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Still walking 500 miles (and more), still Proclaiming

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The term "one-hit wonder" always has required a certain perspective. Many artists who land the singular hit in America score dozens elsewhere. But beyond mere charts and sales, even a one-hit wonder makes a deep impact in other ways.

For example, in "Let Them Eat Chaos," a current show at Chicago's Second City, actors Katie Rich and Ross Bryant play a Scottish couple who expresses their love by saying to each other, "I would walk 500 miles." A jealous boyfriend even quips, "I bet they're proclaiming their love for each other right now."

At least half of you, for at least half an instant, I'm guessing, just had two bespectacled Scottish brothers dancing in your heads.

"Whatever has happened and will happen, we at least have that calling card," says Charlie Reid, half of the duo the Proclaimers.

• 8 p.m. April 20
• City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph
• Sold out

Reid and his twin brother, Craig, have been performing as the Proclaimers since 1986, but they burrowed into American brains when their song "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" landed on the soundtrack to the 1993 Johnny Depp comedy "Benny & Joon." The song shot to No. 3 here, and that was four years after its release on the brothers' sophomore album, "Sunshine on Leith."

The Reids, meanwhile, are not only still active at age 51, they've just released their ninth album, "Like Comedy," a dozen more tracks of rousing and uplifting guitar pop.

Charlie Reid spoke to the Sun-Times about that one hit (you haven't lived till you've heard a Scotsman pronounce the name Mary Stuart Masterson) and the ones that got away.

Question: I can't believe this is your first acoustic tour together. It seems a natural format for this act.
Charlie Reid: It's a totally different dynamic. You have to choose the rooms you play with a bit more care. I wouldn't want you to think this is a quiet acoustic show. It's still pretty rowdy. The set is quite different, too. Some songs just work better as acoustic songs and vice versa. I think "Misty Blue" from our first album -- an acoustic album, actually, from '87 -- doesn't really work with a band. We change it up every night, anyway. We don't want it to become cabaret.

Q: Tell me about the name. What did you originally intend to proclaim?
Reid: We chose that for two specific reasons. One of them is quite sad, looking back. At the time, we found it funny. We were unemployed and getting benefits, so we didn't want to go out as the Reid Brothers because if that was on a poster they could prove we'd been playing, you see. So we wanted something that indicated we'd put the songs across. It was about the way we performed the material -- a strong name that indicated a very committed performance.

Q: How do maintain that level of engagement?
Reid: We try to make it live every night. It's acting, it's not real. But it still comes from real emotions -- going with what the song's supposed to be, the text. Rather than let the words trip off the tongue, we try to make the words live.

Q: When did you realize "500 Miles" had gotten away from you?
Reid: That single first came out in '88. We thought it would get played, and it did. Then it hung on for a long time and took on a life completely separate from the band. It must have been a full decade before we realized how important it would be for the rest of our lives. The fact was, it wasn't really a hit in the U.S., not until the film with Mary Stuart Masterson. I don't know why it took off then. To quote John Lennon, if we knew how to do it we'd be managers.

Q: Was there ever a phase in your career when you consciously tried to replicate that magic?
Reid: Never. That's death. We've got "Like Comedy" now, and next year there'll be another one. You have to keep going.

Q: In fact, you've managed to pretty much avoid any trend-jumping.
Reid: You have to, otherwise we wouldn't still be here. An electronic Proclaimers album wouldn't be "Like Comedy," it would be real comedy. Bad comedy. I think we'll make a very stripped-down acoustic record one day after this tour, with a smaller band. The last 12 years have been for us a very rich vein. We've produced a lot of records in that time, and they're some of our best. We just stayed who we are.

Q: You haven't chafed at working so closely with your twin all these years?
Reid: Every fault I could find in him, he could find in me. That's how it is. We're not expecting perfection of each other. The bond Craig and I have is the strongest in the sense that we both want the same things out of what we do. It's hard to hold a band together. People go in different directions. Craig and I struggled so long before we signed a contract and started off, and on stage we've forged a bond beyond our twin brotherhood. We're comfortable in what we do and what we should be doing.

Q: Have to ask: Are you fans of fellow Scotland native Emeli Sande?
Reid: We bumped into her at a festival in England last year. I don't want to make this a showbiz story. She's a fantastic singer, a fantastic writer. Really a down-to-earth person. Probably because she grew up in a little village just like us.

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.


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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on April 17, 2013 7:00 AM.

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