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FYI

A Conversation With ..Kim Mitchell

The much-loved veteran, still doing his rock ‘n roll duty, recently signed to El Mocambo Records. Here he talks about his upcoming album, life in a pandemic, a love of Tom Petty, his stint as a star radio host, the stress of touring, and much more.

A Conversation With ..Kim Mitchell

By Bill King

So here's the press release:


TORONTO — June 29, 2020 — 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”.  

When it comes to Wishes, the way the song came to be is just as poetic as its original inspiration.

“The lyrics literally fell into my lap one day in a waiting room,” the Gold and Multi-Platinum selling singer/songwriter and guitarist recalls. “After very randomly reading A.C. Child’s poem Wishes, I knew immediately I wanted to turn it into a song.

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“After writing the verses, I quickly realized that, while the poem itself felt complete, now being in a song, it didn’t anymore. It needed something lyrically and musically to sum up the whole idea. The challenge would be coming up with a melody and music that would harmonically be satisfying to me, yet present itself as simple, pretty, and serving the lyric.

“It also needed a musical deviation somewhere… A short, musical passage you could just float away with before coming back to the song’s final thought.”

The first thing that comes to mind re the El Mo and the big March 2020 press day – the walkthrough and stunning visuals. Then covid. After years of promised openings, how could this exquisite venue absorb another blow? Then I thought, if ever a place was built for an artist, Kim Mitchell is that guy. Here's a bit of our recent conversation.

Bill King: How are you making it through the day?

Kim Micthell: I have the covid E diet. Eat everything you want all of the time. Candy, no vegetables – whatever you feel like, and you can do it 24 hours a day.

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B.K: I kind of went that route the first few months then when it got warm – I stepped outside and had a look at myself. Shame!

K.M: It's true. As soon as you had to take your coat off and wear a T-shirt and you're walking by a store window …" ooooh."

B.K: What was the El Mocambo gig?

K.M: We did a live remote.

B.K: I've heard several tracks of your new recording and wondered if they were recorded at the Elmo – you're on El Mocambo records now.

K.M: Those tracks were recorded in Los Angeles and around here. We worked on them for the last couple of years. Why hurry? I'm semi-retired. We did a lot in Los Angeles, came home – farted around, walked the dog, then went downstairs in the studio and did a bit of work if so inspired.

B.K: While listening, I remembered one of my favourite live concerts going back ten years ago, Tom Petty at the ACC Centre. It was the overall sound coming off that stage, that blend between guitars and drums that hooked me in. You sort of capture the Petty vibe on The Big Fantasize.

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K.M: There's a mojo and a groove going on, and I agree with you about Tom Petty. I'm not sure if it was ten years ago I saw him at the ACC, but I did see one of those shows. Geez was that ever tight. Wasn't there one like five years ago?  I remember the one ten years back. I hadn't seen him before, and it sounded so good. I always forget his drummer's name (Stan Lynch). He stood on the side of the stage, and I remember him playing with Joe Walsh too, when we opened up for Joe Walsh, and he stood on the side of the stage watching us. He sits back with a big smile on his face singing all of the lyrics while playing a big groove. You know drummers? They are always serious and intense and this guy is like, "Hey baby how are you?"

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B.K: It's always about the lyrics.

K.M: One of my favourite guitar players is Tom Bukovac, and most people have never heard of him. He's a Nashville session guy. Most session guys I know go in the studio and turn the vocal down. Bukovac says, "I crank the vocal and want to wrap everything I do around the vocal."

My producer Greg Wells said the same thing. If there is a vocal in the song, it's the most crucial part.

B.K: Your vocals are exceptional.

K.M: Not bad for a guy who hates singing.

B.K: Wishes is the single, and it arrives June 26. Is there a storyline to it?

K.M: About ten years ago, I can't say if I was in a medical office or what. I hardly ever read poetry or pick up books but I'll pick up a magazine in a doctor's office and leaf through it. It was one of those moments and, for some reason, there was a book of poetry lying there. Somewhere in the middle, there was this poem, Wishes. I think it was probably done in the '40s because it's public domain. As I read it, I loved it and wanted to write a song to it. Ten years ago, I got the verses – sort of an adaptation, not word for word. I never finished. I kept looking at it and thinking this isn't a song yet. It didn't have a bridge or chorus. It took me to about six months ago to finish the song. I'd come at it here and there – nope that didn't work. I should finish the song because it has the same vibe as the album. I'm home one day and get to the end of one of the verses and stopped playing and kept on singing, and it just happened.

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It goes with my attitude about songwriting. I never give up on a song. I felt like I was the song's roadie. I didn't come up with the parts, the song was telling me  - I don't like that, I don't like that then – "Yeah, that's it, that's it."

B.K: Your guitar sound. How do you get it?

K.M: I'm using a Fender American Standard Stratocaster in an old Marshall 4X12 guitar cabinet – simple old school. The '60s, '70s set up. A couple of pedals. Nothing fancy pants. I don't have one of those L.A. rigs. Cartage company rolls it in – show up in a BMW – "Yo babe, what's the track?"

Tom Bukovac, my favourite guitarist, brings in a half a dozen guitars for the session. It all depends on the tonality. I hate doing sessions for other people. I've done it over the years and am always buried in the mix. What's the point?

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B.K: It's been a few years since you departed Q-107. You were there for eleven years. Do you wish you were on the radio during these times?

K.M: No. It's over for sure. It was fun, and they treated me nicely. And for whatever reasons, they wanted to show me the door and they did. I was like, "What, what," then got home and was kind of OK with that. It took me about two weeks. I thought – I'm going back to being a rock guitar player and there's nothing wrong with that. I did prioritize that gig. I planned weekends and made sure I didn't hang them up. They were good to me when I had to leave and play a gig.

B.K: If someone said, "Kim, come back to radio," would you do it?

K.M: Nah! It's too much work.

B.K: What's your schedule?

K.M. I don't have a schedule. I have a guy coming to do some painting. I used to love painting, but now, I hate it. He asks," Would it be OK to do Saturday?" I said, "Man, I'm unemployed for the next year. You show up at the door anytime, and I'm here.

B.K: Touring is stressful.

K.M: People don't realize how much stress accompanies the whole gig. It's funny how the world is now and talking about how to get the economy going. Restaurant this and that, but no one ever mentions the entertainment business. And how much we are hurting. Personally, I'm not – I'm going to be OK, I hope. From crew guys to sidemen living a hand to mouth existence – people don't even acknowledge that. They steal our music, and we can't get back to work.

I love being a musician, and with this record, I look at it like the rest of my records, it's about the journey in the making. There's a lot of moments of euphoria, satisfaction – moments you quit the business – all different kinds of emotions go into making a record. Once mixed and mastered, and I go great, I feel like I should take it out back and shoot it. My job is over. There's nothing I can do to it now. I can't make people like it. I can't make them buy it. I can't stop them from saying, "Wow, this is great." The next guy, "this is absolute garbage." I took the journey, I love it, and now I'm going to shoot it in the back yard. Bam!

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Grant W. Martin Photography

CRTC Chairperson Vicky Eatrides at Radiodays North American/Canadian Music Week 2024

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