INTERVIEW

Nomadic, lo-fi non-musician Michael Collins aka Salvia Plath is out of this world

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“I’m strange,” Michael Collins informs me for a third time. “Everyone is inherently strange. To be honest with you, the people who say they’re not strange, I think that’s a more psychedelic lifestyle than the one I live,” he finishes in his not so strange Baltimore drawl. He’s right you know. The man is odd. We’ve deduced this within minutes of our conversation.

To be frank, a cursory glance at Michael’s potted musical history would tell you everything you need to know about this eccentricity: anyone who used to call themselves Run DMT before moving on to the delectably dippy Salvia Plath must be a little unhinged, right?

“A lot of people experience something good and they want to hold on to it for as long as they can, and I think that can lead to an unusual perception of reality,” he says. “Someone like me sees life as a constant stream that’s changing. The ability to float down it is the ability to live life to its fullest; you must accept being different and to constantly change.” I soon discover this kind of chat is typical Salvia Plath, a visionary philosopher one second and just plain funny the next. The world he creates is a lucid dream but the onset of sleep seems far away.

Under his current guise Michael produces the prettiest of psych pop that jangles with a sparkling lustre, the result of which is ‘The Bardo Story’, a wonderfully trippy album, out now on Weird World. Whilst retaining some of the queerness of Run DMT it’s a far cry from the hypnagogic realm he sculpted in a previous life. The new incarnation of Salvia Plath is both Michael’s straightest and most successful musical project yet. He likes change, you see, and it’s always been that way. “The thing about me is that I’ve been travelling and jumping around for the last four or five years,” he tells me. “I’m in Los Angeles right now staying with the founder of Stones Throw records. I’m not really planning on living in one place, but California is a pretty nice area to hang out right now.”

This nomadic lifestyle, this yearn for change, it’s always been part of Michael and he seems quite proud of the fact, telling me: “Sure, I grew up on a farmhouse in Long Island. In a sense I felt pretty alienated from the community because it was like a very WASPy [WASP being American slang for super privileged, rich East Coasters, derived from White Anglo-Saxon Protestant] new England suburb and I couldn’t relate to a lot of people there. I guess when I was younger I didn’t actually travel as such but I would travel in so many other ways – one of those was in my mind, obviously.”

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Even as a young man Michael flitted from one project to the next. “I guess it was a natural progression that I ended up at art school. At that time I wasn’t an artist I just thought I had the potential to become one.” Such brazen open mindedness, anyone would think Michael just picked up an instrument and began playing too; an assumption seemingly true of ‘The Bardot Story’’s spindly, demo feel. “Well, I learnt to play music really by just making one good sound and then reflecting on it a while. I was never instrumental and I don’t know how to play,” he freely admits. “Sometimes, for instance, I’ll find an image and just by looking at that image I’ll pick up a guitar or go to the piano and start making the music. I’ll never know or realise how that happens.”

Unorthodox maybe, but the results of this unusual methodology can be even more clearly heard in Michael’s earlier work. Run DMT had a minimal heartbeat inspired by cinematic repetition and warm, experimental sound. As for Salvia Plath, it’s seen Michael embark on a more traditional way of working that borrows from the bliss of ’60s folk music and drugs, and like the true traveller he is Michael has picked up friends and collaborators on his journeys. “A lot of people I’m playing with on ‘The Bardo Story’ are really, really good musicians,” he says. “They’re classically trained and they want to play with me and as I always thought of myself as a none musician, it’s a very sobering thing. It makes me realise that on both ends of the spectrum I can bring something.”

Like all good home recordists, from Ariel Pink to R Stevie Moore (both of whom Michael is happy to say he’s recently met), Michael’s pretty good at just letting go. Recording ideas without pretence or musical values must sometimes be a positive? “Without a doubt,” he nods. “There’s a lot of people who know music a little too much, if you know what I mean; they wish they could not know and jump around from style to style with all this freedom which is basically what I have been doing.”

‘The Bardo Story’ is something of a fidget that revels in its shape-shifting nature, and as an artist this desire to hop from medium to medium is ever present. A good portion of our chat is taken over by Michael’s filmmaking ideas and predictably they’re spirited in their originality. He explains: “Being in LA, I was talking to some film-makers the other day and I have this concept of mine about starting a movie with audio. I’ve been making these chord progressions, which are super minimal and I’m going to use actual dialogue from real life as a means to begin shaping narratives for stories. So essentially I’m most interested in what happens when you close your eyes and feel it. I think that’s a really interesting way to work.”

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The obvious question then, who are you snooping on?

“I’m keeping it in my mind to record people whenever the opportunity arises really. The film will be a response to recent realisations of surveillance and outrages in terms of non-consensual privacy issues. Like my music, I’m fairly surrealist with film too. My ideas come from an understanding and appreciation of film makers like Jodorowsky and Godard who kind of let the camera be the writer in a certain sense.”

Unsurprisingly, Michael’s free thinking, rather innovative methods derive from and extend to his music, too. Before Salvia Plath a project called One Hitter Wonders caught the attention of Domino subsidiary Weird World. In rather a brave move Michael asked the general public to write songs or poems for him to perform and it worked. “There were really only like 15 or 16 people who did it but those people were so surprising, which was very powerful. When they did these One Hitter Wonders they hadn’t written a song before, now they’re like, ‘I want to write songs!’

“I’m in the planning stages of tackling this again. Now I’d like to reach a wider audience and one of the ambitions I have for One Hitter Wonders is to not just have it on the internet so younger kids can do it but to work partially alongside public radio so that people can call for entries, I’d like to see more submissions from a larger walk of life, you know.”

We’ve come this far with no mention of psychedelics and it’s tempting to sign off without a hit of herbal high or bong voyage, but inevitably that’s where we arrive, in roundabout fashion anyhow. “I’m fascinated in the real world you know. There is nothing like the real world and the inherent psychedelica of just living your life, definitely not on drugs. The perception is that I do a lot of drugs and you know the answer is no.”

There is no denying Michael’s acceptance of alternative states, though, and his general curiosity as an artist. “That’s true, but a lot of people mistake my lifestyle for being more psychedelic than their own and the truth is in everyone I know there is a part of their life that I just can’t relate to and it’s totally alien to me. If everyone could understand that idea then people would be less quick to label other people as weird, or strange in fact.”

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