Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew & The Archies' Andy Kim Explain Their Unlikely Friendship & New Album 'It's Decided'

 Norman Wong
Andy Kim and Kevin Drew

Andy Kim and Kevin Drew might not be household names (at least, not yet), but doubtless you've heard each artist's music before. Industry vet Kim co-wrote the Archies' -- yes, the '60s cartoon band fronted by comic book character Archie -- 1969 No. 1 hit "Sugar Sugar," along with a few other classics like 1974's "Rock Me Gently" and "Shoot 'Em Up Baby." 

The latter, originally released in 1968, is dreamily reprised on Kim's seventh studio LP, It's Decided, which he made in collaboration with Kevin Drew, co-founder of Toronto supergroup and indie superheroes Broken Social Scene. Like BSS' output, Drew's two solo LPs -- 2007's Spirit If... and last year's Darlings -- wallow in sprawling ennui and heartbreak, while Drew turns his jaded gimlet eye to life's heartbreaking details.

When he met fellow Canadian Kim at a holiday charity event, Drew felt musically revitalized by this older musical icon with the ageless black coif. "It was really refreshing," says Drew, who grew up listening to Kim's music with his parents. "We had an indie rock scene, and some are still going, and some have stopped, and some people have turned into some people you wish they didn't, but Andy just wanted to be a part of the table no matter what. And I want to sit beside him."  

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The feeling is mutual. Working with Drew, Kim tells Billboard from a "freezing cold" pool hall in Toronto where the two give an interview together, "was an opportunity to express who I am now and not look back on me writing 'Sugar, Sugar' or 'Baby, I Love You' or any of those other songs. When I listen to [It's Decided] I realize that it was the relationship that made it happen."

It's Decided, out Tuesday (Feb. 24 via Arts & Crafts), is very much the product of both songwriters. The lush yet understated 10 songs rock like lullabies with gentle guitar tones; occasionally flutes and violins -- and of course Kim's voice, nearly unchanged in 40 years -- reassure the listener that everything's going to be okay. 

How did you two meet? 

Andy Kim: For the past 10 years I've done a Christmas show in Canada in which I collect money and choose a children's charity every year. [BSS co-founder] Brendan [Canning] and Kevin showed up one year, and Kevin and I had an opportunity to talk after the show. It was a brief but spiritual moment. It was the spirit that had lived inside of me from my first breath, and will be there until my dying day. I love him not for what his musicality is, not for his brilliance, but for his ability to do anything other than to treat people with love and respect. Once we were at a restaurant and a bunch of musicians there, wining and dining and talking about life or whatever. I tuned out, and he recognized that I tuned out, and wanted to know if everything was okay. Very few people in my life that recognize when I tune out -- let alone care when I tune out. 

Kevin Drew: He had really big, black dyed eyebrows, massive hair. He wore a red tie and a white shirt with a black jacket, and he had -- still has to this day -- this beautiful, hot wife/girlfriend/lover from North Carolina, and I thought, "Who is this guy?" I really took to these Christmas nights he would throw once a year because he brought all kinds of musicians together. If I can go somewhere where there's no rules and the idea of cool doesn't exist, that's where I'll sit, because that's where great things happen. I love the aspect of hearing all his music and realizing I had grown up with it, and had it in my memory, but was not aware at the time.

How did that lead to making a record together?

AK: Kevin was excited about making a solo record, and he thought it would be cool if we did one of mine in tandem. I believed I've been there, done that, and I'm good. I always felt the shelf life, mortality of certain artists are what they are and I've always been thankful that I was allowed to play in a musical environment. I remember my early recordings in New York -- 2 to 5, 7 to 10 studio time, you come in play the song, then the musicians are chosen based on what song you're doing. This was completely different: you go to dinner and have no one, and then Kevin says, "Let's go into the studio now." "What are we going to do?" "Well, we'll see!" 

What was it like reimagining "Shoot 'Em Up Baby" and "Who Came First," which was originally a Broken Social Scene song? 

KD: He didn't want to do "Shoot 'Em Up Baby" and I didn't want to do "Who Came First."

AK: When I wrote "Shoot 'Em Up Baby," I was writing about the age difference between my mom and dad, which was 30 years. They were together for 44 years. The song came out in 1968, sadly when Robert Kennedy was assassinated, and radio stations around the country were starting to band up and write that [the song was] really about heroin or guns, and, "We've had enough of this." I was naive to all of this; it was completely unexpected. As soon as we started thinking about recording that particular song, the wound kind of bled for a while, but in retrospect I'm so happy we did it.

KD: There's a great line in the bridge -- "Go on and spread your wings and fly/Try not to touch the sky/But keep your powder dry" -- and I said, "Well yeah, we're talking about heroin here," and here's this innocent teenager, singing a love song about his parents. 

It seems like you guys have a very mutually therapeutic relationship -- how did that translate to the psychology of making a record?

KD: I said I was going to learn how to cook beef tenderloin, make a movie, and learn CPR. I was running from what I love the most: making music. I felt the climate being a label owner and seeing where everything was going and it didn't interest me at all. Andy kind of came into my life and taught me how to ignore all that, and re-jigged that cynical musician I slowly felt myself becoming. I can be a prisoner of myself, but then Andy comes into my life and says, "You're the director of your own film, you're the script." 

AK: I thank god I was born without a judgment gene. I've never wondered why that person's wearing that or why they're making this record. I only know about what I'm doing and I'm so in the moment that sometimes things go by that I don't recognize. After my dad passed away, I remember walking on Venice Beach in L.A. and something came to me: you're born with a certain number of heartbeats, but all those heartbeats you're wasting on people you don't want to be around, you're never going to get those back. Beware the fact that this is just the moment. This is not tomorrow and it's not yesterday. 

What's your favorite song on the record?

AK: Mine is "Sister OK." It just killed me, I don't know why. You've heard artists or songwriters say "They're all my children" and all of that stuff, but I know my mom likes my brother Joseph, the eldest, the best. To me, that [song] was the jumping-off point -- if I can be a part of this that'll really be super.

KD: [Andy] doesn't hold back if he's moved by something. On the day of the Newtown shootings, he was going to sing "Why Can't I Ever Find My Way" with Ron Sexsmith and he got to the studio, and the news had just come out, and he was like, "I'm so sorry, I can't do this." Ron got up and sang so we could start building around him. It's a curse if you feel everything. But when you find someone who feels everything, it's comforting because it's called compassion. Maybe this is the only record we'll make, or maybe we'll make another one, but it doesn't matter.

AK: Look at what has happened to Bob Simon. It's all ephemeral, because he probably had plans -- if you were looking at his schedule, he probably had breakfast or some report he had to double- or triple-check. All these tragedies that happen, you have to honor the fact that, at least for me, this is my life. I've chosen to live this. What a wonderful way to spend my life.