Ten years ago, Michael Collins of the band Drugdealer was just beginning to become a musician. With no formal training or even much knowledge, he took what little he knew of music and over time turned that into his current project Drugdealer. In a short span of time, the band has received critical acclaim and garnered plenty of praise from anyone who’s seen them perform. We sat down with Collins to discuss how it all began, what makes him collaborate with certain artists, and what he has planned for the future of this project.
The story of how Collins went from being in art school to fronting a band is an intriguing one, and one of the reasons we wanted to chat with him about this band. Starting a band isn’t a new concept, but starting one with no concept of what that means is something else. “I was in an art school in Baltimore called MICA and I wanted to be a filmmaker. When I realized that wasn’t the right school, or really any school wasn’t right for narrative film making, I noticed that everyone I met was making music. The Baltimore scene then was unique, it was made up of all these people making avant-garde music. There was something about their community that was more viable than the fine arts world. It inspired me, and between 2006 to 2012, the Baltimore scene was wild and knowing people in this insular community that was on fire was great. When I got into it, I would later realize that how most people get into music wouldn’t be as transgressive. But I wasn’t into pop music, so I came at it differently and I just made noise and sounds as music over making traditional music. After a while, I thought it’d be cool to learn how to actually write songs.
“I’ve always skated and skateboarding and skaters have always been my friends. That world inspired me to do so many great things, the cultural identity of skating has lead to so much. I was really only into literature and skating, and never really into music. The last eleven years I’ve been making music is half of the time I’ve spent skating. So much of music is introverted, and I’m about the sunshine and being out. Being creative can be arduous for me, there’s no framework for release for me. I’m someone who’s obsessed with other stuff than music, so skating is a thing that is important because it takes me out of my creative head,” remarks Collins.
The debut release from Drugdealer, The End Of Comedy is sunny and full of collaborations. Staying in the vein of doing things differently, the album which took three years to make is full of collaborations over a band as far as how the songs and the writing goes. “I’ve never had a plan at all. The thing about collaborating for me is that I might have a keen ear or an eye for something, but I wasn’t a good enough musician. all of the collaborators on the first record are so good at what they do, and by working with them, it made me better.
On their new album Raw Honey, Drugdealer fleshes further into lapses of pop over time to craft an album that feels like it could’ve been recorded thirty or forty years ago, while still bringing in some of the same collaborators from the previous album to create something new. When digging through the release, it’s interesting to see what the plan was and what Collins was listening to when writing it. “I’m very influenced by information, obviously listening to The Beatles, Hall and Oates and 10cc. Stuff like that was what I was listening to, though people keep bring up this “laurel Canyon scene” thing, which is whatever,” says the songwriter.
One of his frequent collaborators, Natalie Merring of Weyes Blood returns on the song “Honey” and it creates a sound that feelslike the two were made for one another. With such a big voice, it’s hard to know if Merring is easy or difficult to write a song for, because her vocals create their own attentive space. “It’s not difficult with her, I’ve known her since I started in Baltimore. She inspired me to write and to try to get better at it. I work on music for so long, toss a lot to other people or toss them away. But after a while I’ll have a song so good that it feels like she’s the only person who can sing it, and she’ll do better at it than I ever could. I showed her “Honey” and she liked it so we did it,” replies Collins.
The last time Drugdealer toured, it was between starting out and becoming more of a better known name. With their shows getting into bigger and bigger spaces, it’s curious to know if Collins ever saw the band gaining as much traction as they have in such a short time frame. “Yeah, I did. I mean, I have a very strong opinion about what I make and I’m in a small or less contingent part of the world in liking what I make. I’m not surprised only because I write hundreds of things and only release ten or so at a time. Having talented friends telling me what’s good and what isn’t helps a lot, knowing what I like and trusting my collaborators all goes a long way There’s good songwriting out there if you wanna’ find it, and I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought it would fail. If the songs are as good as I think they are, then anyone should be able to sing them, which is something I’ve considered making a side project. My next record I think is my best work to date. On the first record I think I was keeping things subversively janky, and my next record is more subversive than this newest one. I do things my own way and I’ve found that when you follow your own compass, you never leave the conversation.”
The debut album and Raw Honey are both available to stream wherever you stream music, they can be purchased in all digital music stores and Raw Honey is available on multiple formats directly from Mexican Summer. Drugdealer is on tour July 10 in Sante Fe, NM at Meow Wolf until October 31 through November 02 in Paris, France at Pitchfork Festival France. A complete list of their tour dates can be accessed here.
Image Credits: Photo by Raymond Molinar.