Thirty years after guest-starring in an episode of Miami Vice — in which he played con man "Phil the Shill" — Phil Collins now calls the Magic City home. Following his two sons who attended school in South Florida, Collins bought a home here last August and is hoping to give back to the community with his first live performance in five years, with proceeds going to the Little Dreams Foundation to benefit young musicians, artists, and athletes.
Collins, the singer/drummer who has sold more than 100 million records with hits such as "In the Air Tonight" and "Sussudio," was open and good-humored during his conversation with New Times. For the first time, he spoke about the cause behind the last-minute cancellation of his 2014 Miami performance while assuring us this year's show will go on without any hiccups. Healthy for the first time in years and working on an autobiography, Collins has ambitions to record new music, which has both delighted fans and sparked some absurd crowdfunding efforts to keep him in retirement. But no amount of money can stop Collins from doing what he loves. Like it or not, against all odds, at least for one more night, Phil Collins is back. And he can't stop loving you.
Phil Collins: I started playing drums when I was 5, so that's 60 years ago. If you say that quickly, it doesn't sound so bad [laughs]. Back then, I wasn't aware of individual stars. I used to play along to my brother's and sister's records. By the time I was 12 or 13, the Beatles were starting, so then it was no contest.
You got to be an extra in the Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night. What was that like?
The Beatles were at one of their peaks. '64 it came out, so I was in drum school. I got sent down with some other friends to a theater in London. We didn't know what we were there for. We just turned up, sat down, and I saw Ringo's drum kit, so I knew something was different. All four came onstage, and they filmed our reaction. It was great fun to be part of that. Walter Shenson, a producer, contacted me on the 30th anniversary, and they wanted to do a making of. I'm on the DVD talking about it, and they gave me some outtakes, and I found me ’cause I'm sitting there listening while everybody else was screaming.
Was there ever a time during the height of your fame where it felt like Beatlemania?
No. Never like that. God no. That was the golden era. The Beatles were something we'll never see again. I had a lot of success. There was Live Aid. I'm just doing a book right now, an autobiography, so I'm kind of reliving or revisiting those periods. Yeah, it was crazy. Yes, I had fantastic success, but Beatlemania was something special no one will ever see again.
Reliving those memories with your autobiography and remastering your solo records — is there a certain album or song that connects with you now?
Every time I go on tour, I listen to these records to see if there's any songs we can do live to add something new to the show. I've found albums like Hello, I Must Be Going!, which looking back on I've always put in a corner and not really liked. This time I found there was good stuff, so sometimes that is a pleasant surprise. There's always going to be things you're not proud of or things that aren't as good as if you'd done them now. The reissues thing is great. I'm working hard on the third set, which is coming out soon, then a fourth set, then a triple album of singles.
You starred in movies and gave great comedic performances in some of your videos. Was there a reason you stopped acting?
I enjoyed it very much. I did Miami Vice, and that led to the two films. I did Buster and an Australian film called Frauds, which is better, but it didn't get much promotion. When I moved to Switzerland, I was so happy to be at home with Orianne, I kind of turned my back on something I didn't have the time for. If something came along now, maybe I'd do it, but I prefer to be home with the kids.
You live in Miami now. How has the city influenced you?
Not yet. I've only been here since August, but I like it. Obviously, for an Englishman, the weather is great. Nice to be able to come out in the daytime and not get rained on. Everyone has been very nice to me here. I don't go out that much, but it's obviously a vibrant place. It has changed unbelievably since that week I spent here filming Miami Vice. I keep going around trying to find locations where we filmed, but you can't since it has changed so much.
Are you working on new music?
I've got some things, but not a lot. I have a lot of bits that are waiting to be developed. What I've got to do is get off my ass and do it. I've got a little studio here, but I'm kind of involved in book plans at the moment, so I use that as an excuse for not writing any music. One day I'll run out of excuses, but the trouble is the longer you leave it, the bigger the job has to be to start doing it. It's a strange kind of process to go to the studio — you start fooling around, and if something happens, something happens. But you have to get over those couple of days where nothing happened. The fear of doing that is something I have to get over, but I'm going to play, and my boys Matthew and Nicholas are very enthusiastic about it.
Have your sons introduced you to any music you've enjoyed?
Nick is very into the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so he keeps trying to convince me they're great. The two bands they play a lot in my car are
At last year's gala, you weren't able to play. You never explained exactly why.
It was... I don't know, a little bit of stage fright. I don't know. I lost my voice when we did the sound check. I rehearsed the day before, and I wasn't in great voice, but I thought it would get better. I went to sound check, and I just couldn't sing. Sometimes that is psychosomatic or you're scared. I have no doubt this year. This concert, I'm going to deliver the goods. I felt terrible about last year. I've only canceled maybe half a dozen shows in my entire career. The 2014 gala was one of them. I don't know what it was. I was weak. There were a lot of health issues that are now past me. The only thing wrong with me now is as a result of back surgery — my right foot is numb. I have to wait for the nerves to regenerate. I'm fine now. I can't tell you what exactly was wrong last year, but it was voice-related. I just couldn't sing.
All your fans will be glad to hear you're feeling a lot better.
People have been really supportive. I know because of the last concert people have been a little skeptical. But I'm definitely there. I've got everybody flying in for a week of rehearsal, and I'm going to put on a great show.
Second-Annual Little Dreams Foundation Benefit GalaWith Phil Collins. 8 p.m. Friday, March 11, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; fillmoremb.com. Tickets cost $153 to $378 plus fees via livenation.com.