Phil Collins

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Phil Collins

Hear what Phil Collins has to say about his collection of Korg keyboards: Excerpt from phone interview (mp3, 183kb)

In the ever changing sea that is the music business, shifting currents of styles and fads can elevate an artist to his peek and then sweep him away in what seems like the blink of an eye. It’s very rare to find an artist who has managed to endure for over 30 years. Able to do more than just survive, Phil Collins has successfully thrived for over three decades by constantly reinventing himself while always maintaining a superior level of musicianship and hard work. Phil is one of the very few who has been able to make himself and his music accessible to the mass music-buying public, yet still retain the respect of his musical peers.

Regarded by many as one of the best rock drummers in the world, Phil has proven his diversity by playing with artists ranging from experimentalists Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and John Cale to jazz-rock fusion group Brand X, and of course the hugely successful progressive (and eventually mainstream) group, Genesis. He has taken to the road with his 20 piece big band, garnered critical acclaim for his acting roles in the British film Buster and the HBO production The Band Played On, and has recently received an Oscar for the film score of Disney’s animated feature, Tarzan.

From 1970 to 1975 Phil enjoyed success as the drummer for Genesis. With the departure of lead vocalist Peter Gabriel in 1975, Phil was thrust into the spotlight as the new lead vocalist of the group. The band continued to enjoy even greater success with Phil at the helm, and their music began to develop from the prog rock “Genesis” sound into a more pop rock sound. By the 1980s Phil began to write and produce his own material, leading to a successful solo career that spawned the hit albums Face Value(’81), Hello I Must Be Going(’82), No Jacket Required(’85), …But Seriously (’89), Serious Hits…Live(’90), Both Sides(’93), and Dance Into The Light(’96). Along the way he’s managed to pick up six Grammy Awards and rack up total solo sales of over 70 million units. It’s estimated that if you include his work with Brand X, Genesis and various projects with his peers, that number would climb to some 200 million in total record sales worldwide.

While he was still doing double duty as a solo artist and a member of Genesis, Collins first began using Korg keyboards for both live performances and, more importantly, his songwriting and recording process. As he told ProView recently, “I think the first keyboard I had was the Wavestation. I got that around the time of But Seriously. That would have been the late '80s. After that would’ve been the 01/W. I was still in Genesis and Tony (Banks) and I both got the Wavestation the same day. It blew me away straight away. The actual sounds that you got when you plugged in provided instant gratification. That’s what’s really great about all the Korg keyboards. All of my stuff is written on the Wavestation, the 01/W, Trinity and now the TRITON and Karma. They all sort of trot along together quite happily in harmony. They don’t seem to mind each other's company. I’ve got a studio full of Korg stuff. I took the 01/W on the road with me, and I did a lot of writing on the road in my room because that’s the first sequencer I ever really had. I’m still developing those bits now for a new record. The 01/W was just invaluable. I wrote so much in hotel rooms all over the world. Then I got the Trinity when it came out, and I started using that more than the 01/W. I just got the TRITON a couple of years ago, and I now have the Karma.”

Because he is also a respected drummer it was interesting to hear Phil’s take on the drum grooves and sounds from the Karma. “I’m still going through them,” says Phil, “But I’m working on a film for Disney, and while I was waiting for your call I was fooling around with the Karma and discovered a couple of things that I can probably use. Some of the grooves are fantastic. I can see using 8 or 16 bars and looping it. The tempo shifts make it a breeze compared to trying to recycle these old CD-ROMs. You get in there and try to split them up and then you find that you can’t slow it up quite enough to keep the groove, so you have to go back and edit it again. I find the ease with which you can just shift the tempo with the Karma and actually get it to loop is pretty invaluable for me, because my home studio is not really a place for live drums. Since the time of ‘In The Air Tonight’ onwards I’ve always been big on atmospheric loops, and some of these things just ooze all that atmosphere. They are very well put together.”

When asked about the current animated feature that he is working on for Disney, he replied, “Each time I do one of these kinds of things I’m stretching my envelope a bit, so I learn new things. Doing film score music is something I’d like to venture further into. They gave me the opportunity to get my feet wet with Tarzan and with this new one I’m able to take it a bit further and get involved with the score as well. With animated movies the music is constantly changing, constantly being shortened, sped up, slowed down, altered and edited.

“In the past I was working on ADATs so every time they wanted something different, I had to go and re-record the whole thing. I’d been used to working like that for years but you kind of lose something in the re-telling of the story of the song. On the other hand you can come up with new ideas when you re-record it. Nonetheless I’ve entered into the world of computer hard disc recording. I’ve gotten very into it very quickly, and I’ve discovered that I can take all of these 8, 16 and 32 bar loops that I had written on the 01/W and copy them into Cubase. The loops have great grooves and atmosphere and now I can cut and paste them, do key changes etc. It’s opened up my writing a lot. There is so much more invention in the new stuff. I’ve got 16 songs now waiting for a record and a lot of those started off from the 01/W and the Trinity. Also, I can now put these loops into some of the songs I’ve already written to freshen them up. I’m beginning to find all of the technology that I shied away from for such a long time. You still have to stand at the bottom of the mountain and think, ‘you still have to write the song,’ but once I’ve written it the first time, I’m on to the experimentation that this technology gives you.”

When asked about the addition of the new Karma to his arsenal of Korg keyboards Phil said, “It’s great. There are some very stimulating combination sounds that I have found. The last thing I need is another thousand choices of string sounds. What I try to do is carry on working and bring in the new instruments to join forces with the ones I’m used to using. This happened with the TRITON and now it will happen with the Karma. I use it as another sequencer to sync up with the TRITON, the Trinity and the 01/W. It gives me a lot of flexibility.”

Speaking of writing new material, we wanted to know if and when there would be a new album. Phil let us in on his plans by saying “Well, I’ve done a large share of the recording already. I’ve got the songs sounding the way I want them except for maybe some real drums and guitars. I probably won’t release it until next year. For a while I must admit I didn’t even want to write, because I knew it would lead to a tour and a tour these days would take 18 months of my life. When you’re married and have a family coming, you don’t really want to be living in a hotel for another year. So I kind of shied away from writing, but then I started to develop some of these ideas and I go so excited. I think I’ve got stuff now that might be the best I’ve ever written, so I really want to find a home for it.”

Whether he’s writing or on tour, Phil stands behind his Korg keyboards. “When it comes to gear I really don’t do interviews,” says Phil, “I don’t want to sound like I’m blowing smoke, but these keyboards are the keyboards that I have used for my last four or five records. I’ve been using Korg keyboards for years. They’re all at home in my studio and I love them very much. They are my good friends.”

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