In 2013 a brand-new progressive rock band named Sound of Contact released the fastest selling debut album ever on the Inside Out Music label: “Dimensionaut”. Their lead singer and drummer, Simon Collins, had a familiar surname to fans of prog-rock and they soon came to discover that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. However, Collins has much more innovation up his sleeve as evidenced by new solo album “Becoming Human”, the fourth release under his own name in the past two decades. Filled with catchy hooks and a sleek, modern production, “Becoming Human” charts new territory as a cross between progressive and electronica. Check out our full album review here.
Sonic Perspectives correspondent Scott Medina took the opportunity to delve deeply into the lyrical content with Collins in a recent interview. In addition to the new album they also touch on his work with Sound of Contact, other projects he’s working on, and of course a few nods to his heritage. You can read the transcript below, download the audio as a podcast or stream the audio interview on YouTube.
For more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.
We are glad to welcome Simon Collins, whose fourth solo album was released this past September 4th. At the moment we’re located in Colorado, but Simon you just told me you’re all the way over in Ireland now, right?
That’s right. I’m out here in the rural area of Ireland. I moved out here a couple of years ago and it’s beautiful. I’m really happy out here.
And you’ve got a recording studio out there, too?
Yeah. I’ve got a recording studio. It’s pretty much where I spend most of my time. I’m actually writing my next album right now, in fact. So, keeping busy and really excited about the new album. It took me a couple of years to put it together actually. I’m just really proud of it. Robbie Bronnimann is the producer I worked with on the album and we collaborated a lot on the album and we co-produced it together. So it took us, I guess, on and off really the last couple of years.
I was wondering if it’s something that you finished up before the COVID era hit, or…
Yeah, actually we finished it up about eight months ago. It was supposed to be released in May, but because of the whole COVID thing, it’s now being released in September, September 4th. It had been delayed and they were gonna be pressing vinyl, but that wasn’t able to happen either. So yeah, the COVID thing really got in the way of a lot of things for everybody, obviously. My whole opinion on that is kind of controversial, so I’m not really going to go into it [laughs]. So I guess the album was kind of born out of somewhat tumultuous times for me. Before I started writing the album, I went through a pretty painful divorce and I was in and out of recovery. And Sound of Contact got together and then split up, then got back together and then split up. You know, it was just tumultuous and I guess it kind of forced me to grow a bit, naturally, on a personal note. So that’s one of the reasons I named the album “Becoming Human”. I’m not just writing songs about who I am, I’m writing songs about who I’m striving to be. It’s a very personal album. I think there is a kind of rigorous honesty throughout the album as well. There’s a lot of living in the songs and a lot of hope as well.
Let’s really get into the heart of the album. I was struck throughout with the strong lyrical focus. You’ve been saying just now that it’s a very personal album. You can really feel the struggle, but there also is a real spiritual element to it.
There is, yeah.
It almost sounds like you’ve had a degree of a spiritual rebirth or awakening here.
That’s awesome that you’re picking up on that. You know, I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a concept album, cause I didn’t set out to write a concept album, but it’s definitely got a very strong theme. There is a mixed bag, as far as like the content. There are a lot of personal songs on there, but there are also songs on there that are more of a universal kind of consciousness kind of level. There’s some existential kind of songs on there as well. Like “Becoming Human”, the title track is really about exploring states of consciousness. There’s a school of thought that we’re human beings becoming spiritual but I think we’re spiritual beings becoming human. There’s a quote from Carl Sagan – he’s my hero – he says that we are a way for the cosmos to know itself. I’ve actually got that tattooed on my arm, so I don’t forget it! But, I really wanted to touch on that. I really wanted to ask some big questions and put some big ideas out there about our existence and where we fit into the universe and where we belong as human beings, as humanity. It does definitely explore those different levels of consciousness.
Yeah, it does that right off the bat. With the title track “Becoming Human” and then the video that accompanies the song gives that sense of it. Even on the album cover, you’ve got an electrified Tree of Life there.
That’s exactly what it is! Yes. I wanted to put something just very simple and kind of striking and iconic looking there. And that’s exactly what it is. I’m glad that you figured that one out. Cause I wasn’t sure, you know!
And I love seeing it in the video, how you’re connecting the dots, just like the lyrics and it’s coming to life…[excitedly]Yeah, yeah! There you go!
It’s like, wow, you’re going for it, man!
I know, hey! Yeah, absolutely! I mean, that song really does sum up the overall theme of the album, really. I think all my albums are somewhat spiritual. I had somewhat of a – I’m not going to go into detail here cause it would take too long – but I had a spiritual kind of transformation when I was like 17, 18 years old. The doors of perception just opened right up to me. I read a lot of books about it and I used to meditate a lot. You know, I’m not some kind of hippy dippy kind of… I just think it’s really important to have meaning in the music that you write. I’ve got a voice and I’m grateful for the fact that I do what I do for a living. And I want to put something out there that’s meaningful that people can take something from, you know? That’s important.
And then you go even deeper, I’d say, with the next track, “The Universe Inside of Me”, really embodying it.
Right. Yeah. To kind of sum that up, what we put out there – the signals that we put out there to the universe – then the universe just says, “Yes!”. Ha! You know what I mean? Life is what you make it. We need to take care of the inner space as much as the outer space. That’s really what that is. It’s kind of, you know, every one of us has that inner space that defines the outer space. So that’s where that one came from.
It sounds like you’re having to do a lot of cleaning up in that inner space. Cause I’m really feeling the push and pull in the journey. You’re breaking through, you’re letting go of anger. It sounds like you had a lot that you had to surrender to.
I would say so, yeah. I think there’s always that kind of that inner battle. Also with my struggle with addiction, I’ve had to learn how to kind of tame the beast and do some house cleaning and it’s personal growth really. It’s a personal journey really. And so it’s really about filling that existential vacuum with self-love and integrity, you know? Yeah.
So is that sort of summated in the track “40 Years” then?
I’d say so. Yeah, because I’ve just been through so much, man. I really have, as far as my battle. As I said before, it’s forced me to grow, but I’m very grateful. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in my life but now, really. I’ve come to a really great place of acceptance and embracing life as it comes. I think in life you need to accept things as they come. If you base your happiness on the outcome of expectations, which you have no control over, you’re going to be disappointed a lot of the time, you know? So, so it’s about having realistic expectations as well, you know?
Tell us a little bit about the band that you have working with you on the album here.
Yeah, Robbie and I did a lot of it between the two of us because I played drums, I played piano and I’m singing. And I do a bit of sound design here and there. Robbie is a killer producer and musician and songwriter. So me and him really were at the core of the whole album. There are some songs on the album that stem from material that I originally wrote for the second Sound of Contact album. So, there’s some collaboration leftover from me and Dave Kerzner and Kelly Nordstrom from Sound of Contact, songwriting-wise. But musicianship wise, Kelly Nordstrom and I have been working together for 15 years now. He’s basically my guitarist. He’s my go-to guy. He’s played on every album of mine, except my debut. He flew out to the UK and spent a month with us laying down some really awesome guitars. So he’s all over the album. Also, Gaz Williams, he plays with Charlotte Church, one artist to mention. Amazing bass player, amazing guy. And Robin Boult who plays with Fish and Howard Jones. He came in and did some guitars as well. So it’s not, you know, not a huge cast. But I didn’t really feel the need to have a ton of people come in and play on it. Um, so we just had a few people come in and do their thing…people that we really wanted to work with.
It’s got such a modern sound, the production that you went for, a lot of electronics. It seemed like with the U Catastrophe album and then the Sound of Contact album that you went in more of a rock instrumentation direction, and now you really turned heavily into the electronic world again.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s true. I guess all my albums are dynamic, that’s for sure. I like to keep it that way. I don’t like to really label the music that I make because it’s always evolving and maturing and changing. I mean, like my first album, my debut album was extremely electronic. I used to DJ back in my twenties, I used to DJ like psychedelic trance. It’s a big influence for me, electronic music. So I just felt the need after doing U Catastrophe and after doing the Sound of Contact album to revisit that. But add something new to it. Which of course is more the kind of progressive kind of nature of the album, that kind of progressive song craft, I guess you could say. Progressive and even progressive rock, you know, that kind of cross pollination of the two. Exploring some new sonic territory with that. So, yeah, between Robbie and I…cause Robbie he’s worked with BT and he’s worked with Howard Jones, specifically a lot with Howard Jones. So he is more of an electronic producer. So I mean, that’s one of the reasons I hired him. Because together as a co-production unit, we could really create a futuristic and current sounding album. But still kind of pay homage to my progressive influences as well. So yeah, it’s definitely kind of a new breed for me, an exciting kind of new venture.
Yeah, it’s got such a futuristic bent to it and yet you can still get the foundation of the strong melodies. tracks like “This is the Time” and “I Will be Waiting” and “So Real”. Those are really like catchy melodies that could become really successful singles.
Yeah! Hope so! Yeah, absolutely. And then there’s tracks like “Man-made Man”, which is really sinister. I think there’s certainly like a variety of different influences throughout the album, for sure. It’s not just electronic production with progressive song craft…I’m kind of generalizing there, but there’s some more kind of like straight ahead kind of rock pop kind of tunes as well.
And then it closes with this intense nine-minute piece “Dead Ends”. What can you say about that?
Ooh, well, it’s interesting this one because I was listening to it a couple months ago and I came to the realization of what I was writing about with that song…you know, I’m a little bit of a conspiracy theorist, I’ve got to admit. I like a good conspiracy theory. [laughs]
There’s that COVID thing!
Well…yeah, that’s one other thing. I mean…well…It is connected in my eyes. But I’m just going to say, there’s something about Agenda 21 that creeps the hell out of me. I’m not going to go into detail about the whole conspiracy, but that’s really what the song was about. About a Socialist political agenda and depopulation of the planet and stuff like that. And so I wrote a song about it and it’s very dark. It’s a dark way to end the album, I’ll admit! Usually I end my albums with something really kind of inspiring. And, um, maybe this is inspiring in a different way. but I listened to it a couple of months ago and I realized, well, I mean, what’s happening right now on the planet. It certainly seems quite similar to the Agenda 21 conspiracy that I was writing about two years ago. And it seems like that might actually even be happening. So it’s kind of a dark piece, really. I think it’s important to put those things out there, really. I think it’s important to kind of just say, Hey, what do you think about this? You know, I mean, has anyone noticed this happening? It’s important to kind of educate yourself on what’s going on with the world, isn’t it? But of course it’s important to give things its due diligence and make sure you don’t go too far down the rabbit hole in the wrong direction. [laughs]
Well, either way it makes for some intense songwriting. So while this is your fourth solo album, this past decade many fans have discovered you through the Sound of Contact band. That was a really successful album you guys put out that brought your singing and your drumming more into the limelight with that great band of musicians. Are there any remnants of that? I know you said you’re working with Kelly still on guitar. Are you still in contact with the other guys?
Oh, totally. I mean, we’re brothers, man. We’ll always be really close. I think that that whole experience of creating “Dimensionaut” really brought us to a really close place together. The chemistry between us is just like…I’ve been in a lot of bands, mostly when I was a teenager, I was in a ton of bands and I’ve never experienced the kind of chemistry before that we experienced in the studio making “Dimensionaut”. It was unbelievable. So yeah, we’re still in touch. Uh, we’re flirting with the idea of possibly doing another album. But you know, we’re not going to come out and say that yet because everyone’s doing a lot. I’m doing my thing and Dave‘s always working on a couple of different albums at the same time. And, um, yeah. So we’ll see how things go, but we’re all still in touch, so, you know, it’s possible.
Yeah, it seems like the sci-fi concept was a real love for all of you.
Absolutely, yeah. When we started hanging out and making music, we always take a break and we’d put on “Contact” [the movie]or one of our favorite sci-fi films. We’re all really sci-fi buffs. Before the band got together, Kelly and I were originally thinking about putting a band together and that’s kind of where it all stemmed from. We spent a couple months researching cosmology and astronomy and stuff like that. We came up with the “Dimensionaut” concept idea. Everyone just loved it, we just dove right into it. We just thought it was a really kind of original idea and a really exciting idea that we could really explore different topics and explore our interests. So it’s interesting how that came about.
Can you tell us a bit about your drumming upbringing? How involved was your dad personally, or were you more learning just by observation of him and Chester Thompson, for example?
Yeah. I’d say it was more that. Definitely, I grew up on tour, man, and grew up around those amazing musicians and watching them play every night. Yeah, I used to sit behind like right in between Chester and my dad at the back. So I’d watch them drum from behind and just dodging drumsticks [laughs]. It was awesome. I really took in more than I think my dad was really involved with. You know, at the odd gig after the show, I’d be like, Hey, can you show me how to play that drum fill that you did in the solo or what have you. But mostly I learned from playing to my favorite albums, really. Literally I’d have my kit set up and I’d have two wedges, big fat EV wedges cranked. I’d just play to my favorite album, including “Seconds Out”. I used to play to “Seconds Out” all the time. So yeah, I basically taught myself how to play, really. It’s not a judgement, but my dad was just too busy, I think, to really sit down with me and give me a proper drum lesson. But Chester Thompson took some time when he was doing his rudiments and stuff before the show. I’d come in and he’d give me a drum pad and he’d show me some stuff. But for the most part, I just evolved through playing with bands and stuff like that.
Do you remember what tours you were out with them on, for which albums?
Um, yeah. “Abacab” and…the shapes tour and the “I Can’t Dance” tour. There’s probably a couple there that I’m not mentioning, I was too young. I remember just being like, you know, a young firecracker and sitting up there and just being blown away. Like, What is this that I’m listening to? This is amazing! I want to do this for a living! You know? I knew what I wanted to do by the time I was 10. I was pretty sold on the idea of doing music for a living. I was like, This is awesome. This is so cool. And then my dad buying me my drum kit when I was eight. That was the game changer, obviously.
What other drummers were your top influences at a young age?
I was really big into Will Calhoun of Living Color. And Manu Katche, Vinnie Colaiuta, Stewart Copeland, some of the big session drummers that I played to a lot of their records. On Sting and Peter Gabriel albums and stuff like that. I’m a big fan of Gavin Harrison‘s drumming as well. I am a Porcupine Tree fan, of course.
With some very notable exceptions, there’s relatively few drummers who pull off being a lead singer as well. So at 10 years old, you knew what you wanted to do, but at that point, was it about being a drummer, or at what point did also the desire to become more than a drummer hit you and to start singing and writing?
Yeah, definitely when I was younger, it was all about drums, and that’s why I was in a lot of bands when I was in my teens. I really wanted to put a band together and stay together. I wanted to be in a great band. And I was completely satisfied and happy with being behind the kit for the whole time. I guess how the whole solo thing developed was really out of sheer disappointment that all these bands kept breaking up. That what bands do mostly is break up, for me at least. So I just felt like if I’m going to have a career in music, I think I might need to be self-sufficient. I started writing when I was 14 or 15, on the piano. So I was already kind of getting into writing my own songs, as I was writing the lyrics and the vocal melodies. But actually at one point I auditioned some singers to do that part for me. Eventually it was obvious that I wasn’t going to find anybody to do that. So I started just laying down the vocals myself as guide vocals. And I realized, Okay, well, my voice isn’t that bad. It needs some work. And it’s definitely evolved over the albums. You can hear that there’s more confidence, there’s more emotional conviction as well in my vocals. They’re much stronger than they used to be. So that’s been like an evolving thing for me. It definitely started out with drums and then eventually over to the songwriting and the singing.
Overall, would you say that having a dad like you do, has that been more of a blessing to you in opening doors, or is it more of a difficult thing to deal with, whether it’s expectations or being pigeonholed or anything like that?
I think there’s a little bit of everything in there. I think what you mentioned there, I think that you’re right on the money really. Yes, initially my last name got my foot in the door in certain instances, certain cases. Maybe, you know, it allowed for someone to give me 10 more minutes of their time, you know what I mean? But at the end of the day, it just comes down to me, my talent, what I can deliver, that’s going to keep me in the room, you know? Regarding expectations, if I kind of caved into, and got sucked into people’s expectations and then kind of let that get the better of me, I don’t think I’d be able to do what I do. You know what I mean? I just have to be confident in what I’m doing and know that I’m my own person, I’m an individual artist. It took me a while to get the right people around me as well. I’m working with some great people now with Frontiers that signed me for my artistic talent. That’s how it should be. Same with Inside Out, they were great. They signed us because of the album that we made. I had to chip away at it and work away at it and show people that I’m not going away. I’m not just looking for some random pop career. Like, Oh, let’s just try this out. This is what my dad does. You know, let’s do this for kicks. You know what I mean? This is like, this is what I do for a living. It’s just taken a while to kind of prove to people that I’ve deserved to be making records! It’s funny.
Well I’d say congratulations, because you did this already certainly with Sound of Contact, but definitely on this new album I’d say you’ve forged your own identity. Other than the vocal and the drum similarities, obviously, that are there, you’re certainly your own man and your own artist and musician, doing it in a way that your dad never did. This sound is totally unique and I would say totally you, so bravo for that.
Oh, thank you. Thank you so much for saying that, I really appreciate that.
For you, how much do you look to your dad or just look to see how he responds to your things? I know he played the drum duet with you on U-Catastrophe, but for The Sound of Contact and this album, is he surprised by what you come up with?
Yeah, probably a little bit. He’s supportive of what I do. But I think both of us have an understanding that it’s not necessary for him to promote my music. Like when we hang out together, we actually don’t really talk that much about music, if anything. It’s kind of what both of us “do”. So it’s kind of like, we more kind of connect on a more kind of personal level. Obviously with the record label, at one point with Warner brothers, they wanted to do single with me and my dad singing a vocal duet [laughs]. I just gave them the middle finger. I said, fuck off, no way I’m doing that. And my dad also said, yeah, there’s no way that’s happening either. So both of us have kind of an understanding for that kind of thing. But yeah, the drum duet that was…I always wanted to do something with him. I thought it’d be cool. Not to do something commercial as like a marketing gimmick or anything like that. But something that really kind of addresses our bond of drumming. So that’s why we did the drum battle. It was kind of inspired by the drum battle he and Chester Thompson used to do. That was a big influence for me. So I was like, Why don’t we do a drum battle? That’d be fucking amazing, you know? So we had a really great time doing that. So it’s cool just to say that we’ve done that and it was a great experience. But at this point he’s just letting me live my life, letting me do my thing and it’s cool. He’s very supportive.
So at this point, what are your hopes for the future, next solo albums or other collaborations and projects?
As I said at the beginning of the interview, I’m already writing my new album and I’m halfway through writing that. It’s going to be a much more progressive album, diving into my progressive rock influences and possibly a concept album. That’s kind of what I’m thinking actually. We’ve already got a lot of ideas for that. That’s what I’m writing right now. And I’ve also got another project with Kelly Nordstrom from Sound of Contact. We’ve got a project together, a very heavy kind of progressive rock project with flavors of metal and industrial and electronica. So that’s pretty cool. We’re going to be recording, writing and recording that this month, actually. He’s flying out a week from now to stay with me for a month and we’re going to write and record an EP for that. So that’s what I got on my plate right now. And the SOC thing is kind of in the background there as a possibility. We’ll see. I know Matt is also working on an album too. Everyone is doing their thing, it’s very cool.
And once live concerts can happen again, would you be hoping to tour this album?
Yeah. I really hope so because it would be a really great album to do live and it would also be great to do some of my other material live, to dig into the catalog there. I do have the band lined up, I’ve got the musicians ready to go. I just kinda need a green light from Frontiers to do it. And of course the whole COVID thing to kind of clean up. So, it’s a bummer I can’t say yes right now.
Well Simon, thanks so much for talking to us and giving some more depth and insight to this album, I’m really excited for you.
Thank you so much for your time as well. I really appreciate it. Yes. It’s fun to talk about it. And I’m glad you’re enjoying the album. Thanks so much, Scott. Take care! Thanks bro.