Lost in the wash of mutton-chopped, white-belt-wearing, truck-cap-sporting fashion victimization is the fact that there are some genuine iconoclasts in our midst on this, thee Detroit Rock Scene®. They don’t get any more iconoclastic than one Mick Collins — Dirtbombs head man, erstwhile Gories howler and ardent boundary-ignorer. The Voltaire Brothers, the latest missive from Collins and his revolving cast of cohorts should set chins to scratching and asses to shaking.
The Voltaire Brothers are actually based around a two-headed rhythm section/songwriting duo of Collins on drums and vocals and Jerome Gray on bass. A gang of others (including frequent Collins collaborator and studio engineer Jim Diamond and singers Shalia Holmes and former Atomic Fireball front man John Bunkley, among others) have been roped into the rubbery P-Funk-worshiping shenanigans. (Seriously, if there’s a better adjective to describe funk than “rubbery” it hasn’t made itself known.)
The group’s debut LP, the six-song I Sing the Booty Electric, just out on Fall of Rome, is a wiggly jointed blast of DIY rubber soul ranging from the dystopian atmospheric groove of “Trouble Man Everyday” (a loose conflation of Marvin Gaye’s “Troubleman” and Frank Zappa’s “Trouble Comin’ Every Day”) to sure-fire dance floor fillers like the Funkentein verbalnastics of “Transparabolocwobblemegatronic-thangmabutylspasmotickryptorumpalistics (aka Siege Of The Booty Chirren).” The lead cut, “The Mother Ones,” is a slow-build sing-and-groove-along that, er, climaxes its tale of sexual frustration with a gaggle of infectious-joy a cappella hand-clapping and chorus ringing. It’s a thing of beauty and, more importantly, booty. And it’s a testament to the Mothership’s ability to hold us all in its One Nation ... tractor beam.
So we thought we’d talk to Mick Collins about the Voltaire Brothers and how it was, exactly, that the man whom the mainstream, garage-rock-worshiping press drools over, got involved with the finest bout of pure funk to come out of Detroit since Clinton and company set up camp in the Michigan hinterlands.
Metro Times: Why a funk record and why now?
Mick Collins: Well, the people in the Voltaire Brothers were all friends from high school. We’ve been wanting to make a funk record since 1979. Twenty years later when funk was 20 years out of date somebody finally gave us some money to do it! Jerome, the bass player, is a guy I grew up with. He’s literally a lifelong friend. We’d been in bands since we were kids and had played together throughout our teenage years and when he was in school. He was studying to be an architect and I’d sit in on his classes. You know, if it came to it I could probably be a rogue architect!
Metro Times: How long did it take to make the record?
Collins: It took forever, man. We got the green light in 1999 and we recorded it in 2000, did the overdubs in 2001, and then it was supposed to be released in 2002 and then it got delayed. We had a recording budget that we went through and, yeah, that was one of the reasons for one of the delays, I guess. …
Metro Times: It was always supposed to be for Fall of Rome?
Collins: Mark and I had been talking and when he first started the label he really wanted to do a Dirtbombs record. And that was around the time the Dirtbombs were in a transition period (circa the Chariot of the Gods EP).
I mentioned in passing that me and my friends had always wanted to do a funk record. He said, “Oh, really?! Forget about the Dirtbombs, let’s do this!”
Metro Times: Is the band a direct homage to P-Funk/Sly or is that just the form it took?
Collins: We didn’t have a specific time period or style in mind, particularly. Well, we do think of it as a P-Funk record in that that was the main inspiration. The entire P-Funk ouevre was recorded by the same 18 or 20 people and we wanted to make a record that sounded like it came from that group of — or maybe we were an offshoot of that group. They all came from Detroit and we look at it like it was an alleyball game and we were the kids down the street wondering if we were old enough to get in the game!
Metro Times: Wondering if you’ve built up the chops yet …
Collins: Yeah, like “Hey, can we play?! Can we, huh!?”
That’s the music I was listening to long before I got into punk rock, the music I listened to growing up. I got about 65 George Clinton records and there are about 10 that I don’t have.
We hope that our record fits in there somewhere around Trombipulation. It probably comes in around Hardcore Jollies and One Nation .... It’s not quite the masterpieces of One Nation ... or Motor Booty, but maybe if we do another one we’ll be closer to that.
Metro Times: Is this a full record — it does clock in at 35 minutes, but it’s only six songs?
Collins: Oh, yeah, it’s a full record. Besides the new [soon-to-be-released] Dirtbombs album, I’ve never made a record longer than 35 minutes — that’s just about the extent of my attention span. Difference is, this record has six songs instead of 14!
Metro Times: Has the garage-rock scene gotten wind of this?
Collins: I heard from the record label that the radio reports he was getting was that everyone was expecting a garage-rock record. I’ve only been in one garage-rock band, that’s the Gories. For some reason they weren’t expecting a funk record like I said it was going to be. People are gonna learn that I mean what I say! There’s some radio station in Providence going “I don’t know what to do with this!” I’ve just never got the chance to do anything other than a rock record that’s been available for general release.
Metro Times: So there’s no irony in playing funk, huh?
Collins: It’s not an ironic record at all. I had the title in 1980! I had to read Whitman in high school like everyone else. We wanted to make a funk record! So we made a funk record — with a goofy title and a girl with a big butt on the cover and everything. It’s, if anything, an homage, or a funk tribute band.
Metro Times: So are there any plans to play live?
Collins: We might do some one-offs. In fact we were just talking about that yesterday. Jerome has a steady day job, so it makes it hard. But there was one club owner in LA that called the Dirtbombs’ booking agent and said, “If the Voltaire Brothers ever want to play LA, do not call any other club!”
Metro Times: Are there going to be any more VB records?
Collins: We may make another Voltaire Brothers record. I’d love to make another one. This one’s already getting airplay at like eight stations in New Jersey and two in Winnipeg! Go figure.
Metro Times: Who is that dude preaching on “Trouble Man Everyday”?
Collins: That dude’s nuts. He’s some weird dude I recorded in 2000. This guy was in Hart Plaza. He was just some guy who set himself up as a street preacher who preached about how the white man was trying to destroy the black man. I had a Walkman that was also a recorder. When Jerome came in town I said, we gotta go hear this guy. So I recorded him doing his thing. And he’s got real sharp eyes and I was afraid that he might see me! Me and Jerome were standing there listening to him and we drew a crowd and we were thinking, “Oh, man, this is wrong.”
Somebody told me — and I don’t know how true this is — that someone had told him he was taped for a record. So, if I get a tree through my window, I’ll know who it is. There’s the trouble man, cuz I know for sure that he’s trouble, man!Chris Handyside writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]