"Phil Collins... profiled" - Phil talks about the "...But Seriously" album. Interview disc transcribed by Alan Hewitt - Disc provided to TWR by Annie Callingham.
INT: Although you've been constantly in the public eye producing and playing with other artists and appearing at fund raising benefits, this is your first solo album in five years. How do you feel about that?
PC: I think it's important that people know that this is my first solo album for five years because people think that Buster was a solo project; they think that the Genesis projects are mine; well not mine but sort of because I'm the singer; they think I do everything; it's always the way. So that to me is the most important thing so you're sick of Phil Collins but this is the first solo album that he's done since No Jacket Required. I always try and do something that I haven't done before and on the last album I tried to write some more dance-orientated music to some degrees of success I suppose. I tried to do something a bit more serious and a bit less flippant and with coming from the Buster stuff with Two Hearts and A Groovy Kind Of Love which were songs... I didn't write A Groovy Kind Of Love but they were done for a specific project. I didn't think oh, Phil Collins solo I'll cover this song it was done because it was the right period for the film and so this is the first thing since then to try and get people who thought I was perhaps going a bit soft with A Groovy Kind Of Love to let them know this is what I do now...
INT: Tell us about the title of the album and the first single Another Day In Paradise...?
PC: ...But Seriously is the title and I found it really hard to come up with a title and its always something that it is going to be called; you know this is going to be called this forever you know so its hard to say that is the title and be happy with it. Song titles are the same but we came up with... Originally it was going to be called Serious Business but then there is the business connotations and people would think it would look like a kind of business and it wasn't like that and so we ended up with ...But Seriously.
I think we went along that direction because of the lyrics. I just write about what comes, you know I write the music. A song like Another Day In Paradise for which the working title is called Homeless I wrote those lyrics at the same time as the music; I wrote the music; played the piano; and the words came out. When we were cutting the single in London, I crossed the road, I'd just come out of the studio literally and this woman who I wouldn't have dreamed was going to say anything; this woman with two kids said "Give us some money, guv" and obviously didn't have anywhere to go and not just that; it's everywhere places you don't think. I mean when we played Washington; these people were asleep, or trying to sleep on the grilles in the snow. Washington was almost at a standstill and these people were trying to sleep on the grilles where all the hot air was coming up and you could see that it was in the shadow of Capitol Hill and I thought it was an extraordinary contradiction. What it also deals with is people's awkwardness with it. I mean, when that happened to me I just walked straight past and then I thought hang on I'm just doing the same as everybody else is doing but what do I do? I felt awkward; I didn't ignore here but at the same time I didn't stop and give her some money and there are two arguments: do you give people money like that or don't you? I don't know if you give money to someone who is like an alcoholic for a cup of coffee, he will go and buy some alcohol with it. But it is just people's awkwardness with it and that is what the song deals with that people just starting to whistle and pretend it's not happening.
INT: How did you get David Crosby to sing on the album?
PC: When I did my first album I said to John Kolodner who was a very integral part of the first album really because I didn't know any of these people and he said "Well, who do you want on the album?" So I gave him a list of people you know; I wanted the Earth Wind and Fire Horns I was going to ask Stephen Bishop who by this time I knew; I want David Crosby and Arif Mardin and Eric Clapton who again I knew by that time. Anyway he came back and said "Crosby's out of it on his boat you won't get him back, he's gone out there" So I thought that's a shame because I just wanted my heroes on my first record and so I didn't get him. I just love him so much, even with The Byrds and all the bands that I've ever been in have done covers of Byrds songs and Crosby Stills and Nash and I think he is the key member of that group you know because he is the one who picks those odd notes out of the air and sings them. So, I approached him at that fortieth anniversary gig and he said "Oh man, I'd love to" and so he did and I sent him a tape of the songs when I got to LA with a couple of rough mixes of the couple of songs he was going to sing on and he came back and he did exactly what I expected him to do which was great. He just picked a few notes out of the air that I would never have thought of and sang on them.
INT: How do you write songs?
PC: I write the chords and the drums and stuff on the drum machine and then do the demo and I play it back to myself and I sing and whatever rubbish I sing is recorded and then I filch through the rubbish to see if there's anything worth keeping (laughter) And sometimes... Sussudio was born like that and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But usually you get some lines which gives you somewhere to start and Hang In Long Enough was one of those things and it was obviously going to be a key horn track so... and I have always been fascinated by certain areas of black music which I try and get closer to every time I record but it still ends up sounding very different from R & B when it comes out it's just my attempt of trying to do something in that field.
INT: Tell us how you approached the vocals on ...But Seriously.
PC: We've actually made a conscious effort to keep effects off the voice on this album and a lot... I listen back to some of the old stuff and there's for me to sing to in the old days and by that I mean everything up to this album; including the last Genesis album I would have a harmoniser on my voice; I would have echo and it would be a vocal effect if you know what I mean; the vocal was a vocal effect and I guess that was really to cover up my own feelings of inadequacies about my singing and this time I just thought; (A) I thought I was singing better but also let's just have it warts and all just have a bit of reverb to put it in perspective but no effects and there's very little effect occasionally there's a little bit of slap echo like the old Rock & Roll echo to try and push it out a bit but I tried to keep it a little bit more honest and up front.
INT: Tell us about Something Happened On The way To Heaven...
PC: This is one of the last songs I write and I wrote it for the Four Tops originally. It has been to a lot of places this song, I wrote it for the Four Tops but never gave it to them because by the time I wrote it I liked it! (laughter) So I kept it and it was a bit of a bland chorus and we recorded it because most of the album is done as usual with me doing piano or keyboards first and then drum machine and then doing the drums and getting people in to do this and that you know; piecemeal. There was no tracks, I can't think of any tracks on the last album that were done as a "band" with more than one musician in the studio at the same time and so this time I thought; well let's have a couple of tracks where we're playing as a band, and this was one of them where we had me Leland and Daryl all playing and we just rehearsed it and went through it and then Daryl said; "I've got some more chords for the chorus to make it a bit more interesting" so we changed that by which time Leland had gone back to America so we got Nathan in to play bass on it and he... basically I had the chords written but Daryl just put some changes in which made it more interesting hence his credit on that and he made it. He made the changes and that is to me what makes the song come alive.
INT: Tell us about Colours...
PC: I was going to call it.. there's an English song called Oh Mr Porter What Can I Do? And I was going to call it Oh Mr. Botha, What Can We do? Because it is just aimed at Afrikaaners I just can't handle all that. It is about South Africa and there are two songs really that are spliced together as one thought and the first was called Hymn for a while and it was just a look at what... it's basically like a song about the newsreels you were seeing at that time with just endless.. everyone knows you all saw that footage of the Live Aid thing and it is still happening it hasn't gone away. Everyone thinks that because we raised $60,000,000 it has all stopped and of course, it hasn't.
INT: Who is playing guitar on Wish It Would Rain Down...
PC: That's Eric Clapton. He asked me to play on this song; Bad Love on his new album and he said; "You always get other people to play on your albums but you never get ME, you never ask ME to play". So I said; "OK, come down and play" so he came down and played. What is it about? I don't know... I try, it's a chorus and some of the verse words were spontaneous as most of my stuff is and the I try to write in the holes to make sense of what I've written and occasionally there are little gaps in there and it is when you see... relating it to certain things if you see your first girlfriend you ever had, if you suddenly come across her on the street you will suddenly remember what it was all about you know and then you wish that you'd never done it .. I didn't mean to cause you... I didn't mean to open up this can of worms again, I just called to say "hi" or whatever and you just end up regretting it.
INT: How do you feel about musicians sampling your drum sound?
PC: I mean it's flattery really if people want to sound like you it's OK by me. The idea of whether you can copyright a sound is something I've never gone into legally. To me it is the personality playing the thing that makes it what it is so you have people who have got my sound but they haven't got my personality; they've got their own personality. It's like, you can play a Stratocaster and get Clapton's sound but you won't sound like Clapton because of what he is so. Sampling is OK, I mean I sampled a whole bunch of James Brown stuff the other day "Ow!" (laughter) "Everybody 'board for the night train" you know I just got it just for fun you know and there's an art to using that properly but I don't find it and we actually put some sounds on this album; some drum sounds, we disguised, we put echo and there's one song which isn't actually on the album but it has a very exposed drum fill at the front and we knew that people were going to sample it so we put a backwards echo on the whole thing that was led up to the first downbeat of the song so people can't sample it.
INT: Do you have any plans to tour in support of ...But Seriously?
PC: We're starting at the end of February, we're rehearsing through January and February and going out in February/March well, going out until September in Japan, Australia here, the States and we are going to be playing certain places first like LA, New York and Chicago and then coming back to do a lot of the other major cities. There's going to be a European tour, which will obviously take in England, I would love to do along tour of England but there just isn't the time to do along tour of England so we are playing various places in Scotland and Ireland, I want to go to Ireland. I think Belfast is one place, everybody pulls out of Belfast because of the potential.. they all think they are going to blow 'em up but I'm going! (Laughter). I just think it's.. it would be good just to go there and play some music for the people I just don't think they get enough and I would like to play club sort of dates. I feel we should be able to play clubs without compromising the show so it will be an arena show but hopefully it will be intimate. Just to prove to people and to ourselves more than anything else that it isn't the lights that they applaud it's the music. And my music... it's just my personal stuff doesn't go... I've never tried it, I don't think it really goes across that distance , it needs to be heard and it needs people to hear the words.
INT: Tell us about your work with The Prince's Trust?
PC: I work for.. with the Prince's Trust trying to motivate young kids that instead of just sitting around doing smack or instead of sniffing glue or whatever they do, to just try and get a bit of respect with themselves and to motivate themselves and so with the Prince's Trust that is what we have done with various events not just the rock gigs but other things that we do. Everybody sees the rock gigs as being the focal point but it really isn't; it's just one time of year where we all get together and do it. There are lots of other things that we do; once a year there is a thing which they call "Work, Sport and Leisure" and basically we get.. I've been going for the last few.. I didn't go last year because I was doing the album and Lily was coming that's why I didn't go last year, Lily was being born. But the three years before that I've done it. You go down there for a week and they have ten kids from forty different cities so you have about four hundred kids down there and it's a potential time bomb because you have Manchester United football supporters living next door to Liverpool football supporters! That's the kind of thing you've got and it is a potential time bomb so then it is interesting to see how they get on. And what you do is get people in a room like this and they have tables with computers and these kids have never seen computers they don't even know how to turn a computer on and it scares the hell out of them. You put them in a room and teach them how to do it and (A) they are knocked out that someone like me has turned up and also knocked out that people are taking the time to teach them how to do these things and they have a studio down there where people can go and make their own little demos; fashion design, jewellery; anything at all. The success rate from that is very high; about 60% and of course, some guys go back and do exactly what they were but the success rate is what we are really aiming at and that is just one thing that goes on that I am involved with. There are lots of other things that I don't get involved with because it is a day to day job and lots of people are out there doing it.