It is valiant as it is plausible when you call a musician and hear him elevate another musician. Phil Collen eloquently takes a bow to Brooklyn indie-rock sensations Alexis Kraus and Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells in an up-close interview on being a rock legend, and embracing the revisions of music in a post-glam-metal era. With a Def Leppard Tour on the horizon (US Tour May, 2012) and a new album Punkfunkrootsrock from his band Manraze (featuring talents Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, Simon Laffey from Girl, some local London reggae, and the gospel stylings of Collen’s in-law), the British rock guitarist and new-wave culture catalyst shifts into overdrive as he relishes in the liberty of art and music today, and in the meeting with one of the rare pure rock duos emerging in the 21st Century, Sleigh Bells.
After a recent review of Sleigh Bells new EP Comeback Kids, I was pleasantly surprised with news that their Terminal 5 show included VIP guest, and their greatest rock influence, Phil Collen himself. Jams, laughs and an after party later, the rock circle exploded as the two collided, hashing out hey day stories and music madness, ending in a Coachella invite (Sleigh Bells to appear). “Absolutely tonic” says Phil of his standing ovation review of the noise-pop indie-rock pair. West coast via East Coast on a blurry Tuesday, post three-day weekend, we caught up with Phil on a whim and dialed into his words on the upcoming Def Leppard tour, his acclaimed Manraze release, and the sounds of today here, abroad and twenty years ago.
AG: How did you run into Sleigh Bells, I mean you must have heard those melodic rock screams and abided?
PC: Sleigh Bells are big Def Leppard fans. And I’ve know about the group and fell in love with their first album. It was different and a hybrid of material. So being in New York I had the chance to catch them live and have to say they really master the live performance. I was so turned on by their energy and forward thinking to new sounds and performance. They push the boundaries. And I like a lot of 70s funk and soul stuff, lots of electro and they really brought all of this together with a new approach. They are absolutely tonic.
AG: So can we expect some collaboration? What is this I hear that you are hitting them up at Coachella?
PC: I would love to collaborate with Sleigh Bells. They push the limits and we could do something new. They invited me out Coachella and I’m thinking to attend. I would love to see some new artists and it’s in LA, which is where I’m at, so I’m hoping to go. I want to get turned on to some new bands and artists. There is so much going on out there.
AG: What do you think one of the major differences is between how the US and the UK or Europe in general, perceive music?
PC: American music is based on blues, and most all of music comes from American influence. The thing is, and I’ve lived in the States for years, but in In England, and in most of Europe, they are more socially clued in. There is more access to media and what’s going on. I can’t help noticing when I turn on Channel 2 and the “world news” update comes on it’s more news about the US. The music cultures stem from the social which they have a socially totally different vibe. Take the Sex Pistols, the are massive for social commentary, and they are perhaps the reason for the punk scene. It’s a romance with music and messages. The only real deep messages that has come out of the US stems from rap music. Rap music is social commentary. Kurt Cobain and the early nineties began to see more urban TV and social commentary through music. But American music holds the root of many music movements. Even the Stones, those assholes sang with American accents (deep laugh and verbal applause). The main difference really is just the access to news and culture being more narrow in the US.
AG: What can we look forward to on your Def Leppard Tour?
PC: We just finished tour in London, and we are now really excited as we prepare for US in May . “Rock of Ages” will be a great piece to perform and there has been a lot of hype around this one. We are really gearing up to revisit old songs and hit up new cities, and revive good rock.
AG: Who are rockstars today?
PC: You can’t touch rockstars, and they are just a few. Mic Jagger. Prince. Still waiting to see. The biggest thing now, is the reason for getting in a band had changed. Anyone can get into a band now, and it’s more about the business or industry now from the 90s. Of the last real live rockstars, Erika Badu and Kurt Cobain ended in the 90s. But rockstars never die. They continue, and many artist sell out. Selling out. There are a lot of amazing talents in music today but I have yet to see the one that really will last. It’s hard to say who the rockstars are today.
AG: How have you changed as an artist over the years as music lyrically technologically soars beyond your roots in the scene?
PC: Love the difference. There has never been a period where you can be more liberal and free as an artist. And with technology, we wrapped up all of our recordings in two weeks, all on laptop, and between 3 studios. You can go anywhere. There are so many things coming together in the artistic world and like on our second Manraze release, it really pushes the variety of sounds.
AG: Talk a little bit about what’s going on with Manraze, this second album you just released.
PC: Bringing together the diversity in music talent and pushing the limits. Exploiting creative freedom. When you think of legend rock, you think of old folks, and most rockers just like rock music and are not likely out of the box in their music. But we break the rules with electronica, funk, rock and punk with a team of talents musicians. And we write about everything. Songwriting today can be about anything you want. On this album we write about whatever we want to, spirit, growing up, or the British Empire… there is just so much more freedom. If you’re open-mined, you can take something from everywhere and make anything. This is our second album it’s very comfortable with sounds they vary between The Police and The Foo Fighters. The music goes everywhere with “Closer To Me” carrying out some London reggae, and another song which is being used in a documentary about taking over the world!
AG: What would you say to musicians today trying to get their work out?
PC: Use music as art to express. We all get frustrated, and today it’s very frustrating as the business interest runs everything, and we allow it to. Music is so you don’t go crazy and blow your head off. It’s ok to make music for free. It allows you to express yourself.