Phil Collins Interviews

'PHIL COLLINS' PLAYBOY INTERVIEW, October 1986
David Sheff

 

ive me just one more hit.... That's not quite the refrain of the song that took over the airwaves a couple of years ago, but it may as well be. Turn on the tube and there he is, doing weird stuff on MTV videos - in one he was Diana Ross and all the Supremes. Switch channels and there he is, being nominated for one award or another, here a Grammy, there an Oscar. Turn on the car radio and he's there, singing or drumming; hit the button to switch stations and he's there, too, and there-and there. Yes, it's safe to assume that there is always a Phil Collins song being played somewhere in the world.

Although this would get an argument from fans of Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Prince or Lionel Richie, Phil Collins is arguably the hottest singer in pop music. Besides the awards, his three solo albums have sold well over 10,000,000 units; and as a member of the band Genesis, with whom he has recorded 16 albums, he has sold 5,000,000 or so albums. Yet unlike Sting, Springsteen or Prince, Collins seems to have appeared from nowhere, quietly, without flash. As we summed up when we inducted him into the Playboy Hall of Fame last year, "His greatest talent is that of being able to speak to the average listener. Collins is among the few genuine adult rock stars, someone whose songs go beyond teen-beat banalities to zero in on the problems of contemporary romance. It's music to live with, not merely listen to, and that's why Phil Collins is one of the major voices of the Eighties."

We've been humming his songs for years, but he probably became an international star when the world saw him on the Live Aid telecast. Collins got the lion's share of the star-studded-publicity by appearing on both sides of the Atlantic for the same concert: He sang on his own and with Sting in Britain, then hopped a Concorde to the States for another solo slot in Philadelphia, then ended his exhausting day as drummer for a reunited Led Zeppelin..

Although controversy is hardly what one associates with Collins, he had his share of that when his song "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" was nominated for an Oscar last year. He offered to sing the song on the Academy Awards telecast, but the Academy sent him a letter, addressed to "Mr. Phil Cooper," declining his offer. Ann Reinking, the dancer, sang the song instead and Collins erupted in anger to the press. Shortly afterward, he made more news in the time-honored way - by charging after a pushy paparazzo. Still, aside from cracks about his appearance - the occasional snide comments about his height and receding hairline - both critics and friends agree that he is a genuinely affable, easy going man, rarity enough in the music business. There is not much in the rumor mill about Collins. Oh, yes: Robert Plant says that it is tough to get him to cough up for a round of drinks.

Collins was raised in Hounslow, a suburb of London. His father was an insurance man and his mother ran a toy store and then became an agent for child actors. His brother, Clive, is a cartoonist (whose work has been featured in PLAYBOY) and his sister, Carole, is a theatrical agent. Phil got his first toy drum when he was very young, his first full kit at five and began performing in shows at his parents' boating club. He played in a few bands and stumbled into a session with George Harrison, Ringo Starr and others during the recording of "All Things Must Pass" at Abbey Road Studios. Things continued in the slow lane until 1970, when Phil read about an audition for a band called Genesis, which was looking for a drummer.

Genesis slowly began to build a reputation, first in England, then in the States, for "art rock" in the vein of Procul Harum and Traffic. Fronted by flamboyant Peter Gabriel, the band became known for its theatrical shows, which utilized costumes, pantomime and props. Collins was just the drummer boy. In 1975, Gabriel left to pursue a solo career and Genesis auditioned more than 400 singers before deciding that the man in its own back yard - Phil - had the vocal chords for the job. Collins' soulful voice, until then used on a few tracks as background, redefined Genesis' sound, and the band took of with Collins behind the mike. Genesis is now in the middle of its biggest American tour ever and its 16th album, "Invisible Touch," shot into the top ten three weeks after it was released.

It wasn't until 1977 that the songwriter in Collins emerged, and some of his songs tell a personal story that he is reticent to discuss. Apparently, his first wife„ Andrea, took up with another man because Collins was too involved with his career. In "In the Air Tonight," he sang: "I was there and I saw what you did./ I saw it with my own two eyes. /So you can wipe off that grin, / I know where you've been, /It's all been a pack of lies." Whatever the details, Collins poured out his feelings in songs that became his first solo album, "Face Value." It was a raw emotional testament, the other songs were about being abandoned, about missing his two children - yet they were wrapped in infectious melodic beats and up-tempo productions. The hits began rolling out. Genesis was coming into its own, as well, with the release of "Abacab," its first platinum record. All around Collins, things were poised for explosion. On a personal level, he met and soon married Jill Tavelman, a schoolteacher, who, as he sang in "This Must Be Love," brought him out of the gloom of his divorce. He and Jill today live in Guildford, outside London, a short hop from Fisher Lane Farm, the Genesis recording studio. And he now sees his children regularly.

On a professional level, two solo albums followed: "Hello, I Must Be Going!" and "No Jacket Required," each a bigger hit than the last, fielding a total of six top-ten singles and including the monster hit "One More Night." Sales of "No jacket Required" have now topped 7,000,000. Adding a few more strings to his bow, Collins also became a highly sought-after record producer. He collaborated with Philip Bailey on a number-one song, 'Easy Lover," and went on to produce records for Frida, from the group ABBA, John Martyn and Adam Ant. He has been asked to produce for artists as diverse as Buddy Rich and Julian Lennon. In fact, Collins was hard at work on his second producing job for guitarist Eric Clapton when Contributing Editor David Sheff caught up with him in the Genesis studio. Sheff, whose previous interviews for PLAYBOY in the music field have included those with John Lennon, Billy Joel and Sting, reports:

In preparing for an interview, it is routine not only to research the person through previous newspaper and magazine articles but to talk with a wide variety of people who may have insights into him, whether critics, friends, family or peers. The process of preparing for this interview was frustrating: Damned if I could find one person who didn't end up telling me what a nice guy Phil Collins is. Throughout our sessions, I looked hard to see if I could find evidence that he was really a conniving, manipulative guy who had ordered everyone to say he was nice. No such evidence, folks.

He was completely professional. Collins would tell me that he would call at 11 in the morning to schedule an interview session and he would actually call ten minutes early. Anyone who has covered rock 'n' roll knows that this just doesn't happen. At Fisher Lane Farm, Phil's assistants were cooking breakfast. It was thoroughly English: sausage, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, baked beans. Phil, meanwhile, was going over tracks recorded the night before with co-producer Tom Dowd. After wolfing down his first meal of the day, he issued instructions to one of the assistants: 'Would you please bring my car in to have the tape deck replaced? And, while you're at it, it needs a tank of gas.' The assistant replied, 'No.' Phil shrugged, 'OK. You're fired.' The assistant cheerfully jumped into Collins' BMW and sped off. Later, he told me how much Phil had done for him. Phil is the nicest guy you'll ever meet,' he said. I sighed.

I was staying at a 13th Century inn called The Crown in the tiny town of Chiddingfold, where the proprietress asked me if I were visiting on holiday. When I told her that I was there to interview Phil Collins, she broke into a wide smile. 'Such a nice boy, that,' she said. Well, the topic to start the interview seemed inevitable."

PLAYBOY: Phil, we've all heard the rumors; are they true?

COLLINS: You mean about me.

PLAYBOY: Yes. About your being the so-called nicest person in rock 'n' roll.

COLLINS: Well, it's true that I always end up apologizing for being a nice guy. I don't understand why I have to. I do interviews and then the writers come back and say, "My editor doesn't believe you're like this and he wants more to make the story better." Like what? Sex? Drugs? Sorry. This is me. A writer in England went up to my mom and asked her what my faults were. She said, "I can't think of any of his faults." So the headline was: "FAULTLESS PHIL MR. PERFECT, BY HIS MOM." She read it and went berserk. She doesn't need that at 73.

PLAYBOY: Then it's not true? You deny the charges?

COLLINS: I'm nice until I have a reason not to be. I work hard and people sense that. But I'm different things to different people. To the middle-aged housewife I'm some-one who looks like a "little boy lost"; to the people who know only One More Night and Against All Odds, I'm probably this sweet and sensitive guy. But there are many other songs, many other sides. I don't like that sickly sweet image.

PLAYBOY: We've remarked that your biggest talent is being able to speak to the average listener. Do you agree?

COLLINS: I don't know about biggest, but it does seem that people relate: There's a tendency for people to be cynical about popularity, like you're appealing to the lowest common denominator, which is another term for trash. It's an insulting attitude - insulting to the audience. I mean, sometimes I feel it. Like, God, I wish I were David Byrne, with this small, tight group of fans. The critics would like me. Instead, I've been taken less seriously because I've been more popular - I'm cast aside as some sort of Barry Manilow. I find it frustrating.

PLAYBOY: How is a Barry Manilow song different from some of your ballads - One More Night, for example?

COLLINS: It has a heartfelt thing in it, it comes from someplace deeper, and that comes through in the songs, I think. It hits the chord of truth. People understand it because they have felt it, too.

PLAYBOY: Manilow might say that people respond to his songs for a similar reason.

COLLINS: He might, but I still believe there is an important difference. People are living with the problems that have to do with their homes, their day-to-day lives, their relationships. There are obviously more substantial problems in the world; but from the feedback I get, I think they find compassion for their situations in my songs. Understanding. That's different from gay little love songs. People use music for solace. Somehow, when people are miserable, they put on a miserable song; they want empathy or something. Stephen Bishop writes some of the best love songs because he loves being miserable.

PLAYBOY: We may have caught you being less than nice right at the start. Why the sensitivity over Barry Manilow's sort of music?

COLLINS: Well, it defines a certain area of music to me: soft, spineless music. I never met Barry, so I don't know what he's like, but though the music may be very well produced, polished, smooth and glossy, it has no spine, no edge, no backbone.

PLAYBOY: Critics have been tough on you for not having enough of an edge. How do you react to bad reviews?

COLLINS: If you don't want to believe the bad ones, then you can't believe the good ones, but I don't have to accept the critics who obviously just don't like me. Robert Hilburn [of the Los Angeles Times] just doesn't like me. He wrote a review of One More Night, complaining about how many times I use the line "One more night" in the song. How many times does Bruce Springsteen say "Born in the U.S.A." in Born in the U.S.A.? Well, Hilburn is a huge Springsteen fan. And the point is irrelevant. There was a whole page of letters in the paper from his own readers angry with him. Anyway, some critics just respond to ballads and love songs. They think it's a little soppy - to write about those things. But the stuff that really gets me is the comments about my physical appearance. I guess it's easier to write about than the kind of songs I play. I mean, I was called the ugliest man since George Orwell. What's that got to do with the music? And, by the way, how ugly was George Orwell?

PLAYBOY: Isn't that just a reaction to the stereotypical image of rock stars?

COLLINS: Yeah, I think a lot of critics saw the fans who show up for my concerts, these screaming girls in the audience, and just didn't understand it. I didn't ask for it, but it ends up with me getting all this "short, slightly bald, overweight, middle-aged pop star" kind of thing. And it does hurt.

PLAYBOY: Rolling Stone called you a "Cabbage Patch Rid for the pop audience."

COLLINS: Yes, and after that came out, people started to throw Cabbage Patch dolls onto the stage. Listen: I'm gonna clear up a few things here: One, I'm not short. People keep saying I am short. I'm 5'8", which in England is the average height, OK? In America, OK, so I'm not Abdul Kamal, or whatever his name is, but I'm not short. Two, I'm not bald. They all talk about the balding rock star. I have had this hairline since I was a kid, right? Of course, I am losing it gradually, but I started off with less than everybody else. Three, I'm only a little bit overweight, and that's because I have lived in the studio for the past six months and studio work is tedious. There is a lot of sitting around. I get fit on the road. I lose a lot of excess pounds when I'm on stage. On this tour with Genesis, since I'm playing drums more than when I tour myself, I really burn a lot of calories. So there. That's cleared up. But I understand the point. The traditional pop star is more glamorous. Lifestyle, clothes, a bit of arrogance. I'm not going to apologize for not being like that.

PLAYBOY: You've said, "I'm so unfashionable it's embarrassing."

COLLINS: Yes, it's true, I suppose. The other day, my friend Eric Clapton said he was going to London to buy some stage clothes and asked if I wanted to go. I said, "If I bought some nice clothes, the last place I'd wear them is on stage. I just sit there and sweat in them." I don't own a pair of jeans, so it's not that I dress like a slob. And if I did, they wouldn't be tight, because I just don't look great in them. So I like baggy suits. They're comfortable to wear. Sneakers are comfortable. They are the only thing I can play drums in.

PLAYBOY: Do you own a tuxedo?

COLLINS: I bought a tuxedo because of being involved with the Prince's Trust [a charity sponsored by Prince Charles]. Until then, I was just wearing my wedding suit, this black wedding suit, any time I was supposed to get dressed up. I just couldn't keep wearing it. Now when I go to the Grammys and the Academy Awards and stuff, I've got something to wear. Any-way, all this has meant that I think about what I look like now. I never used to care. At least now I try to look a bit smart. It's about time, I suppose. I'm 35.

PLAYBOY: You have a thing about jackets. Your third solo album is called No jacket Required. Where did the title come from?

COLLINS: I was on tour with Robert Plant and we were staying at the Ambassador in Chicago. We had maybe 30 rooms in the hotel and were paying these exorbitant prices. The second night I was there, I went to the bar dressed fairly smart-, proper trousers, not jeans, and a nice leather jacket - and I was told, "Sir, you can't come in here without a jacket." I said, "I'm wearing a jacket." So Robert just pushed the guy aside and walked through. I wasn't going to do that, I was going to stand and argue with the guy. He said, "It's not a proper jacket." To make a long story short, I was livid. I've never been so mad in my life - well, maybe once. I thought of different things to do. Like maybe going down there wearing the right kind of jacket and ordering a drink and just pouring it onto the floor and saying, "Well, I've got a jacket on! You can't do anything to me." Maybe I should smash a few photographs on the wall, a bit of the Robert Plant attitude. But I did nothing, of course. I just moaned about it.

PLAYBOY: We're on a roll here; what was the other time you got that mad?

COLLINS: I'm a nice guy. We've established that, right? [Laughs] OK. We had a party at this Chinese restaurant in New York. I was leaving, walking with our security man, Ron, with my wife and two children coming behind me, and as we left, there was a pack of paparazzi waiting there. This one guy wouldn't get out of the way. The security man said, "Excuse me," and the guy screamed, "Don't push me, man." Ron said something about if the guy talked to him that way, he was going to have to do something, but we just sort of kept going. Then, from behind, I heard my wife say, "Do you mind? Excuse me. I'm his wife!" I thought, My kids! My wife! This guy is pushing my wife and kids around. I just flipped. I went after him like a rocket through the street. I was held back or I don't know what I would have done. I was running down the street after this guy, swearing at the top of my lungs. They pushed me back and I got into the car and Jill and the kids were looking at me, scared stiff. They had never seen their dad like that. And then I started laughing. I said, "I feel fantastic." It was such a wonderful rush. This is the same photographer who was involved in a similar altercation with Ryan O'Neal a few years ago. It's one thing for him to try to do that to me, but when it was to my wife and kids, I went crazy. Anyway, it was wonderful.

PLAYBOY: You get your share of criticism, but you also get a lot of favorable reactions - including accolades and awards. You've led the Playboy Music Poll as top pop drummer for three years and were inducted into its Hall of Fame. Your song Against All Odds was nominated for an Oscar in 1985. There was a controversy when you weren't asked to perform it at the awards ceremony, wasn't there?

COLLINS: Well, it's been blown out of proportion. Entertainment Tonight had run a few things about it. In fact, I was a bit peeved, but that's life. That night, I was sitting in my seat and poor old Ann Reinking, who was singing the song, came in. She knew I was there and knew about all the fuss that had gone on about it. And ... well, she may be a dancer, but she can't sing. She was awful. I felt sorry for her. Kenny Loggins was sitting behind me and he said, "I can't believe what they did to your song." He wasn't performing his, either, so all I could say was, "You've got yours to come, mate." There was politics behind it.

PLAYBOY: It wasn't your night. You lost to Stevie Wonder.

COLLINS: And then, to make things worse, the next day, I talked to a Rolling Stone reporter, who asked me about it. I said, "I can't fight Stevie Wonder. He's been around too long. He's black. He's blind and he does a lot for human rights. He gets the sympathy vote, anyway - and he's from L.A." It's all true, but there was a fuss about that, too. Larry Gelbart wrote a scathing letter to Rolling Stone, saying that I was a bad loser and blah, blah, blah.. . . But after the whole thing, they sent me an application for membership. I thought it was a joke. So now I'm a fully paid-up member of the Academy.

PLAYBOY: And an actor; to boot. One of the highest-rated Miami Vice episodes featured you playing a game-show host. How did you make that turn in your career?

COLLINS: Well, I actually started out acting as a kid. But Miami Vice was great fun. The script was written for me after the writers saw this bit I did on stage intro-ducing the members of the band. I was a game-show host. They tried to write all the English expressions I might say, and at one point, they wanted me to say, "You must take me for a right wanker." They had heard British people use the word wanker, but they didn't know it was a word for masturbator. In another place in the script, they wanted me to hang up the phone and say, "I hope he dies impotent." I thought it wasn't the kind of thing I would say, so I told them I should hang up and say, "I hope his ghoulies fall off." Meaning his balls. When some producer came in from L.A., he heard that and told me I couldn't say that. Even though wanker was OK.

PLAYBOY: Important question: Did you get to keep any of the clothes you wore on that episode?

COLLINS: I got a suit, actually. I was ex-pecting maybe I'd end up with all those hip Don Johnson clothes; but the problem was that I was playing this tasteless cad who had terrible clothes, so apart from the suit, who would want any of the stuff? Anyway, the experience was a real breath of fresh air, to realize there is something apart from the music that I can do.

PLAYBOY: Why do you still sing with Genesis? Most singers with your solo success have long since left their groups.

COLLINS: We all find it interesting to sustain this chemistry that we have. It is a completely different experience from writing and performing solo. You see, Genesis began with this whole art-rock thing, and at one point, its success had as much to do with Peter [Gabriel]'s arty stuff - the costumes and other theatrics - as with anything else. The other members and I became frustrated because people were talking about what Peter wore rather than the music. It was a little bit of a step back to try to get people to realize that the band was a band, and it was around then that I began singing. I have ever since.

PLAYBOY: But now that three of the band members sing solo, isn't Genesis sort of a stepchild, getting your leftovers?

COLLINS: Genesis fills a specific role. If someone told me I had to choose between Genesis and my solo career, I'd choose my solo career; I'm totally responsible for it. But I don't have to choose. I have a mind to work with Genesis now and we made the album and we'll tour for nine months, and then we won't do it for a couple of years. In that time, I'll work on my own stuff. It's good fun to have both. I also feel a loyalty to the band. I certainly wouldn't want to be the one to say I don't want to do this anymore. But that's not the real reason I'm still in Genesis. It's because of the experience of writing with Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, playing with them.

PLAYBOY: You also produce the records of a number of other singers and have toured with most people in your business. With that experience as a base, and since you're in a candid mood, will you give us thumbnail assessments of some of your peers?

COLLINS: I'll give it a go.

PLAYBOY: Sting, and his old partners The Police.

COLLINS: A great band. That is, I think they're still together. They have a love-hate relationship. Depending on who you, talk to, one of them is always leaving the band. Stewart Copeland is an amazing drummer. I just wish he didn't think he was amazing. Sting is a lovely bloke. We've become friends. I felt honored to be on stage with him at Live Aid.

PLAYBOY: Prince.

COLLINS: I'm a big fan. I just wish he weren't quite like he is sometimes. I mean, he came to some British awards here and made his way up to the stage to get his awards with a huge bodyguard who stood there while he said, "Thanks a lot." I just think it's funny to pull that kind of thing off in this business. If you're in front of 10,000 kids screaming at you, it's one thing; but inside the business, it's strange. Musically, Prince is great, though. I love his attitude. Little Red Corvette is a fantastic song. Take Me with U. Purple Rain.

PLAYBOY: Bruce Springsteen.

COLLINS: I've always liked the idea of Springsteen - everyman's music for every-man, you know; it captures the imagina-tion of the workingman. Chuck Berry did the same thing. I don't know that much about Springsteen's older songs, but I like what he stands for. Born in the U.S.A. is just fantastic. It has great atmosphere and it's a great song.

PLAYBOY: Madonna.

COLLINS: I've got a soft spot for Madonna. She has a lot of intensity. Maybe it's that little innocent voice and the underwear she wears. Funnily enough, I met them - Sean Penn and Madonna. I went to see John Cougar in Los Angeles when I had my kids out with me. They are fans of his, so I took them backstage after the gig and there in the corner was this couple. Simon, my son, said, "Dad, that's Madonna!" I said, "Naaaa." He said, "Da-a-ad, it is, it is, it is. Get her autograph for me! Please." I collect autographs for them - I got Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson. I finally went over to Sean and said, "Hello, I'm Phil Collins." He said, "I know who you are, man." I thought he was going to hit me. I said, "Is it possible, Madonna, that you could give my kids autographs? They won't speak to me if I don't ask." So she quite nervously, embarrassed, gave me her autograph. She didn't seem to be able to deal with it very well.

PLAYBOY: You mentioned Michael Jackson. What about him?

COLLINS: I'm a fan of Michael's. It's extraordinary that he's lived as he has lived, to have been a huge star since he was five or six. We can't have any idea of what he thinks like, because he's never lived a nor-mal life. I met him. He was very nice, but it was like you didn't want to touch him, because he would break, you know. His story is probably a little tragic. Now he's going around with his white surgical mask on. I can't understand that at all. He doesn't want to be recognized, so he wears a white surgical mask, so everybody says, "There's Michael Jackson wearing a white surgical mask."

PLAYBOY: You're being pretty direct.

COLLINS: I'm going to lose a lot of friends after this, aren't I?

PLAYBOY: How about Paul McCartney?

COLLINS: When McCartney has balls, he's great. There was some talk of my produc-ing him. I liked the idea. I thought, Just to get a bit of balls into the production. I'm sure he's got it in him. It's just that some-one's not bringing it out. Everyone looks at McCartney and wants the Beatles, which is impossible. The Beatles were probably the best band ever. Now he wants to do what he wants to do and, unfortunately, that may not be what the public wants to hear from him.

PLAYBOY: You're younger than McCartney. Do you have a theory about where music is going today?

COLLINS: Well, we are moving away from electronic music. There were very few real musicians playing on records for a while. It was all synthesized stuff and machines and computerized sequences. Like everything, a trend comes in, everybody uses it to death, and then it fades away and you keep the good stuff.

PLAYBOY: Speaking of synthesized stuff, don't you use drum machines extensively?

COLLINS: I resisted them for a long time, but sometimes their insistence, the fact that they never change, makes them work in a way real drums don't. In a sense, it freed me. It changed the way I wrote. Also, the sounds you can create are almost infinite. The atmosphere on In the Air Tonight is from the drum machine. So, yes, I love drum machines.

PLAYBOY: What do you think of the influence of MTV on music?

COLLINS: Well, records that otherwise were average have been coupled with good visuals and given a lot of exposure, so some mediocre records have sunk in and become hits. Also, I don't like the idea that a video ties up someone's image of what the music is. In the old days, you used to buy a record the old days; I mean a few years ago - and you'd listen to it, maybe look at the sleeve while you were listening. Your imagination was working. Television takes that away from you. Worse, most of the time, the image isn't even the band's idea. But videos are a necessary evil now. If you don't make a video, it cuts into your sales.

PLAYBOY: You made a huge splash on television with your appearance at the Live Aid concert last year, when you flew 6000 miles by Concorde to appear in Eng-land and America. How 'd that happen?

COLLINS: It all happened sort of by accident. When I was asked to do the gig, I didn't know what to do. I told them, "Listen, I'll play drums with anybody." Sting rang me up and said he thought see should do something together. Then, somewhere along the line, it was worked out that it was possible for someone to get on the Concorde and perform at birth gigs. Originally, Duran Duran was going to go on in England, and then - since the members are the same - Power Station was going to he on in the States. They all chickened out. By default, I was the only one who did it. I didn't just want to go over and play my songs again. I had bumped into Robert Plant and he had asked me, "Do you think that you could get me on the Live Aid thing? Wouldn't it be fun if I got Jimmy Page to do it and you could play drums and we could do the old Led Zeppelin songs."' I told him to call Bill Graham. The answer was yes. They wanted me there early to rehearse the old Zeppelin songs, but I couldn't make it and I told them, "Listen, I know the songs. I know them backward and forward." Well that day the tempos were all over the place, and it may have seemed like it was my fault, because I was the one who hadn't rehearsed but I would pledge to my dying day that it wasn't me. In fact, it was Tony Thompson who was racing a bit; be was a hit nervous, I guess. It came off because of the magic of being Zeppelin; but I remember in the middle of the thing, I actually thought, How do I get out of here?

PLAYBOY: What was the point of the Concorde trip?

COLLINS: It was like threading the two events together, which, in retrospect, I think it did. On the plane, all these elderly Americans were going back to New York for the weekend, saying, "What's going on here?" Before we landed, they were all caught up in the thing. Cher was on the plane, wondering what all the fuss was about. She thought it was for her [laughs] so she apparently locked herself in the bathroom, put on her wig and tarted herself up [laughs] and came out, and I went up to her halfway through the journey and said, "How are you doing?" I explained the Live Aid thing and said, "Why don't you come?" She said OK and later that night, she was on television singing We Are the World. In New York, they got Immigration on the plane - something they apparently don't do even for royalty - and I was in a helicopter and arrived in Philadelphia about half an hour before Eric was on, then I was on, and then Zeppelin. It was an amazing day. At the end of it, I was back in New York and I was thinking, What's been going on today? I was in Lon-don this morning and performed with all those people and Eric just introduced me to Dylan and Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood and I performed in America, and then I played with Led Zeppelin doing Stairway to Heaven, and now I'm back in New York and tomorrow I go back home again. It was extraordinary.

PLAYBOY: This all started with Bob Geldof's Do They Know It's Christmas session in London, the first Band Aid event. How did that one trigger this new wave of political concerts?

GOWNS: There was a report about famine in Africa that was on British television. It shook people up here. People were in the middle of eating dinner and suddenly there was this mass starvation on television. Everyone was up in arms about it. Geldof rang up the nest day. He said, "It's disgusting. We have to do something. I want to make a record and we need a famous drummer." Two weeks later, I went to the studio for the session. It was phenomenal. There were about 60 bands there. I think I was the oldest one there. Youch.. . . So we were all just waiting to do our bit. When it came time for the drums, it was embarrassing, because I had the drum kit set up in the middle of the room and everybody was, like, standing there, watching. It took two takes. At the end, everyone stood up and applauded and it was all over so quickly. The best moments happen like that, I think. They mixed it that night and the next morning, it was on the radio; the next week, it was number one and the rest is history.

PLAYBOY: How did you feel about tit, controversies around Band Aid - the warring factions, the questions about the money's getting through?

COLLINS: The events have had such a high profile that it is obvious that the money is being carefully controlled and dispersed. Unfortunately, five governments in Africa are putting barriers up. The only thing that annoyed me was the difference between the American version of Live Aid and the British one. In England, if you wanted a cup of tea, you made it yourself. If you wanted a sandwich, you bought it. In typical American style, at the American concert, there were laminated tour passes and champagne and caviar. I don't doubt anyone's moral commitment to the cause but the caviar and the cause just didn't jibe for me.

PLAYBOY: Yet you've never written overly political songs.

COLLINS: Generally, that's true, though a song like A Long Long Way to Go is a political statement. It just doesn't come naturally for me to write like that. I feel that my music is helping in another way of helping people understand more above other people. That's really what I do best I'm not politically motivated. I don't even vote. I have pretty strong views of what's right and wrong, though. There's so much to do, but for me that doesn't mean writing political songs. I write personal songs.

PLAYBOY: In In the air Tonight you're confessing that the person to whom you're singing left you for someone else.

COLLINS: People ask me, "Aren't you embarrassed? You're putting your private life out for all the world to see." It's like I oughtn't to let people see that I was hurt, that I cry, that I do unmanly things. But I'm not embarrassed by it.

PLAYBOY: The lyric goes, "It's all been a pack of lies." How autobiographical is that?

COLLINS: I don't want to talk about details. All of that was reflecting on the split-up of my first marriage, but that's all I want to say about it. It's not fair to my ex-wife, who has her own side to all of this and now has a life of her own and is very happy, and it's not fair to my wife, Jill, who has been living with me for six or seven years now. We have our own life now and we're very happy.

PLAYBOY: OK, but the pain of splitting up, of loss, is a theme in a lot of your music.

COLLINS: There's more to write about, obviously, when you've been through something that affects you deeply. I can say that much. It opens you up; your spectrum becomes wider. It's a big step for me to be able to express it. In a lot of my most personal songs, I am saying I had no way of getting in touch. They are like letters. A lot of the songs, particularly on Face Value, obviously come from that experience of loss, as do some songs from the other albums: Why Can't It Wait Til Morning, It Don't Matter to Me, I Cannot Believe It's True. That last song is specifically about after the emotional thing has died down, and he has to start dealing with the reality of the situation; he's franti-cally trying to dig himself out of a hole. Do You Know, Do You Care has the same theme, but it was actually written in broad, general terms: "You said you did, but you didn't./ You said you would, but you couldn't./Do you really care or what?" But as for In the Air, that was the opposite; it was born of passion. I honestly don't know where it comes from, exactly what it's about.

PLAYBOY: How do you begin a song?

COLLINS: Usually with a rhythm. These days, I always use a drum machine, as you point out. The rhythm can set the whole thing up for me, set the mood. I just put on the drum machine and start mucking about. For instance, I had a tempo in mind. I was thinking of one of the Jack-sons' songs, actually when I strung a chorus on it. The line "One more night" just fit what I was playing. The rest of the song was written very quickly.

PLAYBOY: Besides your writing and singing - and the occasional foray into acting - you've made a mark as a pro-ducer of other artists' work, from Eric Clapton's to Adam Ant's. What's the attraction of working behind the scenes when you've had so much limelight?

COLLINS: At heart, I'm still a fan of people. If someone like Clapton or Philip Bailey asks me to produce him, I'm completely flattered. It's like I couldn't say no. I learn a lot, too. There's another aspect, particu-larly for the lesser-known performers. I really liked John Martyn, an English blues musician, who was going to make a record. I sort of felt I understood his music. So I wanted in there basically because I didn't want anyone else in there, fucking it up. With Clapton, well, Eric has been one of my best friends for some time, and one day he just called me up. I was blown away by it. "My God, Eric Clapton wants me to produce him." Even though we're best mates, he's still Eric Clapton. I used to play Cream songs in my school band. Any-way, the fashion of music keeps changing, and people like Eric sort of get left behind a bit in people's minds, if nothing else. I saw producing his records as an op-portunity to make people realize that this guy is still a fantastic guitar player and he's got a great voice.

PLAYBOY: You not only produced Philip Bailey but also co-wrote and sang on his hit Easy Lover. It's interesting that a white Englishman could become a producer for a black musician.

COLLINS: It was a real struggle. Bailey got a lot of flak for being produced by someone who is white. There was this paranoia that the album would not be played by black stations. In this business, you find out that there is more racism on the black side of the fence than on the white side. They didn't want to know about me, because I'm white. We did it, though, and broke down some of those walls. Easy Lover was a black hit and a pop hit and my song Sussudio was a number-three record on the black charts as a result of the thing's being opened up by Easy Lover. The race thing is not great on either side. If you're Prince or Lionel Richie, you can get played on MTV, but not many other black artists can. The reason I was on the video for Easy Lover was that I knew it wouldn't be shown if it was just Phil Bailey. Barriers will break down as there is more crossover, but they are slow to break down. Bailey and I working together, McCartney and Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson....

PLAYBOY: Are there others you would like to produce?

COLLINS: I've been asked to produce Tony Williams and Buddy Rich, each a very interesting project. I'd like to produce Are-tha Franklin; I love her voice. And Steve Winwood for the same reason. Julian Lennon asked and I'm interested in that, as well.

PLAYBOY: But your first love

COLLINS: Is drumming, right.

PLAYBOY: What drummers influenced you?

COLLINS: Everyone from Charlie Watts to Ringo to Keith Moon to Buddy Rich, Tony Williams, Steve Gadd. All those are influences. Especially Ringo.

PLAYBOY: What about Ringo?

COLLINS: He's very happy just to do whatever's right for the song. Some of the drumming on things like Strawberry Fields Forever, Ticket to Ride, the whole Revolver album are just great. Right now, I'm more interested in the sound of the drums and in playing what's right. I listen to some of the old songs that I played drums on and I can't believe the stuff I used to do. I'm less interested in playing as fast around the drum kit as I was; I just want to do what-ever is right for the song, rather than get in as much fancy drumming as I can.

PLAYBOY: But it was Ringo's Beatle mate George Harrison who was indirectly responsible for one of your first breaks, wasn't it?

COLLINS: Yeah. When I was 17, I met him - he was recording All Things Must Pass. I got a call one night from the manager of the band I was in at the time, Flaming Youth. He asked me what I was doing and if I wanted to do a session. I said, "I just got out of the bath, man. I'm watching TV." He said, "Well, it's for George Harrison. They need a percussion player at Abbey Road." So I'm screaming at the cabdriver, who wants to give me a tour of north London, "Get me to the bloody studio!" I got there and Ringo's chauffeur let me in. I was totally star-struck. Ringo was playing drums; Harrison, guitar; Klaus Voorman, bass; Billy Preston, piano; Badfinger, guitars; Maurice Gibb, keyboards; and Phil Spector was producing. Mal Evans, the old Beatles road manager, was sitting in the corner. This was like a dream, you know.

PLAYBOY: So you're on the album All Things Must Pass?

COLLINS: Well, Phil Spector kept saying, "Just drums and guitar," and "Just drums and piano." Every time he said "drums," I thought he was talking about me. I'm not a conga player; my hands were getting red and blistered. I'm thrashing away about an hour later, after having gone through all the combinations of instruments, and he says, "OK, let's have the percussion playing this time as well." My hands at this point were completely shot and they didn't even have my mike on. Ringo caught what was going on and he turned around and sort of smiled. Anyway, they didn't even use that version on the album.

PLAYBOY: You go back in British rock-'n'-roll history, don't you?

COLLINS: Yeah, I was born at a very early age. [Laughs] Sorry. I'm from Hounslow, which is in London. It's a commuter town. The stations are always full every morning with people going to the city.

PLAYBOY. What did your parents do?

COLLINS: At that time, my mother man-aged a toy shop., My father was manager of an insurance company. He's the only one in the family who has ever had a real job. Even now, my sister is a theatrical agent and my brother a cartoonist, and he actually contributes to

PLAYBOY. We were lower working class, I guess, but I have good memories. Sunday-afternoon lunches with friends of the family. After lunch, I would always go upstairs and play drums in my bedroom, which was above the living room. I was very young when I got a toy drum like most kids get, only the novelty never wore off. Then they made me a drum kit when I was five-metal poles with drums attached. I'd sit down and bang away.

PLAYBOY: What do you remember as the first music to make an impression on you?

COLLINS: Definitely, the Beatles. I used to stand in front of a mirror with a tennis racket, pretending to be John Lennon. Still do. When I first heard the Beatles, I went out and bought each album as it came out. There was other music in the house my sister was listening to Tommy Steele, who was sort of the. English James Dean but the Beatles were really it for me. I played for people from when I was five or six until I was maybe 14. By the time I was maybe 12, I had a regular drum kit. My father's boat club had these shows every Thursday night, and I used to play drums in the shows, accompanying an organist and some singing.

PLAYBOY: There's an image of drummers being the shy ones, sort of in the back, hiding behind the drums. Anything to that?

COLLINS. Not in my case. I wasn't shy at all. I. was acting at this point, as well. My mom had left the toy shop and got involved in an agency for kid actors. She sent me on an audition for a production of Oliver! and I got a lead role. The headmaster at my grammar school said, "Well done, boy, but you can't do it, because your schooling will suffer." So I had to choose between school and a theatrical school and the job. So I left. I did the play for seven months. I got £15 a week and it led to other auditions. I did some TV plays and a few movies. I was an extra in A Hard Day's Night, by the way, though you can never see me, and then in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

PLAYBOY: At that time, England had the Mods and the rockers. Were you either one?

COLLINS: I was a Mod. That meant we listened to The Who and Motown music and we wore our hair a certain way and wore Mod clothes. I did all that, though I never had the motorcycle and I didn't like beating up rockers. I've had only about four fights in my life.

PLAYBOY: During that time in theatrical school, when you were acting, were you drumming?

COLLINS: I was in a school band called The Real Thing. My ex-wife was one of the singers in the band. So I did this alongside the acting. I finally took the exams after school to give you credentials for a job and I passed only three. I'm a bright person, but I didn't take it very seriously. When I was studying, Younger than Yesterday, by the Byrds, was out; I was interested in that scene, not the exams. We were precocious theatrical students. Didn't have time for exams. It was then that I decided to stop acting as well and just become a drummer. My mom and dad were very annoyed with me when I stopped acting; my mom kept getting acting calls for me and I was saying no. My dad was angry because he had been very proud to show me off to his friends as being an actor in the West End and there was this bad press about rock groups and drugs and orgies. As if that was where I was headed.... It's a shame, because he never saw me successful at this music. He died before any of this started. What a shame ... all those times I was upstairs, playing the drums or listening to records, he'd just come home from work and we'd pass in the stairway or something. It wasn't like there was disinterest, but that was just the way we did it. He'd go off to watch television and I'd be upstairs. Anyway, I wish he could have seen that I didn't become a drug maniac or anything. That the music led somewhere. That it was OK that I quit acting.

PLAYBOY: Though at first it wasn't.

COLLINS: Yeah, I was in a number of unsuccessful bands. Finally, I read an ad for an audition for a drummer for Genesis. This was 1970. About '73 or so, I remet Andrea, my girlfriend from school, and we got married. Peter [Gabriel] left in '75. I was divorced in '78. Genesis has been the constant now for 15 years.

PLAYBOY: You and Andrea had two children before you broke up; you've obviously written about that period.

COLLINS: Yes. Please Don't Ask on the album Duke was written about that time: "Please don't ask me how I feel, I feel fine/ Oh, I cry a bit, don't sleep too good, but I'm fine. . . ." That one. "I know that the kids are well, you're a mother to the world / But I miss my boy / I hope he's good as gold......" I used to look at Simon when he was very young, sound asleep in his cot, and think, He doesn't realize what is happening. He doesn't realize I'm not going to be here. I got more upset by that than anything. Thank God they understand more as they get older. After the initially wounded pride of being the one jilted, the thing that stuck was the kids.

PLAYBOY: You wrote Doesn't Anybody Stay Together Anymore? Are you planning to give the song a new answer?

COLLINS: You know, I was very happily married to Jill, my present wife, when I wrote it, but I had been divorced, my manager was getting divorced, a couple of good friends were getting divorced, and I thought, What's going on? Doesn't anybody stay together anymore? The song came from that. In the old days, people were manacled together by Victorian principles. You stayed together and had a mistress. That went to "If this doesn't work, let's forget about it and try again."

PLAYBOY: Then do you try not to get bitter over relationships?

COLLINS: The key is communicating. So many times in a relationship, one person is doing something or saying something he or she doesn't really mean and the other person is reacting to that. It is being able to say, "I didn't mean that," having the guts to say, "I was wrong." People move farther and farther apart and-bang! you cut the cord. The point is to get wiser. People are very complex. We get so hurt, so self-absorbed that we don't even see the other person. But it comes down to the fact that you get only one life, unless you get into the other theories on that one, and you may as well be as happy as you can be while you're living it. I agree that there's no reason to stay with a marriage if you're going to go home and get beaten up every night. And sometimes people are happier apart. But an awful lot of people split up because they have failed to communicate.

PLAYBOY: Does a singer of your, uh, generation have groupies?

COLLINS: Well, they tell me my fans range from young kids to adults. In Britain, my female fans are probably older, middle-aged housewives. In America, it's probably 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds. To be honest, if I go shopping with my wife in Los Angeles, where we spend more time than anywhere else in America, mothers, girls of 16 and everything in between will come up. I've had 16-year-olds come up and ask me for an autograph for their mothers. I like it fine.

PLAYBOY: Are you surprised to be viewed as a sex symbol?

COLLINS: Yeah, but, see, I have this theory. You know, when they have those polls about the most attractive men, somehow good old Woody Allen always comes out on top. That saves the day for me. He's more consistently up there than someone like Tom Selleck or Don Johnson, who are the traditional good-looking chaps. He beats them because of personality. His sense of humor is far more important than anything else. I probably tend to do better than others because of my personality, rather than my intense good looks.

PLAYBOY: One critic wrote that you looked like a dad.

COLLINS: Somehow, I'm called that a lot. I'm not sure how to take it. I wear baggy trousers and sometimes the waist is up to my chest. That must look like a dad. Also, I'm sensible, I suppose, like a dad.

PLAYBOY: Two of your admirers are Prince Charles and Princess Diana. What is it like to have royal fans?

COLLINS: Diana was first a fan of my music because of the romantic side, you know, the ballads. When I saw her one of the first times, she said, "I love Separate Lives," and I told her I'd send her a copy. She told me she already had one. Once I actually gave them a complete set of the Genesis albums and the next concert I played, she came up afterward and asked, "Why didn't you play more from A Trick of the Tail?" I mean, she actually had listened to the things and remembered the songs we hadn't played. Anyway, she is a very, very attractive lady, far more attractive in person than in photographs. And he comes off as a really decent man. He really tries his best, I think. A good chap.

PLAYBOY: You have a lot of other celebrity fans. Go ahead and name-drop.

COLLINS: Shall I? All right. Jack Nicholson showed up at a show in Los Angeles. And it was the same night as a Lakers game. Tom Selleck has come and paid scalpers $100 for tickets. When Audrey Hepburn came up and introduced herself to me at the Academy Awards, I was, like, speechless. And she asked me for my autograph for her son. Kathleen Turner came up and said she was a big fan. Michael Caine asked to be introduced to me. Meryl Streep was sitting with Jessica Lange. I thought of going over and saying some-thing about how fantastic she was in Out of Africa, but I was too embarrassed. Finally, my wife told me, "Go on. She would probably love to know how you felt." Finally, I did and she said, "Well, look who's finally come up and said hello to me." I don't mean to sound bragging when I say this, because I don't mean it like that. I'm just blown away that people I see on television, these movie stars, these people I admire, come to see me!

PLAYBOY: And you haven't fathomed that you're a superstar?

COLLINS: Not one bit. I just don't think of myself as a star. This is what I do for a living. I'm fortunate that I make ends meet....

PLAYBOY: More than make ends meet.

COLLINS: Well, that I make a good living doing it.

PLAYBOY: What has the money meant?

COLLINS: If I ever really want something, I say to myself, "I've worked for this. I should be able to have it." I used to save and save and save and not spend anything, because I feared that when I was 50 or 60, I'd need the money. I still have that in me. It used to be that I wouldn't consider going with Eric to shop and buy a suit that cost £1000. Now, once in a blue moon, I might do it. But we still try to live on a budget. Jill draws X amount of money at the beginning of each week and that lasts until the beginning of the next week.

PLAYBOY: But if she runs out, she can go back to the well, can't she?

COLLINS: Yeah. But at the beginning of every week, I ask her, "Did you draw the money out this week?" I mean, boring, terribly boring, normal stuff. But, in fact, we both have rather modest tastes. Even our hobbies are relatively inexpensive. She collects ladies' compacts and Bakelite dishes; I collect tin toys and flying ducks. My car is five years old. Eric keeps trying to get me to buy a Ferrari, but I wouldn't feel comfortable in a Ferrari. The car I've got goes fine. It's an old friend to me. So the main thing about the money is that it gives me comfort to think that if I were to lose a leg tomorrow, I wouldn't have to worry. Meantime, I'm no big spender.

PLAYBOY: Rock 'n' roll once was a young man's game; but you've been called one of the few adult rock stars. How do you react to being called such a terrible thing?

COLLINS: At least it isn't calling me uglier than George Orwell. It makes me sound awfully middle of the road, though, like Barry Manilow, who has been in this interview half a dozen times now. But I guess the point is that you can be an adult and that doesn't mean you are boring. It's a comfort to know that you can grow up and still feel things deeply, still have something to say.

PLAYBOY: And if you were to write some new songs based on what you're feeling these days?

COLLINS: I guess they'd be pretty happy songs. Does that sound boring? Hmmm.. . . Well, it's not. You'll see. You'll hear.

 

 

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