Power Pop Lives On With Paul Collins

I met Paul Collins at a show he ended up covering “Walking Out On Love” with the band. As someone who’s had “Hangin’ On The Telephone” ingrained into my memory from a young age (my first concert was Blondie when I was seven and my dad is a huge Nerves fan), having the opportunity to talk to him was really cool. I mean, the first time I heard “Rock n Roll Girl” I got goosebumps and wore the song out on my guitar. He’s still incredibly active and tours a lot, so if he’s ever in your area, don’t miss it.

Are you currently working on anything right now?
Yes. I’m currently writing a new album. I’m working on writing a new record and it’s gotta be the best record I’ve ever made. I don’t want to kid myself. I wanna make the best stuff I’ve ever done. You wanna set the bar as high as you can. I just put together a new band with a group from Jersey called Low Doses, they have a girl bass player. This is my first time working with a girl. It’s kind of cool, I’m old school so it’s good for me to do that. She’s really good. She’s a great bass player and singer. We just had our first rehearsal on Sunday. Our first show will be at the Acheron on October 23 as part of the Tuff Break Records weekend with Terry & Louie and a bunch of cool bands. We’re playing the after party for the Terry & Louie show, which is at The Wick. I’m looking to book shows around Brooklyn and Jersey. Right now I’m just having fun, going to shows, I saw the Sorrows at Matchless. It’s always fun to hear bands because you get ideas for songs and it spurs you to be good.

What was the best part about playing in bands like The Nerves, The Breakaways, and The Beat?
I think the best part was the material…I remember getting goosebumps listening to these songs. The first time Jack [Lee] played me “Hangin’ on the Telephone” was like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe how good this is.” Being there at the moment and working up these songs with Jack and Peter [Case] in The Nerves and The Breakaways. I remember Peter playing “Rumble.” He had a teardrop Vox guitar plugged into a Vox amp and he started playing “Rumble” and I was just going, “Ohhh.” Shit like that, That’s what part of this music that really knocks me out. The first time I heard “Shake Some Action”…that music really knocks me out. I still don’t know why power pop is such a big struggle. “What I Like About You” and “My Sharona” hit the big time, but there are so many other great songs with power pop that are still just like, “Who is that, what is that?”

I’m proud of my early songs. I’m proud of how simple they are. A lot of the time i listen to the radio and they sound so magical and mysterious to me, How these bands get these sounds, and the vocals and harmonies. So of course when I joined The Nerves, Jack and Peter were writing songs and I hadn’t written a song yet. I was so green with envy. I learned how to play folk guitar and drums by playing pencils on a table. My musical education was pretty basic stuff. That’s how I created my style of really simple shit. It’s always hard to start writing and I never want to stop writing because if you stop it’s hard to start. I write a lot of songs, and it usually starts with a lot of really bad songs and you go, “Oh god, it’s over, I’m finished.” Then I was sitting around and I heard “Strawberry Fields” and I started singing this and I went and looked up the chords, and it’s all the same chords that I use. But, wow what they did with it. It kind of helped me get back into it. I just learned songs I like, I learned “Jessie’s Girl” to get in the groove. It spurred me to get back into the groove. Writing is really exciting but it’s also really hard for me.

What were some of your favorite bands to see and play with when you were younger?
We played with Mink DeVille in LA, that was awesome. I saw The Jam’s first two nights at The Whisky in the 70s and we were like, we were so blown away. It was like, “Man I don’t know, can we ever be that good?” They were so good. They were smoking, they were so hot. I saw Tom Petty with 25 people at The Whisky. We played with Devo, we played with DMZ. That Nerves tour we played with a lot cool bands. We toured with the Ramones, the original band, with Tommy on drums. That was really really cool. We had no idea they were going to be iconic. The coolest guy in that band was Dee Dee, he was so nice to us and he loved our songs. He was always like, “You have good songs, they’re cool, i really dig them.” They were cool to watch. They had a pretty heavy duty work ethic. So many years later, I can say,, “Yeah I toured with the original Ramones.” That’s pretty cool. Those are good memories from music. It was different I was 18, 19 years old so at the moment everyone was hustling and the competition was heavy. Everyone could say, “I wish I had enjoyed it more, I wish I knew how cool it was.” We wanted to make it. We were so driven to be successful. We wanted to bust out in a big way. I try to keep a lot of those principles and the work ethic in mind today. Trying to put a song past Jack and Peter was not easy. You really had to have your shit together. It was a good education for me as far as craftsmanship as a songwriter.

What bands are you into right now?
That’s a tough one. There are good bands. I tour with them, mostly underground bands. Purple Seven, Mother’s Children, Nagaldas. I love Adult Books from LA, they’re on Lollipop Records. I just don’t get it, most of the good music is off the radar. and there’s so much stuff. I spend a fair amount of time on the internet. You’ll be cruising along and you’ll see one band, and then you’ll see another band, and then another band and I find shit and I go, “Wow I’ve never listened to these.” I listened to The Spongetones this morning. It’s good as a writer so I keep myself fresh and motivated. When I hear other good songs i have to write something that good. It keeps me motivated.


Do you have any cool tour stories?
Sex, drugs, and rock n roll? Oh god. I mean there were tons of those stories. It never ends, it’s not like it was back in the day of course. I did my drugs and I’m still doing my sex and my rock n roll. In the heyday of sex, drugs, and rock n roll it was just freakin’ nuts. I’m lucky i survived in one piece. There’s so many horror stories of people who barely got
out alive or didn’t get out at all.

But The Nerves had just finished the first leg of our one and only US tour and we were in LA. We had to go from LA to NY and then tour back. I’m not sure of the logic but if we didn’t do that it wasn’t a national tour. So we get as far as New York and we don’t know how to get back. It was so hard just to get there. We played most of the major cities. So we
wind up in NYC and my girlfriend at the time was staying in the Chelsea. Jack and Peter both decided they were going to go back to LA, so they went on a 2 week break and went and then they were going to come back and meet me. I’d stay in New York and do the booking. For some reason that logic worked for us. So I stayed at the Chelsea and tried to figure out how to get back. So one of the things I did was meet with Danny Fields, the manager of the Ramones. Trying to find people in the business was hard, you had to be somebody, and we weren’t anybody. But he was like, “Cool, come by my office.” So I go to his office, Ii had our package, our 45 and a write up. So i said, “We’d really like to do some shows with the Ramones.” He said, “I’ll tell you what. if you can get us a gig in Cincinnati, I’ll give you five days in Texas.” So I said, “Okay, can I use your phone?” He says sure and takes his black phone and turns it around. I’d been talking to this club in Cincinnati, called Bogarts. It’s still there today. So I had the booking agent’s number so I called him up and I was like, “I’m sitting in Danny Field’s office, how about a show with the Ramones?” and he goes, “What?” and Danny says “I’ll take it from here.” So he books this show. It’s the first punk show on record to happen in Cincinnati. So we did this show. We also did five shows with the Ramones in Texas. which was crazy. I remember the first show was in San Antonio. It’s August and it’s really really hot. and we wore these three piece suits, which were ridiculous. So we’re sitting there waiting and it’s like, noon, and we’re waiting for the Ramones to get to the club. We were standing there and looked kind of excited, we’re meeting the Ramones. So this 9 passenger station wagon pulls up, gravel parking lot, dust everywhere, and out come the Ramones and their girlfriends with their black leather jackets, and leather mini skirts, fishnet stockings, hair, the makeup, the lipstick. Right off Saint Marks. And it’s really hot and they’re looking around like. “What the hell are we doing in this dump?” It was really funny. I remember thinking, “Why do they have their girlfriends with them?” That’s really odd. They’re dressed up like Friday night on Saint Mark’s Place.

We were playing a military base. and those days, when they had shows, the bands would play two sets, we’d do a set then the Ramones and they’d turn the house and then we’d do a set and they would. So you play twice a night. So at this show the Ramones are the Ramones, Dee Dee was Dee Dee. He’d be a little spaced out or play a different song from the band but I don’t think anyone noticed. But we played this place with a low ceiling and Dee Dee would always do 1234 and jump up and down and play bass. So he’s hitting his head on this low ceiling so it’s not working out, so he stops doing that. Ao in between shows, I overhear johnny screaming at Dee Dee saying, “I don’t give a fuck, your job is to count off the songs and jump up and down.” So the next set I see Dee Dee is jumping up and down hitting his head. And I felt really bad for him. But he was the special guy in the band. Really sweet guy. I used to see him in the mid to late period and you’d never know what he was gonna look like. You’d see him and he’d be dressed in an English suit with a bowler hat and another time he’d look like he’d been up for 15 days. But he was rock n roll.

How do you feel about the newer power pop coming out now?

The biggest thing is all these young bands carrying the torch, making it their own. I’m not a power pop purist. Every once in a while when I’m writing I’m like, “Come on man, you have to write that huge killer power pop song.” But I’m not a purist in a sense of what people are doing today. Obviously rock n roll is made by and for young people. So however these kids interpret the music I was learning when I was their age, however they interpret the Plimsouls, and The Beat, and 20/20, and Dwight Twilley, and the Flamin’ Groovies, When they put in their mixture and make their songs, that’s fine with me. It’s just the way the music world works, how do you bust out? In those times it was Frampton Comes Alive and Fleetwood Mac, these six hundred thousand dollar records, so who’s going to listen to us in a basement?

Well you ended up having a huge influence on power pop.
If that’s true, I’m proud of that. I’m still hustling but that’s a good thing. But I feel that I have been fortunate in the sense that all of these projects I’ve been involved with produced really good music. I feel lucky. All of those things were real bands, what they produced was the sum of their parts. It was a great experience to work with those people. That was my favorite part, working with other people. That was part of the fun. You play a song and some guy goes. “Yeah lets put this part in” and you go, “Oh shit, that’s fucking awesome.” I think it’s really cool there’s a new generation of people who wanna promote this legacy, keep this music alive. This is the kind of music you have to go out of your way for, You have to buy tickets, spread the word, drag your friends to shows. It still needs that kind of support.There are great band still who play to six people and then 60 million people listening to shit you’re like “what the fuck is this shit?”

Catch Paul Collins at the Acheron on October 23.


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