The Spring Issue of the Subbacultcha quarterly magazine is out now
Michael Collins is Drugdealer, half of Silk Rhodes, and he’s recorded under Run DMT, Salvia Plath and The Doobie Sisters. He makes gorgeous, guitar-based melodic tapestries and wears his love of ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelic tunes on his sleeve, his music coming off like a Spaghetti Western viewed on a cracked iPhone screen… or something. His 2016 full-length The End of Comedy tightened the whirling daze of his earlier recordings into a focused, sophisticated pop record, earning its place among the coveted Subba HQ faves – no small feat given our general indifference for music. His art treads the line between the lucid and the lysergic; our conversation did likewise.
What do you consider the best word in the English language?
I guess I’ll go with “monetisation”.
How unnatural it is? I’ve been thinking about professional YouTubers recently. Also working as an artist signed to a label, it comes up. Just the idea of our economy’s lifeblood being the monetisation of the flow of information. It’s very bleak but also very humorous to me.
So I heard you came across an Ariel Pink album [House Arrest], and that it completely shattered your conception of what music could be.
Definitely. I think I was 20, in Florida, and I was hitchhiking and hopping freight trains at the time; my friend started playing Ariel’s music. And it was like that feeling of being on psychedelic mushrooms, almost dissociative. I couldn’t believe it existed in that way, I was amazed at the possibilities. And his music made me feel that in a really memorable way, it was really significant in my life. Where I was like ‘Wow, I can’t believe the universe lined up so that someone made this music and made it sound like this’.
Can you tell me about any other, similarly momentous experiences in your life?
I spent time doing aimless wandering around the U.S., hopping freight trains, hitchhiking. Experiences where you trying to communicate with people you’re brushing up against; sussing them out because they’re strangers. Where you get out of their car and you have to think about what your next plan is, living in the moment, as opposed to being an artist and being like ‘I’m in my studio, what should I think today?’
It’s like being in a current. I needed that so badly before I really started my music and life or art. It’s just so confusing and such a weird privilege to try figuring out what’s important to you, when you haven’t seen the world or been thrown around enough.
It’s just so confusing and such a weird privilege to try figuring out what’s important to you, when you haven’t seen the world or been thrown around enough.
I’d say experiences like that are essential in snapping out of whatever bubble or routine it is you live in. It’s really easy, I think, to get caught up in your own narrow slice of reality.
That’s why people do psychedelic drugs; it’s like a living metaphor. Taking freight trains like that, ending up in a situation because of circumstance, it shapes your life so much. I was really influenced by psychedelics when I was younger, but the thing I think I’m really interested in is trying to break from the predictive path that everyone has. It’s reactionary I know, and I’m trying to be less reactionary, but everything’s becoming so automated; it’s hard to know whether you’re making your own decisions. So for me, riding trains or tramping around and travelling, or, for a lot of people, doing psychedelics, helps to redirect you.
I think psychedelics can have the effect of blurring rigidly defined binaries that might exist in your head. So with that in mind, I wanted to talk to you about humour in art. There’s this notion that it detracts from art.
Humour’s so important to me because everybody who uses humour in a good way has a moment in their life when they recognise that humour, in some really serious way, is almost the most proper vehicle for truth telling. The problem with a lot of serious art is that it lacks this understanding. I think it has a lot to do with empathy, and I just focus on trying to be truthful in my art. I don’t know if that makes it serious art, but it feels relevant or worthwhile to me, in my life.
You’re one of the few people I’ve seen who can pull off wearing a beret. I’m in awe. How’d that happen?
It’s synonymous with being an artist. I’m also just trying to play a character of an artist in the places I go. It’s a way to connect with a certain level of frivolous intellectualism that’s really important to me. And also, berets look really good!
On some people.
Maybe those are the people I wanna hang out with. Turtlenecks and berets. What I’m doing for the next tour is, everyone in the band’s gonna be wearing like, an artist’s uniform.
Nice. So I spent some time coming up with some potential names for future projects of yours, and I was hoping you’d want to pick your favourites.
Alright, so: Drugpurchaser. Marijuahatma Ganjdhi. LSD and the Search for LSD. Hoobasdank. UB420. Megameth. High On Drugs. Crack de Marco. Fleetwood Smack.
I think it has a lot to do with empathy, and I just focus on trying to be truthful in my art.
Those aren’t gonna work for me. I don’t wanna rate them that way. High On Drugs is good, it plays into the reasoning behind me naming my projects this way. I went for Run DMT or Salvia Plath, not to ‘be taken seriously’, obviously not. It’s about the monetisation—there it is again—of drug culture. In a moment when people’s attention spans are so short, and they want to hear a funny thing… that’s where I feel the name came from. When I chose the name Salvia Plath, I couldn’t wait to see someone being told to write about it like, ‘you have to cover this’.
I was thinking of starting a concurrent band alongside yours, also named Drugdealer.
You should. Everyone should just go by Drugdealer, we can create an aggregate pop star. Maybe not everyone, but all the people making drug-pun bands and not breaking through.
Nice. I’m gonna be Michael Collins of Drugdealer from now on.
Wear a beret and a fake moustache to the [Amsterdam] show, and I’ll let you be me. Actually, if anyone in the European tour comes to a show dressed as me, I’ll let them be me at the show.
It’s gonna happen. Final words?
Definitely go to art school, then drop out. Deal with your own privilege and circumstances. Make a drug-pun band. This is the clear path to success.
Drugdealer plays De Nieuwe Anita on 7 April. Show is free for members. The End of Comedy LP was released in September 2016. You can also catch Drugdealer at Motel Mozaique, Rotterdam, on Saturday 8 April.