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Young Mike
Young Mike

Mike Collins of Rooftop Screamers : A new album / Q&A

BY ANA AMMANN // Portland, OR-based drummer and songwriter Mike Collins took socially distancing to the “Next Level” this past year, releasing an album’s worth of new material for his studio project Rooftop Screamers. The who’s who roster of guest artists includes The Fixx’s Cy Curnin on the 80’s inspired, “Shifting Tides.”

Three years following the release of his first Rooftop Screamers album, Volume 1, drummer/songwriter Mike Collins is back with Next Level, his second collection of power-pop ballads and eclectic collaborations headlined by a variety of impressive artists including: Cy Curnin (The Fixx), Tim Smith (Jellyfish, Sheryl Crow), Earl Slick (David Bowie, John Lennon), Mark Plati (David Bowie, Prince, The Cure), David Paton (Pilot, Alan Parsons Project), Danny Peyronel (UFO), Keith Slettedahl (The 88, Ray Davies), Dan Reed (The Dan Reed Network), Ken Stringfellow (The Posies, R.E.M.) Dilana (Rockstar Supernova, The Voice), Kelly LeMieux (Buckcherry), Gil Assayas (Todd Rundgren) and Stephanie Scheiderman.

A central figure in the Pacific Northwest music scene with an impressive resume of artists he has shared the stage with, I wanted to know a bit more about the man behind the kit.  

This is what he had to share about his journey in our Q&A…

Mike, where did you grow up and how did you make your way to Portland?

I was born on the Army base in Ft. Lewis, WA. My dad was stationed there. When I was three months old, he shipped off to Vietnam. Unfortunately, he was killed in action three months later. So, my mom and I moved to Altadena, California and lived with my grandparents (his parents) until I was about two years old. Then my mom and I moved to Beaverton, OR which was her hometown before moving to Ft. Lewis with my dad.

What a challenge that must have been for you and your mother, so young.  I think you were quite young when you took to drumming. What inspired you to pick up the sticks?

I have a photo of me as a baby playing a set of drums when my mom and I were living in California. It belonged to a neighbor of my grandparents. In the photo I have a smile from ear to ear! There's no doubt that moment is what planted the seed. Years later, my grandparents moved to Sacramento and as luck would have it, the neighbor across the street from them had a drum set! So, I guess I was destined to play.

Not too long after that I discovered KISS and I guess you could say Peter Criss was my first drum hero and influenced my rockstar drummer aspirations. When my fascination for KISS started to wane, I then discovered drummers like John Bonham, Tommy Aldridge, Cozy Powell, Bun E. Carlos, Steve Gadd, and the list goes on…

Is the life of a professional drummer what you hoped it would be?

Yes and no. I don't have the gold and platinum albums and memories of sold-out world tours I envisioned as a teenage rocker, but I would say that I'm very happy and proud of the moments I cherish from the past 35 years behind the kit. I've played with such diverse artists. I've gotten to work with some legendary musicians and producers as well. And I've learned invaluable knowledge from each and every one of them. I feel lucky to be on the short list of drummers in the Pacific Northwest that gets the call when they need a solid and experienced drummer to perform and/or record with.

How many bands are you performing in now?

Ants in the Kitchen, Metts Ryan & Collins and Andrew Paul Woodworth are my main drumming gigs. Rooftop Screamers is mostly a recording project (for now). It's an opportunity to collaborate with different people in the studio and showcase my songwriting. I do the occasional gun for hire gigs and perform and/or record with lots of other artists as well. Recently I was hired to play some shows with Nashville guitarist, Scott Holt – an amazing blues guitarist and songwriter that spent 10 years as Buddy Guy's guitarist. It's fun and exciting to play with a variety of people and within different genres of music.

In what ways did the pandemic influence your songwriting and creativity?

Since there were no rehearsals or live shows, it enabled me to spend more time finishing songs I was already working on and gave me more time to work on new material as well. It's definitely been a silver lining during the shutdown and allowed me to dig a little deeper into the creative process.

What was your biggest challenge recording an album during this time?

I guess wearing masks and socially distancing during the local recording sessions had its challenges. I typically record the drums first and then bring in local musicians to add their parts. But in the case of the latest album Next Level, a lot of the tracking was done in home studios owned by the musicians and singers involved in the recording. Especially the ones living out of state or in different countries. For example, on the song "Tearin' It Down", Dilana recorded her vocals in Holland. Earl Slick recorded his guitar parts in New York. Danny Peyronel recorded his keyboard parts in France. Other guest artists such as David Paton recorded his vocals in Scotland. Dan Reed recorded his parts in Prague. Tim Smith in Georgia, etc. So there wasn't much close contact with a bulk of the guests on the album. Once they record their parts, they email the tracks to me and whoever is mixing the song (in most cases my good friend Kevin Hahn) takes all the tracks and mixes them together. And although we may not have been in the studio together, the end result sounds cohesive and the energy is definitely there.

How did your collaboration with Cy Curnin of The Fixx come about?

Well, I reached out to him and...’one thing led to another...’ Ok,  I couldn't resist the pun! 😉 But seriously, I just reached out to him on Facebook as well as his official website. I introduced myself and told him I had a song that I would love for him to sing on and if that sounded like something he'd be interested and willing to do, I would send him the demo of the song. He got right back to me and said to send the demo. A few days later he said he'd love to do it! It was an honor to work with him, as I've been a huge fan since The Fixx emerged on the scene in the early 80's. And he did an amazing job on the song! He really made it his own. And I have to give credit to Mark Plati (David Bowie, The Cure, Prince) who masterfully recorded all the guitar, bass and keyboard parts as well as producing and mixing the song.

For the other tracks that feature guests, how do you decide who you will reach out to collaborate with, or do you write the track with the individual in mind?

I never write with a voice in mind. But once the song starts to take shape and I've recorded a demo of it, I can sort of hear in my head the kind of voice that would be right for the song. Whether it's a male or female, or whether it's a clean sounding voice or maybe a raspier sounding voice. I don't write in just one genre, so it's fun to mix it up and find the right personality for each song.

You have had the opportunity to collaborate with so many incredible local and legendary musicians, if you could choose any artist – dead or alive – to record a song with, who would you choose and why?

That's a tough question! I'll choose one of each. Dead, I would probably go with Freddie Mercury. To have that voice on a song of mine would be incredible. He is one of my top five favorite singers of all-time and I think it would be a blast to spend some time in his world and create something together.

Alive, I might have to go with Neil Finn. His songwriting is a huge influence on me and to be able to pick his brain and have him add some of his magic to an idea of mine would be a dream come true. A couple people I've worked with have worked with him, so it might be a possibility.     

Neil, if you're listening, let's talk!

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Check out Next Level by Rooftop Screamers on Bandcamp.


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Brent Angelo

Mike is a great drummer and cool guy. Cool seeing him do this interview. What an awesome project and interesting all that are involved.

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