Which is really why there are successful people who are unhappy because it's not on a f**king human level. They tweaked something, and that all adds up. That's just no way to live. So this man [points to Kim] brought me to the idea of knowing what success actually means. And I'll forever be grateful to him for that because he taught me what it means to be successful. This record's in no stores. This record's only on iTunes, and you can find it on Spotify or Pandora or whatever. But all he would ever dream of is having someone walk down to a record store and buying a 45 of "Sister OK" or "Longest Time."
AK: Who won the best actress at the Academy Awards, not this year but last year, in 2014?
MT: I do not know off the top of my head.
KD: Cate Blanchett.
AK: Who won best actor for that year?
KD: I don't know, do you?
AK: So here's the thing, who cares. Here are two people who cared enough about being together that they created something. If [people] get it, it's good. If they don't get it, it's also good because we didn't do it for anyone else. I got involved in this magical moment and reaped the rewards the beyond rewards. If something happens with it, I'm fine. We did the David Letterman show on his last few weeks on the air, that's pretty cool, man; I'm honored to come here and do that. To ask what else you got? Well, I don't know what else we got. We made a record. It's a beautiful record with beautiful songs.
KD: Ten years ago would it have been accepted differently? It's like whatever.
MT: Are you guys going to keep making music together?
KD: Who cares, we're going to hang out until we're dead. That's what we're going to do.
MT: So being lifelong friends is essentially what you both got out of this?
KD: I'm happy with this, if this was our only piece of work. Are you not happy with it?
AK: I'm thrilled because you know what, it's just one step at a time. I think the great story is that someone like you has been reading up on these two guys who created this. So what did you get out of it? What do you feel about it?
KD: That's the truth.