Phil Collins Interviews

HITMEN, 1986 Part Two


HITMEN: 'No Reply' from Abacab is an interesting example of a drum performance within a 4/4 structure that still employs a lot of unique phrases and rhythmic turnarounds. The fact that it has such a strong groove leads one to think that you had a major hand in writing it.

COLLINS: It probably sounds like I wrote it because I suggested the horn lines. Prior to that the band wasn't really interested in using horns in our music. The way the tune came about was, like most of our compositions, through improvising in rehearsal. We just get together and play, and if we find something we like we record it Later I wrote the lyrics for the tune and suggested the horn arrangement. In rehearsal Tony played a drum machine while I played my drums and Mike guitar. We just follow our noses and play until we collectively hit upon something we think is nice. Quite often our music happens by accident. It's a difficult process to describe, other than to say that just getting together and playing as a group and coming up with beats and parts that we like is the basis of our songwriting. I wanted, in `No Reply,' to write something that the Jackson 5 might like to record. I also wanted to steer the group into an area of music that we hadn't tried before. Tony and Mike hadn't really been open to using horns in our music, so it was partly that desire to try and introduce new forms and styles that motivated me to write `No Reply.'

HITMEN; Speaking of the Jackson 5, the Motown sound that you achieved on the drums on `Can't Hurry Love' was very true to the original.

COLLINS: Motown artists like drummer Benny Benjamin and bassist James Jameson were big idols of mine, and their playing is still a source of inspiration. The idea of doing `Can't Hurry Love' was to see if Hugh Padgham (producer of Genesis and The Police) and I could duplicate that Sixties sound. It's very difficult today because most recording facilities are so much more sophisticated than they were back then. It's therefore hard to make the drums sound as rough as they did on the original. That's what we were going after, a remake, not an interpretation, but a remake. To duplicate the drum sound we listened to that tune for ages. We kept referring back to it for the tambourine echo. For the snare sound we eventually had to loosen the snares until they were barely resting on the drumhead. We kept listening to the original drum fills, harmony parts and everything else in the song until we felt we had duplicated them as closely as was possible.

HITMEN: Your recording of Hand in Hand' from Face Value reminded me of Weather Report's 'Jungle Book,' which had a very tribal and primitive sound, a sound based on the percussive treatment of the song.

COLLINS: I'm a big fan of Weather Report; that's no secret. There are parallels in those two songs, not necessarily in the notes played but in terms of the feelings and emotions that each song evoked. Actually though, `Hand in Hand' was inspired by a Marx Brothers film I had seen. In one scene Harpo was playing a clarinet, leading all these black kids around a village while they sang, `Who that man?' As he's leading them around the village more and more people begin to join in line dancing. `Hand in Hand' portrays the image of one person starting off to work in the morning, walking through a big valley, while one-by-one others join in. By the end of the song everyone's happily sharing a sort of communal spirit, and that's the feeling behind the song.

HITMEN: The drums sound very full and resonate on the track.

COLLINS: Well, the thing that I've been going after lately is to get a drum sound that compliments the song's tonal imagery. The reason behind that is that when I find a sound that fits the song's mood, I tend to play less. And when I play less the sound says more. That's why in bands like Weather Report, even when very little is actually going on, the music still sounds strong and compelling. So for myself the sound of the drums has become actually more important than the actual beats that I'm playing - literally the sounds and tunings and how they're treated electronically during recording.

HITMEN: On Peter Gabriel's album Intruder your drum sounds were altered electronically. Is that a direction you'll be employing more in the future?

COLLINS: Peter's album was interesting to do in that he specifically requested that I not use any cymbals. I know Peter quite well, and I respect him as a man of principle, yet I told him that there are times when using cymbals is good. Yet he remained steadfast in wanting no metal on the album whatsoever, so I said, `All right,' and got along with it. His ideas inspired me to create, on `No Self Control,' a very interesting drum part. A lot of that was due to Hugh Padgham, who set up noise gates and limiters on the drums. I was in the live room just playing some simple patterns on the drums, yet through the headphones was hearing these incredible sounds. The noise gates would clip in and give an added tonal dimension to the sounds coming off the drums. So Hugh's changing the drum sounds on the board and I'm playing off those sounds, each time waiting for the gate to clip in and the noise to stop before playing something else. After a while I began to string some of those sounds into patterns and phrases.

"I'm in no way saying that noise gates are my thing and that from this day on I'm sticking to them exclusively. If it's a straight ahead sort of song my drum sound will reflect that, using the existing technology one generally uses when recording drums. You have to change and adapt your drum sound to whatever aterial you're recording. That's why I'm getting more involved in production. The art there is to hear a song and then be able to choose the sounds and recording techniques that will best realize it. I've been fortunate lately in that on Eric Clapton's new album, which I produced, Jamie Oldaker (who played drums on the album) was very open to all these ideas. It was the first record I've produced and not played on, and sometimes trying to explain to another drummer what you want to hear can be tricky. But he was a great help in that he could see what the end result was going to be.

HITMEN: A lot of rhythm tracks today are recorded with the intention of adding subsequent parts. For a drummer that means he may not hear the solo instrument or vocal that his playing will eventually accompany on record. I like the new Genesis album because the songs all feel like the group played them live.

COLLINS: What if I were to tell you that during the sessions for the album there was no time when the band played together as a unit? I put the drums on afterwards on everything. The way we've come to record is to initially play each song live and later rerecord each individual part. What we did on a song like `Home by the Sea' was to record with a programmed drum machine. Tony would play a guide keyboard part, Mike would play a guide guitar part, and I'd sing a guide vocal. These `guide parts' enabled us to settle on the format for the songs. If we liked what we got, we would then go in and record. Tony would go in and record his keyboard parts, Mike would record his guitar and bass parts, I'd replace the Linn drums with my drums, and after all of that I'd go in and rerecord my vocal.

The idea behind this method of record-ing is to simply capture the feeling of the song without everyone worrying about playing their parts right. Everyone plays initially just to get the feeling of the song on tape. Once the feeling's there you can't take it away. On the other hand, you can't get the feeling on tape if it's not there in the music and performances. Really, the guide parts are played only to establish the mood of the songs. Things like tempo and feel, that are so crucial to a song, are easy to get; once that's there it's easy to go for a good drum sound. I have, as a drummer, the opportunity to go back and have two or three cracks at playing the song, instead of it being: We've locked in your part, I'm afraid you can't do anything else. Too bad, but you're stuck with it. Sorry."

On my solo albums I've never had a complete band in for any of the sessions. I do the keyboards and vocals at home, playing along with a drum machine. Then I take my home eight-track recording into the studio and copy it from eight to twenty-four tracks, which rees sixteen new tracks to work with. I rerecord the drums using my own set in the studio, and then bring in a bassist to play along to my drum, keyboard and vocal parts. Then one by one I bring in guitarist or a horn section or whatever arrangement of instruments feels best for the tune. In the end what you have is a complete recording that sounds like it was done live in the studio.

I know a lot of people will disagree with this method of recording. Yet the freedom that each player received, knowing that if he were to make a mistake the whole band wouldn't turn to him and say, `You mucked up,' is enormous. Saying to someone, `Just have a go at this; relax and play what-ever you think is right,' takes away a lot of the barriers that being in a studio often produces. In this way a musician feels free to stretch out and make the best musical statement he can make.

`Westside,' the instrumental from Hello, I must be Going, sounds like a big band. In fact, there was never a time when more than one person was in the studio at a time. I did the keyboards at home, playing along to a Roland drum machine which I programmed. I also did the bass part at home, playing a set of bass pedals with my fists. The Roland was playing very up-tempo sixteenth notes, so when I re-recorded it in the studio I did so separately, playing on one track only my hi-hat. Then I re-corded the bass drum and snare parts, and only after that played the fills, with a sort of Latin feel in the phrasing and sound. Later, when the band went on tour we had to relearn the complete song. We had to learn how to play it as an ensemble.

HITMEN: You've recorded a version of `Tomorrow Never Knows' from The Beatles Revolver album. I've always felt that Ringo did some of the best, most creative drumming on that album. How much effect did his drumming have on your own style?

COLLINS: An enormous amount. When I'm playing a song I'll often think about how another drummer might play it, and try to be that player in my per-formance of the song. Often I'll think, `How would Keith Moon play this?' And I'll don my Keith Moon hat. For another song I'll think about John Bonham, or even on occasion Stewart Copeland, but more often than any other drummer I think about Ringo. `That's All,' from Genesis, is a Ringo Starr drum part. `Through These Walls,' from Hello, I Must be Going, is a Ringo drum part.

When I recorded `Tomorrow Never Knows' I went after a Ringo drum sound, which I've always felt, thanks to George Martin, was one of the great drum sounds of all time. I've had the pleasure of getting to know him and have told him, `The things you did with four track were incredible. I wish things were that way today.' And he said, `No, it's really much better now. Back then you had to live with those limita-tions and with a very compressed drum sound, because with four tracks that's the only way you could record drums.' Yet that's just the sound I wanted to get, so we went with maximum com-pression, for that real Ringo sound.

You know Ringo has stated that he could never properly play a roll. Yet when you listen to `Ticket To Ride' and Tomorrow Never Knows,' he's playing these very intricate things throughout. He played some great rolls all through `Ticket to Ride' and some unbelievably individualistic fills. That's the magic of his playing: he just does it; there's no self-consciousness about it whatsoever. The fills he played on `Strawberry Fields Forever' are classic rock fills; the drags and his way of phrasing just slightly after the beat on the toms all make for an incredible drum part.

HITMEN: Your playing on Illegal Alien,' especially on the verse that begins, 'Consideration for your fellow man,' is very sparse, yet so effective and interesting.

COLLINS: We went through a few dif-ferent drum parts on `Illegal Alien.' I initially was trying for a more sophisti-cated drum part than the song actually required. Eventually I ended up with that basic rock-and-roll part-two and four on the snare, one and three on the bass. That's what made the tune work. I'm happier with my playing on `Illegal Alien' and `Mama' than I am on something like `Dance on a Volcano,' in spite of the fact that `Dance' is a much more intricate part. To me the drums are played much better, and that's the bottom line. I'm not afraid to take off my schooling hat, and I've matured enough to say, `People won't laugh at me,' if I play something simple, direct and effective.

HITMEN: I'd like to get back to something I feel about your playing: opposed to the Carl Palmer, Alan White school, it is more concerned with feeling and emotion than with technique and slickness.

COLLINS: I've always felt that drums should reflect the personality of the player. That's why I'm not afraid to say that I put on a Keith Moon hat or a John Bonham hat, because I feel that even when I'm playing something that I feel Keith or John might play, it ulti-mately comes out sounding like me. I think one's personality does come through, and that's what I'm going after. On the session the other night with Steven Bishop I was just playing very naturally, and he said, `That sounds so typically you.' I thought, `Uhmm, that's good; I'm glad; it's a stroke of luck that it does.' I didn't even realize it until he mentioned it, but it's true. In Alan White's defense, I think he's not at all like Carl Palmer, whose playing I don't particularly enjoy. He might be a nice man, but his playing does nothing for me at all. Bill Bruford, on the other hand, is a drummer I like very much. He's got great individual style. In the past he had a tendency to think too much at times, yet the things he's currently doing with King Crimson are very interesting and moving.

HITMEN: Your playing on It Don't Matter to Me' is one of the most infectious, driving drum parts I've heard in a long while. How did your drum part and the song come about?

COLLINS: That was just a song I had lying about for ages. The drum part that you hear is actually a guide drum part-the part I originally laid down as a guide for the other instruments. As the track developed I suddenly realized that I couldn't replace the drums because everyone had locked into that original part. Hugh Padgham always wanted to get a better drum sound for the track; yet to rerecord it would mean wiping out everything that was later recorded. If it didn't happen again with the same feeling we would be in a position where we had lost everything. Maybe that's why the drum part works, because I just sat down, played along to the song and thought, `All right, that will do for the moment.'

HITMEN: Having begun playing drums at such a young age, can you reflect on what they mean in your life?

COLLINS: That's just it - drums have been part of my life as long as I can remember. It's very natural for me to play drums. I also know that I talk like a drummer and sing like a drummer. It's only when asked questions that one tries to come up with answers. I've never really done anything else in my life.

HITMEN: During your performances with Genesis, do you feel more centered behind the kit than you do singing?

COLLINS: It's when I sit behind the drums that I feel completely at home. As I said before, I sing in our shows because I have to, yet I'm first and foremost the band's drummer. When I'm behind the drums I know exactly what I want to do, and I think that comes through in my playing. Even when I play Chester Thomson's kit during a sound check and he plays mine, I invariably retain my own sound, as does Chester. A drum is a drum, and the sound of one's personality should come through on any. That's why when people want to know what skins or sticks or tunings I use, I don't feel that there's that much point in replying (apart from giving them a direction), because I coax the sound out of the drum, and for that matter so does Bill [Bruford], or Chester, or any drummer with a sound and style of his own. I've always worked as hard as I can at my playing, and have always been open to a lot of different things musically -and that's paid off. I think a lot of people know me now for my diversity.



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