Follow You, Follow Me
Exclusive interview with Simon Collins
Is it true that you started playing drums at the age of 5?
True, my father bought me a little red Tama for my B-day. It was a big surprise, as it was already set up in his studio at Old Croft. That summer he taught me how to play to some of his own grooves... and then I just rocked out from there.
Apart from Dad, who is your favorite drummer?
I really admire Chester for obvious reasons. I learned a lot from him, mostly by watching him from the wings on tour, and from rehearsing to the live LPs at home. "Seconds Out" was huge for me; I can still play the entire album from start to finish. There are of course other drummers that have been a big influence on me. Will Calhoun of Living Colour, Dave Grohl of Nirvana... But then there are the session drummers, who really made their mark on me, Manu Katche & Vinnie Colaiuta.... Absolutely Superb.
Which are the bands and/or artists who particularly influenced you as a young musician?
Well, It would be absurd not to mention the boys over at Genesis and my Dads work of course, but the late eighties/early nineties is when I really got deep into actually forming my own kinda professional music opinion and appreciation. The big solo artists and bands that etched their way into my musical world back then and still to this day mostly had a big effect on me more for the songwriting than anything. But also for the fantastic musicianship and sonic impact they have on all their records. In one way or another they all have something important to say and a powerful message to the planet... Sting, Elton John, Howard Jones, Peter Gabriel, Lenny Kravitz, Seal... the bands... Pink Floyd, Tears For Fears, Midnight Oil, The Silencers, Talk Talk, Living Colour, Jane's AddictionÖ and then Nirvana broke.
Can you tell me something about your first musical steps when you were in Canada?
I just played those drums until my hands bled man. I beat the skins for at least 4 hours a day at one point. Soon enough, my nick name at school was "Elastoblasto", as my hands were always wrapped up in Elastoplast band aids, and I was known for being the loudest drummer in the neighborhood for my age. Funny stuff really.
Your debut album is called All Of Who You Are. Is it true that after you had recorded it Phil suggested you should return to the studio to make some adjustments in the production?
Somewhat, the only difference is that it was an album length demo I produced to draw label interest that we are talking about here, not the debut that was tapped for production with Warner. Although at least half of the tracks from the demo made it on the debut, it was a completely different process and time. When I went to go hang with my Dad for a couple of months in Geneva, he offered to get me some studio time at Dinemec Sound to polish it off a little, some re-recording, remixes etc.... We had a lot of fun and co-produced a track together (which has yet to be released). That is where he laid down some harmonies on what was then for the most part, an epic instrumental Celtic anthem called "Pride". I recall the original intention was to put in guides for a gang vocal idea, but he sung them so well (not surprising) that we kept them in, and after all it was a big warm fuzzy to have him perform on something. Soon after the demo LP was mixed, we were so happy with it, that we flew to Hamburg to meet with WEA. That's how and when I signed an artist deal with Warner.
In the end, apparently the boss of WEA Germany put you in touch with some German dance producers, and it seems that you were so happy with the dance scene that you re-recorded most of the album in Frankfurt. Is this correct?
Once again, It was never my intention to release the demo I had put together. Even though I was extremely proud of what I accomplished production wise and a lot of what I had produced on the demo made it on the debut anyhow. I knew it needed to be re-worked with a producer that had the labels complete confidence. I had been into electronica since '97, so my demo already had lot of those production elements in place. It was a relatively new world to me as far as producing though , and sound design is an art that takes time to develop, so It was really important that I find a respected and fully capable electronic producer to collaborate with for the debut. WEA asked me who I would be interested in working with when we met in Hamburg to listen to the demos, and I simply replied... "any of the producers from Eye-Q Records". They were absolutely thrilled at the idea and it was only months later that I was flown to Frankfurt to work with Schallbau (Stevie B-Zet, Ralf Hildenbeutel and A.C. Boutsen).
On the track In My Life your voice very mush resembles Phil'sÖ Do you agree? Are you influenced by Phil's use of vocal harmonies?
I hear it all the time that we have similar voices, and it is a compliment. I find that he tends to sing in a much higher register than I, but we do meet in the middle on occasion, and when we do, we both capture a certain sound that reveals an emotional depth of infinite reach. I would agree on some songs more than others, that it is almost uncanny, just how much our voices are alike. I cant really say though, that I have been directly influenced by his harmonies as such, but his style in which he writes his vocal melodies would be a contributing factor to how I tend to write and perform vocally.
Phil sings backing vocals on Pride, but he is credited as Pops: why?
I didn't want to use my Dad as a marketing tool.... I didn't feel the need to credit him as "Phil Collins", he's my Dad (or should I say "Pops"), and I wanted to keep it low profile. I thought that it would be cool if people would just figure it out on their own, and given the fact that it was my first single, I didn't want to give off the wrong impression, ya know? It wasn't my intention to have him featured for obvious reasons on my end.
Is it true that your first album has sold more than 100.000 copies?
With the album being released in over 30 countries worldwide, "Pride" sold over 70,000 copies in Germany alone, and the album leveled off the campaign sales to roughly 100,000... not too shabby I guess...
I believe you wrote the song Shine Through with Howard Jones, but it is not on your WEA first album that I own, although I know there was a later version. Why did you have two different releases for the first album?
Warner was really eager to get me in the studio with Howard and I grew up listening to his stuff, so it was an honor and privilege to work with him. I flew out to his home outside London and we co-wrote and laid down the bed tracks for the song over the duration of a week. It was fantastic working with him and we came out with a great tune. This all came together after the LP had already been released, so it made sense to include it when we went to press the record a second time around.
A guy called John Bertorelli plays bass on the song Coast: is he one of your relatives?
Yes, he's my Uncle, on my Mom's side of course. That was fun. For as long as I have known him we had never jammed together, and it was always a wish of mine to do something with him. So, I invited him to the studio to lay down some bass on "Coast".
Does your mother Andrea come from an Italian family? Do you know from which area or city?
I believe the family hails from Northern Italy, Verona to be specific. The family used to own or still does have a chain of restaurants in London I believe. The name is Bertorelli's of course.
Is she still involved in the environment campaign to preserve the trees in Canada?
Yes, she did a lot of work locally in British Columbia to stop clear cutting on Salt Spring Island where she still lives. She tackled some big fish and won back a lot of land from the forestry companiesÖ she's a tough nut to crack my Mom.
Six years to release the second album, an incredibly long period. Especially as the album seemed actually ready at least a couple of years beforeÖ What happened?
Yes and it's a really long story from a very tumultuous time of my life. I think the album ends up reflecting that anyhow as it is much darker that the debut. First of all, I worked with a lot of great co-producers, engineers, mixers, you name it. I also worked with some that caused a lot of grief and politics in the production too. Death threats, substance abuse... it happened. It was a wild ride into the Frankfurt underground that eventually saw daylight, but it was a tough project to get done. Pre-production took longer than the actual production itself. I would say most of the material on the LP was written during the promo campaign for ďAll Of You Who AreĒ. But finding the right co-producer was really tough, as I wanted to take a step beyond what I had done on the debut and find someone that had an ear for electronic production but could also bring something to the table when it came time to rock out with real instruments. It's not that I am high maintenance, but I know exactly what I want in the studio and although you would think that would make it easier, its not the case. It makes things much more complicated and even harder if you are working with people that cant help you get there and make it happen for you. That is why it was so important after I finished the LP to become as self sufficient as possible, as a lot of time and money was spent relying on people that at the end of the day could not deliver, and that was a constant threat throughout my production. Don't get me wrong, I worked with some great people, and I did have my fair share of blame in the the long winded process too. I do like to have my fun in the studio. All work and no play makes me a dull boy, and I was no dull boy back then. The scene in Frankfurt was like a constant 4 on the floor kick drum in my head throughout all of this, and I dropped the ball many times from sleep deprivation, long nights etc.... For the most part I wasn't expecting a miracle from anyone in the studio, I'm not a slave driver, I'm not the type of producer that puts the Guitar player in a card board box if it means getting a good sound... that's just silly, But I expect people to step up to the plate when it really matters the most. And a lot of time was wasted for that reason, and it can get out of hand on a big budget. Environment is also key to a good production and we switched that up a lot too. My Company at the time "Fusion Music" had its studios/offices in the Logic/BMG building in Frankfurt, and it got a little out of hand at one point with one of our ex-producers there. Dark vibes and death threats on our employees... seriously! and the co-producer we had just hired to come on board, Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode/Erasure) wasn't all too comfy with that as you can imagine. So we packed up and headed to Spain. In the end we recorded and produced and mixed the album in at least half a dozen studios in Germany, Spain, and eventually Canada where I polished it off. It was never my intention for the album to take so long, but good things need time, and I wasn't going to rush to put something out I wasn't happy with. I guess you could say that I am a real perfectionist, and I was working in the underground where things don't always go as smoothly as you'd like them to go. I also came up against a lot of obstacles and I dealt with them the best way I knew how. By the time I had completed the album, I was already living back in Canada, as I no longer wanted to remain within the same infrastructure I had been working in since '99, So I started my own label, "Lightyears" and released it though Universal in Canada. It was a big change, but I eventually needed it after that very long spell of production. It had taken its toll on me in all aspects of my life and I realized I had to move away from the scene in Germany and get my bearings back to move forward again.
If compared to the first album, Time for Truth features much more instrumentation, and you plays drums, keyboards and even guitar yourself. Was it your intention to get a more human result?
Yes it was, that's one of the meanings behind the title "Time for Truth" (the other meaning is on a worldlier political and ecological tip). I wanted to bring forward something bona fide, what I thought was a true reflection of my work. I wanted to feature my own musicianship on this record, as little to none of my musicianship was heard on the debut, which is actually ironic considering the title. I also took a step up from co-producer to producer on this record, and I'm extremely proud specifically of the sound design and mental atmospheres I was able to achieve. It was a tremendous amount of work but was worth the effort. I definitely wanted to fuse my electronic roots with some of my more organic influences, in the form of Rock and Punk. I have always played the keys on my stuff so that wasnít all that different apart from the rigorous sound design that followed. The guitars were a bit more time consuming, simply because I had only been playing for a couple of years by then. I treated the guitar as more of a tool to capture a mood then anything else. The drums were fantastic to play again, as I had only been playing live at that point, and shows were few and far between. I plan on repeating that experience and bringing in all those elements again on the 3rd studio project most definitely. It was fun and very liberating.
In both your albums you write a few words about the human spirit, the need to research the truth, mixing philosophy, love, understanding and consciousness. Do you feel this is an important part of your art?
Absolutely, I am a free thinker and I have always felt it important to share my perspective on spirituality, the power of imagination and love, and the quest for truth, whether it be a personal, social, political, or ecological matter. I have always been on a mission to sing for my soul, the planet and the cosmic super cell that gave us existence. As Carl Sagan once said, "we are a way for the cosmos to know itself". And it is my duty as an artist to reflect the consciousness of the planet and send those signals out. I am big into existentialism, so I am always singing outside of the box. If we have the intelligence to be able to ask big questions, then we should keep doing that. We are only as limited as the questions we don't dare to ask.
Does the graphic symbol on both the CD's mean something in particular?
The original symbol derives from the 11th century and represents alchemy. I created my own interpretation and got this tattooed on my arm when I was 18. I began using the logo later on posters and CD's to promote my work. I guess you could say there is a little branding going on here, but I wanted to have a visual representation of what my work is all about. To me it has always represented transformation, of the mind, body or soul. I also use this logo for my label, Lightyears, which also fits to the symbol.
Your music includes various elements, from pop to rock, from dance to rap, from electronics to trip hop. What would you expect to influence you in the future?
First and foremost, Psychedelic electronica will always be a driving force in my music, as that particular genre evolves quite rapidly. Its constantly fast forwarding the future, as it evolves, so do I. I am currently active in other dimensions of music though. I recently produced a Bohemian Persian track for a friend of mine from Iran, and it was an introduction to a world of music that enabled me to reach another level in the spectrum of sonic art. I really connect with that ancient song and dance and itís very moving all on its own. Once you start adding psybient production it just takes off to a higher altitude in atmosphere. I have also been listening to R&B and some Country music too. I really dig some of the elements involved in producing both styles of music. As you know I have always been big on expanding sounds, so I am always searching for new ways to create them, electronic and organic. I find the lap-steel is one of those elements from Country that I would love to get my hands on some more, as I used one in the demo version of "Lightyears Away" and it gave the track an almost eerie soul sounding echo. In fact, you can still hear some of those takes in the album version.
Your parents split when you were only 3 years old. At the time Phil wrote some touching words about you in his very first song Please Don't Ask ("I miss my boy / I hope he's good as gold"). How did you feel when you were older and listened to those words?
To be honest I have never been able to listen to that song from beginning to end without a few tears. It was a time I don't remember much of, so to me this song, out of many, really reflected what my father was going through at that time and how hard it all was for him to deal with. I was so young and didn't realize, this particular life was being shaped for me. It still means a lot to me that those kind if songs were written.
Phil has also dedicated to you a touching ballad called Father to Son. Replying to a fan, you wrote on the forum that for a long time you were unable to listen to this song without crying...
This is true. The soul speaks through song, and my Father spoke to me in that one. It's as if he's saying everything a Father could say to his Son in a lifetime, in one song. Itís a reality that we don't see each other as much as we both would like, and that song was and still is very comforting to me.
Is it true that you have written a song for your father that will appear on your next record?
Yes, that song is actually one of my favorites right now. Itís got that timeless mood about it. I've selected it for production and who knows; perhaps I'll ask Pops if he would like to do something on it.
You played drums a few times with Phil in concert; can you remember exactly when and where? You mentioned Vancouver, for your 14th birthday, when you played on Easy LoverÖ
It must have been a bit of panning and luck that they played Vancouver on my 14th. That was just so much fun and very special to be able to share that day with my Dad on stage at home. I had also just broken my arm "break dancing" (if you can believe that) a week before the show. And about a week before that I was playing a bunch of dates with him on the US leg of the tour, I believe we played New Jersey, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh together. So Luckily I was already in the pocket with the band enough to play on my B-day with one arm. Cool beans...
For obvious reasons you have known Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford much better than Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett. What are your impressions of them all, both musically and personally speaking?
I have been very fortunate to get to know Mike and Tony through all the tours and studio sessions, and it was always a lot of fun because I got to hang with their kids too, and we had a blast as you can imagine. As far as my opinion of them personally? I think they are lovely chaps, no ego, no bullshit, just stand up guys with an extremely good ear for music. Itís funny how we kids used to laugh at them when they were on stage though. We just couldn't see past the fact that they were all just Dads, rocking out. I canít say too much about Peter and Steve as I don't really know them all too well, I was just too young to remember them from the seventies. From what I do know, they appear to come off as a little more esoteric, deeper and darker in their personalities which in turn reflect the music they make. I have managed to see them more recently than in the earlier years, and have had some moments with them on and off the stage. All together, the talent that the Genesis camps possess is very rare indeed and I have yet to hear anything that even comes close to the music that they have created over the last 40 years. What I have always appreciated about these guys, is that they are all free thinkers musically and on other levels too. They were never afraid to think outside of the musical box, and that is one of the reasons we have yet to hear anything as remotely powerful and epic as Genesis. Another reason is that they were constantly re-inventing themselves. Every time they came together there was a morph, and they just kept on redefining their sound and an entire genre with them. As they shot up the evolutionary scale of music they also shot up the charts. Eventually they all followed their own bliss and found their unique musical paths, which only strengthened and validated the musical and artistic capabilities of a band in a constant state of flux.
You said in the forum that you spoke with Steve Hackett about possibly doing something together on your next record, which would be fantastic!
I met him on one of his German dates in '03, and it was really fun to hang with him and the band. He didn't recognize me at first which is understandable really. Since then we have kept in touch and are just playing things by ear as to how and when we will do something together.
A few months ago strange news appeared on the web mentioning some involvement of Peter Gabriel in your own work; can you tell me something more?
Well, that's just a big fat rumor, but if the opportunity ever came about, I would be honored to work with him. I did produce some of my own material at his Real World Studios back in '95, but that is as close as we have ever come to being in the studio together... Let me see, I did post a 5 star album review of "Time for Truth" on my website, where there is a comparison made of my work to Gabriel's, saying that we probably come from the same place. Perhaps that also had something to do with the length of time it takes us both to put out records...
Are you still keen to cover Keep It Dark? Why that particular song?
I have covered it with my live band but nothing recorded yet. I was kind of planning on keeping it dark, but since your asking I'll tell you. I didn't actually intend on working on it until recently, but I guess seeing them rehearse sparked my excitement around it. I plan on co-producing the song soon with Dave Kerzner of Mystic Guru/Sonic Reality, and we're really hyped to do it! It's a song that has always spoken to me lyrically and I love the atmos and intensity of the vocals. Production wise, it still stands on its own, and I see a lot of possibilities to add psybient flavors of electronica to it. I also thought that it would be really nice to pay tribute to them on their 40th anniversary.
You recently attended Genesis rehearsals in New York. What were your impressions? Will you be involved with the Genesis tour in some way?
That was just an epic hang for me and for a lot of other people too. It was a giant flashback to the soundtrack of my entire life. It really was a very important moment in time. They are all such terrific guys. Daryl and Chester too... they are like family to me. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. It was fantastic to see them all having a laugh as well. The chemistry in the room is still very much there and for that reason, they still have a very powerful presence. Chemistry to me is the back bone of any great collective work, and that is always what has made Genesis what they are... a super collective. I am in awe of their musicianship and beyond that, their song writing capabilities to this day... New York was a big deal for everyone. As far as being involved. I have been asked by various people if I would be playing drums or involved somehow. But to be honest, even if Genesis asked me I would be honored but reluctant. I don't quite think I could go there. It wouldn't quite be a reunion without Chester. I would probably end up breaking my arm before the tour anyway.
You have very talented sisters, apparently! Joely is an excellent actress and she is pushing herself outside Canadian borders and now even Lily has started modelling! Is this the Collins trademark?
I am so proud of my whole family. We are a talented lot I suppose. Joely I speak with on a regular basis as we both live In Vancouver. She is promoting her new Film "Almost Heaven" and it's wonderful. Pops is doing a song for it as well, which I have heard and its beautiful. Lily really made a splash with her modelling career and I couldn't be happier for her. She is a very smart girl and she has only just begun. Nic is a better drummer than my Dad and I combined when we were his age... no joke. Matthew has picked up the sticks now too... Canít wait to see what future they shape for themselves as well.
An obvious question probably butÖ How is it being the son of a celebrity? Did you feel any pressure while growing up?
Itís weird at times. For the most part I canít and will not complain, because I have been rather fortunate on so many levels. I have seen the world, met and befriended some of the most talented and kindest people on the planet. I have also had a tremendous amount of support and a great learning experience that has elevated what I do for a living. I have a great teacher in my Father, and all the lads... we just keep getting closer. All in all I am just grateful and blessed to have the great big loving family that I do.
Musically speaking, being the son of Phil has surely brought both positive and negative things to your career. What is the balance to date, more positive or negative elements?
You are right for obvious reasons. There has been balance of positive and negative like anything in life. I have always chosen to keep my glass half full, not half empty.
When will your next studio album be ready? Are you planning on touring?
I am in pre-production right now for my 3rd studio project, but I am not sure if I will record a full album or not. When you look at the demand in the market, it seems that songs are what people buy these days, not albums. I think because of this you could see a lot of songs that before used to fall through the cracks as album tracks get a better chance of being heard if they were released separately on their own. Filler tracks wonít exist anymore if artists don't have to produce an entire record, and it then becomes a matter of quality not quantity. I have had this debate with many people and not all agree, but I just look at the market, and it speaks volumes. As far as a tour goes, well I won't wind anyone up by saying it will happen anytime soon because I'm still in the studio phase. But where there is a release, there will be shows to follow thatís for sure.
You were born in London, grew up in Vancouver, and lived in Germany for a few years. Where are you based now?
I left Frankfurt back to Vancouver in '03 and have since moved out to the Sunshine Coast, about an hour out of the city. I'm setup with a full production studio, so itís ideal for where I'm at right now. I can be as loud as I want to be out here. During the day itís a permanent meditation, and at night I can see light years away deep into the void. Itís a reminder of the balance we all seek within our inner space and the outer space we all share. Itís the foundation of the message I always seek to achieve through my music, to promote inner and outer peace.