Simon Collins and Dave Kerzner Interview: Phil Collins' Son Carries the Progressive Rock Torch with Sound of Contact
Image attributed to Will Ireland
British-based progressive rock band Sound of Contact featuring Simon Collins and Dave Kerzner released their debut concept album, Dimensionaut, May 28, 2013. Dimensionaut is about a man who has the ability to travel through space, time and alternate realities and yet struggles with his desire to keep a sense of grounded reality on Earth, with each song an episode and sub-story within the larger contact of the 72-minute album.
Sound of Contact is the brainchild of Collins (son of Phil, former drummer and vocalist for Genesis) and keyboardist Dave Kerzner who founded the sound development company Sonic Reality in 1996, which focuses on the sampling of every type of musical instrument from vintage keyboards to drums to orchestral and world instruments.
"Right off the top, I’m really just extremely grateful and feel blessed to have grown up around such amazing music, amazing people and amazing musicians. From a very small age, my musical education included obviously Genesis, but firsthand being introduced to music of Pink Floyd, Yes and others and going to those concerts. I was very close with Chester Thompson and the guys in the band, and they’re all very supportive apart from growing up on tour and having the experience of seeing the world and being deeply impacted by that music in my own way."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Simon and Dave, “Keep it Dark,” is my favorite Genesis tune. I have a feeling that song had something to do with the two of you founding Sound of Contact.
Simon Collins: Well, yeah. Oddly enough, we both met at the Genesis rehearsals in New York City in 2006. They were rehearsing for their reunion tour. I was just there visiting the old man and hanging out with the band. Dave was there representing Sonic Reality (a sound development company he founded) and helping Tony Banks with some sounds. We connected, immediately hit it off and that day, exchanged material.
At that point, I had completed my second solo record, and Dave had a various amount of material he was working on. The next day we saw each other, and we said, “Let’s do something together.” From those conversations stemmed the initial idea to do “Keep it Dark.” That’s when we really got a chance to work together as producers, and that’s really how it all started.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When did you and Dave get the idea to form Sound of Contact?
Simon Collins: From “Keep it Dark,” we knew we wanted to work together. I was just about to get back to the studio and record my third studio album, U-Catastrophe, and once again, we met up and worked together. Dave contributed various keyboards and sound design, but we also co-wrote “The Big Bang,” with producer Kevin Churko, which featured that drum battle with my father and me.
By that point, we were really saying, “Okay. We should do something.” I’d been working with two other fellows, Matt Dorsey and Kelly Nordstrom on some solo stuff, so during some of those sessions, we started jamming and the four of us realized it was just the right time to come together and do something. That was in 2010.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who came up with the name Sound of Contact?
Simon Collins: That was a group effort after many deep, philosophical discussions (laughs). We really had a lot of fun with it and made sure it was something that had various meanings and would be more universal. We’re all people inspired by science fiction and space.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Dave, you began your musical career at an early age. You were interested in keyboards in the beginning?
Dave Kerzner: Yeah. Actually I was interested in everything at first, but I had taken piano lessons in sort of an uncool way, very stiff, classical lessons. Classical was great, but the lessons were very basic, and it was boring. Then I wanted to be some sort of guitar hero or drummer, but I saw a video with Tony Banks in Genesis with keyboards all around him and actually that and a few other things like it sort of clicked.
I said, “Wow. I think that would be cool.” I could see myself surrounded by keyboards, and of course, now I’m immersed with them. I definitely love being a keyboard player, but both Simon and I love playing a variety of instruments and that kind of makes it fun as songwriters too, playing guitar and …
Simon Collins: Playing different instruments. It brings out different influences, depending on what you write on. If you’re writing on guitar, it’s completely different than piano. Anyway, back to Dave.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have any musicians in your family, Dave?
Dave Kerzner: Not at all. No. In fact, what happened was that everybody took piano lessons when I was about seven or eight. One day, I went to my mom and asked, “Do you mind if I quit? I don’t really like the piano lessons.” She said, “No. I want to quit, too.” Everyone quit, so we just had this piano sitting there in our garage playroom, and I just actually started banging on it on my own and making noises, so it started turning into my own little compositions with some chords I had figured out.
After that, I found a teacher who would teach me what I wanted to learn which was great. In imposing on me these things I just didn’t want to learn, I’d pull out a song like “In the Cage” or something classical or whatever it was, and I’d ask, “Can you teach me this?” Or I’d say, “Sit down and play this please. I’ll stop you and ask how you did it.” It was so great and finally later I learned some theory and different things, but to me it became an interesting thing when I could play the music that I liked and learned how to just play by ear and do those certain things as opposed to going the slow and hard way. The love of music is why I continued on.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Interesting. How did you acquire the nickname “Squids”?
Dave Kerzner: (laughs) It’s a long story, but I’ll give you the short one. I play keyboards and have an array of pedals, everything is working at the same time – it’s like an octopus, so Squids … it’s kind of like that, yeah.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why do I get the feeling there’s another meaning (laughs)?
Dave Kerzner: It’s not a meaning (laughs). It’s just a fun word to say. The plural … not even sure if it’s correct. It’s one of those things like “shrimps.” Actually the real story is that I used it as a nickname in a forum once as just a joke because I didn’t want to use my real name. I put “Squids” because I like the word, and then everyone started calling me “Squids” after that in real life. So that was it. That was about 15 years ago.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Funny. Simon, we know that you sort of have a musical family (laughs).
Simon Collins: Fair enough (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What have been the advantages and disadvantages of being Phil Collins’ son?
Simon Collins: Right off the top, I’m really just extremely grateful and feel blessed to have grown up around such amazing music, amazing people and amazing musicians. From a very small age, my musical education included obviously Genesis, but firsthand being introduced to music of Pink Floyd, Yes and others and going to those concerts. I was very close with Chester Thompson and the guys in the band, and they’re all very supportive apart from growing up on tour and having the experience of seeing the world and being deeply impacted by that music in my own way.
Certainly when you’re a kid, you’re a sponge. You absorb everything, and I think that was such a unique perspective to have. By the time I was twelve, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life and most certainly there was a lot of support there. The disadvantages, well, it was tough initially getting into the industry. I remember one thing my dad said to me when I first started out. It was, “The name is certainly going to help get you in the room, but it’s your talent that’s going to keep you in the room.” I always remembered that because I knew what I was getting into.
Personally, I don’t tend to focus on the negatives. It’s just a shame that certain people can’t see past the novelty or past the surface, scratch past the surface of who I am as an artist or get past the name. But it’s par for the course, and it’s something that I just knew if I stayed true to myself and kept my artistic integrity and continue to surround myself with good people that eventually I’d break the mold. I certainly think that’s something we’re achieving with this band. At the end of the day, my dad is just an amazing person, is a loving father and very supportive, and I don’t have a whole lot to complain about (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How is your dad?
Simon Collins: He’s great. He’s doing really well. He’s starting to write again actually and spending more time with family, myself included. I think he’s just enjoying taking a much needed, much deserved break from the insanity of going on tour for years on end. As much as that is his deepest passion as it is mine, it’s important to sit back sometimes and actually enjoy what you’ve achieved and spend some time with family. So that is what’s happening in our camp.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I really love Dimensionaut, guys!
Dave Kerzner: Appreciate that!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Favorites are “Not Coming Down” and “Closer to You.”
Simon Collins: Oh, thank you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me about the band’s songwriting process.
Simon Collins: There are many different stages to our songwriting. We all write individually. When we came into the studio to record, we all came in with quite a large backlog of material. I am in a unique position because I had just finished my solo album, so I was coming in with a whole lot of lyrics and song ideas. But it’s great to be able to bring other people’s songs to life and help refine those.
We all encourage each other to write individually. We also wanted to leave a lot of breathing room, some wiggle room, for us to surprise ourselves and define our sound so that meant jamming a lot in large jam sessions. We recorded everything. That red light was always on. For instance, “Omega Point” is one of those songs that is a good example of a jam session that ended up turning into a full blown song. Apart from the lyrics and the vocals, that was actually the only take of “Omega Point.” We captured it in one go.
Dave Kerzner: As we wrote it.
Simon Collins: Yeah. We wrote it as we recorded it live off the top. That just kind of highlights and affirms the chemistry that we have between us, so there’s a lot of different ways we like to write. It’s an interesting process.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): “Cosmic Distance Ladder” is an instrumental. Is it easier to write a song with no vocals?
Dave Kerzner: We love writing lyrics, so it’s not a bother to us. We take it very seriously and just enjoy it thoroughly. Simon and I have just a great partnership in lyric writing because we are influenced by many of the same things, not just musically, but also science fiction and philosophy, just things we find interesting or funny. So that’s really cool. But with that said, when we’re in the studio and live, what Simon plays will heavily influence what I’ll play and vice versa, same with Matt Dorsey. I think that song is actually a great combination of the four main collaborators on Dimensionaut with Kelly Nordstrom as well, the fourth one, where we just all put in our ideas together. There are obviously a lot of instrumentals, but there are just as many lyrical sections and harmonies and all sorts of things with vocals. We don’t favor one or the other. We just love it all.
Simon Collins: Absolutely. I couldn’t have said it better.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Describe your music for me in your own words.
Simon Collins: We like to call it space rock, but we’d like to think we’re taking progressive rock into the future.
Dave Kerzner: Essentially, categorizing music always has its pitfalls. It’s nothing that usually fits only in one category if it’s progressing toward the future and expanding the styles we hear. But if you had to give it a label, I would call it progressive rock, not so much that it’s retro, although it has that element, but more from the original idea, which is that, it’s progressive, that it’s eclectic, bringing in different stuff.
The original progressive pop rock from the 70s was bringing in classical elements to rock and roll to jazz to folk and different things. Now with the styles that have become sort of since then all rock, ambient, electronic, film scoring styles and the futuristic sound, we like to fuse all of that together to make Sound of Contact, just basically bringing in the elements of music that we like from our influences and mainly what we’re feeling now that just comes out of us naturally. Whatever you want to call that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Simon and Dave, are you a good production team?
Simon Collins: We have a connection. Dave and I are also best friends. We joke about it sometimes and finish each other’s sentences. We’ll be thinking about the same thing at the same time. I’ve never met someone who is just constantly creating either sounds or coming up with song idea lyrics that I just love, almost something I’d want to do myself in some cases if I had the skills on sound design for instance.
Dave compliments everything I do. We bring out the best in each other, so for the most part, we share many of the same influences and inspirations whether it’s listening to classic progressive rock bands or some modern bands, all the way to science fiction, and we love the same films and books. It makes it really conducive to working as a good production team.
Dave Kerzner: Right. Production and collaboration on all levels. On the production side, for this album we also really did have quite a luxurious set of engineers with Chris Holmes and Nick Davis. Nick, as you may know, is also a producer/engineer. He has produced and engineered Genesis and all sorts of bands. He came on to mix the record, and so we really had a deluxe engineer to mix it.
Simon and I really had an amazing team, so everybody played a part. We absolutely had a field day, loved it and look forward to producing more together whether it’s Sound of Contact or other projects.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any ideas for the next album?
Dave Kerzner: Right now our main focus is promoting Dimensionaut, putting together the live show and music videos because we plan to do a music video for every song on the album which is not normally done, but it’s a concept album, and we think big. It’s a cool science fiction story as well as a collection of music. So we’re putting that together, but like Simon mentioned, we are always creating.
We find these times where we have a spark of an idea, and we work on it and chip away at it. We are building for the next album, and we probably have enough material for two more albums.
Simon Collins: Well, Dimensionaut originally was going to be a double album. We just had that much material, but we decided to refine what we had, and of course, we’re extremely happy with what we have now, but there’s a lot of material that’s left over that we’d certainly like to go back to the studio and work on and refine. We’re always writing, and we record everything. We’re planning on releasing another album in the next couple of years.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): On those rare occasions when you’re not working, since you two are close friends, I suppose you also spend social time together?
Simon Collins: The whole band, not just the two of us, are great friends, and we like to hang out and have sushi. We love to have a laugh. With everything we’re doing, we have comedy release moments. We’ll just take a half an hour break and put on Curb Your Enthusiasm …
David Kerzner: (laughs)
Simon Collins: Or Extras or whatever and just have a laugh. Even a joke may come up in the parody version of one of our songs. We have fun. We hang out. We take it easy. We have a lot of down time, so we can just chill out. We’re always in creative mode, though. That’s the thing. A day off to us is brainstorming on some visuals or working on the treatment for the next video. So for us, it’s really a dream scenario where we love what we do, and we enjoy working with each other.
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