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Take a Look at Him Now

Although you are known best as an English drummer and the frontman of the defunct rock band Genesis, your new album, “Going Back,” consists mostly of Motown hits from the ’60s. Do you see the album as an exercise in pure nostalgia?
I suppose you can’t argue that it isn’t. It’s not melancholy, though. These are the songs that I grew up with and heard my favorite bands do, and I always wanted to sing them.

Phil Collins, photo Christian OthOf course you have sung them; you long ago recorded “You Can’t Hurry Love.” But are you concerned that your new renditions of “Blame It on the Sun” and “Uptight” will be compared with those of Stevie Wonder?
No, I don’t think it matters. I mean, people have been doing other people’s songs for as long as there’s been records made.

The cover of your new album is a photograph of you as a teenage drummer. Did your mother tell you when you played the drums that you were giving her a headache?
I used to play while my parents were watching television in the same room. I used to play along to the variety shows like “Sunday Night at the London Palladium,” and at some point I got ushered upstairs to play in the bedroom. But the noise would come through the floor.

A couple of years ago, you suffered some damage to your left arm and hand, because of a neurological problem, and you’re left-handed.
At my age, things start wearing out. While I was doing the record, I had to tape the sticks to my hand. Gaffer tape.

I wouldn’t think you would have good control using taped-on sticks.
I didn’t. I can’t play anywhere near like I used to, and I was a hot drummer. It doesn’t bother me, because frankly, if you get to that point where you can’t hold a drumstick properly, there are many other things in life which are far more important, like cutting a loaf of bread or a piece of cheese. When I do those things, I have to issue a warning — stand back! Everybody leaves the room. I don’t care about the music as much.

You live in Switzerland, where there are probably not too many drummers.
No, all the drummers in Switzerland left to go somewhere else. The first thing a musician said to me when I moved to Switzerland was: “What are you moving here for? We’re all trying to get out.” I was moving for the quiet life.

And you married a Swiss woman.
People always jump to the conclusion that you went to live in Switzerland because taxes are lower. In fact, it was because I fell in love and eventually I got married and we had children and I live there because the children are there.

But now you’re divorced from her. Did I read somewhere that your divorce settlement was $50 million and, at the time, the largest paid by an entertainer in British history?
I think Paul McCartney’s was the largest.

I read that he paid $49 million to Heather Mills.
It’s only money. Of course, only people with money will say, “It’s only money.”

We should mention that you’re an amateur historian who is currently writing a book on, of all things, the Battle of the Alamo. How did you get interested in Texas history?
First of all, I was in love with the Alamo when I was 5 years old. I saw Walt Disney’s “Davy Crockett,” with Fess Parker. That was it for me. I never stopped thinking about the Alamo from that day to this. I’m a huge collector of memorabilia. I’ve got Davy Crockett’s bullet pouch. I’ve got Colonel Travis’s belt.

Do you keep your Alamo collection in Switzerland?
Yes. Don’t tell everybody.

Don’t worry. If a thief ever came to your house, I am sure he would take your flat-screen TV and leave the old belts and cannonballs.
My only saving grace is that I actually collect things that nobody else is interested in.

What is the connection between the Alamo and Motown? I don’t know what to make of it.
There is none. It’s a fascination with different types of Americana. Don’t lose sleep over it.

© The New York Times, by Deborah Solomon

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