Click here to watch Paul Collins’ new video “Killer Inside” via PopMatters
Paul Collins Addresses the “Killer Inside” Ahead of New Album, ‘Out of My Head’ (premiere + interview)
JEDD BEAUDOIN 30 Aug 2018
Photo: Joy Whalen
Power pop master Paul Collins finds a new creative foil for masterful collection that celebrates his signature sound while sounding thoroughly contemporary.
Paul Collins returns with Out of My Head, a predictably impactful collection of songs cut from the power pop cloth Collins has been working with since the late 1970s. As a member of the Nerves, he was one-third of a magnificent outfit that also housed Jack Lee and Peter Case, themselves among pop songwriting’s elite. Launching his solo career in 1979, Collins has gone on to release a series of memorable recordings under the name Paul Collins or, sometimes, Paul Collins’ Beat.
For his latest, he plays all the drums, most of the guitars and, of course, sings. He is joined by fellow writer and musician, Paul Stingo throughout. Additionally, Stingo wrote a number of tracks which wound up on the record, which serves as a masterclass in the art of the catchy, to-the-point, affecting pop song. Out of My Head arrives on limited edition vinyl, CD, digital and streaming formats on 28 September via Alive Naturalsound Records. (Find out more about purchasing the album, including the limited edition vinyl.)
Collins has also just issued a new video for “Killer Inside”, culled from Out of My Head. With a perfectly melodic bassline, ace drum cracks and a lyric that’s unforgettable, the tune is a perfect precursor to a record that seems destined to go down as one of Collins’ best.
Collins’ will also release his memoirs in early 2019.
Collins recently spoke to PopMatters about songwriting, collaboration and the painful moments when songs seem in short supply.
When did you know you were going to make this record?
A friend of mine, Tony Leventhal, built his own studio, a really high-end one. He said, “I need somebody to figure out how to use this stuff. Do you want to do it?” I said yes.
What happened from there?
I like working with at least one musical partner who I can bounce Ideas off. That’s why the relationship between me and Steve Huff back in the early days was so great. I had a foil who could take an idea of mine and add to it so that the two things together are better than the one idea by itself. With Jack Lee and Peter Case in the Nerves, I was really more of a student of theirs. They really knew what they were doing. I was just there to learn. By the time I worked with Steve I was a better writer, but if I couldn’t get something past him, I figured it wasn’t good enough. He kept me honest.
It had been a long time since I found somebody I could work with in that way where I was comfortable enough and trusted their musical taste enough to put myself on the line with them. Then I met Paul Stingo. I was initially working with him at a time when I was working with a lot of different musicians. I was touring a lot, and the first job at hand for anyone coming into the band was to learn all my material. That wasn’t a creative process. That was just copying what had been done.
I wanted to work with somebody and be able to say to them, “Here’s a new song. There are no parts written for this. What’re we going to do?” That’s usually where things would fall apart. I was really looking for someone who had the same kind of creative influences I did and who could come up with parts. The songs I play really depend on cool parts.
Paul writes songs as well.
I was trepidatious about that because I’m so picky. I wasn’t going to do a song just out of obligation. When he presented me with his songs, it took me a minute to digest them, but I said, “Wow, this is really good stuff.” From there, we’d get together, weed out the songs that weren’t up to snuff. We want to end up with 10-12 really good songs. They can all be ballads. Twelve great ballads are better than 12 lousy rockers.
Is there something on the record that you think best spotlights your working relationship?
The last track, “Beautiful Eyes”, which is a song that’s been kicking around since the ’90s. It was written by a friend of my family, Neal Grossman, who was a poet. I’ve done a few things where he supplied the lyrics, and I wrote the music. When Paul and I recorded it we put strings on it; we put other guitars on it, we really layered things. Then we’d go to mix it, and I’d think, “There’s something wrong. It’s too big, too pretentious.” In the end, I said, “Just put up the guitar, the bass and the vocal.” What you don’t use is almost as important as what you do use.
You have a considerable body of work behind you at this point. How careful are you about not repeating yourself?
I don’t have a formula. I only know how to write a good song. That’s a very elusive thing. Sometimes, when I sit down with a guitar, my fingers will feel like baseball mitts. I wind up saying, “I’ve written tons of songs, but I don’t know anything I can play.” If I had a formula it would be way too tempting to knock out “Rock ‘N Roll Girl” and “Don’t Wait Up” ad infinitum. Or ad nauseum. Those are great songs but impossible for me to duplicate. I still work with the same five, seven, eight chords that I’ve worked with since I first started learning how to play. The combinations are endless, the melodies you can put on top of them are endless, the quest of writing a great song is so alluring to me and so great and so satisfying.
You can get into a zone where you think everything you do is genius. Eventually, you have to step back and say, “About 90 percent of that stuff stinks.” That’s the hardest thing for me to do, which is why I like having a collaborator.
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