Posted March 26, 2006

Here comes that sound again:
Mick Collins of the Dirtbombs

 Mick Collins needs no introduction to Bar patrons.  His work in low-fi Detroit garage outfit The Gories set the high watermark for contemporary primitive garage rock.  After the demise of The Gories (and subsequent short-lived garage project Blacktop) Collins formed The Dirtbombs in the mid 1990s.  While at its most basic level The Dirtbombs is arguably true to Collins' garage roots, the band's modus operandi differs vividly from Collins' earlier activities, taking a variety of different musical directions, from punk rock ("Horndog Fest") to soul ("Ultraglide in Black") to glam rock ("Dangerous Musical Noise"), each of which suited Collins' interests at the time. 

The Dirtbombs' most recent release, "If You Didn't Already Have a Look", illustrates the band's passion for the 7" single (The Dirtbombs have released over 25 7"s in their 10-year history) and their affection for covering obscure rock'n'roll gems (read the Barman's review of the CD here).

 Despite its differing musical themes, there are a few aspects about the band that haven't changed – firstly, the band's composition (some 25 members in 17 different line-ups) rarely stays long enough to catch breath; secondly, the twin drum/twin bass attack; thirdly, the unassailable brilliance, brutality and raw charisma of Collins' rock'n'roll exploits.  With an Australian tour still subject of enthusiastic rumour, PATRICK EMERYspoke to Mick Collins about the Dirtbombs, glam rock and longer term survival of the 7" single. The cartoon is, as usual, by RICK CHESSHIRE.


You've been quoted as saying you never expected The Dirtbombs to keep playing for longer than a few years.  Why do you think the band is still around today?

Inertia (laughs). A combination of things.  I didn’t get to do all the recordings I wanted to do and we started getting paid a lot more to do live shows and really it was like “wow, I guess we can play your support for that, sure!” but this was only in America, you understand.  But I suppose there were a lot of factors – we started getting a lot of audience response and nobody else really had anything happening so we just thought we’d go on touring.

When you started The Dirtbombs what did you think Mick Collins would be doing in 2005?

Who knows!  I don’t really have any plans, so I suppose just something different.  That was really my own thing – that I’d be doing something different than what The Dirtbombs were doing at the time.

The Dirtbombs are legendary for many things, one of which is the band's rotating line-up.  Does the rotating line-up help you stay invigorated?

No, it’s a big hindrance actually ‘cause it disallows us to ad lib on stage. We can’t just pull out a song from 6 years ago ‘cause chances are the newest person doesn’t know it, and that always hurts.  Right about the time we get where we’re comfortable on stage and we can ad lib a song or just any old thing, like “OK, let’s play Monkeytime tonight” the line-up changes and we have to start from scratch again.

I suppose this ensures your set list keeps changing over.

Yeah, when the line-up changes we are able to add another few songs to the set list but it always changes in a way that means we can’t go back.

Do you have favourite Dirtbombs line-up or period?

No, but I’m sure people have their favourite Dirtbombs line-up.  We have enough ex-Dirtbombs to make up five separate Dirtbombs.  I’m sure I could put together trading cards and people could put together their fantasy Dirtbombs line-up (laughs).  Actually, that’s not a bad idea now that I think about it!

Maybe you could put a wheel up on stage and spin it to choose the members of the band.

Yeah, I would love that!  It would be nice to spin the wheel to choose the members of the Dirtbombs to play particular songs.  That would be great, but it would never happen, unfortunately.  If I had a dream line-up then someone would be upset because they weren’t in it.

On the subject of line-up changes, what's the background to Jim Diamond's departure from the band?

He hates touring.  He let me know months ahead – we were already on tour, walking down the street in Germany and he said: “You know what, I can’t do this anymore.  I hate it way too much” and I said: “Well, you’re not doing me any favours by quitting but you’re doing me a big one by telling me now”, so two months later we got back to America and he got out of the band and we got Troy Gregory.  But he literally told us in the middle of a tour – we toured for four months after that.  He was grandfathered into the Australian tour in 2004 – all the paperwork had been done for the Australian tour before he left the band so he had to go! (laughs)

Your last major studio outing was the Dangerous Musical Noise album, which was a tribute to glam rock.  Who are your favourite glam rock artists?

I like all glam rock.  I like the British stuff; I don’t consider the New York Dolls glam rock.

Have you seen the re-released Marc Bolan and T-Rex "Born to Boogie" DVD? 

I own it, but I have not had a chance to watch it yet, and I’m looking forward to seeing it.  Isn’t there two complete shows on there?  I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to seeing it.

What's the contemporary legacy of glam rock artists like Marc Bolan?

I’m not sure if glam rock dated very well.  The earlier T-Rex singles, sure, like "Telegram Sam" still sounds great now and some other ones still sound great now – they’ve been licensing a lot of his stuff for American television which is kind of a drag – but I’m not sure if it really holds water now, in terms of currency, if you know what I mean.  I think it’s dated in terms of what’s happening now – but that doesn’t make it less good, it’s just so stylised that it’s in its own territory.  All of the glam rock bands like Angel, Mud, all those bands, it became so stylised and formalised that it’s outside of relevancy is that way I’m looking at it.  It is its own relevance.  It doesn’t need mainstream culture to grant it any legitimacy.

The question of a legacy today is a difficult one to answer.  I like glam rock but the reason I picked glam rock as something to trumpet in the Dirtbombs is ‘cause at the time it was not fashionable in the slightest.  Glam rock was a type of music that I liked but no-one else liked at the time.  So I thought “well if we call ourselves a glam rock band people will stop calling us a garage band” and that can’t be bad at all!  So that’s when I started telling everyone we were a glam rock band.  But now glam rock’s had this resurgence and I’m thinking “ah, shit, now what are we gonna do!”

Do you think it's tainted by nostalgia?

Maybe.  But you being part of the Commonwealth you guys are a lot closer to it.  My chief exposure to glam rock was through Canadian radio.  To a large extent it wasn’t an American phenomenon which we only knew about through because we’re so close to Canada and we listened to Canadian radio which played a lot of glam rock.  I can see where there would be a lot of people who would look at glam rock and have a great big nostalgia trip about it but I never had that.  I was always separated from it by one thing or another, by age or by culture, by whatever I was doing at the time.  It’s the same way I view the whole mod thing – when I was a teenager I was I mod and with me it wasn’t a revival, I was just discovering it!  So for me it wasn’t a nostalgia trip, but when it became a nostalgia trip I was done with it.

The publicity material accompanying your new compilation album says you’re contemplating making the next Dirtbombs album a tribute to new wave.  Is that true?

(Hysterical laughter)  That’s pretty funny!  I dunno, it wasn’t exactly the case but I’m sure there’ll gonna be a few singles that sound like that! 

So it’s fair to say that’s a bit of poetic licence?

Yeah, but the truth is no-one knows – except me – what the next Dirtbombs album will be like.  But if people are being told it’s going to be a new wave album then, sure, we’ll do a new wave album!

There’s probably a whole bunch of bands out there that are pathologically uncool that the Dirtbombs could re-brand as cool.

Yeah, but most of it’s been taken because the next thing would’ve been this whole angular, no wave, Gang of Four stuff that everyone’s doing.  I actually wrote one of those years ago but never recorded it.  But now I can’t do it ‘cause all these damn bands are playing it (laughs).

 Your affection for the 7” single is well documented.  With the rise of digital music formats do you the days of the 7” are numbered?

No, ironically I think it’s going to result in an explosion, simply because when you can buy or give away the digital version of a song – by the way, I’m all for peer-to-peer networks, I’m all for them – if you’re giving away the song digitally for people to put on their iPods or MP3 players and that, if they want it in another form that’s when you sell them the 7” because then they’ve got all the packaging that goes with the song.  If you’re giving away the digital file then why bother with the CD?  You’ve got the digital file.  If you want all the cool stuff that comes with the song then you buy the 45.  The 7” is a boutique thing. 

We’re really moving away from the whole mass marketing of records anyway.  The Internet is bringing that about a lot faster than anybody was expecting – it’s here basically.  We’re just waiting for the handful of first adapters who will pick up on it.  But we’re really at the stage where records are a boutique industry – it’s like china, or trading cards, or stamps.  Stuff that people collect – records will be another one of those things.  People who just want the record temporarily they can just get the song on-line, then delete it or archive it somewhere.  But there will always be those collectors who want the record; but you’re not looking for the record to be the sale, you’re not going to make your money from the record.  You’ve got to figure out how to make your money from somewhere else.  For the Dirtbombs that’s the live performance.

What do you prefer – playing live or studio recording?

I actually prefer making the records more; it’s much less of a hassle.  The logistics of touring is a real drag.  When you’re in a band that’s always touring you started to hate everyone else (laughs).

 I’ve read that you don’t pay much attention to your set-list when you’re playing live.  Is that true?

We don’t have a set list!  The way we work at this there is a set and it’s actually memorised.  The first song or so we decide on beforehand and then there’s the set which is about seven or eight songs and is more or less the same every night.  And from then on it’s a case of “OK, what do you wanna play?” and that goes on for the rest of the show (laughs).  What happens a lot of times is when you see me reaching back to wipe my face with a towel it’s me and the drummer arguing about what song to play next.  About two thirds of the way through the set it’s like “Why don’t we do blah blah blah” – “nah, I don’t wanna play that.  What about blah blah blah?” and stuff like that.  We have a few favourites, and we do those.  If I have a new song then we throw the new song in, or maybe some weirder songs that are a bit shaky, and then a few songs that we know how to play in case the last few were crap and then it’s “is it time to go yet?”  And if we get an encore then you’re liable to get anything.

 Your new compilation album features a couple of shots of you wearing Rocket Science t-shirts.  What’s your association with Rocket Science?

They’re friends of ours.  We toured with them quite a bit in 2003.  But in Canada they make a big deal out of me wearing t-shirt featuring the Saskatchewan Rough Riders football team.  I wasn’t consciously marketing Rocket Science, but they’re a fine band.

 Is it possible to describe the Dirtbombs sound in a simple phrase?

I hope not! I went out of my way to make it difficult to describe.  Seriously, I went out of my way – I picked a line-up that was difficult and tried to play music that was deliberately difficult to describe and I wanted people to come to their own minds about it.  But of course then everybody just started calling it garage rock so people who would’ve been interested in it never got the chance ‘cause they just wrote it all off.  I describe it as rock’n’roll – the Dirtbombs are a rock’n’roll band.  It doesn’t give a journalist a fuzzy feeling but that’s how I view it. It was part of my original idea to have a band whose music was impossible to describe.  You just gotta hear it.

 So seeing as we’re in a bar, what are you drinking?

 Right this minute?  Water (laughs). 

 And if you could have your drink of choice?

Gin and tonic.  There’s a drink floating around the Internet called the Mick Collins and I forget what it has in it but it would be immediately apparent to all who know me that I didn’t come up with it ‘cause it doesn’t contain gin.