Contributor’s Note: Multi-platinum, JUNO Award winning Rock icon and Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame inductee Kim Mitchell announces the surprise release of his brand new single “Wishes” on June 26th and coincides with the highly anticipated release of his forthcoming new album, “The Big Fantasize” (El Mocambo Records), the first full-length recording since 2007’s “Ain’t Life Amazing”.
Where its predecessor was a fiery and fierce rock album, anchored by big riffs and bigger swagger, The Big Fantasize is a more dynamic and musically expansive effort that perfectly encapsulates Mitchell’s prowess as a pure and compelling songwriter.
His countless signature anthems permanent fixtures of Canadiana 101, the three-time JUNO Award winner has sold over 1.5 Million recordings and toured endlessly over the course of his storied career — which also included a fan-favourite 11 year tenure hosting The Kim Mitchell Show on Toronto’s Q107.
I was afforded the chance in the words of one of his hits to “Go For Soda”, pull up a chair and chat to the Canadian rock superstar Kim Mitchell with Madness To Creation!
Mark Dean: Hello, Kim. How are you? Just wondering how you’re getting through what’s going on in the world? How are you coping?
Kim Mitchell: We have to adapt. That’s the key. How we all choose to adapt is I guess each individual’s choice. Mark, I think there’s two kinds of people. There’s the motivated ones and the unmotivated ones, and I’m of the latter. The first time in 40 plus years I’ve been doing this as my career, I’ve dropped my shoulders and taken a couple steps away. I rarely pick up my guitars. I actually just strung up my old ukulele here. I walk my dog, I eat, I nap, I sanitize. That’s what I’m doing. What about you?
Mark Dean: I have no work at the present, but like yourself, just basically trying to be occupied, get through the days.
Kim Mitchell: But you’re doing a bit of work, though, I take it?
Mark Dean: Well, nothing paid. All these interviews and stuff generally keeps me sane, but it’s not paid.
Kim Mitchell: It’s a weird business now that way.
Mark Dean: Let’s talk music. You’ve just signed to a new label. In the current situation, the world, bands aren’t generally utilized on record labels like they used to. I just wondered why you went to a record label, El Mocambo?
Kim Mitchell: El Mocambo. I could have done this myself, but I was just exhausted with what lies ahead. My journey, Mark, is making the music, writing it, recording it. And then after that, I just for some reason felt like handing over the project to… Not completely. What I liked what they had to say was, “Hey man, we don’t want to just take this and run with it. You steer this. We’re into taking your directive, so we’ll throw a bit of money at it,” and I just went, “Sure. Let’s do that.”
Mark Dean: Of course, you’ve brought out a first single from the album, Wishes. Is it representative of the albums sound as a whole or is it something different?
Kim Mitchell: No. My producer, Greg Wells… I don’t know if you know of Greg, but he was in my band actually at 17 years old and then he moved to Los Angeles. He produced One Republic, twenty one pilots, did the song on Adele’s 21 record, he did the Greatest Showman soundtrack, he did Katy Perry, he’s got Keith Urban’s number one single. He heard my demos of this stuff that I had been writing for over 13 years, which there’s two kinds of music I write. The real shouty stuff where I walk into a room and kick stuff around to Rock N’ Roll Duty and Go For Soda and that sort of stuff, I’m my own party. And then there’s this other stuff I like to equate as a bit of dry ice in the room. Nicer vibe, lighting, more atmospheric. That was more what I was writing over the 13 years and he said, “This is a side of you, man, that your fans need to hear more of. Please come to Los Angeles, let’s record this.”
Mark Dean: You mentioned there, 13 years since your last album. Just wondered, did you consciously decide to take a break from music or what have you been up to?
Kim Mitchell: Mark, I probably might not have even recorded it because I’m about customer service in rock and roll, meaning that I’m playing gigs here in Canada every year and the attendance is great and I’m playing what they want to hear, I’m playing the songs that they’ve known over the four decades I’ve been doing this, and I’m happy to do so. But it wasn’t until Greg came along and went, “Look, come on, let’s record this.” I’m like, “Well, Jesus, man, this is Greg Wells. I get to use his studio in Los Angeles,” and I love the creative field that Los Angeles has.
I know people say, “Well, it doesn’t matter when you’re in a studio.” Well, his studio is pretty specialized after doing what he’s done. I didn’t jump at the opportunity or at his suggestion, with a bit of hesitation I did. Because doing an album later on in life is… But then I went, “Dancers got to dance, musicians have to write and painters have to paint.”
Mark Dean: But as an artist do you not find yourself writing, creating music nearly all the time anyway?
Kim Mitchell: Yeah. My last record was 13 years ago, it was called Ain’t Life Amazing, and it’s a record I’m extremely proud of. It probably rocks harder than any album I’ve done. And then after that I just switched directions and a little more atmospheric vibe. It just was what was tweaking me inside. Is that making sense or did you ask that?
Mark Dean: I was just wondering why, primarily, the long gap? As an artist, you’d be creating music anyway, why not record albums, put out more music on a regular basis?
Kim Mitchell: Well, good question. I was just busy touring and with life and didn’t really have the… I still was writing, I enjoy that process, but as far as recording it, now you’re talking about, well, you’re going to have to throw some money at it. Because I don’t want to just do it myself and I like other players. I like real musicians playing. I don’t want to sit and program all this stuff. I guess that’s why.
Mark Dean: You’ve had a massive level of success in Canada. You’re in the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, multi-platinum sales, Juno Awards. I just wondered why you personally feel that that level of success wasn’t transferred more internationally and globally?
Kim Mitchell: No idea. I don’t know. I think the way the events were… A long time ago I was in Max Webster in the late ’70s, we did go to England and we did go to the UK and Europe. I think we were starting to make some noise because they were going, “Hey man, we’re going book you into Hammersmith for a headline show. We’re going to do this.” And then same thing with the little pockets in America, they were going, “Some big rock bars or small theaters.” Because we had opened up for a lot of people, but then I pulled the plug on the band. I think out of sight, out of mind. And then I came to Canada and just did my solo career and really didn’t, other than Go For Soda, which got mild airplay in the States, not much has happened.
Man, I don’t know. But here’s the deal, Mark. Really, not every kid is going to get into the NHL or play in a major soccer league, but you can still enjoy the sport, be really good at it. I’ve had a great life being a musician. I get on stages, there’s lots of people coming to my shows, and I have a great time and it’s been cool. I don’t really have any regrets, but that’s a good question. It would have been nice, because there’s only so many places you can play in Canada. It would be nice to be going to UK and doing some gigs every two, three years or something like that.
Mark Dean: I actually came across Max Webster “Paradise Skies” video on a longstanding British pop show, Top of the Pops, from some years ago just today…
Kim Mitchell: We did Top of the Pops. That was a funny one, because imagine this, you’re in a pub over there and you have to do British Masters. Because they wanted to lip sync, we couldn’t just… Actually, no, I’m sorry. We sing it live, but the band track, what’s called the TV mix, we couldn’t use our master. They said you have to rerecord it. The guy comes back, we’re in a pub and he goes, “The only studio we get into is Abbey Road Studio Two. Would you guys be okay with that?” I’m like, …. We were Frostbitten Canadians, and in the famous Abbey Road Studio Two. No, is there anything else available?”
Mark Dean: I’m just again exploring why the success didn’t transfer more globally. What about All We Are? Something like that should have been massive surely.
Kim Mitchell: I don’t know. I don’t lose sleep over it. In part, that lack of global success has formed my outlook on the business, which is, you just take your music and you own it and get a tour, you love it. Beyond that, you really can’t make people listen to it, you can’t make them like it. It’s like that with Wishes. I just hope anybody who does hear it they go, “Wow, what a beautiful song I’m going to check this person out some more or whatever.”
Mark Dean: Of course, you did 11 years on hosting the Kim Mitchell show on Toronto’s Q107. I just wondered how that experience was for you? Obviously you’re used to seeing your audience, whereas on a radio show, you don’t. Did you find that difficult to get used to-what was a totally different artist/audience experience?
Kim Mitchell: No kidding. It’s a pretty weird concept at first, sitting in front of a microphone talking. I guess what I’ll say is that it’s a craft that you have to learn, you have to work hard at. Radio sounds easy, maybe to listeners, but it’s not. You have to really work hard at it. I sucked. I was terrible the first year, but I had a great boss and we worked really hard and eventually it turned into something. It was a really nice experience for me. I went, “Sure. I’ll gig on weekends. I’ll make this a priority.” I had a lot of fun and it was a cool experience, especially meeting some of these musicians that would come in, because I wasn’t asking stuff like, “So man, who are your influences? Hey, what can we expect from the show?”
They would dig it right away. They’d go, “You’re a musician, I guess.” Some of them even knew who I was. Some of them that I didn’t know, they would know who I was. Like Gene Simmons. I said, “Gene, How come Max Webster didn’t open up for you guys?” He just said, “Because you guys could play.” But that’s Gene. That’s his show biz thing. He’s a very gracious, wonderful dude that way. It was a nice experience.
Mark Dean: As I say, you did that for 11 years, I was just wondering if you still have any hopes, dreams and ambitions that you’d still like to explore or pursue?
Kim Mitchell: Not on the radio. I think I just want to enjoy playing my guitar still. That’s my dreams and aspirations still. My passion has always been with the guitar, the instrument. I laugh at some people, they’re like, “Man, you’re such an underrated guitar player and this and that,” it’s like, “Man, have you seen what’s out there? Musicians are amazing, but thank you.” But I just want to enjoy playing the guitar because it’s always brought so much happiness to me. I don’t want to sound too cliche, but it’s been there through marriages, through relationships, through deaths of family members. You go to that thing and it’s just so comforting… I’m so lucky I picked it up when I was a young kid.
Mark Dean: Just then a few general questions. Looking back on your extensive musical career, what in your professional life are you most proud of?
Kim Mitchell: I’m most proud of when I walk on a stage that I’m with musicians and when we connect that musical energy. You start to play, then there’s a musical energy that starts to get transmitted. I’m proud that I’m able to do that, recognize it and know how to not hang on too tight and let it happen and fucking enjoy it. That’s what music is about. As far as my accomplishments, man, we’re all here, Mark, to do something for humankind or the planet. Some are, they frame houses, some are nurses, there’s a bajillion things we all do. I was a musician and I think I brought a lot of happiness to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people, millions perhaps, over my career. That was my gig. People used to say, “Well, what is your gig specifically? What do you look at and see yourself as a musician? What does that say?” Well, my gig is to take you away to rock land wonderland for a couple hours. That’s really all I’m trying to do.
Mark Dean: You must be very proud of what you have achieved. I’m sure you couldn’t imagine when you first set out the level of success that you would subsequently go on to have?
Kim Mitchell: Man, I thought when things started to go well, I’m starting to make a living doing this, I left home at 17. Quit home, quit school at 17, and here I was at 30 going, “I’m making some gas money here.” I’m making $150 a week or whatever the heck I was making. I thought I needed my second or third career in my late 30s. “Something’s going to fall out of the bottom here and I’ll be doing something else,” and I never did. Here I am, I just turned 68 years old and I still strap on my guitar and go downstairs and play really fucking loud.
Mark Dean: What would be the key lesson that the music industry has taught you? Anything that stands out, that if you were to do it again and be like, “Oh right”? Something that you’ve picked up maybe from your experiences over the years?
Kim Mitchell: Absolutely. It’s just the 12 notes. Own them, get your own piece of musical real estate, form your own piece of musical real estate and follow your gut. Some people you’re going to listen to, some people you’re not, and that’s okay. Remember that managers and record companies and publishers and promoters, as much as they like to call the shots and help you out, which a lot of times is very sincere, you have to keep your wits about you and go, “Hey man, these people are working for me actually. Without my music and stuff… “
It’s easy for young musicians, those people to try and tell musicians, “You should be doing this, you should be doing that.” No, follow your gut always and remember that they’re working for you. Take what you want. That’s what I’ve learned. Always take the high road. It’s so easy to get bitter and cynical in this business, and man, you play music, you’re bringing musical vibes to people. That’s one of the more beautiful things to do in life, I’m convinced.
Mark Dean: I’m sure you’ve probably already done this during your time with the radio show, but you’ve done many interviews over the years, what personal hero or inspiration would you personally like to sit down and interview?
Kim Mitchell: Well, I have interviewed a few that were very inspiring. Alice Cooper was very inspiring. Roger Hodgson was very inspiring. A really kind man. Here was a man who’s in a base leg of his musical career and just sounding and playing beautifully. Who would I love to sit down? Well, I would have loved to sit down with Captain Beefheart. I just found him a fascinating artist. I would have loved to sit down with Alex Harvey of the Alex Harvey Band. I met his dad. We were playing in Glasgow, Scotland, and I said something in the press about I had Alex Harvey records and all of a sudden this guy walks in, old dude, and he goes, “Have you got a beer?” I’m like, “I don’t know. Who are you?” He goes, “I’m Les Harvey, I’m Alex’s dad.” I’m like, “What? Come on in.” He was great, man. We talked for an hour. It was so much fun. I’d like to interview those two cats.
I’d love to interview Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, and then on a more nasty… I’d love to interview Eddie Van Halen. Even though I’ve spoken with him a couple of times, it’d be nice to. I’d like to see some of these guys, my question to a guy like Eddie Van Halen would be, “Dude, how come you’re not on a stage with just some buds more? You’ve lived the big rock and roll dream, the big machine. It doesn’t always have to be the big machine when you go out. Why not go do some soft seat theatres and play whatever the fuck you want?” Same thing with the Stones. Why doesn’t Mick Jagger and Keith Richards go do an unplugged thing in a 2000 seat soft theatre and tell stories and play some tunes. It’d just make for a magical evening. I don’t know why these guys sit at home, but they’ve earned it, they want to. Sorry I’m rambling there, Mark.
Mark Dean: You’re fine. That’s perfectly fine. Fully covers my question. That’s great-
Kim Mitchell: Well, thank you.
Mark Dean: … everything covered.
Kim Mitchell : Thank you for the coverage, man.
Mark Dean: Thank you for chatting to me.
Kim Mitchell: I’m sorry it took so long to get a hold of you today. Where are you, Mark?
Mark Dean: I’m actually just outside Manchester in the UK.
Kim Mitchell: Awesome. You’ve been there for your life?
Mark Dean: No, five years. Originally from Northern Ireland. That’s probably why you detect a different accent.
Kim Mitchell: Well, there’s another band I’d like to interview, U2, but I’d want to interview The Edge because he’s the guitarist. I find that he has the attitude that I like to point to for other musicians. Look at somebody who did something in music and really made it their own, and he has. Is he a chops player? Does he shred? No fucking way. But he’s got something going that worked, and he’s the only guy who can do that in that band. I respect that shit, man.
Mark Dean: That’s great. Thank you very much. What lies ahead for you now? I guess everything’s up in the air. I’m sure you’ve had gigs probably postponed.
Kim Mitchell: I had gigs postponed and I’m just sitting, waiting, Mark, like every other musician right now. I don’t want to put any audience in danger and until there’s a treatment or a vaccine, I’m prepared to just not do this. If I don’t get to a stage ever again, then so be it. That’s the way it rolls out.
Mark Dean: No problem. Thank you very much again for chatting to me.
Kim Mitchell: Enjoy. Stay healthy, Mark.
Mark Dean: And you. Thanks, bye.
And there you have it! Fans can find Mark Dean at the following locations: