Date: 7 April 1982
Originally published in: Muziekkrant Oor (Netherlands)
Written by: Paul Evers
She is spoiled from all sides. By the boys, because she has Brigitte Bardot’s lips. By the girls, because she looks modern but not too extravagant. By the new wave because of her roughness and unconformism. And by the disco’s because she has class and style. She goes back and forth between progressive pop-rock and chart sounds, pleasing everyone at once. Teenage magazine put her on the cover, but also ‘serious’ magazines like NME and Zigzag. Here, it’s Hitkrant as well as Muziekkrant Oor. On the eve of her fourth expected single-succes, A View From A Bridge, a second album nearing completion and a tour on European stages in the making, an interview with the ‘modern version of Dusty Springfield’; the irresistible Kim Wilde.
I whisper her name. Wilde. It’s Oscar’s name, and Herman Brood’s Romance. Wild, untamed, fiery. In all simpleness, as always dressed in black, I see her miming Kids in America for television. She seems to look at me directly, meanwhile singing the infectuous melody. Less than half a year later her body turns back and forth slowly but sensually on a field bed. Mosquito nets, snakes, spiders, the atmosphere is tropical and I am nervously sweating and trying to adjust the colour settings. Cambodia. Smart, modern pop music pushes her into the charts. Kim. I start associating. Novak, for example. Ursula Andress in Dr. No, Brigitte Bardot. Claudia Cardinale in the sixties. All favourite film stars from the bubblegum pictures appear in my head. Kim Wilde. The perfect name, the fantasy of fantasies…
With a bump the taxi stands still. I rise up from my dreamy thoughts, get out, pay and walk into the RAK Records building. There is a waiting room and the first darts have just hit the board when I hear ‘tic toc tic toc’. Then her voice, a slightly nasal sound. She giggles with the receptionist, while my darts land in the carpet. Tic toc tic toc. She is twenty-one and in fact she’s named Smith, I repeat to myself. Kim Smith enters. She just enters, and nothing special happens. There’s a slight draft over the floor. Tic toc puts down her purse, gives me a hand and looks at me incredibly sweetly. Her hair is coloured blonde, I read somewhere, because her own colour bored her. She was looking for an extreme. Black would make her looks too stern, according to her friends. So she went blonde. She turns and we walk through the corridors, up the stairs, during which the black of her jacket and pants sharply contrast with the white of the marble tiles.
Upstairs she sits down in a corner of a leather couch, in Mickie Most’s office. He’s her boss, manager, protector. Above her head the wall is filled with platinum, silver and especially gold records. Smokie, Suzi Quatro, Hot Chocolate; her record company deals in one day flies, a kingdom in pure pop. For Kim there was only just one corner. Silver for Kids and Chequered love, silver for the album, gold for the album. She laughs proudly, without a trace of shyness. Kim Smith.
A small fragment.
‘I don’t see my image as a selling trick like Adam Ant. He is almost entirely built by his image. I wouldn’t be able to do that. The point is that when you make music and you want to sing and make records, then you have to take many things into account. Your image, your looks, the whole presentation, from videos to album sleeves. But I do try to keep those things on the second plan. The music comes first. I don’t get involved in the design of my sleeves or my clothes.’
Still, there’s an image, something that is reacted to.
‘I’ve had no problem with that up until now. That is a surprise, really. Because almost all artists in ‘Top Of The Pops’ have a very pronounced image. I don’t have it. I’m just what I am. Still, my records become hits, and a lot is talked and written about me. There’s a lot of interest for me.’
But if it’s not cause by your image, what is it?
‘It must be the honesty behind it. I won’t say that Adam Ant isn’t honest. He does what he does and for himself, he’s very honest. But for the average listener Kim Wilde isn’t much more than that honesty, the normal. That must be the reason for the succes, I often think. I try to be honest about myself, I don’t have answers to all the questions. I don’t think about what I am going to say. And people apparently like that. Tnere’s an awful lot of bullshit going on, many people resent that now. Al the talk, all the fashion trends, all the unreal stuff. My success proves that people dislike that. And me too, in fact.’
Is this a comment on your colleagues?
‘Exactly. I think people behave too much according to the clothes they wear. Clothing dictates everything. I find that pathetic. That’s why I try not to emphasize that. I wear pretty unremarkable clothes, jeans and stuff. I try to minimise the fashion element, because you lose your identity with it very quickly.’
You do like glamour, though.
‘Yes. Glamour, to me, is a mixture of style and sex. Sex is just sex. But glamour has the right things of style and sex… I admire glamour, I strive for it myself. To be honest, I don’t think I’m a glamourous type, but there are moments that I want to be… It’s very artificial. It’s a layer. You don’t wear an evening dress in the morning. If I would be busy with that every day, I would think myself hollow and empty. I find people, who are only busy with glamour and fashion very hollow and empty. They have lost a lot along the way.’
Kim Wilde does not exist. Her exterior is called Smith and her interior is made by daddy Marty Wilde, who writes the lyrics and brother Ricky Wilde, who composes the music and produces the songs in the studio. (‘There are two other kids, Roxanne who’s 2½ and Marty who’s 1. I come from a happy family, which I think is a privilige. Of course I would like to have that myself in the future, to get married and have kids.’) And still Kim Wilde does exist.
The family story is well-known enough. Daddy is the 42-year old Marty Wilde, born Reginald Smith, who became famous between 1958 and 1962 with hits like Endless Sleep, Donna, A Teenager In love, Sea of love and Bad Boy. In time dad became less popular and Ricky was put forward as the new wonder child. Marty arranges a contract with Mickie Most & RAK and Kim sings some backing vocals in an afternoon, like she’s done years for her father. Most happens to walk in, hears her, sees her and changes the plans. Ricky is to compose and produce, daddy writes the lyrics and Kim will be the face and voice.
‘For the general public I am still the girl they see on TV. They buy that picture, not the sound, the production, the songs. But all those factors determine what Kim Wilde is.’
Why don’t Marty and Ricky do interviews?
‘Because I think everyone should do their own thing. I do the public relations. I am the looks of Kim Wilde and it’s my duty to do that as well as I can. They write the songs and do the producion. That is their task, their piece. When those two things are mixed up, it becomes very difficult.’
You seem very self assured in interviews, someone with both feet firmly on the ground. Is that because of your father and your home situation?
‘Absolutely. It’s something that has grown in me slowly but surely. It finally came out when I became a pop star. I was always balanced, but when everything went so fast for me, when I started making records and had to talk about myself in front of all kinds of people, that what was inside became stronger. The stability in our family has brought me this far. There was a lot of love, attention and especially common sense.’
It’s interesting. Because every normal human being of your age would push away their parents.
‘I know that many young people have problems with their parents. But I believe in give and take. You have to be prepared to mix wine with water every once in a while. If you want things to work out, they will. If you don’t want that, it’s easy to say that you can’t get along with your parents. Why neglect something like that?’
I always knew I’d be famous, you say somewhere. How do you know something like that?
‘You don’t. You hope, or believe in that. There’s a difference between the two, but sometimes it’s difficult to point out that difference. I knew that I would be able to handle being famous. It seemed like a pair of gloves to me. They were there for me, and I knew that they would fit. It wasn’t a big deal or anything, no, I felt it was a very normal thought.’
Do you remember when you got the feeling for the first time?
‘It grew inside of me… from the very first day. It’s in my personality. The rest of it was a matter of time, until it finally happened for real.’
Did you consider doing backing vocals a first real step towards the top?
‘Well, I knew that if I wouldn’t sing, I’d never become a singer. It was a step, I did it as such. I was always lucky enough to be able to record in studios with such a lot of help.’
More luck than wisdom?
‘Yes, in a way. I am a bit spoilt in some ways. But I also grabbed all opportunities. I have used all possibilities and learned a lot from everything I’ve done.’
Kim’s bed is made. She’s surrounded by Marty, Ricky and Mickie Most. It can’t fail. The men don’t waste time. Every plan is made to sell hits, posters, T-shirts and interviews.
‘Looking back I often think: my God, what happened then? But it didn’t hit me as such at the time. Success has become very real in the past year. If I’d end up on number two in the chart, I might have a nervous breakdown. Everything went so fast. And I felt that I was in control of things. I was. But sometimes you do something which you only realise later.
The music is made like someone of this time wants to hear. A lot of rhythm, melodie, guitar, synthesizer, beat, recognition, with a grabbing but always vague lyric about love, boys and girls, love and sorrow. Somehow it all just fits intuitively. Pop music of the present, like a chocolate bar, that is eaten and enjoyed until a new one is there.
‘Thank God. Isn’t that pop music?’, Kim exclaims. She tells me about the first music she listened to. Gilla Black. Gene Pitney, Stones, Beatles, artists she mimed in front of a mirror. ‘I remember that dad and me made a demo of a song he wrote when I was six. He gave that song to some band and it never became a hit, but you could hear that I already had a nice pitch at that age.’ Her musical taste changes every year. When she’s eleven it’s Joni Mitchell, Garole King and Aretha Franklin, next to Crosby Stills & Nash and Neil Young. Father lets her listen to Frank Sinatra’s Songs Fot Swinging Lovers, which still is one of her favourites now. Mother lets her listen to Mary Wells and Dusty Springfield. And lately Kim rehearses to country records by Elvis Costello, George Jones, Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis and Merle Haggard.
The Cure and Thompson Twins are also played. At home, with the stereo. Because going out has become taboo by now. ‘Unless it’s a really big place, I won’t go out anymore. I feel very uncomforable. People act very strange towards me. I tried it again yesterday evening and we went to Tenpole Tudor. I wore a hat. Someone felt it was necessary to take it off and pull my hair. It still hurts… what’s the use? When you go out, you don’t want the stress. If it’s not this, they will throw beer all over you! In all honesty: if I want to listen to music, I buy the single and play it at home. That’s the price I have to pay. Which I do.
A large fragment.
Cambodia was a different type of single than the previous two. Was it a deliberate try to avoid predictability?
‘Er… when we recorded the song the three of us felt it was a strong song. You just feel if it’s a single choice. That was the first reason to release that song. But besides that it was good to do something else. People get used to a certain style so soon, that it can start to get boring. You must not fulfill expectations, I think. You have to keep surprising your audience. Many people considered Cambodia to be my first good single. I believe we have attracted a larger audience with it.’
What is the song about?
‘It’s a tragic love song. It’s about someone who loses her lover in sad circumstances. It wasn’t written as a commentary on the Cambodian situation, more like a ‘song mystery’. Something like 24 Hours from Tulsa by Gene Pitney. I feel that’s a ‘song mystery’ as well. Do you know it?’
Yes, but I don’t understand what you mean by ‘song mystery’.
‘It’s a song that leaves you with various questions. A song which you don’t know what it’s about or what’s happening in it. You get a certain idea, but you just don’t know. And a song like that tries a lot to make the mystery bigger. That’s Cambodia to me. It’s open to all kinds of interpretations. Like most of our songs, really. That’s why I don’t like talking about it. It’s irrelevant.’
Have you heard a very different interpretation of Cambodia?
‘Not yet, but I am sure that a million political explanations can be attached to it. If you read that into it, that’s someone else’s interpretation, and if you get anything out of that, that’s just as valuable as what we think it’s about.’
All your singles have been hits. Does it get predictable how the next one will do?
‘No… or yes, in a way… when you record a hit, you can feel it will be one. That’s what I felt with all singles… How does it feel? I don’t know. It’s that buzz you get when doing it.
What does a hit need?
“A strong hook, something recognisable, a good refrain… it’s something undefinable. If someone would know, he’d have the golden formula. It’s just a feeling of which the three of us know that we have a winner.’
Does a Kim Wilde sound exist?
‘Yes, I believe so; in Cambodia as well, although it was a very different song. The sound is mostly Ricky’s production. It’s very Wilde. As long as you stay with the same producer, you will always have a certain sound. When people hear the new single, they will say: Oh, that’s Kim Wilde. I already know. The title will be: A view from a bridge. It’s another ‘song mystery’ so I won’t tell you what it’s about.’
I would probably find out when I speak to Marty. Do you find this a good situation? Don’t you want to write anything yourself or are you unable to?
‘At the moment I’m happy with this situation. I do a lot of interviews, do publicity for Kim Wilde, do the PR… and of course I’m eager to write my own songs, because I like music. I just haven’t had the opportunity to involve myself in composing songs and writing lyrics. You need time and space for it and I don’t have that right now. I’m always busy. With these interviews, radio, tv, photographs, everything, washing my hair…’
So is there no artistic need to make songs, to speak your own mind.
‘No, no, there is. I really, really want to. But you can’t do everything at once. I know that I can do it and that, when it happens, it has to be done well. But at the moment I just don’t feel it. So I won’t do it. I find everything I do so absorbing and fascinating, I learn so much from this, that I’m way too busy with this.’
Are there things that inspire you so much that you write it down immediately?
‘Yes, it happens. I write a lot of poetry. I have a book full of ideas. But I don’t have to compose music for it. I don’t want to be busy 24 hours a day.’
You’re only singing somebody else’s lyrics, but also those of your father. That seems, forgive me the expression, a little perverse.
‘Yes, well, I have no problem with that. I feel like an actress who plays Tsjechov and says his words. I mean… I don’t feel like I’m an actress, I feel like I’m a singer. When I sing a song, any song, I do it out of the sheer pleasure of singing that song. Not the words, but just the song itself. It’s always a challenge to see what can be made of a song like that.’
‘I see myself as an entertainer, a singer, a modern version of Dusty Springfield. More something like her than a rock chick like Suzi Quatro or Chrissie Hynde. I see myself on a different level. I hope I am a bit more rough and wild than Dusty Springfield, that’s the rock and roll in me. Because many of her songs were soft, the Goffin & King and Burt Bacharach genre. When I take to the stage, I will be a cross between the rock chick like Chrissie Hynde and the soft melody of Dusty Springfield.’
From those two standard types ‘women in pop music’ so many girls have moved away, looking for their own identity.
‘Fine, that’s goed. I do it too. I am good friends witha girl band who like me a lot as well. And I like them! They don’t think they should be a woman band just because they have a female drummer and so they’d always have to work with girl guitarists. If it goes well, it will go on. If not, then it has to change. That’s a valid thing for whomever you work with.’
Which band is that?
They need a singer, I read.
‘I know. You know, when they’d have asked me two years ago, I would have done it immediately. But now… I think not.’
You are surrounded by men now. This world is dominated by men…
‘Yes, but it doesn’t matter to me. I feel totally unrepressed, although everyone says I’m a sex symbol. Sex symbols are also there for women, not just for men. Men are not the only ones with a sexual desire. Women are exactly the same. I see no difference. I feel no threat from men, or from the sex symbol I am supposed to be. Because it’s a universal, uni-sexual thing.’
But sex is undoubtedly part of your success.
Do you play on it, do you use it?
‘I don’t know. I’m not doing like this (moves her T-shirt down and shows her shoulder -PE). I like to look good, but whoever said that looking good and selling sex are the same things? It matters how you think about yourself and also how you think you look. If I wanted to impress the boys, I might as well wear something else. If I’d try I wouldn’t fail. But I’m not on that trip at all.’
Something like Debbie Harry did it consciously but she was strong. She manipulated.
‘I love Debbie Harry, I think she’s a very liberated woman. I have never seen her like ‘come on guys, come and get me’, more like ‘hey look girls, you can do this too!’. You don’t have to be worried about what others think of you. Show your goodies and look what they do with it! Have fun with it! Yes, I felt her way of working very liberating. I think it’s unfair when she is looked and frowned upon by those so called ‘liberated ladies’. I think she’s done more to liberating women than many others.’
Are you not criticized by ‘liberated ladies’?
‘I don’t think so, I have no contact with them… I feel liberated enough anyway.’
The concept Kim Wilde is made up for phase two. The motto: expansion. The Wilde company does international business. One of the countries where pop music becomes more flexible every day for Western product is Japan. Masami Tschuivya from the Japanese group Ippu Do has done a production with Kim during his recent stay in London. Kim: ‘It’s like this. He produced an advert for the Japanese market. It’s for Bitter Lemon. It’s very normal there to do it. Every artist who wants to break in Japan, tries to get such a spot.’
Yes, David Bowie did something like that as well.
‘That’s just the way they do it there. You wouldn’t do it here. Here you just go to TOTP and stuff, you talk to the music press and girls magazines. That’s how you break in England. But in Japan there are too many people… and their technology is superior… I mean, they virtually only make adverts, and they are made so well!’
Will you be going there?
‘Yes, in May. My records are being released there now, and the demand seems to grow. I hope we will succeed there because Japan seems like a great country. And I think it’s the right time to break through there now. There’s a lot of mutua; interest between England and Japan.’
Were you contacted by Ippu Do or RAK Japan?
‘No, it went like this. The advertising company there was interested in Ippu Do’s music and my image. They wanted to bring the two together.’
What’s the relation between your image and bitter lemon?
‘Haha… well… the good thing was that I didn’t have to do anything strange. I didn’t have to rise out of the water with a bottle of Bitter Lemon in my mouth or whatever. I just had to drink and record a few songs in the studio. It’s like – this is Kim Wilde, she’s an artist, she makes this music and sometimes she drinks Bitter Lemon.’
But do they play your music then?
‘No, but I sing on the sound track behind the advert. It’s cross between Kids In America, Chequered Love, and something else, made by Masami. It’s not a real pop song, but it’s a good advertising song. It has a very very catchy hook, and it isn’t far removed from the music I make now. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.’
The lips say that the new album is worked on hard. There are eight songs ready now and the rest won’t be long. It will be another album full of good songs, she is convinced. More style, more coherence… The tour is also coming, Kim says. But behind the routine a charming openheartedness is revealed. Kim blushes a little when she tells me she’d like to start her tour in Norway. Then: ‘If they want me to start in England I will! I’m not afraid of it. But the critics here are real terrorists. They’re ready to burn you. And I need some confidence and experience before I take to the stage here in England.’
‘Bye Kim.’ I say it as normal as I can. Her hand in my hand for a moment. The gold record wall shines when a sun beam falls inside. For a moment, everything is warm and beautiful. Then the curtain falls. Smith pulls the door open. When I step outside I pass a tall boy. The next in line for a date with his blonde barbie doll. And then I hear it. He whispers her name.