The crazy, charming confessions of Phil Collins: 'I realize I pissed a lot of people off'
At the start of the ’80s, Phil Collins was enjoying considerable success as the drummer-singer of British prog-rock band–turned–pop hitmakers Genesis. So why did he choose that moment to record his debut solo album? "Well, a divorce will do it," says Collins, now 65, who split from his first wife, Andrea, in 1980 after five years. He may have been unlucky
in love — but what a boon for his music. Collins’ 1981 debut, Face Value, featured the classic single "In the
Air Tonight" and marked the start of an incredibly successful solo career: His third album, 1985’s No Jacket Required, has sold a now near-unimaginable 12 million copies in the U.S. alone, thanks to singles like "One More Night" and "Sussudio."
Collins continued to release albums with Genesis while also popping up on TV shows (Miami Vice in 1985) and in movies (1991’s Hook). But in the early ’90s, his seeming omnipresence began to irk critics, and his commercial appeal declined as the decade progressed. During the ’00s, Collins began to wind down his career when he launched his First Final Farewell Tour in 2004; seven years later, he announced his retirement.
Recently, though, Collins has been enthusiastically embraced by a new generation of artists, including Kanye West, Lorde, and Adele. And this year, he’s releasing expanded remasters of his eight solo LPs, starting with Face Value and 1993’s Both Sides (both out now) and continuing with 1982’s Hello, I Must Be Going! and 1996’s Dance Into the Light (out Feb. 26). "I was encouraged by a lot of younger artists listing me as one of their influences," he says. "I know the hip-hop community has been a huge supporter of my stuff — swimming against the tide of critical abuse!" Might the reissues be a prelude to Collins coming out of retirement? "People ask me, ‘When are you going to make another record? When are you going out on tour again?’ And that makes me want to work. I feel, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that. S—, if there’s an audience…"
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Just before you called, I was watching footage of Kanye West covering "In the Air Tonight." Have you ever met him?
No. I didn’t even know he’d done it.
He’s rich. You should get some of his money.
Yeah, well, that will put petrol in the car, won’t it? That song in particular has got an incredible life of its own.
It also has one of the most famous drum fills of all time. When you recorded it did you think, "Yeah, that’s a good one"?
Well, I thought it was a good one. That’s why we kept it! It will be on my gravestone, you know: Da-da da-da da-da… It just seemed natural to me to do that. I had no idea that it would be as recognized. Mike Tyson in The Hangover, you know. Yeah, it took me by surprise.
In the ’80s, you seemed to be everywhere. What do you remember about that time?
Well, before I get on to that, I have to say that there was an Entertainment Weekly review — and please say it wasn’t you —of Dance Into the Light [that] said, "I’m sure even Phil Collins knows that we’re all weary of Phil Collins." [Ed. note: Collins’ recollection of the review is almost word-perfect.] It wasn’t you, was it?
I realize now that my omnipresence pissed a lot of people off. I realize that me being everywhere, and obviously leapfrogging projects between Genesis and myself, meant that I was in your face all the time. I was only having fun. I was just taking advantage of the opportunities that came my way. So, I apologize to the pages of Entertainment Weekly! I apologize for being so in-your-face! And I’m better now.
On behalf of EW I accept your apology. How are you feeling these days? You’ve had some health issues in recent years.
Yes, I’ve had my fair share. I mean, up to 2011 I don’t think I’d ever been in hospital. But I seem to have spent an awful lot of time there [since]. I had back surgery just last year and broke my foot a couple of times because I fell after the back surgery. But I’m in good shape, apart from that.
I was under the impression that you had a spinal problem that prevented you from drumming.
During the Genesis reunion tour [in 2007] something happened nerve-wise, and it buggered up my left arm. It’s better now, but it’s still not anywhere near what it should be. Until that rights itself, I don’t think I can really play drums. But I can still sing, so if I decide to do something, I will do it.
Could you imagine re-forming Genesis at some point?
With me, drumming comes along with [Genesis]. And if I can’t do something that’s going to be as good as the way it was, I’d prefer not to do it. I don’t really want to go out half-arsed. I’m not saying no to Genesis. I love Tony [Banks] and I love Mike [Rutherford]. We all have a great relationship and it’s not outside the realms of possibility that something might happen. If you’re asking me, "Is there a possibility?" Well, there’s always a possibility.
Speaking of Genesis, your old bandmate Peter Gabriel and Sting announced a tour this summer. If they play in Miami, where you live, will you go see them?
Sure, good friends — of both. [Laughs] I didn’t know [about the tour]. At one point, Sting was talking to my manager, and now I find out Pete’s doing it! I would go see them, of course. Probably what would happen is, I’d end up singing with both on stage. Let’s see.
You met with Adele about the possibility of co-writing a song for her recent album, 25. That didn’t come to pass. What happened?
She got in touch with me, and I met her in London, and she gave me a piece of music that she wanted me to finish, and it was great. But [then] I couldn’t find her. She was like a ghost, you know. I’ve read that she said that it was too early, she wasn’t ready to make another album yet. Which is great that she did. I [was worried] people would think that I failed the audition. It didn’t go anywhere, but I was very flattered to be asked.
When you were a teenager, you played congas at a session for George Harrison’s 1970 album, All Things Must Pass. What do you remember about that?
It was a fantastic day in my life. I wasn’t actually on the finished product. But I was there. Unfortunately, I cashed the check, because I needed it. That 15 quid meant a lot in 1969. I met George a few times. I liked him very much. [Years later] I got a tape from George of the song that I played with the congas quite loud and I thought, "Oh my God, this sounds terrible." In fact, it was a Harrison joke. He’d recorded [percussionist] Ray Cooper. [George] said, "Play bad, I’m going to record it and send it to Phil." I couldn’t believe that a Beatle had actually spent that much time on a practical joke for me.
You’re one of the world’s leading collectors of memorabilia from the Alamo. If the building were to catch fire and you could save just one artifact, what would it be?
Interesting question. I mean, I’ve given [all my collectibles] to the Alamo now. I started to think, "I have to do something with this," because — not in a depressing way — but you’ve got to sort your affairs out. If I still had it, maybe it would be Davy Crockett’s rifle. I had his musket, one of four that I’m aware of. I had lots of relics: certain people’s knives, swords, documents. I didn’t collect Ferraris. I collected Alamo memorabilia, some of which was pretty pricey. But I’ve now given it to the Alamo and I’m involved with what happens there, which is something I would never have dreamed of when I was 5 years old and loving Davy Crockett.
I read you now live in J. Lo’s old home in Miami.
Yeah, apparently. [Laughs] I bought it from a businessman, who I guess had bought it from her, and he had remodeled it. I liked it and bought it. My eldest daughter, Joely, she said, "Oh, you bought J. Lo’s house." I had no idea. I’ve never met J. Lo.
Maybe one day she’ll come back looking for her vacuum.
Yeah, maybe. I’d talk to her.
What advice would you give to the younger Phil Collins?
"Never let go of the lady’s leg." [Laughs] That’s a Steve Martin-ism, sorry. There are songs I shouldn’t have written, there are relationships that I should have put first. So, there are mistakes. But would I have done it differently? Probably not. Because I like where I am now.
© EW, by Clark Collis