It's hard to imagine a more dramatic public unveiling than what Phil Collins' son Nicholas experienced at the opening of the globally live streamed U.S. Open last August.
The 15-year-old hadn't even started his junior year of high school. But there he was, sitting silently behind the drum kit as his father sang "In the Air Tonight" while the roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium slowly opened and countless people watched live and online.
Nearly four minutes into the song, all eyes turned to Nic to deliver the most famous drum fill in rock history, the "Ba DA ba DUM ba DOM ba DOM BOOM BOOM" his dad played until nerve damage made it impossible and he passed the drum sticks down to his son. "Everyone knows that fill," says Nic. "But to be honest, it's not that hard to play. Still, doing it at the U.S. Open was very nerve-racking."
The big moment – which he absolutely nailed – was the culmination of years of intense work. Nic is the oldest son of Phil and his third wife Orianne whose main passion growing up in Switzerland was soccer. But when he moved to Florida five years ago following his parents' divorce (they've since reunited), he became completely engrossed in music, starting the band What You Know with buddies from school and taking lessons from local drum teacher Jean-Pierre Espiritusanto. "I could go on and on about my favorite drummers," he says. "But John Bonham is one of my favorites, along with Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers, [Foo Fighters'] Taylor Hawkins and guys like Ginger Baker and Buddy Rich."
He first got the chance to back his father in public at the Little Dreams Benefit Gala at Miami Beach's the Fillmore last March. It was a mere seven songs, but he fit in seamlessly with the band. "I didn't think it was meant to be a permanent thing," Nic tels Rolling Stone. "I just thought it would be a great experience. Afterwards he said to me, 'I'd never had a drummer where I didn't have to look back at.' All his drummers have looked up to different drummers, but I've looked up to him, so it helps with the songs since I'm doing the same thing."
A few tiny showcases with Phil in Switzerland that June followed, and while prepping for the U.S. Open, Phil asked if he'd want to play drums on his upcoming comeback tour. (The tour kicks off at the Royal Albert Hall on June 4th and wraps up with an enormous outdoor show in London's Hyde Park at the end of June.) "It's very overwhelming since we'll be playing to so many people and there's a lot of expectations," says Nic. "But I've really been helped by the guys in the band and the reception we get when we play."
The band has practiced at facilities around Florida, but Nic says he's already familiar with the material. "I've been really exposed to my father's music my entire life, so it's second nature," he says. " But it's completely different when you know the song as compared to when you're actually playing it. At first, I listened to the live versions they've done on the most recent tours and then listened to the studio versions. It's different to hear how my dad did it compared to what another drummer did [in concert], so obviously I want to be like what he did since he's the one that played the song and wrote the actual drum part."
You got to keep working harder so you're not just remembered for being Phil Collins' son
Collins had a very distinct drum tone that Questlove spent weeks painstakingly recreating before Collins jammed with the Roots on The Tonight Show late last year. But Nic has the advantage of working with his father's old drum tech and using his vintage Gretsch Concert Toms. "It is really crucial that the tuning of the drums is right," says Nic, "so it comes out with that cracking fill."
The tour will require Nic to miss the final month of 11th grade, and if other legs are added (something Phil told us is possible), he'll have to miss even more. "Obviously because my dad is who he is, it allows whoever is in charge of school to be more lenient in allowing me to do this," says Nic. "I don't have bad grades, so that's good. It's a lot of work, but you just have to deal with it if that's what you want to do. If the tour continues, I may have to get some sort of tutor."
Nic's arrival onto the scene has some Genesis fans thinking he could eventually play in the group, helping them reunite for their first tour since 2007. "I would be ecstatic if that happened," he says. "That Genesis stuff, drumwise, is something else; absolutely unbelievable. But to be honest, I don't think there will be another Genesis reunion tour. They did it in 2007 and I doubt it'll happen again."
The drummer also devotes a great deal of time to What You Know, his group featuring Yannick Waingarten on bass, Nick Aquilino on vocals and Joey Rodriguez on guitar. Nic, of course, plays drums. Their debut EP Juice came out in December, and they've promoted it with club shows all over Florida and at the Montreux Jazz Festival and Sion Music Festival in Switzerland. The group, which fuses rock with blues and funk, took their name from a Two Door Cinema Club song they played the first time they jammed together. They hope to record their debut LP in the coming months.
The group of teenagers likely wouldn't be playing Swedish festivals were the drummer's dad not Phil Collins, but Nic understands there are downsides to being the son of a rock star. "Some people care about the band simply because of who my dad is," he says. "I want to prove to people I can do things too, that I'm not just in my dad's shadow. I want to make myself live up to the expectations. You got to keep on working harder so you're not just remembered for being Phil Collins' son, but you're remembered for doing something that people enjoyed."
© RollingStone, by Andy Greene