Paul Collins Beat gives Fourth of July a little power pop
Paul Collins is a humble guy, yet he released an album called King of Power Pop in 2010 and nobody blinked an eye. Given his past, as a member of the seminal band the Nerves and leader of the Beat—whose eponymous first album, released in 1979, is perhaps the finest power-pop release of all time—there is really no other contender for the crown. DJ Rick Ele of KDVS had this to say about the timing of his Sacramento gig this week: “It’s only too fitting that he should be playing here on the Fourth of July, because his music makes me feel patriotic, the way others might feel about Springsteen or Mellencamp.”
You’re calling from New York?
Yep, New York City, downtown. I’m looking at the Hudson River right now and the Empire State Building from my home. It’s really beautiful.
Do you live in Brooklyn?
No, I live in Manhattan, right on the Hudson River. I live in a very beautiful place. It’s an artists’ collective called Westbeth, and it’s the oldest and largest government-subsidized artists’ [community] I think in the world, but definitely the U.S. … It’s a whole city block filled with painters and writers and musicians and all kinds of people.
Some of your stuff has been put out recently by Burger Records. What did you think when you first heard about their idea of a cassette label?
Well, I thought it was great, and I also just think that it kind of typifies what’s going on. I’ve been doing this for a really long time. I started in 1974—that was pretty much all you had: vinyl records and cassettes. … We were always recording on cassette. So, for me, it’s kind of like things have really come full circle with the advent of the Internet and the demise of the music business as we know it … and I think it opens up a lot of doors for people to be creative and do things. …
I do everything DIY. … I really have very little to do with the established music world. … What’s cool is that we’re totally connected with the people and with the bands. I tour almost exclusively now with up-and-coming bands, and I really spend most of my time trying to promote the new power-pop as a genre, which I think is very misunderstood and very marginalized and underappreciated in the context of today’s music world.
You’ve written so many insanely catchy songs and I wonder, when you write one of those classics, do you know?
It depends. In general, that’s something I learned with my tenure with the Nerves. The Nerves for me was like my going to college for rock ’n’ roll music. I learned so much working with Jack Lee and Peter Case. … I think it’s really important to be very critical of your own work, not think that your poop doesn’t stink and to really work very hard at it. And I do, mainly because I have great respect for the art form. For music and for songwriting, and to treat it like it’s something offhand or easy to do for me would be a big, big mistake.
You have fans all over the world. What were your shows like in Japan?
I have been trying to get to Japan for so, so many years. … Japan was just unbelievable; the people are incredible. … Fans were completely over the top. The shows were just gonzo. Some of the videos from that tour, you can see it’s just nuts. …
The first night we went there, we had dinner and we walked into the room, and this guy started crying and it was like, “Wow, man, this is just heavy.” … I try to keep it very much forefront in my mind of how lucky I am to be able to do this, and that I am living the dream. …
I was just a kid who didn’t have a clue, and I listened to the radio and went, “Man, if I could do this, that would be the shit.” And I’m doing it! And I go out on stage, and that’s how I make my living, and I get to tour all over the world and I have great fans. I love my fans, I have fans all over the place and they really support me and keep me going and give me a lot of great energy and love, and I get to see how much music means to them. … We’re right there with the people and it’s upfront and personal, and I love that.