Interview by Donovan Davidson @OdeToDoda
Mike Collins is an old friend of mine from Charleston, South Carolina. He recently called me saying he was going to be in the Northeast soon. He was telling me that he had been living in New Orleans the last five months after busking around the country as Outdoor Protestant Blues Band. When he started going into details about his newest album Knee Deep In Dirt, his travels and music I stopped him and asked for an interview!
Don: Mikey what’s up?
Don: What are you doing on this fine day?
Mike: Woke up listening to some Memphis Jug Band and Mississippi Sheiks records and now just got off work, bout to be up in Robbi Puig’s area you remember him?
Don: Yeah, I was in Charleston last month right before he moved, it was dumb (only because I want him to be in Charleston the next time I am there)…..
Don: Why did he move? Why are people moving to New Orleans?
Mike: New Orleans is a hot spot, dog. I came here to play blues, to play music. He moved here because it is a cool place to be I guess. He couldn’t stick it with Charleston anymore.
Mike: What did you do last night? Did you get drunk?
Don: I didn’t–I drank water at the bar, Preakness killed me.
Don: So, when we first met you were writing solo stuff, like blues oriented stuff back in 2006 or so. When you lived on ummm…..what was that street? Smith street?
Mike and I spent the next few minutes trying to figure out where he lived back then. All we could remember was that he lived across the street from a mutual friend, Shannon. Not until after the interview did I realize it was bull street, between Pitt and Smith.
Mike: yeeaaaaa. I feel stupid I can’t remember.
Don: Since then, how do you feel your music has changed or progressed?
Mike: It has progressed a lot. After I moved away from Charleston to Columbia (South Carolina). I started playing with Tripp and Zach, in two different bands, Say Brother and Mercy Mercy Me, for about six years. I learned how to play a bunch of different instruments. I could barely play guitar you know, I was really not that great at it. During the six years I lived in Columbia I became persistent at guitar, bass, drums, and banjo. I did a lot of filling in gaps. Tripp and I were always consistant but we always had different people coming in and out of the bands pretty regualarly. The last couple years with Say Brother I had to learn how to play different instruments to fill in those gaps. Stylistically I was influenced a lot by Tripp and Zach and I developed a real appreaciation for pop music–pop arrangements and doing it well. Before I was obssessed with trying to come up with something that was different or weird. I would start with 12 bar blues using the same scales over and over again. So playing with them was good because they made me do shit which at first I really didn’t want to do. In the end I turned out to really liked it.
Don: Why did you leave?
Mike: I left Say Brother because, I was frustrated with all the potential that we had and everything being squandered. It seemed like we couldn’t get anything done together as a band. But the record that we did I am really proud of totaling 8 songs (All I Got Is Time).
Don: So, now you are a prolific writer?
Mike: Those songs came out pretty quick (Knee Deep In Dirt). I was on a pretty hot streak. After that it was kind of dull for a while, but I have a bunch of different material now, which eventually came really quick too. Still got that same dronings and driving aesthetic to it which is pretty much what I am going for. It has obvious country, folk and blues elements, but I wanted the aesthetic in the driving sounds of the Velvet Underground, they are a big influence. I basically wanted every song to sound like I Am Waiting For the Man. Like driving speeds, droning, that kinda shit. But I am from South Carolina and I like country music so that is a big part of it too.
Don: I was listening to your song from Knee Deep In Dirt, Waiting on the Landlord. It sounded like a three piece rock and roll band. Really fun, it made me want to get up and dance.
Mike: Hell yeah man, thank you.
Don: Lyrically where do you get your influence from?
Mike: That song is semi-autobiographical. I guess its like the most political song I have ever written. It’s not explicitly political but it is a shitty story about getting evicted which really happened. You know I didn’t resist to the point where the sheriff showed up, but the point is that it happens. A lot of people are really fucked up because they have to give up a part of who they are to work at some shit-hole job to live in an a shit-hole apartment. I was just thinking about that. The whole renting system is a bummer. Don’t you know?
Don: Yeah definitely. I used to rent from William Olosov so I know all about that.
Mike: Damn! that song is about William Olosov, dude.
Don: Are you serious?
Mike: Yeah, yeah.
Mike: It is about the place that Chelsea and I used to live in together. We wanted to cut out early and he threaten to sue us. He was like, “If you don’t stay for the next three months, I will take you to court.” We were 18 and he was going to take us to court and sue us for the remaining rent. He was bluffing but we were 18 and it was my first apartment.
Don: He is the slum of the slumlords.
Mike: He was a scumbag dude.
Don: All the songs you write are from your own experience?
Mike: Yeah they are all based on my actual life experiences. I’ve sometimes squeezed out a balad–you know like a story or a tale with something a more literary motive behind it, but it rarely works out. Most of my best songs they come from telling something that happened, but writing lyrics is the last thing i do. I usually write a progression and a common melody and then kind of–I literally just sit there and battle until words start to come out. Most of my songs are all autobiographical and experience based.
Don: You are about to go on this crazy european trip how do you think that is going to influence your song writing?
Mike: I am really excited, I have been really into New Orleans the last 5 months and getting more into dixieland compositional jazz and there are all kinds of other music that is real popular down here too. I’ve been fooling around with minor keys more often. There is not a single song that has a minor cord on that record (Knee Deep In Dirt). Now I am real way into it, especially with the banjo. More minor keys, more turnarounds like jazz turnarounds, ragtime style. More up beat, but darker at the same time, which is kind of how I felt and how the New Orleans sound kind of is. It comes off really fun even though it is in a minor key. I think the new songs are going to be a lot more heavier in content. I have always played in major keys because of the blues influence. Most of the blues I listen to are all written in major keys. I want the melodies of a major pentatonic scale, but the use of minor pentatonic scale that give the blues its twist. I think I am going to take it back to the cord progressions. That’s all about New Orleans–I expect to be getting into a lot of gypsy cabs in Europe. I am not taking a guitar over there. I am taking a banjo. I have some shows booked in a few towns in France and I am doing a short tour when i get there.
Don: Who booked you the shows?
Mike: I have a friend that is going to school over there and she is in this awesome band called Chemical Peel, they are seriously one of my favorite punk bands. They are out of Columbia, South Carolina. Their band has put out records on Fork and Spoon which is the same label that I have worked with Say Brother and Mercy Mercy Me. So, when she got over there she was with people from that label and she showed this guy from the label my stuff and he really liked it. Then he (this guy) found out I was coming over and he offered to book me shows and offered to put me up in some squats that I could stay in while traveling, he really hooked it up. I will be playing those shows in France, but I will be mostly busking. I hear street busking goes really well over there. I will be making a sign that says American band or something like that. Give ‘em my country drawl voice singing that loud…. (some southern garbled sound I could not understand). Everyone says American music goes really well over there.
Don: I’ve heard something similar. Well sick dude, you gotta write something about your crazy experiences while you’re squating around in western Europe.
Mike: I maintained a blog for a little bit, but I couldn’t get on the internet enough to keep it going. I had a lot of photography up but I just deleted it. I have everything at home on my….in my shit. I’ll write about it–I am thinking about starting a website too. I just haven’t this year, I haven’t been traveling in a year since I left South Carolina. I’ve been all over the place, especially living in the San Francisco Bay Area and New Orleans and everywhere in between. I haven’t been really focused on trying to maintain my band identity. Now I am definitely willing to do it especially when I come out with another record. I have been busking–that is all I have been doing. When I get back I am going to make my new record and try to book a tour–like Baltimore, Montreal, but I’ll prolly start a new website.
Don: I am stoked that you are embracing your sounds.
Mike: Yeah, thanks Doda. Doing the Say Brother record All I Got Is Time was great. I am really proud of it. I am glad I am not playing in a band where I am dependant on others. I have to travel, I have to ramble. I was in South Carolina for so long, I was too stationary. Now I have been having a lot of fun doing crazy shit, hitchhicking and riding trains, ending up in wierd parts of the country and I am not slowing down anytime soon.
We then rambled about Oakland, Charleston, New Orleans and gentrification…..
Don: Well alright dude, thanks for your time.
Mike: Yeah, thank you Doda. Listen to Chemical Peel.