Photo by James BunoanMick Collins: To some people, that's who you go to for answers. He sings and plays guitar for Detroit's Dirtbombs now—the band pushing the heaviest rhythm section out of Michigan since Bob Seger's "Ivory"—but he's been around for most of the last generation of Motor City music, and he'll make you feel snot-nosed and whelpy in all the nicest ways because, while he doesn't know everything, he's close enough to feel it breathing.
Young Mr. Collins grew up with a basement bulging with a complete run of Specialty R&B 45s (thanks to a record-distributor friend of his dad), heard "Too Drunk To Fuck" and "How We Swing" and Kraftwerk and Neu! on the radio, and even still, the first record he ever remembers owning was by Beethoven.
But no one ever asks him about techno—even though Detroit did for analog keys and drum machines what it did for longhairs with guitars, and even though Cybotron and Underground Resistance (and Yellow Magic Orchestra, though they were actually from Japan and never took a Detroit breath in their lives) are the Stooges and the MC5 to people who might not ever even listen to the Stooges and the MC5, especially if they happen to live in Europe, where genre distinction is law. But as Collins' first band, the Gories—a bass-less trio so beefy and primitive they made the White Stripes look like tittering corset-bound Frenchwomen when they started playing out—disintegrated in the mid '80s, Detroit's techno scene was starting to spin up, and Mick Collins, as a diligent man about town, slid right in.
It's simple: Collins and the Dirtbombs are one of the best rock & roll bands going right now—even if you have to call rock & roll "garage" so the clerk at Tower knows where to find your CDs. But there isn't an article yet written that won't say the same thing. So we talked to Mick Collins about his own personal garage—where he keeps the master tapes to his never-released techno house single.
OC Weekly: So Eminem says nobody listens to techno. True?
Mick Collins: Not true at all. Nobody listens to Eminem. Well, I shouldn't say that. He has a lot of fans here. But he's not even from Detroit. He's from Warren—the other side of 8 Mile from Detroit. I have my parochial moments—when someone not from Detroit makes a big deal about being from Detroit, it gets up everyone's nose.
Can I start a Mick Collins/Eminem feud?
Don't. He has bodyguards. I couldn't get in a punch.
So what makes you a fan of Detroit techno?
I like the drums; I'm a big fan of drums. I have 300 disco records because I like big drum breaks. For me, the driving beat—everything in Detroit is like that. That's why our rock music sounds the way it does, our dance music, Motown—if Motown had anything, it was that steady driving beat. It's the one thing above everything else in Detroit music.
We joke that it's because of the auto plants: PSH BOOM PSH BOOM 24 hours a day. But nobody has an answer. And if you can't dance to it, we don't wanna know about it.
How did you go from the Gories to a house single?
The first time I ever heard house music—or house music where I knew it was something different—was probably early fall '86. We were sitting in the car, playing a DJ tape, and I was like, "This is pretty freaky—I'm into that!" I never heard anything like that—and a few years later I was making it!
The great lost Mick Collins house record!
I couldn't get anybody to put it out, but it got on the radio—the first record I ever did that got on the radio, almost a year and a half before the Gories. The name was Plasmaphon and the song was "Five Card Stud."
And you did it all yourself?
My nephew played turntables, before turntablism became an actual Olympic sport, so we piled the turntables into the back of my car and drove out to Dave Feeney's mom's place, with a recording studio in the basement. I had a couple of riffs in mind and we just set up and played. Just kind of worked it for five minutes and that was that. And DJ-T1000 had a radio program here in Detroit, and we'd met because he used to go see the Gories a lot, so I called him up and said, "Will you play it?" And he said yeah—in fact, he liked it and made it the feature cut of the week. I still have the seven-inch master-reel recording, complete with Letraset rub-off letters. If I can get a decent remix on it, maybe it can get put out. I cut it in 1988 and now it's 2004!
And how about your hip-hop career?
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That's some thorough research! I think I've only mentioned that once. Well, again, my nephew the turntablist hooked up with this rapper La Vie, and one day he was gonna cut a record, and he went to the studio, and I just kinda went just to go. And we sat around and drank a lot and did the songs.
So what did you do, like call-and-response?
Exactly. The only piece I can remember is, "If you don't have a jimmy-hat, leave it alone."
Timeless. The Dirtbombs perform with The Sights at The House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-Blue. Wed., 8 p.m. $10-$12. All ages.