Drugdealer and His Merry Band of Skaters

Drugdealer and His Merry Band of Skaters Photo by Joe McMurray

We first spoke with Mike Collins some years ago. He was still finding his way back then, producing music under the name of Salvia Plath — one of many punny monikers he’s recorded under throughout the years. In 2016, Collins unveiled Drugdealer, and with that new name came the kaleidoscopic glory of his latest album, The End of Comedy.

With its roots in the psych-folk melodies of the ‘60s and ‘70s, The End of Comedy is a vivid, dreamy record with guest appearances by the likes of Mac DeMarco, Weyes Blood, and Ariel Pink. Listening through feels like settling into an endless reverie; indulging in a swirling reprieve from life’s troubles. The record received a quiet flurry of love when it was first released — and Collins has been able to maintain the project’s popularity even as he’s taken his time recording a follow-up. “The response has been steady, even though it came out so long ago,” Collins tells me over the phone, “I feel like people are still finding out about it, all the time.”

The Los Angeles-based musician has been hard at work with a band made up of (mostly) skaters that he affectionately calls his “unofficial super-group.” We caught up with Collins to hear about what he’s been up to with his new band, his love of skating, and his pursuit of filmmaking. Read up below, and be sure to grab tickets to his show at Market Hotel tomorrow, August 11.

You’re a skater. How has being a skateboarder influenced your ethos, whether on music or in life more generally?

When I was younger, I wasn’t musical. There was a piano in the house, but my parents didn’t really play music. They largely listened to talk radio. It just wasn’t really a part of my life and didn’t care about music very much— I cared more about authors and movies and skateboarding, which was my first main love when I was about 8-years-old. The way I got into music was actually through skating.

When you’re a skateboarder, you’re extremely obsessive. You repeatedly watch videos of a skater you like. We would loop the same section manually on VHS. I never really realized it, but these repeat viewings of those skateboard parts meant that I was just listening to the same songs over and over again. And the music is almost more important than the skating: It says a lot about that skater’s worldview. I’d watch these videos and I’d be like, “Oh I like this part and I like this one,” but what I didn’t realize was that I really was just like, “Oh, I love this music.”

I had never really been a music fan before that. When it hit me was when I badly broke my ankle when I was 17. I was immobile for awhile. If you talk to a lot of people, this is usually the story — with a lot of young musicians that I know, they were once skateboarders that either just weren’t good enough or got really hurt, and they started making music instead. I sort of gave up on skating for many years after that, but I got back into it when I moved back to L.A. properly about four years ago. The thing that I find interesting is that I was influenced by a lot of this music that these skaters chose and I think that my music has started to reach some of them. It’s sort of been like an echo chamber, them reaching out to me and being like, “Oh I like this,” and realizing that their taste-making was partially an influence to it in the first place.

I don’t know if that’s a good answer to your question, but I just think that the community of skateboarding is a lot like the community of art — it’s complicated and everybody is sort of pushing off each other. The last thing I’ll say about it, is that it allows me to not be concerned with the music industry, which is a total godsend. I don’t think I could really be working on the music that I am right now without having this other outlet that takes me away from it. And I think that that’s a big part of why I love it so much.

Has your musical work ever overlapped with other skaters? Who are some of those people, if so?

Danny Garcia came up to me and told me, “I like your album,” and I was like “I’m a huge fan of your skating,” and slowly I basically begged him to be my friend. I realized he was a really, really talented musician and he started playing guitar with me. And then through that, I met a handful of skateboarders that I related to, having watched them as a little kid. He’s not playing with me anymore, but an equally legendary, amazing skater joined my band named Kenny Anderson. He’s played trumpet his whole life and nobody even knew that he played. Recently he started playing with me and kind of began promoting it, and a lot of people in the skate world are just really perplexed and excited about it.

It’s been almost two years since you released The End of Comedy. How do you combat the pressures of the industry to put out new work?

It’s a really hard industry. I think of one of my friend’s Juan Wauters’ lyrics that kind of explains my perspective on it: “There’s one horse and twenty riders, only one of them gets to ride it.” I feel like there’s so many talented people doing music, but because of the nature of oversaturation today, it’s really hard for anybody to see you in a lot of cases.

With me, I’ve always felt like there are tons of things I wanted to do beside music. I think that that has afforded me some level of levity when I’m creating an album. Because of that mindset, I can make a song and start working on something unrelated to an album. So then you have something like The End of Comedy that was recorded intermittently over the course of four years.

I think that a lot of people today are also worried about their visibility, especially with social media. Obviously it’s important to be aware of those things, but my whole philosophy is that it’s all about the content and you can’t really control much else except your work. So, for me, I don’t know if I do a good or bad job staying relevant, but I do think that I connect with the music I’m making with my band. The only pressure that I feel is for it to be true.

You’ve been doing plenty of live shows since The End of Comedy was released. Do you find yourself leaning towards live performance more rather than recording time?

For a long time, I didn’t feel good about performing. I really didn’t have a band and I didn’t play shows. I sort of thought that that was for other people. Since then, I’ve had so many iterations of people trying to help me play live; everyone who has helped me has truly been instrumental towards figuring it out. The band I have now is kind of more like a consolidated group of friends from different parts of my life, and everything has just sort of come together into something that really works. Everyone that I’m playing with right now has an amazing musical project themselves that’s either known or completely unknown. So it sort of feels like an unofficial supergroup. And I feel really, really humbled that this group of friends are so talented and that they want to play with me. On The End of Comedy, I sort of just collaged a bunch of performances together, so this is the first time I’ve had a group where I really like the sound of all the people playing together.

And the last thing I’ll say: it’s just a band of really nice guys. I was saying this the other day, I feel like I’m the most emotionally disturbed person in the band. And everyone else in the band is just a fan of each other — either of a fan of their skate career or their music career. Everyone is always just so complimentary to each other. It’s like social hour. So I just feel really lucky; there’s something kind of special happening at our shows.

We talked earlier about the pressures of the industry, and you mentioned music is not your only creative pursuit. What else are you interested in?

Filmmaking. I first started making music when I was in college, but since I was very young, about 8 or 9, I would tell everyone that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was sort of a little shit in that way.

I want to keep doing music, but there were a couple of times where I was frustrated with the music industry and I’ve said a few times to my close friends that I was done and that I was going to focus on just making films. But now I’ve sort of found a really happy place in music, so I’m just enjoying it and working on film ideas. The only film that I’ve started is a huge documentary project — and at one point I spent all the money that I had making it. I can’t really give too much away, but it’s a sprawling project that has to do with mental illness. It took so much out of me that I started to feel like I was losing touch a little bit with everything I knew to be my life. So I had to stop that — now it’s on hiatus.

There’s another project that’s also an experimental non-fiction film that I’m working on, that has to do with people’s data and privacy, and the conversation about the apathy towards even having an opinion about your own privacy now. I haven’t filmed anything, but it’s a film that largely is comprised of audio that already exists, so I’ve been putting everything together on the audio side. When this album is done, I have to put together actors to represent it visually. So that’s it, and that’s all really inspiring to me. Obviously it’s kind of hard to balance the two, and the film stuff is really ambitious, but I have no rush in that. It just gives me a lot of hope.

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