Date: 24 January 1987
Originally published in: Juke (Australia)
Actually, we’ve taken Kim Wilde’s statement right out of context but what the hell, it’s a great heading. Byron Smith takes a walk on the wilde side and finds a sensible girl who loves images and image-making… as long as it’s not done to her.
“I don’t really think I’ve played the media game too successfully… I don’t really think I’m smart enough.”
Posters of a confident, pouting girl called Kim Wilde stare down from the record company walls at the pensive, real Kim Wilde below.
“I mean I’ve been smart enough to inject my energies into tangible things like writing and music, but I really can’t spend too much time thinking about what I look like… about pictures and image and the whole public front. Basically it’s just about sitting in front of a camera. I mean I’m a big fan of image and image-makers and people who do it well, but at the same time I can’t change the person I am and I’m not really interested in it for myself.”
About two years ago Kim Wilde made her first big career mistake when she employed the services of an image-maker known simply as XL.
Until XL stepped into the picture Wilde had always been the customary Girl-Next-Door, relying on a natural innocence and attractive charm for her visual appeal. Unfortunately it took an image-maker to rob much of her intrinsic sensuality and replace it with one of applied sexuality. The image simply wasn’t her.
Videos began to rely less on performance and song quality as primary emphasis shifted to the percentage-ratio of bare skin revealed in three minutes. Wilde had fallen into the most obvious trap of having her body employed to sell records, at the expense of musical credibility.
In his book Designer Boys and Material Girl’s, Dave Hill states: “(Pop artists) know perfectly well that they are commodities. Not just commodities perhaps, but definitely up for sale. Pop in the past has always been denounced for being ‘manufactured’.
Hill goes on to explain that the fresh species of ’80’s pop artists were ready and willing to create their own blueprint for swift success and they no longer had to rely on businessmen to “groom” them for shooting stardom. With people like Howard Jones, Madness, Spandau and Madonna, the image came from within.
When Wilde sought the services of an outsider to create an “image” she was essentially stepping backwards, blind to the natural elements her contemporaries were employing in their rise to stardom. Of course in retrospect she realises as much.
“You have to make mistakes and because of the nature of the business you make them in public. I mean I’m no exception. I’ve had to grow up in public and I’d be pretty inhuman if I didn’t cock-up a few times.”
Despite the ‘cock-ups’, Wilde has emerged as an artist quite obviously engrossed in music. Ever so slowly she has developed into a competent live performer and of late, a songwriter.
Of course her father Marty — who is still well remembered for his success in the sixties — has played no small part in instilling an inbuilt infatuation for the art.
With the additional contribution of her brother Ricki, Kim has found herself helplessly — but happily — entangled in an ongoing and evocative love affair with music and The Rock and Roll Myth.
“I guess there have been times when I thought about what life would be like without music, but then that would be to me like saying ‘what would life be like without air?’ I think I would comatose and shrivel up. There’s no way… just no way. I’m resigned to that now, for better or for worse — I’m married into music and I feel very committed to it and it’s something that sustains me and supports me and gives my life meaning and I’m glad it’s something like music and not some husband who can run off with some other woman. I mean the whole meaning of some women’s lives is their man, but that’s something that can go. No-one can really take my career away from me.”
It is this attitude towards music which could easily persuade one to contemplate the motivation behind artists such as Samantha Fox, who has three natural assets on her side — one being her smile.
Fox burst onto the music scene amid sensational publicity reaped from her numerous topless encounters with the third page of English newspapers. For Fox, the same customary struggle which had preceded Wilde’s music biz success, appeared almost laughably unformidable.
Armed with a catchy ditty, crack musicians, crack production, a sexually exploitive video and very little talent, Sammy was the perfect pop package and the poppy-minded pop populous lapped it up. Sammy made herself and her record company lots of yummy money and everyone was happy. Superfluous Sam is unlikely to be remembered for her music career — which is bad — but the worst part is, she probably doesn’t even care.
For artists like Wilde, who’ve injected years of hard work into trying to produce good music, the instant success of someone like Sam Fox is understandably a little hard to swallow:
“Well with Samantha it was a case of being a Page Three girl before she made any records and then as soon as she had recording success she was promoting a fashion range of clothes… so anyone would be wary of her motives for being involved in the business. I mean you don’t have to have half a brain to know what her motives are when you see her on page three and promoting a line of clothes wear within a year of her music career.
“But you know, she’s young, just the way I was young when I first started making records and she doesn’t have all the answers, just the way I didn’t… and still don’t.’
Although Wilde is far from having all the answers, she’s working on it. Her last two LP’s Teases and Dares and Another Step have both contained tracks penned by Kim, in collaboration with her father Marty and brother Ricki, along with guitarist Steve Byrd.
Previously writing credits on her singles and albums had gone solely to her father and/or brother. The emergence of Kim Wilde — the songwriter — has been the realisation of a long standing ambition to be involved in the creativity process, and she’s happy with the results.
“The two songs I wrote which appeared on Teases and Dares were in fact the first two songs I ever wrote and, um, I was kind of pleased with them. I think they worked as songs and they marked the beginning of my writing. After that LP I continued to write on my own, but it was when I started working with Steve (Byrd), my guitarist, that things started getting really interesting.
“The stuff I’d been involved in writing with Ricki was mostly on the lyrics side of things, but with Steve it was both the music and the lyrics side.
“Writing a song with someone involves a completely different level of communication. I mean writing a song with someone is the most weird experience and it’s great if it’s working well. It can also be very frightening when you first start because you think ‘is this going to work?’ Is he going to think I’m dreadful? Am I going to think he’s dreadful? How good is he? Is he really this good or is it some other guy, and is he thinking ‘shit, she can’t write songs?!’ And this all makes it very difficult at first.
“I mean you have to be completely confident and be willing to make a complete arsehole of yourself basically, and that’s a hard thing for anyone to do.
“I didn’t find it very easy writing with Steve initially, even though I’d been playing with him in the live band for four years. We didn’t have a particularly close relationship until we started writing together and now it’s completely different, but there’s still that kind of detachment there.
“It took me a long time to like the stuff I was writing because I kept getting writer’s block and I kept coming up with ideas but trashing them pretty soon after, and I reckon it gets really hard when you start working on ideas rather than trashing them alter five minutes. You know, it’s hard working on an idea for one or two hours trying to make it go somewhere and then having to give up on it.”
It’s interesting to ponder the working relationship Kim has with her family. It’s something you don’t see a lot of in the industry and something which would no doubt have its own set of problems and pleasures. So how does it work?
How does a 26 year old girl — who appears to have quite strong ideas of what she does and doesn’t like — cope with being locked in a tiny room with her father and brother for sometimes months on end? Does the relationship become a purely professional one or is it based more on objective friendship, extraneous to the obvious domestic tie between the trio?
“It’s pretty much just a case of ‘let’s get this done, it’s kind of matter-of-fact. We want to make a great record, it’s got to be produced well and I don’t want to be singing sharp or flat on it — I want to give it some guts.
“I mean we’re very lucky because we have our own recording studio and it’s been easier since I haven’t been living at home I’m sure.”
You don’t have time to get on each others’ nerves?
“Well not really, no. When we go into the studio it’s the records and what’s on tape that’s important and everything else goes out the window. Everyone listens to each other and it’s not like there’s a boss in there, I’m just as much the boss as anyone else is.”
Wilde spent about five weeks in LA recording Another Step, and although she used the album as a chance to suss-out the mechanics of working with a producer, she missed the contribution of Ricki Wilde, who couldn’t make it to LA for the album sessions.
“Yeah, I was kind of saying to musicians in the studio in Los Angeles ‘can you play that like my brother played it?’ which we’d already done at home in our studio on a demo, and it was getting ridiculous. You know we spent a lot of money in Los Angeles achieving some tracks which at the end of the day I realised were just recreations of what we’d already created on a demo in our own studios back home.”
“It was disappointing that Ricki couldn’t make it to LA. It would have saved an awful lot of time. I mean it was good to go over there and try something different and work with other producers and musicians, but in retrospect it was a little bit of a waste of time.’
Although very few people recognise Wilde as a live act, she’s actually toured with a live show every year for the past four years and she’s planning to do the same again this year.
“I found a new identity through performing and people know me better through coming to see me live. So it’s a good way to just let people know who I’m about.”
Is playing live a realisation of a fantasy or an extension of your personality’?
“It’s definitely an extension of my personality and something which I don’t think has been adequately conveyed by the photographs which have been taken of me. Kim Wilde live is something much more spontaneous and exciting than a publicity photo.”
Kim Wilde on tour can also be a temperamental young thing, which isn’t wholly surprising when you consider she was thrown in the live-concert deep end, with little of the customary club-slog experience possessed by many of her contemporaries. Pressure and nerves can wreak havoc on a normally placid personality, as Kim explains:
“When I was on tour about three months ago, it was getting towards the end of the tour and I was getting very bad tempered. The reason I started getting very temperamental was because some fans had somehow got into my dressing room and stolen my wallet and my address book and all my personal notes and some lyrics and stuff. When that all went missing I started blaming the security people who were working with me — not surprisingly — and they in turn weren’t willing to take the brunt of the blame
“As far as they were concerned they were insinuating that it was my own damn fault that the things had gone missing because of my negligence and that’s when I started losing my temper with them and on any count I was an unbearable person to live with for a few weeks.”
The volume of her voice increases as she forcefully rationalises her reaction to the theft.
“Needless to say I shan’t work with those security people again. I don’t like incompetence in people, you know, I mean I do my job and they should do theirs I’m the one who has got to go out in front of how many thousand people a night and entertain them for two hours or whatever . I mean the least they could do is make sure no kids get into my dressing room! If they can’t do that, then I can’t trust them to do anything. I mean I completely gave this one guy such a mouthful and he didn’t talk to me for two days and shan’t ever talk to him again.”
Hell hath no fury… (what about Billy Fury? — Ed).
Do blondes have more fun?
Well I really like being blonde… I mean I’m a sucker for the blonde mythology… just the same way that Madonna is, or Debbie Harry, and I’ve fallen for it hook, line and sinker. I fell for it a long time ago when I dyed it when I was 19.
“You know, I was bright blonde when I was born and I was really bright blonde right up until I was a teenager. Then it started going mousy and I couldn’t stand the dullness of that color . . . it was dreadful.”
Debbie Harry’s name was to pop up sporadically throughout the course of the interview. Even though Wilde holds a bit of a grudge against Harry, because she slagged her off in an interview, Kim remains a big Blondie fan and can understandably relate to the visual and poppy projection of Deborah Harry.
“It’s funny because when I first heard “De Ne De Ne” I thought it was a really terrible song… just out-and-out trash, but of course I eventually learnt to adore that song and adore everything that Blondie did in those early years… so it just goes to show how wrong you can be.”
Have you ever met Debbie?
Do you have any ambitions to meet her?
“No. My ambitions aren’t to meet people. I don’t consider meeting a famous person any more exciting than meeting any other individual. Fame doesn’t impress me. I’ve met too many famous people to be impressed.”
But surely there must be some desire to meet someone like Debbie Harry, whom you admire and listen to and who you said before strongly represents the concept of the blonde mythology. Yes? No?… Maybe?
“There would have been had I not read some scathing remarks she made about me early in my career. You know, she probably didn’t mean it and I’ve made scathing remarks about bands and subsequently eaten my words when I’ve met them, and I probably shouldn’t take the things she said too personally, but at the same time I can’t forget the things she did say then and they were high-lighted at a time when I was highly sensitive to that kind of remark.”
Despite the apparent lull the British music scene is suffering at the moment, Wilde can find plenty to satisfy her listening desires.
While some are contemplating the necessity for a shake-up similar to that which rocked the UK in the ’70’s, when the eyes and ears of the world focused on the British punk movement, Wilde seems quite comfortable — and in fact, impressed by the music coming from her homeland.
“I think most of the time there’s a lot of inspired stuff in the UK charts, and there’s a lot of really great American music too. I never get to a point where I’m exasperated with the charts… ever. There is always plenty of good stuff there if you give it a listen… there’s always crap too, but I’m not bored with the charts or the music.
“I mean, I’m a fan of pop music in the very broadest sense — it has to be incredibly bad for me not to like it, or not to find something that I can see that’s positive about it. I’m not highly critical of what people do, so I admire anyone who makes music. The great thing about music is that it’s an infantile thing to do — done by grown ups. I really like that, you know. I like the way pop music and rock music is about a lot of adults acting like kids and not being ashamed to do it, and that’s kind of nice. Basically that’s all we are — adults playing kids playing at grown-ups!” (Laughs)
“The only time it’s gross is when you see someone who’s just totally financially motivated, you know, just in it for the money. I find that hard to stomach. I mean I think everyone is willing to make a buck here and there, but I can’t get off on selling your soul to do it. ‘There’s a great track on Chrissie’s (Hynde) album where she’s having a go at artists who have vast amounts of money coming into their bank accounts because they’re endorsing products like Coca-Cola and things that basically kill people, and I quite agree with her. There’s no way I’d put my name to anything like that.”
Wilde has a strong admiration for a number of contemporary artists, but most of all Prince and she claims to have been particularly inspired by the film Purple Rain, which was based around his lifestyle and in which he starred.
“The dancing routines on stage, the quality musicianship and the energy really inspired me… in fact it hit me more than the punk movement did in ’75 or whenever it was, and although punk music has had much more effect it was a very destructive form of music. Like it tried to destroy lots of things I loved and had reverence for.
“I felt it was a very negative energy and I didn’t enjoy it very much. But I think the whole Prince thing was really musically equal to the impact of the punk movement. I think he’s brilliant and I think his affect on pop music has been the most influential for a long time.”
Purple Rain depicted Prince’s lifestyle as supposedly pretty exciting. How exciting would the Kim Wilde Lifestyle Movie be?
“God! I think if you read a story about what my life was really like it would be a huge success, because my life, apart from my career, is pretty much like any other kid’s. You know kids love going and seeing films they can relate to and my life is probably a lot like that.
“I mean, I go out with the girls. We leer at men. We go to clubs. We hang out. We go out to each other’s houses. We talk about sex. We drink some wine. And that’s pretty much what most girls do. So I guess a lot of girls would like to come and see it, ‘cos I get up to things most girls get up to.
“Actually I think it would be quite good if it was honest… most films aren’t. You know, if they did a film about me it would inevitably end up so dull because the producer would say ‘oh yeah and then we’ll have Kim in and she’ll be in the recording studio and then…’. But really that’s nothing to do with what my life’s about. I mean that’s only one part of it. I think an honest movie would be highly entertaining. It would be very rude. It would have to be rude… I would have to say it would be very rude.”
Have you had any producers give you scripts for consideration?
“Um no… oh, I mean yes, but nothing that I’d ever consider going through with. I mean a lot of it’s been like ‘ok Kim, you’re on stage and you’re got a guitar and you see this guy in the audience and he’s looking at you…’ and all this kind of crap, you know, typical rock stereotype rubbish.
“Just recently I was given a script which was called… (pause) well I won’t say in case it’s a huge success and I’ll kill myself for not doing it! Anyway, they wanted me to be this slutty type person-singer of course, you know, usual thing — standing on stage singing in this smoky nightclub, and then I start knocking off this guy who’s having an affair with someone and then there’s this really good scene where he’s got his hand up my thigh and my skirt’s raised up — and I read the script and I just thought ‘oh, give us a break’, you know.
“Just about every script I’ve been shown has been incredibly uninspired. I mean there’s nothing wrong with sex and nothing wrong with the high profile it has in some films, although I generally think it’s unnecessary. I think your own imagination is far more exciting.
“I’ve always found that the most erotic films are the ones that suggest, that let your imagination do the work.”
It’s the same with interviews, Kim.