Gerald Collier – Pow! Right in the Kisser
It takes all of two minutes for Gerald Collier to set the mood of his self-titled Revolution debut. In perfect step with the rise-crescendo-and-fall construction that gives “Dark Days” both its barbed hook and its grand sweep, he sings: “You let me know that you wish that I/had never been born/And with the strength left in your hands/I’m torn apart.” The crescendo bursts at the exact moment he adds, “at the see-eee-eams,” wringing the final word for all it’s worth before letting loose the anguished exclamation, “Somehow it’s my fault you have no dreams.” What a statement. What a chorus.
The Seattle-based singer-songwriter knows a thing or two about dark days. Asked about the nature of a recent batch of songs penned during the Christmas holidays, Collier minces few words. “Let’s put it this way,” he says, “if there was a tablet of paper on one side, a handgun on the other, and the keys to the car in the middle, I was either gonna stay there and write, or I was gonna take care of some business. Luckily, I kept myself busy, and I was all right.”
Collier’s latest is the follow-up to I Had To Laugh Like Hell (C/Z), the warmly received 1996 album which recast the former frontman of Seattle-via-Phoenix rockers The Best Kissers In The World as a darkly introspective solo artist. With acoustic guitar, pedal steel and violin, Had To Laugh wove a somber musical spell; coupled with Collier’s world-weary lyrics, the result was something he calls “3 a.m. music.” While the new record is kindred in spirit, the hands on the watch have definitely moved.
“The C/Z record was so quiet,” he explains. “There was a certain amount of wanting to do something completely opposite, to show right off the bat, between two records, how divergent the music could be. I didn’t want to repeat myself at any cost.” Collier had also forged a tight connection to the band (guitarist Bill Bernhard, bassist Jeff Wood and drummer John Fleischman) he assembled to tour behind Had To Laugh . “When the decision was made to use the band on the record,” he says, “the decision to go full-tilt was also made.”
He credits producers Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade (Radiohead, Morphine, Uncle Tupelo) with helping to achieve that expansiveness, and then some. “When we got there, they wanted to go ape-shit crazy with it. They didn’t want to make a ‘3 a.m. record,’ but what they didn’t know is that I didn’t either.” The result is big, Collier happily admits, but it “could have been through the roof,” had Kolderie and Slade not exercised self-restraint. “When you’re [used to] mixing Radiohead,” he adds, “that’s about as lush as it gets.”
The shift in musical scope between the two records is heard most distinctly in the tracks they share. Collier recorded four songs — “Whored Out Again”, “To Break The Ice”, “Rumpled Up” and “God Never Lived In My Neighborhood” — for both. “Rumpled Up”, a plaintive, tender refrain on Had To Laugh, is now a catchy, guitar-driven blast that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Matthew Sweet or Freedy Johnston album.
Those four songs give the new record some needed uptempo material. “What do we have that goes like this?” he recalls with a few snaps of his fingers. “‘Cause I’m telling you, people are going to be drawing chalk lines around themselves if we don’t get something up here that moves, folks.” Collier freely admits his record company was pleased with the choice, then makes a classic Freudian slip when asked what song might be headed to radio.
“They wanted to wait until they got the finished problem…’finished problem,'” he repeats with a hearty laugh, “before they decided what do with it.” An initial suggestion of “Whored Out Again” may give way to the somewhat surprising choice of “Fearless”, Collier’s striking reinterpretation of the Pink Floyd classic from Meddle. “They thought I would lose my mind if they released a cover,” he says. “But some people do covers well. What the hell’s wrong with that?”
Pragmatism, it would seem, is one of Collier’s strengths, and perhaps a direct result of having done it all before. In lieu of rehashing the record-company woes he experienced with Best Kissers, Collier says only, “Never sign to a record label that ends in ‘CA’.” It is somewhat surprising then, when he explains the huge influence his current A&R rep had on his new record.
“I’ve had it the other way around,” Collier says adamantly. “The reason I went there is because I knew Missy [Worth] was going to fight tooth-and-nail for what she wanted, I was going to fight for what I wanted, and nobody was going to get pissed off at the argument. I don’t want to be left to my own devices — that’s how I got this fucked up. I want some direction. I want somebody outside that I trust and who can say, ‘Gerald, this just isn’t your best work. Try again’.”