Q&A | Drugdealer

by Christopher Andrew Armstrong

On April 19th the band Drugdealer releases their second album, Raw Honey, a timeless hootenanny which wistfully recalls the heydays of Laurel Canyon when singer-songwriters ruled the land while still managing to create a sound all their own.

When Drugdealer first started releasing music, back in 2016, they were less of a band and more of a solo project, headed by Michael Collins with a parade of guest contributors stopping by for guest vocals or to help with the instruments. The album which resulted from these collaborations, The End of Comedy featured talent such as Ariel Pink, Weyes Blood, and Jackson MacIntosh from Mac Demarco’s band. It spawned singles like “Suddenly,” “The Real World,” and “Sea of Nothing,” all of which amassed over several million listens on Spotify.

The creative force behind the group, Michael Collins, isn’t used to being in a band. Before moving to Los Angeles and forming Drugdealer, he inhabited the east coast, forming bands and releasing records under names like Run DMT and Salvia Plath. After switching coasts, he met Ariel Pink and other musicians who preached the same ethos as Pink. But after The End of Comedy’s underground success, and the subsequent tour which followed, the backing band he had been cruising across the states with suddenly felt less like a group of role players and more like a collaborative effort. He dubbed them official members of Drugdealer and together they entered the studio to record Raw Honey.

Michael Collins talked with Flaunt about the joy he receives from having a band for the first time, the inspirations behind Raw Honey, his love for the film medium, and why Drugdealer will be his last music project.

As someone who has been very prolific throughout your musical career, do you still find yourself getting butterfly’s before you unleash a new musical project out into the world?

I never really felt like I arrived on the scene in my mind as a musician. Something which has really carried me throughout my career is the fact that I’ve always had other mediums of art that I was really interested in. So, when it comes to music, I love doing it and making it with my friends, but I’m not necessarily trying to be terribly stressed out or nervous about it.…it’s just one of the areas I’m interested in.

When did music shift to the forefront of the other mediums you are interested in?

I went to art school to pursue film-making and it was just the wrong time for me to be in an institution…I wanted to tell a certain caliber of a narrative when it came to film-making, and when you’re a young person trying to find out how you can tell stories the mediums that you chose present different limitations.

The scene was a lot of people that were not a part of the school that were experimenting with making music. There was a radical feeling of lawlessness with that community, and the kind of films I wanted to make I realized that a) they were going to take a lot of faculties that I didn’t have at the time and b) I was at a school which primarily focused on experimental video. So, I ended up getting into music as a stop-gap as a way to tell narrative stories in a way that was more available to me at the time…I didn’t know how to play music back then…slowly but surely I sort of decided that I really wanted to learn about song-craft.

Do you ever think you will go back to film-making?

I’m already immersed in it. Like I said, its just much harder to get the points across with film-making, so music is more immediate. That’s why there are different film-projects that I’m working on, and have been working on, but you can’t just go into a studio and bang them out. They are just a little more involved.

It’s cheaper to make music than movies as well.

The thing that’s good about music is that its more of a community-oriented activity in a lot of ways. Like having a band. There’s something extremely gratifying to the soul to sing harmonies with people, its undeniable.

You release your second album under the name Drugdealer titled Raw Honey on April 19th. Where did you find inspiration when writing this album?

The last album that I made I was at a big transition point in my life, and I was thinking about the fact that I relied on laughs, jokes, and comedy throughout my life to compensate or overcome certain emotional turbulence. I wrote that album a lot about my struggles with depression and ways that cover my tracks with comedy and just a philosophical musing on that type of personality that is prevalent in art scenes that I inhabit.

This album, in contrast, I have found a lot more clarity as to what I want to do with my life and then in lieu of that, with music. It’s really a reflection of not taking music as such a conceptual construction…I finally found a group of people who wanted to play with me and be a part of this project. This album is a series of emotional songs about relationships, but much more of a group effort than anything I’ve done and the inspiration is drawn from a plethora of experiences that range from grief over losing one of my best friends over that period and the extreme highs of finally getting to the sound I always wanted.

You speak of finding a group of like-minded individuals to play with…the same group of people that are recorded on Raw Honey. Are they your official band?

For a long time I’ve always treated my music projects as a sort of temporary guise for a lot of ideas I had conceptually. But something happened when I made the last album, and I sort of realized how that was a cop-out like how many artists use their conceptual leanings to feign commitment and responsibility to things they actually do so they can move on to other things.

When I met these guys I decided that having them together as a unit, this core group of people, this was turning into the band. And when this group of people cease to exist as Drugdealer, that will be the point which I organically move on to the film medium. So basically, I am fully committed to these people as being as much a part of Drugdealer as I am. In a lot of ways, they do a lot more than play their instruments as far as constructing these songs with me. This is the group for the long haul, I’d say.

You believe this is the last incarnation of your musical career? There will be no solo career after Drugdealer?

This crew of people has felt so much like I’ve been able to finish my sentences musically in such a serious degree that I am not really interested in making pop music as I get older in different ways…I am very much interested in making music for film and writing songs for other people, just not in terms of being a performer.

There is no sign of this slowing down. Everyone in the band has big aspirations for this in terms of songwriting and performances. But I’d say there will be a shift when this is over, as far as my involvement in music.

So we should expect more Drugdealer albums in the future?

Yeah, I’m already making the next one right now.

Any plans to release that this year?

Usually I wait two years between when I make an album. I do performances and work on other projects and allow the music to settle. But now that I have this band, I feel a different fire under me to make more music with them. What I’m going to do is instead of waiting and making an album after a couple of years, we’re just going to try and write while we’re travelling on tour. And that’s the concept for this next record, I just got a little impatient and I’m really working on one major song for it.

One thing that’s exciting about your Drugdealer albums is the various guests which pop-up on your album. The End of Comedy featured tracks from Ariel Pink, Weyes Blood, and Jackson Macintosh. Raw Honey’s features songs with Dougie Poole, Harley-Hill Richmond, and once again Natalie Mering from Weyes Blood is featured on the song “Honey.” What do you find so enticing about working with other artists outside of your band?

As a songwriter its freeing to write things that are out of your reach as a performer. That’s a type of songwriting I’m really, really interested in…There are certain times when a song will come up and I’m able to think it in my head and do a really bad job of translating the demo but I know that somebody else will absolutely nail it. A lot of times when people are trying to be the sole proprietor of the music they write, in terms of vocals, that worldview of what you’re able to do puts a limit on things you can come up with…For me, where I’m able to sit as a songwriter does inhibit me. When I work with these people, I’m writing for someone else and I’m trying to cast the right people. In the case of Natalie, I’ve known her for so long, I basically heard her voice when I was conceiving of it (“Honey”). Some of the other songs, I was fudging, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to pull it off the right way, so I was scouting for the right people.

Collaboration expands your repertoire as a writer if you can be smart about it, let go of your ego a little bit. Also, it’s an incredible bond you create with people, which I’m thirsty for all the time.

Is there any artists you would love to collaborate with?

I’d love to say yes, but its not really the type of thing where I don’t have any specific names in mind. There’re people I already know that I sort of plan on collaborating with…In a couple of weeks I’m doing a residency where I’m collaborating with Tim Presley from White Fence, who has been an inspiration of mine for many years. It’s for the Marfa Myths Festival. I love his music, and I’ve met him, but we don’t know each other that well yet and I feel like it’s going to be a melting pot of showing each other what we’re all about.

Speaking of Natalie from Weyes Blood, each time you two have collaborated it seems like magically is instantly produced. Is there any chance you two could collaborate on an official album anytime soon?

I just don’t know. She is a busy woman, she’s an incredible artist. If the stars aligned and that was something, she would want to put her time into I would be fully receptive. But she’s got a lot going on, and I respect that too.

You were born in Boston but now live in LA, two completely different cities. Does your location on the map play an influence on the music you create?

It’s not really about where I’m sitting, making the music, it’s where I want to go. Whether it be a real place…There are elements of being in Southern California which can focus your lens a certain way, but I’ve always listened to music from here since I was little. I can be in Antarctica but can still make some sunshine pop.

You’re Instagram stories usually include videos of you skating, whether at the park or in the street. How does skating play a factor in your downtime and do you find it helps ease your mind before writing or recording music?

Skateboarding helps because it allows me to escape from the monotony of having a monoculture that you ascribe to, which I think is the death of a lot of righteousness of what indie music could be. I try to make sure there are other realms I am dipping my feet into so I am not blinded by the bubble of any one subculture leaning.

Raw Honey is released on April 19th via Mexican Summer records.