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Phil Collins Recording Compendium
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In Conversation with Leland Sklar & Daryl Stuermer

An Interview with two Phil Collins Band Members

It's Friday, 16 June 2017. On the last day of the five show residency of the Phil Collins band in Cologne, Leland Sklar has given me the great opportunity to talk with him for the German Genesis Fanclub. Shortly after we have sat down at their hotel, Daryl Stuermer comes in and joins us. Does it get much better than having the chance to talk with two backbones of the Phil Collins band at the same time? Daryl joined Genesis live in 1978 and has played with Genesis and Phil solo ever since. Leland first appeared with Phil on No Jacket Required and the following tour. He only missed the Both Sides and Dance Into The Light tours in the mid and late 1990's. So they both have known Phil Collins for more than 30 years. I spoke with them about the current tour and their next plans. A very pleasant and sometimes really funny conversation evolved with some rare insights into life on the road and working with Phil Collins (and now even his son Nicholas) …

it: So, Daryl, this is all prepared for Leland, so never mind.

Leland Sklar: But it was all about you, I was going to talk about you.

Daryl Stuermer: I don't have to be here.

Leland: If you contribute, I think it's wonderful that we have an exchange of thought.

Daryl: That's ok.

Leland: Singular [laughs; editor's note: he refers to the word thought].

it: So, Lee, you've recently [28 May] celebrated your seventieth birthday…

Leland: …oh, won't you talk to Daryl? [laughs] It was actually as nice a birthday as I could have spent. I spent it with Daryl and Brad [Cole] eating fish and chips in the bar in our hotel in Liverpool. I tend not to think very much about birthdays but the weird part is when you just look at a number and you realize that I've been doing this almost every day for now fifty-one years it's kind of bizarre. But I still feel as infantile and juvenile as I've ever felt. There's a big difference between aging and growing up. So I think I've aged a lot but I haven't grown up at all.

Daryl: And I have to say that I think that music business, if you want to call it a business, keeps you younger. It really does. I don't feel like I'm sixty-four. I feel like I'm maybe forty-five and I'm always fifteen, twenty years younger than I really am.

At this point we're interrupted by a lady asking if it could be that Leland and Daryl belong to Mr. Phil Collins.

Leland: He bought and sold us. We're his slaves…

A short conversation with that lady follows. But then we continue right where we stopped:

Leland:Seventy… What Daryl said is right. I always look at this like the Peter Pan business. You never have to really grow up. There are adult responsibilities that come with it but we do enjoy this kind of childlike existence out here. The only thing that bothers me about turning seventy is the fact that now there is a kind of light at the end of the tunnel where you realize that there is a finite amount of years. When you're twenty you got decades ahead of you. And now you look at it like if you really stay healthy you maybe have another fifteen years or so.

Daryl: People will say: do you think you will retire at sixty-five or seventy? And we say: from what? This is such a great job, if you want to call it.

Leland: It's almost like our vocation would have been our avocation at any other time. If I had another job, I would still be doing this as a hobby. So I feel very fortunate. I had a lot of friends that went to the corporate world who had a countdown-clock on their desk to the day of retirement. They just could not wait to get out of their job and finish and I said I dread the day when I stop working.

Daryl: We will only stop playing, honestly, when we physically can't…

it: …like Phil did with drumming.

Daryl: Yes.

Leland: Phil's fortunate that he has multiple things he can do. If he's not playing drums, ok. If he can't dance around the stage and do all that stuff, fine. He can just sit and sing. For me, I'm pretty much a bass player. If I suddenly had arthritis or an injury and I couldn't play bass anymore, for me it would be really devastating.

Daryl: We can dance around the stage, but we don't.

Leland: It's not pretty!

it: I've never seen you dancing.

Leland: It's more like Saint Vitus' Dance, we really look like we're having a grand mal.

Daryl: I can't dance, there you have it.

it: Exactly! On with Phil, have you read his autobiography?

Daryl: Yes.

Leland: I have not yet.

Daryl: I have listened to it. I think it's better to listen to his voice. I thought it was excellent. I found out some details that I didn't know. I knew about a lot of things, maybe seventy percent of what's in there, but I didn't know the details and that was very interesting to me.

Leland: My wife gave to me for Christmas and I just haven't had time to sit down and read it yet. At some point when I get a break I'll probably sit down. But I'm more tempted to give away my hardcopy of it after Daryl told me how good the audio one was. And I might just go ahead and get that and listen to it that way – to help me sleep.

it: With all these problems that he very openly talked about, did you realize, over the last ten years or so, what was going on?

Daryl: Not exactly. That's what I meant about details. The last two chapters about drinking and so on, I actually didn't know about that. But I knew things prior to that and after his childhood. I knew all that.

Leland: We all kind of lost touch with him over the last ten years, too. It used to be with Phil like if you sent him an email you would get a response within a few minutes. And now you could send him emails and you might not get a response for six months. So he became very private and introverted through this period and so none of us were really aware. I was writing to him on a pretty regular basis just saying that I don't care if we ever play music again, I just care about you as a friend and I hope you're ok. I mean, that's the ultimate thing. This transcends business, this is all friendships. So if anything was going on with Daryl, we may never play together again, but man I would be there in a second if he needed me for anything. And I'm sure that if I needed him, I would never see him again.

Daryl: [laughs] There's no way!

Leland: Because he's gigging.

it: When did you realize that it was changing to the better – his spirit, his motivation to do something?

Daryl: First of all, from the first show in Liverpool, I was surprised how good it was. So much better than rehearsals. And it just kept going. And I say, the best for me has been these shows in Cologne. All what's in his voice is getting more back to what it has been.

Leland: And his personality is getting that way, too. I think one of the things that was really hard over the past few years, we were involved in some Little Dreams things with him and most of those, from what we were hoping for, weren't that good. I mean the one in Miami where he actually just bailed at the last minute and he was not feeling well and all that. My biggest fear was I was not going to get called to do another tour, I was going to get called to go to a funeral. I was so worried about his health. I was shocked when the tour was booked. It really caught me off-guard. Really? We're actually are going to do something? And when we got to rehearsals in Miami he was, I don't want to say ill-prepared but his mind really wasn't there. He was still going through a bunch of stuff. But on a daily basis he just kept getting more and more engaged. I would say this thing locked into position a couple of days before Liverpool, towards the end of our production rehearsals in London. All of a sudden, we all went kind of like, oh, this is actually like it can work. Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford came down to rehearsals and they said this is actually working. But the thing that is really nice is watching it now on a daily basis. Especially we were really concerned about this schedule because this would have been a hard schedule in his prime, to be doing five shows a week. So far he is showing no signs of weakening at all. I mean, this is going to be the third night in a row tonight and then we only have one day off and then we have three shows in a row in Paris.

Daryl: Oh, really?

Leland: It's three, one off, then two.

Daryl: Three, then off, then two. Yeah, ok.

Leland: Right now, I write to him almost every night after the show just to tell him how proud I am of how he's doing, how proud I am of Nic and how Nic is doing in the show.

At this point the next interruption follows. This time it's Luis Conte pointing at Leland and giving me the advice not to believe anything he says. A short conversation between Luis, Daryl and Leland follows. And on goes our interview:

it: Was Phil planning to sit all the time from the first day on?

Leland: Yes, this was clear. I mean it's pretty obvious when you see him walk in the room that this guy is not going to be running around. We had some things proposed for the show that would have had him walking a bit. But in rehearsals they just were a little too chaotic and too potentially dangerous. So we were all grateful when that stuff got canned. Especially in doing something like In The Air Tonight to get him into another drum kit. And he's done it, over and done. Right now, it's really like he's passing the baton to the next generation. And Nic's doing such a good job. I can only see, if we continue touring Nic is going to get better and better and better. The difference between our first rehearsal in May and now is dramatic. He was playing well but he's maturing in confidence with the songs. Worrying about what his dad thinks. He's kind of becoming his own drummer and that's got to be a really hard seat for this kid to be sitting there at that age being the engine driving a show of this magnitude. And your dad's the boss.

Daryl: And you're playing with musicians that have been doing this for fifty years, sixty years.

it: Professional musicians. And he's been playing in his school band.

Daryl: Right. So what he learns in one month, someone else would learn in three years.

Leland: He sits in a dressing room and knows how immature you can be and still be in this business. If you come back into our dressing room and expect to see adult really cool musicians, they have left the building, it's just a bunch of idiots. [laughs]

it: So is Phil coaching him or is he asking everyone in the band? Especially you, Leland?

Leland: I've been working a bunch with him. He and I find some quiet time and we sit and talk about things that I think are important for him to think about. I've given him my phone number, he has my email. If you ever want to talk about anything anytime just call me. I'm not sure how much Phil's telling him. He's told him a little bit more in these past couple of shows just about tempos and things like that. He's now more engaged, so I think he is more aware of these things. I'm not sure with the other guys, but he has a drum teacher in Miami. He's working very hard at his craft. He's not one of these guys saying, “well, my dad's Phil Collins, so I'm going to get everything just hand it to me”. He's really busting his ass to make it on his own.

it: He doesn't look like that, he's very down-to-earth.

Leland: He's the sweetest kid. He and his brother Matt are both just absolutely delightful, wonderful kids. And I've told him, I said, having the Collins name, there's a problem that happens and there's a good thing that happens. When you have got that name that opens a lot of doors for you. But if you go in that door and you suck, that door closes really fast and you can't go back in the door again. So he's really lucky at this point, that if he gets an opportunity he's got the goods. He's developing the goods to back it up and that's really important.

it: A completely different question now: how's Arnold [McCuller] doing?

Leland: He's in surgery right now.

Daryl: I just saw that no-one knows yet.

Leland: He's had the surgery before. The weird thing is, when we were doing the last tour and we were rehearsing in Neuchatel he fell on the stage. Now the thing is I think, the fall is not what's causing this. I think, what happened was, the injury happened and that caused him to fall. In the same way you see old people, they fall and they break their hip. But generally, what happens is their hip breaks and that makes them fall. It's a real problem. And he has had hip replacement surgery. This injury that is being dealt with today, he had in the other leg in Neuchatel. It's just a coincidence, that both were happening just before Paris.

it: How did it happen?

Leland: He was just out here. He was walking in to come to dinner and suddenly just dropped to the ground. He said he heard something snap.

Daryl: There's a little ledge or something. Not very big. Was he backing up or something?

Leland: He went out there. He was with some friends and they wanted to take one more picture. So they went out there. But chances are it would have happened right here because he said he heard a snap more than anything. So what happened is, I think, this big muscle here [points at his thigh] connects down at the knee with the tendon. The tendon is a ligament, that holds that. And that snapped. So I think what they have to do now is open him up, pull the muscle down and then reattach it and then immobilize the leg until the attachment heals. He said the last time it took about a month for that to heal. So what they are going to with him now, I think, is he does the surgery today and then next week at some point they'll fly him to New York and he'll rehab in New York because he has got to start James Taylor's tour. And he doesn't want to miss that. But I think on James' tour he can probably do this with a leg cast or something. It's a different kind of tour and we don't need two gimps on this tour. Everybody should be in a wheel-chair like when Bette Midler was the mermaid and they were all on stage rolling around in wheel-chairs.

Daryl: We should have all put bandages on our head, too.

Leland: I mean, Phil, when we heard that he fell and hit his head we just went, “it's finally going, it's finally working and all”. And then, “are you kidding?” But you get in these big hotel rooms and he said there was an extra step in the room and he tripped on it and hit his head on a chair.

Daryl: And it was two in the morning.

Leland: And after the show. Just as the old saying goes, shit happens. It's just a dread when it happens. The thing that's nice is we'll come back and do the Albert Hall and hopefully that will keep the momentum going and then maybe they look at more work then. We'll see.

it: They might not call you together for just two shows, right?

Leland: We're all hoping that they'll make it worthwhile for everybody involved because it's a large crew. You have to warehouse this entire stage. I mean, they have got 56 tons of equipment hanging from the ceiling here.

it: It looks so minimal.

Leland: Yes, simple.

it: The whole stage is a bit like the one on the No Jacket Required Tour with a simple backdrop, just lights and video wall.

Daryl: Yes.

Leland: But it's a lot of work and a lot of crew on this. What they said is like eighteen semis/trucks for this. So we'll see. I mean the future is the future. Right now, I'm just looking forward to finishing up this show tonight and getting to Paris and then do Dublin and Hyde Park.

Daryl: And then do your laundry.

Leland: I'll do that before then.

it: You've done it. You posted this photo on facebook…

Leland: When I came back to the hotel last night before I came down to the bar to see my wife and all the guests, I went up to my room and washed the shirt from last night. [laughs]

it: You mentioned Dublin, so how will the stadium show and the one in Hyde Park be like especially with Phil sitting? Do you think there will be a difference?

Daryl: I think we have the same setup as in the arenas.

Leland: I don't know if it's going to be bigger screens, who knows? I mean the thing is, word is out. People have seen enough videos now. They're not expecting him to suddenly be out there running around the stage.

Daryl: Plus the show will be a little bit shorter.

Leland: It's a shorter show.

Daryl: So we'll play more of the up-tempo stuff.

Leland: With the other acts those shows are just different. You can't look at those similarly with Mike + The Mechanics and Blondie and KC And The Sunshine Band and all this stuff going on. I think we're doing like seventy-five…

Daryl: …ninety…

Leland: …ninety minutes and no intermission.

Daryl: Instead of two halves. Straight through.

Leland: You know, we'll see. Personally, I would much rather do the kind of shows we're doing here. I love doing the Albert Hall, the intimacy of that. I'm not a big fan of these big gigs like that.

Daryl: It's not very intimate.

Leland: So, we'll see. We'll do the best we can. For me the best thing is, my biggest fear was that I would never have a chance to be on the road with Daryl and Brad and some of the guys again. This has given us an opportunity to realize how much we really don't like each other.

it: Sometimes it takes a while.

Leland: But now we're back together. Who cares?

it: What's next on your schedule after the current tour?

Leland: For me, I get back to L. A. This will be an interesting project. There's a guy named Mike Ross, a producer who I have worked with and we did a girl, I forget her first name, something Fernandez [Mia Fernandez]. She's a disc jockey, popstar from Manila. So he called me again for another project and it's a Chinese artist who is doing a James Taylor tribute album. So we're trying to get Russ Kunkel and myself and some other guys. I'm doing that kind of as soon as I get back. And right after that there's a girl named Mari Hamada, who is a huge popstar in Japan. She has been forever. I have done probably twelve, fifteen albums with her. So I'm doing her and then I start Judith Owen on the 25th [July] who I have been touring with. And we hit to Cleveland on the 25th, have a couple of shows with her and then right after that we're opening for Bryan Ferry on his west coast tour.

it: Again.

Leland: Yes, we're doing the west coast of the States. And that goes until the end of August or beginning of September. I'm trying to find those dates out because Warwick wants to do a bass camp again. I have a feeling it's going to be at like the very last shows we're doing. So I probably can't do that. And after that I'm home until we come back to do the Albert Hall, unless something comes up, you know. But I'm sure there will be work in L. A.

it: Some vacation ahead?

Leland: Yeah, I mean a little. I'm not good at vacations. But I have a lot of work ahead. When you go away for a length of time like this, there are things going on at home that you have to go home and work with and deal with. I may actually start gardening again and drive my truck and play with my dogs, stuff like that. So it's kind of you get your life back.

it: And Daryl, how about you?

Daryl: I'm doing my own gigs. I'm doing that kind of thing with my band. Some symphony shows, too, where we play with an orchestra.

Leland: That is so cool.

Daryl: That is a lot of fun.

it: And when will your latest album be available in Germany and Europe?

Daryl: Right, what's happening is, I've recorded an album. I've actually recorded two albums at the same time. One I just sell at the gigs. And now I'm going to sell them both at the same time, finish the other one and do maybe a kickstarter campaign, you know. And even use some of the old guitars from Genesis tours as, what do you call them, rewards or pledge? Someone pledges and buys that guitar. So that's going to help to pay for the projects and the marketing of the project.

Leland: If you're selling two, do you get a deal if you buy both?

Daryl: [laughs] No. Then I'm hoping that July/August, maybe August we put out the set. The next album is going to be all Genesis songs, vocals and instrumental. This other one that I did is a mixture of songs. I have one Genesis song, a Jeff Beck song, The Police, Peter Gabriel. That's all instrumental and the next one is going to be vocal. We're all excited about this. So we're going to put them out at the same time.

it: Any chance to see you in Europe – solo?

Daryl: I hope so, you know. It's hard, it's very expensive to come over. So when you get enough shows together then we'll do it. We played in Portugal just for one show.

Leland: You'd probably do better, if you keep like doing The Blue Note in Japan for a week and some of those things because a lot of guys I know end up going to Japan for those things.

Daryl: I think Germany would be really good because it has such a big Genesis and Phil Collins fan base. But if we could play these places, at least five to six places, it would be worth coming. So we'll see.

Leland: I hope that works out for you. That would be really cool.

it: Alright, thanks a lot for taking your time and we wish you a great tour!

Interview, transcription, photos: Ulrich Klemt