CIARAN MCFEELY (SIMPLE KID) HAS BROKEN THROUGH THE CONFINING WALLS OF THE OVERPROCESSED, POPPY MUSIC OF TODAY AND REFRESHED AND REOPENED OUR EARS WITH HIS NEW ALBUM, TITLED 1. OUR OWN BETHANY SHADY TALKS WITH HIM ABOUT COMICS, BEING HOMELESS, AND SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD GIRLS.
Bethany Shady: How's New York?
Simple Kid: A bit cheeky, really. I've just been standing on top of the Empire State Building, looking like a tourist, with a bunch of Japanese people around me taking pictures. I was holding a guidebook and feeling embarrassed the whole time.
BS: Are you fired up for your U.S. tour?
SK: Yeah, it's good. It won't really kick in until my brother and the other guy who's playing with me come over [to America]. So, that will sort of switch me into tour mode. It should be cool.
BS: I heard that you're also going to be performing on Conan O'Brien.
SK: Yeah. I just heard that, as well. I was watching it today for the first time in my life because, obviously, we don't have it over in England. But I was watching it, thinking, "Hmmm... okay."
BS: Most of your songs seem to have a running theme of the average guy, nine-to-fivers, and the everyday working world. Does any of that stem from jobs you've had in the past that you loathed?
SK: Yeah. I had a record amount of mind-numbing and soul-crushing jobs. It was always sort of a Catch-22, where I always wanted to keep as much spare time for myself as possible to do music, so I sort of ended up never committing to any job that was worth it. I'd end up getting the worst jobs because it was just easier. At five o'clock, you're totally finished. So, I had jobs that were mostly in warehouses or doing a night porter thing, where you're just sitting in an empty office block all through the evening just to make sure nobody burgles it. Not that I would've been able to do anything if they decided to.
BS: Also, there seems to be a comic book theme in some of your songs. In "The Commuter" you reference Clark Kent, and the video for "Staring At The Sun" is done in a comic book style. Do you read comics?
SK: Not really. I sort of read [Robert] Crumb ones, and a few Lichtenstein things. I know many people are really into it, but I don't really know my stuff. I just really like the idea of comic books more than I actually like getting into them.
BS: Does some of the interest have to do with the fact that superheroes are usually the average guy who hides behind a mask?
SK: I think I just like the way that comic books are so sinister. They're so adult and proper. They're really subversive. The superhero image is such a classic way to highlight one's limitations, and the fact that you're not really a superhero. It's just a really good, easy image to use. If something's easy, I'll take it.
BS: Compared to so much of the processed music out there today, you have a very imaginative and rare sound. What inspires you to be so creative and not slip into the boring and overused music that we hear so of much these days?
SK: I was in a band that got signed to a record deal with Sony when I was about 18, and we sounded very processed. We just went through that machine. When I came out to California and finished all that stuff, I was pretty much at the bottom of the barrel-- I had nothing to lose. I stayed in California for awhile to get away from everything. And when I came back I was quite inspired about music, and I remember deciding to not just be remotely interested in that side of it. Everyone I was listening to while growing up were people who were outside of that type of music and lifestyle, and I had been a part of it. But it just kind of became a decision of mine that I didn't really care if I ever made it.
BS: Well, what do you consider "making it"? Is it about the fame and fortune, or is it more just about making good music?
SK: Well, it's a really good lifestyle to have. I feel like I'm getting away with so much because I don't have to have a nine-to-five at the moment. So, the whole lifestyle is freeing me to be creative. But I don't really have any goals in mind. You know, people ask me where I'll be in ten years, and I've never been able to answer it because I don't even know where I'd want to be in ten years. I don't want to be famous to the point where you can't even walk down the street. I imagine that must be awful. My dream world is to be one of those people who've got their audience; people who will always want to buy your records. Just to sustain it is really all I would like to do.
BS: What music has influenced you?
SK: I'm influenced by everybody and anything, from books to The Beatles to early Destiny's Child. (laughs)
BS: (laughs) Really?
SK: Yeah, seriously. I love some of those rhythms they've got going on. I was like, "Who produced that music?" I thought it was amazing. And everyone was laughing at me over in England. But suddenly everyone was going, "Wait... this is actually really good!" So, I just want to be Beyonce Knowles, basically.
BS: (laughs) Maybe you guys can do an album together!
SK: God, I wouldn't even be able to concentrate, to be honest.
BS: Do you find that your growing fame tends to get you more ladies?
SK: (laughs) I don't know. I guess we'll see on this tour.
BS: You had mentioned earlier that your brother was going to be on this tour with you. Is he also a musician?
SK: He's also a musician. He's in a band called Sister, which is based out of London. Just like all of my friends, they've crossed over and played with him at times, filling in for people, and then he'll come play with me. The person who's going to be playing banjo with me on the tour here in the U.S. is in his band, as well. All of our friends just mix and match-- they don't really differentiate. I get the impression that-- in America-- bands are very much like you're either in the band, or you're not in the band. Whereas, amongst my friends, it's like everyone kind of crosses over, and whoever wants to play, will.
BS: Did you really have a proud moment walking out on your girlfriend a few years ago?
SK: I came to San Francisco with my girlfriend at the time, and we had one of a million arguments, and I walked out the door with too much pride to come back. I was kind of like, "Fuck you." I closed the door and left... and then ended up being homeless for about three months.
BS: What's it like being homeless in California?
SK: Well, I had a plane ticket back to London in a few months, and I always knew that was there, so there wasn't this element of despair, really. It was actually really a pleasure for me. Basically, I had enough money to get some food every day. It was a good place to do it, though, because it's warm. So I was just sleeping on the beaches in San Diego or wherever I was at the time. It was a bit trickier in San Francisco, because it's so much colder there. It was actually a pretty exciting time because I was really bored with my life up to that point, so it was somewhat of an exciting little adventure.
BS: Did the adventure of being homeless inspire you while making this album?
SK: Definitely. One of the best things that happened in all that time was that I didn't meet any musicians. Before that, I was hanging out with musicians and we were all bitter. We were all insular and weren't really seeing real life, so we were writing songs about our own circle; it was all very cheeky. But when I came back from California I had just spent about three or four months with people from every kind of field, and it really put things in perspective. It really made me do things more spontaneously and not really worry about them too much.
BS: Where did your moniker-- Simple Kid-- come from?
SK: Well, when you're homeless there are a lot of hours in the day where you're just trying to stay warm, so you end up hanging out with different people. There was a cool guy I met who was about 50 years old, and he was a philosophy lecturer or something like that; I never really found out. He was kind of manic and energetic and crazy, but really intelligent. One day, we were talking about philosophy because I had been into it, and I made the mistake of getting really involved in the conversation. And he just started laughing at me, going, "You don't have any kind of idea." So he just started calling me "The Simple Kid". I would be walking down the street, and he'd be like, "Ah, here he is today... The Simple Kid." So I just thought it was a good name, and when I was thinking about it a year later, I used it.
BS: How do you stay so rational and down-to-earth in the entertainment world?
SK: I'm actually a neurotic mess inside my own head. But, fortunately, one of the things that doesn't bother me is success and the music industry. I have far more complicated things in my head. I don't know... it's weird. There are all these bands that are like, you know, three minutes per song, and then you go home and read a really proper book or you see some proper art, and you realize that you're sort of in this kiddie pool. So worrying about something like fame just seems so futile in light of when you're hit with something big and important, like genuinely genius art. I just think this is just me and my silly little songs; get over it.
BS: What type of audience usually attends your shows?
SK: Before last February I could have answered that, but suddenly it's really weird. It started off with kind of older people, because all of the songs are about the life of someone working nine-to-five for a few years, and your dreams not quite working out the way you felt they would. But I just did a tour before I came over here, and suddenly there are loads of giggling sixteen-year-old girls. I was like, "How can they possibly be listening to a song like 'The Average Man' and be getting what I'm talking about?" So, I don't really have a clue. It's suddenly kind of gone across the board, really.
BS: Does it bother you at all that teenagers might not be there because of the music then, and that they might only be there because you're cute?
SK: Well, I don't know. I mean, I've always been kind of terrified around teenagers because they're just fearless, basically. It's good, obviously. They sing and clap and seem to enjoy the shows and be happy.
BS: I have just one last question for you. Do dogs have lips?
SK: (laughs) Um... is this a "yes" or "no" answer?
BS: You can say "yes" or "no", or you can elaborate. It's your answer.
SK: Well, I'm trying to think back to all the dogs I've known. I think they've got lips and then some. They've got these big purple and black kinds of lumps of flesh. I suppose they're lips. Actually, I reckon dogs have more gums than lips, though. Huh... that's pretty profound.
BS: Well, we are pretty deep here at tastes like chicken.
SK: I've been trying to come up with a name for the second album, and I think you might've just given it to me. But I don't want to hear of anyone trying to get any money from me if I name it that. (laughs)
BS: Okay, we won't. Thanks so much for the interview, and enjoy your time in the States.
SK: Thanks. Have a good day. Cheers.