- 19 Jan 21
Following the release of his acclaimed solo album, Becoming Human, Simon Collins discusses moving to Ireland; the state of prog rock; and the influence of his father, Phil Collins, and Genesis. Photo: Only1AndyWright.
After a turbulent decade for Simon Collins, the genre-blending multi-instrumentalist reemerged in late 2020 with Becoming Human – one of the most lauded and experimental albums of his career. Drawing inspiration from his passion for cosmology and astronomy ("Carl Sagan’s my hero – I’ve got a quote from him tattooed on my arm," he tells me), the album fearlessly delves into his remarkable journey of personal transformation and healing.
“It took me a couple of years to make,” Simon says of Becoming Human, speaking down the line from his home studio in Ireland, where he recently relocated. “It was born out of some tumultuous times – coming out of divorce, and coming out of the aftermath of the band [Sound of Contact] breaking up. I was not in the greatest place. So, writing the album was quite cathartic for me. I was really just flushing out all the negative energy and the angst.”
As he confronts his demons on Becoming Human, Simon also opens up about his experiences with drug abuse.
"My ongoing battle with addiction has forced me to look at myself, and it has forced me to change – changing for the better, and returning to myself," he notes. "It's important to be honest about who you are in life, and in your music. The last thing you should be doing is pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. Especially if you’re doing a solo project. With Sound of Contact, our album was a work of fiction – about a travelling Dimensionaut. But this is about me – who I am and where I’m at.
"I’ve always been honest about my struggles in life with addiction," he continues. "That’s important, because a lot of people resonate with that. I’m not the only person in the world who’s been through those things. So it’s also a way to connect with my audience."
Shortly before wrapping up work on the project with producer Robbie Bronnimann, Simon moved to Ireland with his mother, Andrea Bertorelli.
"My mom was ill," he explains. "She needed to live in a more rural setting, and to get away from the rat race. The countryside in rural England is beautiful, but it's actually quite an overpopulated country, I'd say. She really wanted to get out to the sticks – so we're in Middle Earth out here! The move was really about supporting my mom through some hard times. But she's much better now, which is great."
His family ties are also intrinsically interwoven into his music – which draws from both electronica and the progressive rock sound he was introduced to by his father, Phil Collins.
"I grew up on tour with Genesis, so I had a very early introduction to progressive rock," he says. "I knew what I wanted to do by the time I was 10. I knew I wanted to keep doing music."
"Genesis had a deep impact on my life," he adds. "Growing up around such amazing musicians, and such kind and lovely people, definitely got me in the mood for prog. When I was eight years old, my dad bought me a drum kit for my birthday. And that was the beginning of it all. He started throwing me albums to play to – Pink Floyd, Yes, and bands like that. The earliest part of my musical education was progressive rock. I was learning how to play all those difficult time signatures. Even if I didn’t know how to count them, or know specifically what they were, I knew how to play by ear. Prog rock is definitely at the root of most of my music."
While he praises modern acts like Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, Riverside and Big Big Train, Simon also notes the importance of ensuring that progressive rock is "actually progressing".
"I always thought that it was quite ironic, that a lot of the progressive rock bands out there were lost in nostalgia, to the point where it doesn’t sound progressive it all," he laughs. "It just sounds like they’re replicating some 1970s band. There’s a way to balance having a bit of nostalgia, but also keeping the genre evolving. The word progressive is in the name of the genre – it should be progressive!"
As he continues to develop his own unique approach to modern prog rock, Simon reveals that he hasn't been resting on his laurels since the release of Becoming Human...
"I’ve formed a new band actually," he tells me. "It's a duo with the guitar player from Sound of Contact, Kelly Avril Nordstrom. He and I have been working together for about 16 years. We both left Sound of Contact at the same time – we just had to make a move. Right now we’re working on our debut album, which is going to be a double concept album. We've got Robbie Bronnimann coming in to produce it, and it's going to be a really futuristic-sound, dark, existential, progressive-sound album. I'm really looking forward to it."
Listen to Becoming Human below: