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Photo courtesy of Andy Kim

Andy Kim talks about life

By Troy Hasselman, November 5 2019 —

In a decades-long career that has included everything from penning radio staples such as “Rock Me Gently” and The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” to collaborations with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew and friendships with countless Canadian music scene figures, Andy Kim has cemented his place within the canon of Canadian songwriters. Kim was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in a ceremony at Studio Bell on Oct. 27 along with Chilliwack, Cowboy Junkies and the late Bobby Curtola.

Kim was born in Montréal to Lebanese immigrants and moved to New York as a teenager where he worked at the famed Brill Building as a songwriter alongside figures such as noted Phil Spector-collaborator Jeff Barry. He came to New York with only $40 in his pocket, enamoured with making music and determined to have a career as a songwriter.

“There’s no courage involved, there’s just blind faith in the fact that this was your purpose in life, that your life depended on it,” Kim says. “If your life doesn’t depend on it then find something that your life does depend on. I was out of my element when I first went there, these were superstars already but there was something in me that they felt was valuable enough for them to work with me and teach me. I remember not knowing what I was doing but hellbent on doing it.”

Kim was inspired by the music he heard on his transistor radio when he was growing up and from seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and watching Dick Clark’s American Bandstand which he went on to perform on eight times in his career.

“I was so incredibly influenced and intoxicated by the music I heard on transistor radio, especially stations like WABC in New York and WKBW in Buffalo,” Kim says. “They made it sound so exciting and I wanted to be a part of that world and be in that kind of playground. I just wanted to be around musicians, artists, sculptors, painters without knowing what all of that was about. I just felt that I was pulled in that direction, sometimes you don’t know why. I look back on it now and find myself pretty lucky.”

Photo courtesy of Andy Kim

His career began to take off in the late ‘60s after a string of successful singles including “How’d We Ever Get This Way?,” “Baby, I Love You” and the global-selling smash “Sugar, Sugar,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks and became the best-selling single of 1969 — a year with no shortage of memorable songs.

“I’m really an in-the-moment kind of guy — the less I plan the happier I am. I got a foot in with ‘How’d We Ever Get This Way?’ and ‘Baby, I Love You’ and ‘Sugar, Sugar’ really gave me the kind of freedom to just blossom into a songwriter,” Kim says. “People ask me ‘How’d you write the song?’ or ‘Why’d you write the song?’ and it’s not a science here, you just put something in your cassette player and all of a sudden you’ve finished something and you love the way it sounds and in the end I like to think that songwriters write songs for themselves — unless you’re given a direction that says ‘You have to write a song for such and such’ or ‘Do you have a song for a band?’ It’s a different concept because then you want to know what their range is, who’s the singer, what they sound like, all that kind of stuff. I had to write for four comic book characters, they’re not people. So I wrote that and found millions of people identifying with it.”

Kim’s career wasn’t without adversity, with his sales fading in the mid-1970s Kim found himself without a record deal. He started his own record label and personally financed the sessions for his single “Rock Me Gently” which landed him a deal with Capitol Records. They released the single to slow-building success, topping the American charts in September 1974. Kim’s perseverance through this time is illustrative of his perspective on his career and the clear gratitude that he has for being a songwriter.

“I’m excited about the fact that I stuck it out,” Kim says. “I’m excited about the fact that I never took anything for granted. I’m excited about the fact that when a song of mine became a hit, I wasn’t one of those guys that thought I was better than anyone else. I was always cognizant of the fact that I was lucky and blessed to be doing this. Someone else made a decision on whether or not they like it. You can’t force people to buy your goods, you can’t force people to read what you write, you just have to be interesting. But you don’t know if you’re interesting when you’re starting out. I think the important thing is finding out who you are. The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Photo courtesy of Andy Kim

In recent years, Kim’s music has found a new generation of listeners and he has friendships with musicians like Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies and Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew who produced Kim’s 2015 album It’s Decided. The two became friends after Kim reached out to Kevin Drew and his Broken Social Scene-collaborator, Brendan Canning, to participate in his annual charity Christmas concert. This friendship has lead to the two continuing to collaborate and even having Kim join Broken Social Scene on tour.

“I think the love and respect we have for each other was a bonding influence on our lives. Kevin said ‘I’d like to produce your next album’ and I said ‘I don’t think there’s a next Andy Kim album,’ and he said ‘No, we’re gonna do this.’ It was a most joyous time. Every rule I learned in the Brill Building in New York, Kevin broke. It didn’t matter because we ended up creating a great album together. When I look back on it all, I feel very, very honoured that not only did we create something that I could not create on my own but we’re the best of friends and we’re gonna go in and write again and go in the studio again. It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling to know that a younger generation heard your songs because parents played it because it was on the radio all day. I think the most important thing is who are you as a human being and I think that’s how Kevin and I connected.”

Kim has connected with numerous Canadian artists in recent years through his annual Christmas concert, which he’s held every year since 2005 and has included performers such as Ron Sexsmith, Billy Talent and Rush’s Alex Lifeson amongst countless others. The concerts have given Kim the chance to build relationships within Canada’s music community.

“It’s a phenomenal community. It reminds me of the kind of community that existed in the Brill Building, one that is all about music,” Kim says. “Alex Lifeson has gone four or five times, Kim Mitchell came last year. There’s an incredible community of not only my generation but younger generations and artists that are just starting and I want them to meet each other, I want them to have a relationship with each other long after I’m gone because I think it’s important. Some of the artists come and they’re thrilled to meet someone for the first time. It’s a joy to bring people together for the purpose of love and understanding and helping a community of people that need help.”

Kim owes his success to his decision to follow his passion for music and a willingness to take risks to be able to achieve his dreams, evoking a quote from the Canadian author Basil King in explaining his take on life.

“Stay true to yourself and no matter what you decide to do in life, you’ll live a happy life,” Kim says. “If you try and live someone else’s life, it’s going to be messed up. Don’t do anything for publicity, don’t do anything to be noticed. Be smart, be articulate, be different. If anyone can learn anything it’s to find out who you are and build on that because the right people will run into your world. There’s a great Canadian by the name of Basil King who said ‘Be brave and mighty warriors will come to your aid.’ I was brave enough to come to New York and mighty warriors came to help me and I’m here. I don’t know how but I got here, but I’m here.”

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