Kim Wilde burst on the scene back in the eighties with her smash hit “Kids in America.” She chats to John Goodridge about the massive impact that song has had and her love affair with Australia.
The big news is your duet with Lawnmower Deth covering “Kids in America” at downloadfest in Birmingham. How did that all come about?
Actually, it has a long history. When it first came out, someone told me about it and I listened to it and it was just completely bonkers. I mean this was about fifteen years ago. It’s quite an old cover; they were a bunch of kids who loved metal and made a version of “Kids in America” and a funny video for it. I thought they were great, I loved their sense of fun and I’ve always been a bit of a punk rocker at heart. Once Twitter came along, I started talking to Pete from the band and then there was a big campaign to get their thrash version of “Kids…” to number one last Christmas.
I had a lot of fans saying, “If they get number one, will you do Download Festival with them?”. I said, “Yes, of course I bloody will,” not realising of course, that there are all different charts you can number one on. Lawnmower got to number one on several of them, enough to get me to honour my promise. We ended up meeting them halfway, they were from up north and I was from down here, we had a rehearsal and the rest is history. But it was one of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve ever done in my life.
I was amazed at how much of a reaction it has had.
I was overwhelmed; I really couldn’t believe it, it was crazy.
I’m also astounded at how many covers of “Kids in America” there are. You must have heard good ones and bad ones.
After I heard the Lawnmower one I thought, “You know, I’m gonna stick with that one.” If anyone asks me have I heard a great cover version, I’m just gonna say Lawnmower Deth and I meant it and I still mean it. I love that band and it was just fantastic to work with them. I’m sure I’m gonna work with them again; I’ve just got a feeling that all the planets lined up to throw us together and I can’t imagine not being on stage with them again at least one more time.
Do you find that having “Kids in America” as such a popular song for the last 35 years a double-edged sword?
Well, it opens lots of doors. It’s opened up more doors than it’s closed. I mean there is something magical about that song. I sing it live to a lot of different audiences all over the world and have done for all those years; when that song begins, you can feel the energy whip through the audience like you wouldn’t believe and it’s hard not to be in love with a song that has that impact on people.
How did you feel when the song was first recorded? Did you think it would have the lasting impact that it’s had?
Well I’d just left Art College and my father Marty, who was still pretty young at that time wrote it with my brother, so I hadn’t even started song writing at that point. I was interested in being a backing vocalist and working with harmonies.
I hadn’t started writing songs at all, so all of this stuff was coming out of my father’s imagination and I just tapped into that. I’d always admired him as a songwriter. He wrote songs all his life. He wrote songs that changed my life in more ways than you can imagine. So I was happy to let them get on with what they were good at and concentrating on what I was good at, which was basically fronting the whole project, doing interviews like this and expending my passion for pop music. I grew up watching Top of the Pops and buying pop magazines, buying records, so when “Kids in America” came out and put me in amongst all of that, I was pretty happy about it.
Thinking about the difference between publicity today with Google at your fingertips and being in the public eye back then, how do you deal with having a public persona?
For me, I grew up with a famous Dad who had been a heart-throb at the beginning of the rock and roll years in the UK in the late fifties, but I knew him as my Dad – he loved playing golf. He did a lot of gigs and yeah, not all other dads were working at night. Other dads were having dinner and going to bed and my dad was jumping in a car and going off to do a gig somewhere. Apart from that, he was just a regular guy who always told us how lucky he felt doing what he was doing and he imbued in me and my brother a work ethic, as well as giving us a passion for music by playing us the most incredible records he got.
We’d have everything from Tchaikovsky to Elvis Presley and everything, I mean everything, in between and it was all playing at home. Some families get bought up with religion at the heart of the family life, but music was our religion. I got to see a dad being a very inspiring, but very normal dad, so when I got famous, I just thought, “Yeah, I’m in a very privileged position. Use these assets, embrace them all and have fun and don’t take them too seriously.” The one thing I did take seriously was music.
What part of the music industry is your favourite?
I love song writing, love recording, love singing and I love performing, so they’re all kind of on a level. I suppose out of all of them, it would have to be singing, the physicality of singing and that language, people understand what I’m saying when I’m singing. It’s like being bi-lingual, they hear something through my songs and that’s lovely. It’s a sort of shared humanity, a connection and there are not many things that connect people any more.
I’m always fascinated at how music has such a profound influence on people’s emotions. You must have had many moments where your music has changed someone.
Absolutely, yeah, and I know what music has done for me over the years. I totally get it, of course.
We’ve lost so many of our musical icons recently and it seems to me that music is so transient yet so permanent.
I’ve been talking about that sort of stuff recently because luckily, a lot of people have been really interested in me coming back down to Australia. I’m absolutely convinced out of all the songs I ever recorded, a hundred years from now, people will still get off on “Kids in America.”
Yes, lets talk about your trip in October, November with Howard Jones. What memories do you have of the last time when you were here with Nik Kershaw?
We had an amazing tour, I loved it; Nik was playing in our band on that tour and I got to sing a few songs with him too, which I loved. I love Nik’s songs so it was great being backstage and hearing those amazing songs being played.
It was a pretty full on tour, so apart from walking around the Botanical Garden in Sydney, which was amazing, visiting the Opera House, where I’d stood as a thirteen year old, when the Opera Hose was just completed in ’73, and I was there with my dad, who was doing some gigs in Sydney. We were staying in Kings Cross.
I’ve been back in the years since; I came back in the eighties, I came back in the naughties and I came back to do an eighties tour. Australia keeps getting me back there which I’m happy about; I have backpacked around a bit as well, so I’ve got a stronger connection to it than perhaps some other artists.
That’s very brave.
We ended up on Magnetic Island, just off of Townsville; I did a tour back in ’94 and as all the bands left, it was a Greatest Hits tour, as they got on the plane to go back to the UK, I just hopped off with a rucksack with a mate of mine to have a look and see as much as we could see. So we had an amazing time on that trip.
Were you scared of spiders and snakes?
No! It takes a lot to scare me. I wasn’t even scared of the Cassowaries in the Daintree Rainforest.
You’ve played with so many people over the years including Tears for Fears, Michael Jackson, 10CC, Debra Harry; do you ever get star struck?
I got very star struck when I bumped in Debbie Harry a few years ago. I’d never met her before and she was a massive idol of mine, so I was a bit overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to say, she had to calm me down. I’d just come off stage and I bumped into her and went, “Oh my god, it’s you!”
She could see I was completely overwhelmed, she obviously has a lot of people react to her that way, so she said, “Go on Kim, calm down. You look like you need to calm down a little bit.” She was right, I did need to calm down a little bit; I’d just come off stage and bumped into Debbie Harry. It was just an overwhelming moment.
I recently went to see Elvis Costello, because I was a massive Elvis Costello fan back in the eighties, bought all his albums, and somehow ended up talking to him via email through a bizarre chain of events, and ended up seeing him on his new Detour tour, and went back to say hi to him afterwards. I felt as star struck all these years later as I did when I met him back in the eighties.
It’s quite a funny thing when you meet an idol.
It is. I’m always very respectful of it when people get like that around me, because I know I’m the same way around my idols and I don’t think it’s silly or stupid. I understand how it works and it’s the same for me too, so we’re all the same, really.
KIM WILDE AND HOWARD JONES AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Tickets are available HERE!
November 2nd | Canberra Theatre, CANBERRA
November 4th | Enmore Theatre, SYDNEY
November 5th | Eatons Hill Hotel, BRISBANE
November 6th | Jupiters, GOLD COAST
November 9th | Rooty Hill RSL, SYDNEY
November 10th | Wrestpoint, HOBART
November 11th | Palais Theatre, MELBOURNE
November 12th | The Gov, ADELAIDE
November 13th | Astor Theatre, PERTH