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Interview: Paul Collins, The Beat
A few words with legendary Power Pop tunesmith Paul Collins ahead of his headlining gig at Yugong Yishan on Saturday for JUE Fest...
By Mar 12, 2014 Nightlife
Paul Collins, original drummer of seminal power pop trio The Nerves (this jam) and subsequent founder of The Beat, is one of the marquee acts of this year's JUE Festival. Since starting his musical career in the '70s, Collins has taken his version of rock'n'roll around the world, touring extensively in Europe, Japan, and Australia, building an Army in the process. Collins is now coming to China for the first time, supported by JUE and hosted by Shanghai's #1 wildmen of saxophone-based doowop punk, Round Eye. He took a few minutes on the only off day of The Beat's nine-city China tour to answer a few questions about how it's been going and how to maintain after ~40 years in the game:

SmartBeijing: You've toured the world pretty extensively, but this is your first time to China. What were your expectations coming in?

Paul Collins: I really had no idea how China would be. I had heard different things from people but I did not want to listen to what other people had to say, I wanted to decide for myself when I was here in China. I was pretty sure it would be different from anywhere I had ever been before.

SmBJ: The first show of this tour was at a Chinese elementary school… that must have been pretty surreal. How did that gig come together? How was it?

PC: It was the 2nd show and it was amazing, maybe the most amazing show of my career. When [Round Eye vocalist/tour booker] Chachy told me he worked in a school, I said, "Why don’t we go and play there?" He immediately set it up. To perform for 350 Chinese children seemed to me to be the ultimate testament to the universal power of music. The kids really seemed to like it, and I think it was a special day for all of us.

SmBJ: Since then you've been on the road with Round Eye from Shanghai, who are pretty notorious ragers around these parts. How has the tour gone so far? Any crazy stories to report?

PC: Well, Round Eye are a great band, and we have been having such a great time with them. They are the sweetest guys you could ever meet and they are showing us a side of China we would never get to see on our own. So far things have been pretty normal but we are still in the beginning of the tour!

Paul Collins doppelgänger in Nanjing (photo by Juancho Lopez, The Beat)

SmBJ: You've been gigging hard since the '70s. What is your advice to young musicians who aspire to this kind of longevity?

PC: Take care of yourself, know when to stop the party, and never forget that at the end of the day, this is a serious profession and it does require hard work and dedication.

SmBJ: I know you've already been asked similar questions, but you've played some crazy shows over the years, sharing bills with The Police, The Jam, The Ramones… can you share one particularly memorable gig story from the old days?

PC: Back when I was in The Nerves we did a short tour with The Ramones. We did the very first punk show ever in Cincinnati, Ohio. I booked it in the offices of Danny Fields, their manager. On the day of the show we were to meet The Ramones in Cincinnati. I was coming from New York and Jack & Peter where coming from Los Angeles, some 2,000 miles away! It was raining hard and Jack & Peter were going to be late, really late... so late that we would miss our first set. In those days, you would do two shows a night. The Ramones got really mad at me because my band would miss the first set. Tommy said, “If you think The Ramones are going to open up for you, you're crazy!” I felt terrible, as I was hoping this would lead to bigger and better things for us. The Ramones went on, and they sounded great of course. Finally Jack & Peter showed up and we hauled our gear in, in the pouring rain. As we set up people were screaming, “You better be good!” We hit the stage and we were ferocious, maybe one of our best sets ever, being so under pressure. The Ramones seemed to agree. Dee Dee was very nice to us. He told us “You guys were good tonight!”

SmBJ: In 2005 you started a project called The Beat Army, which as I understand it is a loose network of bands, bookers, clubs, radio DJs, bloggers, and fans that supports DIY tours for The Beat. What was the original idea for The Beat Army? How has it developed over the last nine years?

PC: The idea for the Beat Army was to make a web presence for this kind of music so people on the outside could see that there were a lot of people who know and like this kind of music, and also to get the people who love this music to know that they need to make their voice count and they need to support it by going to the shows. This kind of music still needs a lot of support. People need to get out and go to the shows so that the musicians who play this kind of music can do it as a profession and not just a hobby. To a certain extent, it does work, and it has also become a place where bands who play this kind of music can network and do tours together. Beat Army tours have brought a lot of bands together so that they can tour and help each other out on the road. That for me is a very positive thing and I am proud of it. There still is a lot that needs to be done, but we are getting there little by little. This tour is a good example; bands can now see that anything is possible if you put your mind to it!

SmBJ: You're working on a new record, right? Will we hear some new songs at your Beijing gig? How does your newer material compare to the classic Beat jams?

PC: The new record is done, I did it in Detroit with Jim Diamond and it came out great. As no one has heard it yet, I wont be doing any of the songs, but I will on the next tour! The record is called “Feel The Noise!”

Amen. Catch Paul Collins' Beat and Round Eye on Saturday, March 15 at Yugong Yishan.

Top and cover photo credit: Kevin Cruise
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