Nic Collins isn’t exactly sure where he is at the moment, but he’s somewhere in Florida between Miami and St. Petersburg. Six days before speaking with Rolling Stone, he played drums at the final date of the last Genesis show at the 02 Arena in London, and now he’s in a car on his way to a club called the Factory to play a gig with his band Better Strangers. The venue is a tiny fraction of the size of the arenas he spent the past five years playing with his father, Phil Collins, at his solo shows and with Genesis, but Nic, 20, wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’ve enjoyed every second of the work I did with my dad and with Genesis,” he says. “But I think now it’s time for me to stand on my own two feet as an artist and as a musician.”
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He’s beginning that process by releasing the new Better Strangers single “But I Don’t Know Your Name” (check out the world premiere of the video below) and by booking intimate gigs across America and the U.K. The group features his longtime friends Yang Waingarten and Joey Rodriguez along with lead singer deCasa. “We’re at the stage of the band where we really need to grind it out,” he says, “and cut our teeth.”
We spoke with Collins about Better Strangers, but we also dove deep into the recent Genesis reunion tour, the final show, his father’s likely retirement from music, his first meeting with Peter Gabriel, and the fan-fiction scenario that he’d one day play with him in a reconstituted version of the early-Seventies Genesis lineup.
You didn’t take much time between the Genesis tour and your show tonight. You’re getting right to it.
Yeah. Over the past few years, I was doing the Genesis thing and the Phil Collins thing, but always having part of my brain on what I was doing back home with Better Strangers. I knew we had this gig. I was like, “Let’s get right back to it.” It was exciting. It didn’t really feel like there was a need to take time off.
Tell me about Better Strangers. I last spoke to you five years ago, and the band had a different name and a different singer. How did that morph into this new project?
Back then, it would have been What You Know. Honestly, this project has been a continuation of bands I’ve been in for years with our bass player, Yang Waingarten, and guitar player, Joey Rodriguez. We’ve seen each other grow and dial in more with what our sound is instead of just imitating people we really liked.
We were in a band together and we parted ways with our singer. It took us about a year and a half to get a new singer. Then we took a year to get our sound as refined as possible.
When we finally found our singer Ricky [deCasa], what he laid down on the tracks was, in one way, completely unexpected and not what we thought would have been on it. At the same time, it was perfect. It was, “This is exactly what we were looking for.” We didn’t know what that sound was until we heard it for the first time.
Tell me about the song we’re premiering, “But I Don’t Know Your Name.”
There was a sound of the band that hadn’t been explored before, and that was the use of electronics and drum machines. Over the years, whether it was me being on the road with my dad’s band and Genesis, there’s a lot of that aspect to it. It kind of encouraged me to get involved with that world of music. We started messing around with a drum-machine pattern, and Yang just kind of laid down the main riff. It was a really straightforward song to write musically. It was written early on, just a couple of months after Ricky joined.
What’s the concept of this video?
Ultimately, the song is about a kind of early stage of some sort of relationship or interaction between two people. In this specific story, it gets ugly and weird and obsessive and a bit dark. That’s what the song was about. Being able to show that in a video, along with some really great live footage that we got with our friend Andres Birnbaum, who directed it, was something we were really happy with. We thought it represented the song well while being a good initial music video for us as a band.
Who is the woman in the pool?
That’s our friend Estrella Levy. She takes on the role as the main character in the song. The song is written from the point of view of a stalker. When the bridge comes around, it changes perspectives and it’s from the perspective of the girl. We thought her being there and having a few Easter eggs around it would push the story forward, while also leaving up the interpretation to the audience.
Are you guys making a record?
At the moment, it’s not a full record. We’ve got the single coming out, which is exciting. We’ve been sitting on so much music that is ready to come out. I think we’re going to put out singles. Whether that leads to an album or a series of EPs, that remains to be determined.
Are you looking forward to returning to clubs after all these years of playing arenas?
Yeah. A club is where you capture the real, raw energy of a live band. First and foremost, we’re a live band. That’s always been our driving force and our selling point. At this stage of the band, doing it in a club is the best you can ask for. You get to see the most raw, unfiltered reaction to your music. There’s no lights to cover it up. It’s all about the energy and the songs.
To be honest, I put on a different hat when I’m here with Better Strangers as opposed to when I’m with Genesis. When I’m with Genesis or my dad [solo], I’m there to play the drums. That’s my job for the day. I gotta get there and play these drum parts. With Better Strangers, it’s our band. Everyone is concerned with, “Is anyone going to turn up? Will there be good sound? Will the lights look good?”
You’re a bit more hands-on and a bit more involved with the process. It’s different. I don’t really directly compare them since it’s two different phases of a band.
You must feel a different sort of anxiety when you walk onstage at a club show than at an arena show.
I guess it depends. At the first show of a Genesis leg of a tour, I’d be kind of anxious and nervous to get it going. I feel like with my band, I weirdly get more anxious and more nervous just based on the fact that we’re a young band, we’re on the come-up, and we’re trying to prove something to everybody that comes to the show.
With the Genesis thing, I know my responsibility. I know there’s a lot of people there that come to hear the songs. But you are able to kind of lean on a catalog that’s spanned over 50 years. You know these people are going to love these songs. It’s just how you deliver them. When it’s your own thing, you just kind of want to make sure you can make it sound as good as possible.
I imagine you want to prove to people you can stand on your own, separate from your father.
Exactly. A big thing we’ve never taken advantage of is the name. I’m a realistic person. I know that puts a foot through the door and gives you more people taking a look at you than if you were a random person. But we’ve always made a point of not having that be a big factor in the band and people coming to the shows. It’s like, “This is a band.” You almost wouldn’t know who I am. I’m the drummer of this group and you’re really trying to cement yourself as a drummer and an artist in a different context.
You didn’t call the band Nic Collins and Better Strangers. It’s a band.
Yeah. Behind the scenes, everyone has the same vote on everything. It’s everyone’s band. I don’t get more of a say because of where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. But it’s been great for me, and great for the band too. I’ve been able to go on the road and learn different sides of the business that maybe people wouldn’t know already. That’s really where I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had.
I’ve learned how touring works on a high scale. I’ve seen all the pieces of the puzzle and how they fit together. It’s a side you don’t usually get exposed to until you’re there with your own band. But to see the end result, it gives you the perspective of how you get there.
I want to talk a little about the Genesis tour now. When we last spoke, you said the odds of a Genesis reunion were pretty slim. What happened that changed that?
Going on the road with my dad on the Not Dead Yet tour changed a lot. The way we did it proved that despite his struggles health-wise, he was still able to sing brilliantly and we’re able to put on a good show and people can come and celebrate the music that they’ve either grown up with or haven’t been able to hear live if they’re from a newer generation.
I think when Tony [Banks] and Mike [Rutherford] saw that, it was encouraging to them. And they saw that I was playing with him. The big factor for a Genesis thing going ahead was my dad being able to play drums. Since he wasn’t, the fact that I was made the situation better. If my dad was just sitting there and there wasn’t that kind of bit to it where I’m doing it, I don’t think it would come across as well. I know that my dad misses playing the drums, and I know the fans wish they could see him. I wish he could play as well.
That reflected the set we ended up doing. We couldn’t flood the set with as much instrumental stuff as there used to be since he can’t play drums. That was such a big part of that instrumental side of Genesis. Honestly, when Tony and Mike came to a few gigs, and Mike and the Mechanics were opening for one of the European legs we did, and he came onstage and did “Follow You, Follow Me” with us, I think that really got the rumor mill going. At the end of that tour, they had a meeting. I knew that was going to be brought up at the meeting. They said, “Yeah, let’s try it.”
We had a set of rehearsals in January 2020. To me, I felt like it was an audition on my end. For the guys, it was just, “Let’s see if it works. Let’s see if it sounds good.” It had been 13 years since they had last played together. From there on, we decided it worked and that it would be great. And then obviously Covid happened. It changed a lot about the tour. A week or two after it was announced, Covid shut down the world. I think that definitely changed how long we would have gone on the road for, and how many places we would have gone to.
But it is what it is. The fact we were able to do the shows we did, really bringing a great show to Europe and America, it was something really special for us.
Fans are curious about the songs you rehearsed and didn’t play. I read something about the “Apocalypse In 9/8” section of “Supper’s Ready” being rehearsed. Is that right?
When it first got kicked off, there was a laundry list of song and who wanted to do what. The three guys in the band had three different opinions of the songs they thought we should do. With “Supper’s Ready,” the “Apocalypse in 9/8” part of the song onward was mentioned. I learned it. It took me months and a lot of broken drum sticks in frustration, but I did learn it. I finally did. And we never rehearsed it, which is kind of funny.
When you have a band that’s been around for over 50 years, they have so many different eras and versions of the band. There’s the Peter Gabriel prog era and the Phil Collins prog era and then the more rock era and the more pop landscape. I think with the song selection, you do have to compromise and maybe you can’t do all the ones you wanted to.
I also learned “Los Endos,” but it never got to the rehearsal. And I do think my dad not being able to play drums had an effect on what we ended up doing in a set. Notoriously, Genesis shows were so long since they had so many instrumental bits that wouldn’t take a toll on a vocalist. There were breaks with these great musical pieces, and we weren’t able to do as many given the circumstances.
Did you rehearse “Jesus He Knows Me”?
Yeah. That one was taken all the way to production rehearsals. “Jesus He Knows Me” and “Hold On My Heart” were two that were taken all the way to production rehearsals and were in the set. Funnily enough, they asked me to write the set down so they could put it on some merch. A lot of the merch sold had those two songs written on the set because they were going to be performed.
But when it got to the nitty-gritty of having to do the show and you’re not rehearsing it, and you have to play it every single night, the guys were like, “The show is probably around three hours now, or 2:45. Maybe those songs aren’t very necessary given the rest of the songs.”
It’s also a production decision. Every song in the set, musically or production-wise, did something that none of the other songs did. I think it was about, I guess, cutting the fat of the set and making everything extremely significant in terms of the set.
The only real change was “Misunderstanding.” You tried that out at two shows in Chicago and quickly cut it to put “Duchess” back in.
That was kind of interesting. Mike and Tony knew that “Misunderstanding” was always a big hit in America. They were thinking that since we were playing in America, it would be good to get that song out. They hadn’t played it since 1984 or something.
We’d been doing “Duchess” before. We rehearsed it and were like, “Yeah, let’s put it in the set.” And we did it twice, and then the three of them were like, “It’s OK. I think twice is enough.” I think for them as musicians and artists, they preferred doing “Duchess.” I think they got a bit more value out of it on a personal level. We ended up reverting back to that. I also think visually, on the production end, it looked better and had more magnitude.
How was the emotion of the final show at the 02 Arena?
It was a weird day. That morning, I woke up and learned that a good friend of mine, Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters, had just passed away. That really rocked my world that morning. In addition to it being the last show, which I knew was going to be an emotional set, it was kind of a strange day for me.
Also, not a lot of fans get to say that they finished their careers on a high. A lot of bands just sort of fade out. And a lot of bands that were big 30, 40, 50 year ago are still going on the road, but they’re playing convention centers. The fact that they were able to bow out on a real high in their hometown was really special to them, but also special to us. It was a relief that we were able to do the shows we were supposed to do in October, but got delayed due to Covid.
The show started off emotionally to me and when my dad addressed the crowd for the first time, that was emotional, but the rest of the night felt like a celebration of the music rather than being sad. It was like, “Let’s celebrate the catalog and the memories these guys have shared together.”
For me, aside from being able to share it with my dad, which is special in itself, in turn I became a fan of the band. To be part of their last show, I couldn’t be more grateful.
What was the vibe like backstage after everyone walked off and the show was over?
It was weird. I thought that I’d be a bit more emotional and sad, but I was happy. It was a great show. It was a great way to end it. Afterwards, we got changed and had dinner and everyone was there. Peter Gabriel came to the last show. He came back. It was just a great vibe. Everybody was hanging out. We were lucky that it was the end of the tour, so the Covid thing didn’t have to be such a precaution for us. We were finally able to have people backstage and to actually hang out. The entire tour, we weren’t able to do anything like that. At the last show, it was great to see everyone together and hear people sharing memories.
Did Peter talk to you?
Yeah. We spoke for a bit. Weirdly, I’d never met him. To be able to finally speak to someone I knew had such a big impact on my dad’s life and obviously mine as a result since the set we were doing, so much of it was from the Peter Gabriel era … to finally be able to talk to him was really great.
What did Peter say to you?
He said it was a great show. He said he was happy to be there since it was important to him as well. He left in 1975, and he never looked back. He never fell back on the Genesis material. He had a very, very successful solo career. But it was just great for him to be there. He said, “This is the end of something I was a part of.” We spoke briefly. And then him and my dad spoke pretty extensively and caught up about all their good times. It was pretty great to see.
The fantasy of the fans, of course, is a tour or even just a show with you, Peter, Mike, Tony, and Steve Hackett. Is that even remotely possible?
I don’t think so. From where I am at the moment, I don’t think that would happen. I haven’t heard anything about it. I know it was mentioned by fans, especially at the early stages of the reunion. But I think ultimately the band has grown and people have gone and done their separate things. I don’t think, at the moment, that it’s a possibility.
I know a lot of fans in Italy, Australia, and Japan were bummed that the tour didn’t get to them.
I think Covid is really what changed everything. If it wasn’t for Covid, maybe the tour would have lasted way longer. It could have been similar to my dad’s tour, which lasted quite a while. When it started off, Tony was very keen on doing South America. They hadn’t played South America since 1977 as Genesis. It would have been great to have gone back. But obviously Covid just changed the landscape.
Ultimately, the American and this last European leg, we were just lucky to do it, honestly. We cut it close with Covid. There’s a lot of places in the world that maybe aren’t ready yet for shows to come back the way they were previously. I do feel for the fans in South America and Australia, but it’s one of the things where the world changed everyone’s plans.
I also do think there’s something to be said … I don’t have an issue, but I don’t love it when artists go on their last tour and they end up doing it for ages. I think there’s something to be said that we did it for just about 50 shows. It kept it relatively exclusive, which was cool. It didn’t feel overdone or way too extensive when it didn’t need to be.
Do you think your dad might do another solo tour or is he just retired at this point?
I think at the moment, he’s definitely retired. If you ask me on a serious level, I think that show in London was my dad’s last show. But then again, he said that in 2004 and we wound up doing a tour in 2018. You can never be sure, but I also do think that my dad is probably excited about the next step in his life. Music has given him so much, but he’s also given so much to it. His career has pretty much determined his life for the past 50 years. I think for him to be able to take a step back and not have that pressure that he’s had for decades, I think is going to be nice for him. For me, I think that was that, but who knows?
Tell me your goals going forward for Better Strangers. What do you hope to accomplish?
It’s a very exciting time for us as a band. We’re young and we’re cutting our teeth on the road and really writing music. We’re writing music that we really believe in, and stuff we think is exciting. We want to get in front of a mass audience. We really do think it’s some powerful stuff we’ve been working on. It’s a continuation of so many projects. And honestly, it’s a continuation of a friendship, especially me, Yang, and Joey, have had and shared for a long time. Yang and I have been best friends since middle school. And now we have something that’s dialed-in and real. It’s not us trying to sound like somebody else.
I think for a band like us and the landscape of the industry at the moment that is very dominated by pop and R&B and all that stuff, the fact of the pandemic and how that impacted everything, there seems to be a real rise in the rock genre and heavier music. That’s really exciting since we’re a heavy band.
Are you booking tons of shows then for the rest of the year?
Yeah, pretty much. We’re also putting out some singles and maybe EPs. We’ve got a Texas run in April. That’s probably going to be followed by a run in Florida. And then we’re heading over to the U.K. in the summer. We’re playing the Isle of Wight Festival and a handful of club gigs in London. It’s going to be great for us to really get out there.
And I think for me over the past few years, whether I’ve been touring with Genesis or my dad, by default I had to cut the percentage I could give the band since I had to go away. I had other priorities. Now that the Genesis tour got wrapped up, it’s 100 percent full steam ahead. That’s as exciting as it is nerve-racking. You just have to kind of go out and do it now. We’re all stoked about doing it.
Imagine a scenario in a year or two where Peter Gabriel wants to do shows with you, Mike, Tony, and Steve. I know it’s unlikely, but would you agree to it?
I think it just depends on the situation. It depends on how many [shows] and it depends on what the situation is. To me, it would be a celebration of a certain era of Genesis. But to me, Genesis wound up becoming so much more. I think it would have to be done in a tasteful way and I think everyone would have to be on board. And with so many people that have been in each other’s lives for so long, it’s easier said than done.
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