Power-pop hero Paul Collins remembers his teen years, four decades ago, as if they were yesterday. His family had settled in New York City after stints in Europe and Vietnam, and he was accepted to Juilliard's prestigious music program. Before long, he and his band, the Nerves, trekked to California, where their breezy sound blazed a trail for pop-loving rockers.
Today, Collins carries on, bolstered by time-tested wisdom, a modest dose of fame and a concert-booking project known as the Beat Army. I spoke with him ahead of his Jan. 26 show at the Frequency.
What shaped your listening habits as a kid?
Growing up in New York, I was heavily influenced by AM radio. That's how I got into pop music, especially the sunny, melodic kind with great guitar licks - the California sound.
You live in New York now. Is it tough to create that California sound when there are no surfboards in sight?
My last album, King of Power Pop, was a conscious effort to get back to my roots. After taking a close look at where I come from musically, I think I can create that sound anywhere. Actually, being away from California has helped. I was in L.A. at the height of the whole cocaine-and-limousine era, when people were very competitive and you couldn't do much without a major label. These days, small labels are where it's at, and most are run by people who genuinely love music. The music industry is like a huge tree that's fallen and decaying. The most visible part is a mess, but all of these beautiful things have grown out of the rot.
How does the Beat Army help cultivate these beautiful things?
The Beat Army grew out of my Facebook page. It's an effort to bring power-pop fans together and show venues that there's a huge audience for this kind of music. Most of the time, we get 100 paid fans to the show, and we keep the ticket prices affordable so anyone can enjoy the music. It keeps power pop alive and helps the bands record and tour.