The Beat goes on
The Beat’s Paul Collins is trying to make power pop all-powerful again
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“Crisis averted,” says Paul Collins, his raspy voice still retaining a slight New York accent when he gets on a roll. His bassist just quit. But after a long day of making calls, a replacement has been found for his upcoming West Coast tour.
There’s probably not much that would keep Collins from the stage these days. Over the last year the founding member of seminal ’70s Los Angeles power-pop bands The Nerves and The Beat has re-emerged, gripping and ripping through the songs that made him famous—or at the very least made countless kids want to wear skinny ties and strum power chords.
Collins almost sounds like a kid who’s just strapping on a guitar for the first time. He just released King of Power Pop!, a record whose title might come off as a bit ostentatious if there wasn’t some truth to it. The album by no means reinvents the wheel, but it does mark a full return to the hook-laden rock music Collins helped shape more than three decades ago.
“Ever since I was 17 people were saying rock ’n’ roll is dead,” he says of naysayers who insisted The Nerves’ music was a dead-end. “Of course, every time someone says I can’t do something, I do it anyway.”
Good ol’ punk-rock tenacity led to The Nerves paving the way for bands like The Knack and The Romantics, both of which found success sneering and mugging on a quirky new channel called MTV. Collins and his fellow Nerves cronies Peter Case and Jack Lee split after releasing one self-titled EP in 1976. They gave it another go in the equally power-poppy, equally short-lived band The Breakaways, after which Case formed The Plimsouls, and Collins moved from behind the drum kit to front The Beat (which later became Paul Collins’ Beat to avoid confusion with U.K. ska band The English Beat. Got all that?).
These days The Beat’s 1979 self-titled debut is regarded by many as a power-pop classic (probably considered punk or new wave at the time), although the band would never quite reach the notoriety of The Knack or The Plimsouls. But Collins never stopped making music. He dabbled in country in the ’90s (which leaned more on his rock sensibilities), and found new life in music after moving to Madrid from his home in New York in the weeks following 9/11, producing Spanish bands and forming a new version of The Beat.
Of course, most things (i.e. everything) in pop culture is cyclical. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that The Paul Collins Beat was asked to play South by Southwest in 2008.
“That was really instrumental in repositioning me in the U.S.,” he says of Austin, Texas’ four-day music festival/endless party. “We played to a lot of people.”
Collins, who returned to New York last year, makes no secret about wanting to turn power pop into a movement similar to punk rock or even metal. He may have his work cut out for him trying to get people who aren’t necessarily disenfranchised to rally behind jangly, guitar pop. But there will always be a love for the music. In 2005, Collins started The Beat Army (much cooler than the KISS Army), a growing community made up of like-minded fans, bands and promoters who like their pop powerful.
It also comes as no surprise that The Beat continues to influence and tour with younger bands including Atlanta Nerves savants Gentleman Jesse & His Men, who Collins met at South by Southwest. If anyone’s going to turn power pop into a movement, it’ll be Paul Collins.
“I’ve come full circle,” he says, adding that he considers his new record one of his best. “It took a while to come full circle, but I finally decided it’s just easier to do what comes natural.”