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Back Stories | My 2010 Interview With Andy Kim

The Sugar, Sugar songwriter on his illustrious past and long-overdue comeback.

Back in 2010, legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Kim was about to release his first new album in nearly 20 years. And I was one of the first journalists to talk to him about it. We’ve been friends ever since. And since today is his birthday — don’t ask me how old he is; even if I knew I wouldn’t tell you — it seemed like a good time to rerun that story (with a few minor edits). Happy birthday, Andy.

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Some people make things happen. Others let them happen. Then there’s Andy Kim. After a generation out of the spotlight, the CanCon icon behind ’60s and ’70s chart-toppers like Sugar, Sugar, How’d We Ever Get This Way and Rock Me Gently is back with Happen Again, his first album in two decades. And he sounds as surprised as anyone else by that.

“In my wildest dreams, I never would have thought that I was ever going to hear a new Andy Kim song on the radio again,” says the self-effacing singer-songwriter from his Toronto home. “I thought my recording days were done. I had fallen into the abyss. I was irrelevant. I didn’t ask to fall into the abyss, and I didn’t feel like I was irrelevant, but I had become irrelevant to those who are part of the machine that makes it all work.”

It’s an ironic place for Kim to land. After all, for much of his young life, he was a part of that machine. As a teen, Andrew Youakim chased his musical dreams from his Montreal home to New York’s Brill Building. “It was more about courage than talent,” he claims. “I knew two chords, but I felt I belonged in that building with those writers.”

He was right; in 1968, he co-wrote Sugar, Sugar for fictional popsters The Archies. The song was No. 1 for four weeks and became Record of the Year. More hits followed — including his 1974 smash Rock Me Gently, which sold three million copies. Suddenly, he was a star. He met Elvis. He hung out with Phil Spector. John Lennon presented him with a gold record.

From that perch, unfortunately, the only direction was down. Kim couldn’t sustain his success and the industry wrote him off. “I just couldn’t get any traction,” he says. “I’d make my demos and send them around. People would be interested in the music — and then they’d find out it was Andy Kim and they’d say, ‘I don’t think so.’ ” At one point, he even recorded as Baron Longfellow. But nothing worked. Kim settled comfortably into semi-retirement.

Then he met Ed Robertson. He and the Barenaked Ladies co-founder felt “an instant kinship” when they shared the stage at a 1995 festival, and made a date to collaborate. “We got together just as two guys with guitars on an afternoon writing,” says Kim. “I’m sure I was more nervous than he was.” The duo penned I Forgot to Mention, which became Kim’s first Canadian radio hit in years. The problem? He didn’t have an album to go with. But he did have material — lots of it. “You’d be surprised how many songs I’ve written. You’d be surprised at how many demos I’ve done,” he says. “We’re talking over 1,000.”

Kickstarted by Robertson — soon joined by other youngsters like Ron Sexsmith and Broken Social Scene — Kim spent the last few years crafting Happen Again. The 10-track disc balances new material with older fare, including I Forgot to Mention and Someday, a song he wrote two days before his father died in 1976. The disc was cut old-school, with live musicians playing together in a studio. And it sounds like it; these romantic pop-rockers have a timeless quality, evoking the classic sound of Spector and Neil Diamond instead of jumping on trendy bandwagons. For his part, Kim is jumping back on the tour bus, heading out for the first national trek of his four-decade career.

He owns up to being as excited about music as he was in the ’60s. “I feel like the first time I went into the Brill Building and met Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich and Leiber and Stoller.” He hopes fans are excited, too. But as always, he’s keeping his expectations in check. “I have no idea who is going to listen. I have no idea who’s going to like it. And I have no idea who’s going to get who and what am I today. You can’t force life. The truth is, I have no idea how it happened in the first place, and I have no idea how it continues to happen.”

All he knows is that it’s happening again.

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