Phil Collins : Biography
Phil Collins is one of that very rare breed of artists who combine musical accessibility and overwhelming popularity with the respect of their most illustrious peers. One of the world's best-loved vocalists, Phil has also worked with artists as iconoclastic as Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and John Cale. Genre-hoping is no problem for the man who has been a member of both the jazz ensemble Brand X and the hugely successful Genesis. In another role entirely, he has enjoyed both commercial success and critical acclaim for acting performances as divergent as a starring role in the British film Buster and a cameo in the HBO production, And The Band Played On.
Furthermore, Phil Collins is hailed by fellow musicians as one of the very best rock drummers in the world. Robert Plant, for example, enlisted him for his very first tour as a solo artist following the break-up of Led Zeppelin. This is the same man who recently fulfilled a lifetime ambition by taking to the road with his own 20-piece big band, debuting at the Albert Hall in the company of conductor Quincy Jones and guest vocalist Tony Bennett, and going on to play seven other European concerts, including two shows at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival.
These are the components of a complex and multi-faceted career. Should you want an insight into the real Phil Collins, however, you could have no better starting point than his forthcoming album, "DANCE INTO THE LIGHT." "It says a lot about the person I am today," he admits, from his new home in Switzerland. "What I am. Who I'm with. Where I am in my life... it's all here in these songs."
His history with Genesis is well documented, from their art-rock beginnings to their rise to multi-platinum, stadium-packing status. Collins launched his solo career fifteen years ago with "Face Value" ('81), followed by "Hello, I Must Be Going!" ('82), "No Jacket Required" ('85), "...But Seriously" ('89). "Serious Hits... Live!" ('90), and "Both Sides" ('93). He's picked up numerous accolades in the process, including six Grammy Awards, while racking up total solo sales to date of over 70 million. And, if you figure in his work with Genesis, Brand X, and the aforementioned gallery of peers, Collins has left his mark on some 200 million records worldwide.
So much has happened since the release of Phil's last album, 1993's "BOTH SIDES." There was the announcement of an end to his 25-year membership in Genesis and, in more personal terms, a much-publicized divorce and the start of a new relationship and a new life in a different country. Says Collins, the happiness he has achieved on coming out of this period of both professional and emotional reassessment and upheaval is reflected in what may be his most upbeat and positive set of songs to date. "'BOTH SIDES' was part of a big change in my personal life, so I did that album on my own because I felt that nobody else would understand quite where that music was coming from. It was a very personal, sad, dark album, if you like. This new record is a turnaround in that it's really up and optimistic, which is the way I feel at the moment."
"DANCE INTO THE LIGHT" also reflects the music that Collins found himself unwinding to during the last world tour, with its influence of African rhythms and compositional structures. "After a gig, I'd find myself fooling around on a sequencer, using it almost as a notepad for ideas - 16-bar things that I went back to eventually, and began to make sense of." But illustrative of the way in which his attitude to work has changed is the fact that, on completing his concert itinerary in May of 1995, Collins announced to all around him that he intended doing no work until Christmas of that year. "No one believed I'd stick to it, but I did," he grins. "You need a life to inform your writing, and I was ready to enjoy mine. It wasn't until the end of the year that I went back to these song ideas and started working on them."
The mental changes that Phil had undergone were reflected in the way he approached the construction of the album. Not only was "BOTH SIDES" widely perceived as a downbeat record, with its introspective themes ("though, the new album excepted, it's actually the favorite of all those I have made"), but it was also very much a one-man effort, with Collins writing and recording in home-alone circumstances, playing all the instruments himself. "This time, though, I wanted to get Hugh Padgham and my band involved to see what they might add to the album. I wanted a totally different approach."
The finished album is absolutely faithful to Phil's original vision, while exhibiting clear differences from the last project. "This time, it all started from a basis of guitars," he illustrates. "And because I'm playing all the drums myself, rather than using machines like I did the last time, it's a lot more rhythmic - almost tribal.
"Also, and this is good news for anyone who listened to 'BOTH SIDES' and wondered what on earth was wrong with me, I think it shows I've rediscovered my sense of humor. Not that I was writing 'issue' songs out of sheer bloodymindedness: again it was just a question of the album reflecting what I was going through personally. But that was then and this is now."
Produced by Phil Collins & Hugh Padgham, "DANCE INTO THE LIGHT" features a dozen new Collins originals plus a powerful, timely rendition of the Bob Dylan classic, "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Joining Phil (drums; vocals; lead, rhythm & slide guitars; keyboards; bagpipes; kalimba) is his extraordinary live band, featuring: Nathan East (bass), Brad Cole (keyboards), Daryl Stuermer (lead guitar), new addition Ronnie Caryl (rhythm guitar), Amy Keys & Arnold McCuller (vocals), and the Vine St. Horns (Harry Kim, Daniel Fornero, Arturo Velasco, Andrew Woolfolk).
Collins is equally upbeat about other changes that have occurred in his professional life. Of the decision to end his membership in Genesis, he comments: "Half-way through the writing and recording of 'BOTH SIDES,' I realized I wanted this, not that. I'd become a little low on enthusiasm for compromising in the way that's necessary when you're in a band. About a year ago, I had a meeting with Mike (Rutherford) and Tony (Banks) and they were so accepting of it. It was like, 'Fine, we understand'."
Now, having taken that exceptional half-year off from work, Collins is back in more familiar hyper-active mode. His big band debut will eventually surface as a live recording and as a laser disc video. "It was a dream come true, possibly the most exciting project I have ever been involved in. It was a mountain to climb in many ways, but I had a great time doing it."
Concurrently, he has been moving into film soundtrack composition with his work on 'Tarzan,' a Disney Studios animated feature due for release in 1998 or 1999. "I've been totally hands-on, involved at the very first stages, from scoring onwards," he enthuses. "It's a very different discipline to other work that I have done, but it's great fun, and I hope it will open the door to my working on other animated features and maybe even action or drama films. It's an area I'm extremely interested in, and I'm only thrilled that I am still finding so many new challenges and opportunities."
For now though, all attention is on "DANCE INTO THE LIGHT." If Collins nurses any wish for its public reception, it is that listeners appreciate the further step forward it represents in a constantly changing work profile. "There's a tendency for people to say, 'Oh, more of the same from Phil Collins, without really giving me their attention," he says. "But the one thing I don't do is repeat myself - I'm my most stringent editor. Not only do I not want to make things boring for my fans, but I don't want to make them boring for myself." What remains the same is the commitment to musical excellence, as those who listen will hear.
Last updated on 13-7-99