By Gareth Moore
I could spend pages waxing poetic about how cool Mick Collins is, how his band the Dirtbombs continue to render other rock bands as unimaginative fools, and how their new album Party Store is a shocking delight. I don’t care about doing that. Simple facts: Mick is awesome, the Dirtbombs kick ass, and Party Store is one of the finest new albums you haven’t heard. Tonight they will slay all who enter the Rock & Roll Hotel.
GM: Your band has a t-shirt that prominently features Morrissey’s face on the front. Is this sincere or sarcastic?
MC: We all like the Smiths quite a bit. I was a real big fan of Viva Hate when it came out. I also like You Are The Quarry too. I didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in between but, yeah, it was…
(At this point our phone connection began to waver)
MC: …there’s one t-shirt that has Elvis on it, or the Queen or something, but it’s of the Smiths. We got the idea from that.
GM: Interesting. People are always confused when I wear that shirt.
MC: (Laughter) Well, it was inspired by him. He did it first, so we decided we’d do it too.
GM: I bought that shirt when I saw your band open for Spiritualized in DC three years ago. That’s still such an odd double header to me. Did you enjoy that tour with them?
MC: Absolutely. We are mutual fans of one another. I’ve liked Spiritualized for quite a bit, and Jason Spaceman was apparently a big fan of the Dirtbombs for many years, which we only found out when he asked us to be on Songs In A & E.
GM: Your set was spectacular that night. I danced so hard people thought you guys had paid me off to get the crowd going.
MC: (Heavy laughter) I remember you now.
GM: I think that’s what led to one of your drummers handing me his drum kit, which I had to assemble on the stage floor. I had no idea how to do that and I failed to do it right, but he leapt down, set it up, and finished the show from within the crowd.
MC: I remember that show. I bought a cassette deck off the sound crew at that show. It was one I had wanted for quite a long time. It’s a studio quality cassette deck, and I really really wanted one but no one wants to pay 300 dollars for a cassette deck, especially not this day & age. They had a spare, and they were getting rid of all the analog gear in the club, so I said “I’ll take that off your hands.” So we cut a deal.
GM: Well done. As I’ve been following your band’s career I’ve always been intrigued by how you’ve chosen such odd songs to cover: Robyn Hitchcock’s Executioner of Love, Brian Eno’s King Lead’s Hat, the Beat’s Noise In This World, 80’s era Sparks. This is not what the average rock band would cover, so is there a deeper rationale behind choosing which songs to cover or is it just because the songs are fucking great?
MC: It’s just songs that we think are great and that we can play. There is no other rationale than that. Sometimes it’s things we wind up playing on stage at random like Missionary Man, which there is no recording of because…
(Once again, our connection is interrupted)
MC: We play many many songs live. We’ve played New Order live.
GM: Oh! What New Order song did you cover?!
MC: We did Blue Monday one night in Oklahoma City, I think it was. Somebody gets inspired to play something and we’ll all join in.
GM: I was watching an old interview of yours last night where you spontaneously started singing Original Sin by INXS. Awesome.
MC: (Laughter) Yes, that’s exactly how they happen.
GM: As a hardcore fan of Sparks I was especially surprised your band would cover their song Sherlock Holmes. Given your band, Sparks have enough heavy rock songs that you guys could go crazy with. I was intrigued with your decision to go with that song.
MC: That was a song I wanted to cover since before the Dirtbombs even formed.
MC: Absolutely my single favorite Sparks song. I knew when I was putting together the band that became the Dirtbombs that we would eventually do Sherlock Holmes. I love them. I first saw them play in 1975 on a British TV show that was being broadcast in Canada. They did Get In The Swing. It was the single strangest thing I had ever seen in my life, at that point I was probably 9, and I had no idea what I was looking at but I said “Man, that’s something. I gotta find out more about whatever this is!” I became a Sparks fan then.
GM: I saw them live a few years ago and they were fucking awesome.
MC: I’ve never actually seen them play live, although I would love to. I’m sure it’s a great show.
GM: On the subject of these bold covers let’s move to your new album Party Store. I’ve never heard a rock band base an album around covering Detroit techno. I’ve certainly never heard of a techno covers album. Have you?
MC: No. If another techno artist were to do such a thing it would be unseemly.
GM: It would be a remix.
MC: Exactly. Some pride themselves on the ability to not do covers when making the music. As a rock band, we don’t have those issues. And the music is from a completely different genre, so there was no thought of the “taste factor” or the “coolness factor.”
GM: Was it a tough idea to sell to your band-mates?
MC: No. I’m the ideas person, the front-man, the song-writer. I just say “O.K., this is what we’re going to do.” The only time they ever really rebelled, at anything, was when I wanted to cover a Hawkwind song and they did not want to do it. They united in their objection.
GM: The same thing happened in the Ramones. Joey wanted to cover the Sparks song Nothing To Do and the rest of the Ramones told him to fuck off.
MC: (Heavy laughter) I can’t even imagine what the Ramones would sound like doing that song.
GM: Joey would keep telling Sparks, “We’re going to do it on the next album!” and all the other members would shout “No we’re not!”
MC: (Laughter) That’s pretty awesome.
GM: You’re cover of Nothing To Do was pretty awesome.
MC: (Laughter) I had a good time making that actually.
GM: Back to Party Store, why do you think these techno songs needed the Dirtbombs treatment? Was it just for the challenge or was it just for fun?
MC: The original idea was just because it would be fun. There was no thought to making an album or touring on it or ever playing these songs live. The original idea was that we would do them and they would come out as singles every few weeks over the course of last summer. We’d have a new single that would be a 12-inch with a few songs on it. If people look at it as a full-length then, invariably, they think it’s flawed. Well, yeah, that’s because it was never intended to be a full-length.
I wanted to pick songs that were classic Detroit techno songs. And in the event it was something we couldn’t play, like Deathstar by Underground Resistance, something that just could not be played on instruments, then we’d pick something that a band could play but one by each of the main pioneers for techno. For example, we were definitely going to play Cosmic Cars, we were definitely going to play Good Life…
GM: God, I love that song.
MC: (Laughter)…So we wondered, “what do we do then?” So we have one by Kevin Saunderson, one by Juan Atkins, and we’d think, “what song are we going to pick by Mike Banks?” That kind of thing. For each of them we ran over a few different ideas and eventually picked what we picked.
GM: The thing that fascinates me the most about the album is that it always sounds 100% Dirtbombs. You never once sound like you’re trying to be a techno band.
MC: No, never. For all of those there’s never any attempt at trying to sound like whatever the source material is. I mean, it’s the Dirtbombs: two drum sets, two bass guitars, and me. It can’t be any other way.
GM: Most bands try too hard to be faithful with a cover, and sometimes that’s called for, but it’s always more exciting to just say “Fuck it, let’s go ape-shit” and just be yourself. That’s why I’m so happy with this album.
MC: Yeah. If you can make a song, as far as doing cover versions goes, if you can do a cover version and bring something new to it, it’s always better than a slavish imitation.
MC: My favorite example is The Beat’s cover of Tears of a Clown.
GM: Y E S!
MC: Which is theirs! (Laughter) You know it’s them.
GM: (Laughter) You’re not going to confuse it with Smokey.
MC: Exactly, but you know the song, you know it’s a cover, but it’s totally their version. I appreciate that.
GM: That’s a perfect example.
MC: And that one thing, their cover of Tears of a Clown, was a large inspiration for the Dirtbombs. They took that song and made it theirs. I figured I could do that to, couldn’t I? Let’s find out.
GM: Yeah, damn right. With all of these attempts at concepts or strange covers, are these, in your mind, taking risks or are you just having fun doing what you want and not even noticing if they are risks?
MC: I don’t think of them as risks. Everybody else thinks of them as risks because they think of us as doing one kind of thing. So if you view us from inside that box then, yes, we are taking all sorts of risks with all sorts of strange things. But the minute you take the box away, then we’re a band just making music. When I formed the Dirtbombs I deliberately made a band that would be hard to categorize. I went out of my way to make a band that was hard to categorize. So people who want to categorize us get really upset when I do something else with the Dirtbombs that doesn’t fit that category.
GM: I just wish more bands were doing something as strange as making a techno covers album or picking odd songs to cover. Most bands just aren’t that inventive, so that’s why they seem like risks because no one else is trying these things.
MC: Right. It’s strange. You would think with the availability of recording technology right now, where you can sit in your basement and do anything, why would you sound like every other band out there?
GM: Maybe they aren’t risks at all. Maybe you just have a unique sensibility that no one else would even bother to try.
MC: (Laughter) You’re probably right.
GM: Is there another era of music history you wish for the band to mess around with at some point?
MC: Well, I’ll tell ya, the next Dirtbombs album, which is due out 12 months from last week, is…It’s all originals, number one, and it’s a bubble-gum record.
GM: Really?! I was researching old interviews last night and I found one from when you were promoting the previous album and you were promising a bubble-gum record is coming.
MC: I’m already recording it.
GM: Damn, 2012 is going to rock.