The Never-Ending Journey of Paul Collins
The versatile rocker and classic song writer never stops touring. His band is at Linneman’s tonight.
Before age 14, he lived in Vietnam, Greece and elsewhere in Europe because of his father’s role as a civilian working for the U.S. military. Since returning to live in the United States in 2008, after spending nearly a decade in Spain, he’s played hundreds of shows, with a lot of other bands – 160 to be exact – all across the country and world, including a handful of well-received performances right here in Milwaukee. Our city is serving as a bit of a home base for his “All Across the USA.” tour, which commenced last night in Berwyn and will see the Paul Collins Beat drive approximately 10,000 miles for 25 shows with 42 different opening bands over 35 days.
Collins, who lives in New York City, got his start with power pop bands like The Nerves (beginning in the mid-1970s) and The Breakaways. He went on to form the Beat, later the Paul Collins Beat, in the late ’70s.
Collins talked to me on the phone from the home of his drummer, Milwaukee resident Jonny Phillip. The band for the tour also features Milwaukee resident Tim Schweiger and bassist Logan Barton, who took a train from his home in San Bernardino, Calif., to Wisconsin to hook up with the group for the tour.
They’ll play Linneman’s tonight along with openers The Olives, Josh Berwanger and Indonesian Junk.
Collins has booked tours for himself since moving back to the U.S. He said putting together this jaunt, which includes stops in Bozeman, Mt., El Paso, Texas, Richmond, Va., and New York City, was “a little puzzle.”
“That’s the one nice thing about being DIY is that you know it’s you. You’re going to be doing it,” he said. “So when we put these tours together, we keep the big items in mind. Being able to keep ourselves together, not having anything crazy like two- and three-day drives. Or at least if you have to have a long drive, it’s not back-to-back or you have a day to do it. … It’s just good routing, and my motto is ‘eat right and sleep right.’ The rest of the band, they do what they want.”
In September, Collins will release his latest album, Feel the Noise, for Alive Naturalsound Records. Recorded in Detroit with prolific producer Jim Diamond, who also produced 2010’s King of Power Pop, the album had a couple of false starts.
Collins said he even got behind the drums for a song on the album, for the first time professionally since his days with The Nerves. Eddie Baranek of The Sights’ guests on guitar on several songs.
“It’s rocking – lots of guitars,” he says. “It runs the gamut. My last couple of records I’ve been pulling out chestnuts from the way back machine. I cut a couple that really came out good. To me, it was an important record; stylistically, again, it harkens back to my roots. I’m really happy with the way vocals came out. I took some time off and worked on getting my voice together. … really good, clear vocals. It’s a record that kind of reminds us all why we like this kind of music – that late ‘70’s, mid-80’s, fun time, we just play rock’n’roll because that’s what we love to do.”
Collins, who has written some absolute gems over the years including “Walking Out on Love,” “Rock-n-Roll Girl,” and “Work-A-Day-World” to name a few, say he still loves the challenge of crafting songs.
“It’s all about trying to get simpler, and simpler, and simpler,” he says. “When you start dissecting some of the really great songs, some of them are just so simple, and the melodies are floating over these simple chord changes. Getting that fluidity. You hope you’re getting there. It’s so simple, but it’s so complex. That’s what’s so intriguing and exciting about the whole thing. Understanding how to figure it out. Songs are sometimes like puzzles. You have all these little pieces. Sometimes songs sit around for years, decades. Then one day you pick up the guitar or whatever, and it’s ‘Boom.’ It comes together and you’re like, ‘Why did it take me 15 years to figure this out?”
“I have some pretty serious stuff to contend with. The Nerves is really top shelf. The Beat’s first album is pretty good, too. But I’m definitely still in the game.”
A champion of those new to the game, Collins says one of his favorite parts of touring is playing with other, mostly younger, bands.
“I’m really, really lucky about that,” he says. “That has really changed so much for me, with all these new bands. So many are really promising. Some develop, some fall apart. Just like it was back in the day. I get this feeling again like when I was young – this scene with all this music. What makes this scene and defines it is all these young people.”
Derek Davidson, bassist for New York City garage rockers The Electric Mess, has performed as a member of the Beat and opened with his band on several occasions for Collins. He also directed a video for the song, “I Need My Rock‘n’Roll,” off Collins’ upcoming album.
“It’s great to play with Paul because he still has such great enthusiasm for the music, and audiences respond to it,” Davidson told me via e-mail. “When you play his songs, you see what a great songwriter he is, because the songs are so pure and classic, and what he does with really just a few chords is inspiring. He has a lot of respect for younger bands he tours with, and seems to thrive on that energy. His DIY thing isn’t just a front, he really embraces it.”
Indeed, Collins is a fierce proponent of DIY.
“I play with all these bands: power pop, pop punk, garage rock. If we can combine those fan bases and make our whole scene in general… We need to organize ourselves, all these musicians and bands, get our shit together… I’ve played with 160 bands since 2008, and I will play with a lot more. You hear me out there, folks? It’s time. The time has come.”
Collins also had a message for music fans: “This isn’t just for my band. It’s for all of these bands. Come out to the shows. Spend 10 bucks to get in. Three or four bands for the price of three beers. If you like rock‘n’roll, if you like this kind of music, if you like live rock ‘n’ roll, help keep it alive. Nobody’s getting rich here.”