I meet Michael Collins, the musical mind behind the psych-pop outfit Drugdealer, at El Prado, a small, dimly lit bar in Los Angeles. Located on the main drag of Echo Park, the place has, in lieu of an entrance sign, a collage of mirror shards and colorful tiles, with Bowie plays on vinyl inside. A well-dressed woman orders a Moscow Mule, only to be rebuffed by the bartender who says, “We only do beer and wine.” Refined yet casual, with a dash of 70s psychedelia and camp, El Prado is the exact place you’d imagine as a hangout for Collins, 31, whose music and general aesthetic falls somewhere between The Eagles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Chicago.
Collins has recently returned from a European tour promoting Drugdealer’s second album, Raw Honey, released through Mexican Summer in April. The Massachusetts native had recently moved to Echo Park from elsewhere in LA. Collins has made records under various pseudonyms (Salvia Plath, Run DMT) but Raw Honey is perhaps his most fully formed, with horns, fun hooks, and cameos from indie friends Weyes Blood and Dougie Poole.
Collins, who orders a pint of IPA from Eagle Rock Brewery on draft, wears a dark navy jacket over a flamboyantly bright red patterned shirt with long, flowing dark hair, a handlebar mustache and a brown cabbie cap. As sunset sets in, the bartender lights some candles as Collins and I discuss his music, psychedelics, and why he loves IPAs.
That’s a nice hat.
I like these hats a lot. But I skateboard pretty heavily and really ruined a good one I had. It bummed me out. I looked for one for over a year here but couldn’t find one. In Manchester, England last month I found a bunch and bought four of them, mostly for free. Two I got from a store where a girl I know works. Someone else from another store said they liked my music and gave one to me. Manchester treats me well.
Inadvertently, through me stealing my dad’s beer, I got a weird taste for bitter beers.”
That was touring Raw Honey?
That album came out a week before we left. We played a show here and one in New York, then left. We were in Europe almost a month but the tour was only two and a half weeks. As a musician, there's this crazy rigamarole: You’re in beautiful places all the time without getting to drink them in. I try to leave extra time on the ends of trips really just to catch my breath before I have to come back. The ideal for me is to plan international tours where I stay for a month after, specifically in places that I’ve never been.
What do you do for fun while touring?
There are two really good skateboarders in my band, Mike Plum (guitar) and Kenny Anderson (trumpet). The tour manager drops us off at a skate spot while the rest of the guys go to the venue, and we try to get footage for a video I’m making. A lot of times on this last tour it felt really wholesome, with the very last ten minutes before we had to get in an Uber to the show just waiting for Kenny to land a trick, and then finally he does and we leave with such high energy that it really makes the show. Tours can be extremely bleak. But when you have something like skateboarding on the side, it actually plays into the energy.
Is this a new band?
I never really had a full band for many years. I just had my best friend Sasha who’d play with me and we’d find people to back us up. Most of those shows were a complete disaster, to the point where I just stopped doing shows. Recently a bunch of my friends who were in other bands all ended their tenures with those bands. For the last year and a half I’ve been lucky enough to have a band that I didn’t really have to work for. It was a great set of circumstances Two of those people just happened to be really good skateboarders; I’m the worst skateboarder in the band but I’m such a skate rat. I wake up and check Thrasher, not Pitchfork—know what I mean? It’s really sick when you have something that you’re equally passionate about as music.
Do you take music as seriously as your other passions?
I take songwriting really seriously but find it hard to take the business side seriously. I try to keep it a bit light. I honestly don’t have energy for PR and all this stuff. I’m on Mexican Summer now. I spend a lot of time on the composition of songs but also just living my life. I really try not to think about music all the time. When I do, I try to super focus on writing songs. All the other stuff I have to really push myself through. One of my best friends, Anna, manages me. She really saves me in a lot of those aspects.
My number one passion is film. Somewhere skateboarding and music are right below that. Being a filmmaker is my number one prerogative most of the time. I spend most of my time skateboarding, trying to get mixed up in fun adventures. I don’t live and breathe music like some other people do in my position. I have a lot of other things on my mind.
What’s your relationship with beer?
I have a long relationship with beer. Growing up outside Boston, my dad used to drink a shitload of Sam Adams Boston Lager. At 16 I was like, “Alright, let’s see what partying is about.” I remember sneaking one of my dad’s beers and just being like, “This beer is crazy.” Boston Lager is actually like a really pale ale—it’s really bitter. Inadvertently, through me stealing my dad’s beer, I got a weird taste for bitter beers. I’ve always felt after that that Budweiser tasted like apple juice.
We all know what it’s like to be really drunk. For me, it’s about turning your fucking shit off.”
IPAs are popular these days.
For me, I drink IPAs and can throw them back because I grew up as this little Boston kid stealing Sam Adams from my dad. Now there’s this crazy IPA craze. I’m almost ashamed of the fact that I like them so much. My friends are like, “Oh, what are you drinking, an IPA? I’m drinking a Victoria” or some Mexican beer. Those are fine but IPAs get you groovin’. I’ve become accustomed to that and I like that. Certain beers taste like water to me. I really like the taste of hops. There’s an association I have between having fun and the strong taste of it. As soon as it hits my lips it’s just nostalgic.
How do you feel about intoxication and songwriting?
I don’t do it. If I’m drunk in front of a piano—which happens—I’ll just start playing my favorite riffs I’ve written. That’s all I can do. Other times I’ll think I’m writing something and it always ends up being something else I’ve already thought of. When I’m drinking I’m too tapped into the collective consciousness of everyone who’s ever been a drunken piano man. When I write songs it’s all sober. Most of the best things I’ve written have been in the morning. When I made experimental music, I’d get drunk, smoke weed, do psychedelics. I’d make gobbledygook, at all hours of the night. For that stuff, it doesn’t matter whether you’re sober or on seven rounds of peyote. With the songwriting I do, it takes a lot of self-reflexive self-awareness. I don’t have that when I’m glassy-eyed.
Some people think intoxication encourages artistic creation.
That’s a wack mythos. You don’t need to take anything. It’s built into you. I have this song called “The Real World.” I wrote that tripping super hard on acid. But the chorus of that song, “Please don’t ever turn your face from the real world/Such a psychedelic place, the real world.” It is.
I love going out and I’m such a lush—I love partying. I love being the loud Bostonian ghost in the night that I am. But that’s one side of me. A lot of my favorite writers were like that, too. I like to believe that, most of the time, when Bukowski did his serious writing, he wasn’t slamming booze. He was probably hungover but trying to work out his thoughts. When you’re that fucked up—there’s no secret there. That’s the problem I have with that mythos. We all know what it’s like to be really drunk. For me, it’s about turning your fucking shit off. It’s about relaxing.
Top photo by Raymond Molinar.