Andy Kim will never forget the day his father died. It was Oct. 18, 1976. He had left Montreal nearly a decade before, but they'd remained close. He felt immobilized, and afraid to face reality; when he and his brothers emerged from the hospital to face the pouring rain and honking cabs, he was shocked the world kept turning.
In New York and Los Angeles, where Kim had moved to write earworms such as Sugar, Sugar and Rock Me Gently, his fame was already waning.
His father's death drained what was left of his ambition, and, for decades, he lived in obscurity.
"I really felt empty," Kim says. "I thought I had friends when I was on the charts, but when I wasn't, people were too busy."
All that changed in 1995 when Kim began to spend more time in Toronto, embedding himself within the city's ranks of singer-songwriters as a friend and folk hero. For two decades, he's undergone a slow-burning creative renaissance.
Now, 46 years after the Archies hijacked the world's radios with Sugar, Sugar, Kim is making one of the biggest statements of his career. On Tuesday, he released a new album, It's Decided, on the Arts & Crafts label.
Kim made his name with the kind of early pop tunes that sound so universal it's impossible to imagine that someone actually sat down and wrote them. It's Decided is a wholly different beast: an unhurried, thoughtful record, more slow-dripped syrup than sugary pop.
That has much to do with the company Kim keeps – particularly Kevin Drew, the texture-driven Broken Social Scene bandleader in whom Kim has found a friend, confidant, motivator and producer.
For Drew, 38, making the record was a chance to learn how to thrive from someone familiar with life after a burst of fame. His baroque-pop band Broken Social Scene went on hiatus in 2011, just as his friendship with Kim was blooming.
Left adrift, he was worried about becoming a victim of his own achievements, of closing himself off from new opportunities. In Kim's joie de vivre, he found an antidote.
"We just built this love story," Drew says. "I like gentlemen. Genuine gentlemen."
He's heard Kim's jokes a thousand times before, and gets excited to set him up for the punchlines – laughing just as hard every time.
Even when the record's lyrics meditate on loneliness and lost chances, Kim is a fountain of positivity and inspirational quotes. (He paraphrases Basil King when discussing making music on his own terms: "Be brave and mighty warriors will come to your aid.")
Born Andrew Youakim in the early fifties, Kim was the third of four children; he calls himself "the dreamer" of his hard-working Montreal family. His career began in 1967 when, as a teenager, he travelled to New York and waited in the lobby of the infamous Brill Building for the songwriter Jeff Barry, an affiliate of Phil Spector famous for songs such as the Ronettes's Be My Baby.
It was with Barry that Kim wrote his first string of hits. And Kim's cover of Barry's Baby, I Love You earned him an RPM Gold Leaf Award – a Juno precursor – in 1970.
He went a few years without a major charting hit until he released Rock Me Gently himself in 1974. By the time his father died, two years later, he already felt "irrelevant," and floated by without much notice until 1995, where he was paired with Barenaked Ladies' Ed Robertson to play that year's Kumbaya Festival.
Kim and Robertson eventually started writing together, and Kim began to split his time between L.A. and Toronto, befriending scene stalwarts such as Ron Sexsmith and, eventually, Drew.
As Drew began writing and recording songs that would later form his solo record, Darlings, he asked Kim if he could produce a record for him at the same time.
"We had a lot of dinners, a lot of social events, a lot of wine and we celebrated the whole time," Drew says. "It was exactly how I always made records – it was a group effort."
Among that group would be Drew's frequent co-conspirators Ohad Benchetrit of Do Make Say Think and the Stills' Dave Hamelin. The three of them co-produced and co-wrote It's Decided. It's no surprise, then, that It's Decided sounds like a cousin to Darlings, recorded by Drew at the same time – ambling, synth-heavy, spacious.
The Barenaked Ladies' Kevin Hearn, Tortoise's John McEntire, Derek Downham of the Beauties and Sexsmith all appear on Kim's album, too.
"Everyone got attracted to the idea of hanging out with a man in his 60s who wants to sing, and wants it no differently than he was when he was 17 years old," Drew says. "And we just formed a very honest trust with each other."
That bond, to Kim, is more important than the record itself. He's moved past those decades of aimlessly floating by. There was never any elaborate discussion about recording a serious project. There didn't have to be.
Kim offers another inspirational quote, this one coined by the poet Kahlil Gibran: "Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit."
Drew pushes my tape recorder closer to Kim.
"Say it again. Say it again, though. I want to hear it again."
"Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit."