Dirtbombs Leader Mick Collins Big-Ups Bubblegum, Disses Today’s Manufactured Pop
Never purely a “garage band,” even though they hail from the genre Valhalla of Detroit and feature Mick Collins, former frontman of Motor City crud-punk pioneers the Gories, the Dirtbombs are students of music with wide-ranging tastes. They made their name with 2001’s ‘Ultraglide In Black,’ a record of soul and R&B covers, and in 2011, following two albums of mostly originals, they dropped ‘Party Store,’ their take on classic Detroit techno.
With each of the aforementioned albums, Collins would tell the press a “bubblegum record” was on the way, and every time the group announced a new LP, fans wondered whether Mick and the gang were finally ready to get their Archies on. Last week, at long last, the band dropped ‘Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey,’ a set of sticky-sweet, happy-go-lucky ’60s-style originals, delivered in the Dirtbombs signature dual-bass, dual-drums, mega-fuzz style.
Diffuser.fm recently had the honor of emailing Collins some questions about the appeal of bubblegum and the difference between yesterday’s shameless cash-grab pop and today’s manufactured teen music. In his reply, he also revealed why this could be the final Dirtbombs full-length and hinted what genre the crew might try next.
You’ve been talking up the “bubblegum record” for years. Why the fascination with this genre?
I actually thought I was joking, but apparently no one else did. I never really planned to make a bubblegum record, but people kept asking about it, so finally I just sorta gave in. I’ve been a fan of bubblegum pop my whole life. I was around when it was actually happening, so it’s a part of my life.
What’s the first bubblegum song you remember hearing?
I don’t know. There were a lot of them around by the time I became cognizant of music, but I’m gonna go with ‘The Rain, the Park, & Other Things’ by the Cowsills, because it was the first record of its kind to fascinate me.
Do you need to get yourself into a certain headspace to write tunes as happy as these?
Absolutely. You have to leave all cynicism and irony out of it, because there are no dark thoughts in bubblegum. Even the Archies’ ‘A Summer Prayer For Peace’ still holds out the hope for happiness, even while they’re reciting the numbers of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.
The new song ‘Jump and Shout’ seemingly nods to ‘Mony Mony.’ Neither Tommy James and the Shondells nor Billy Idol, who covered that song in the ’80s, were bubblegum, per se, but they were pretty damn poppy. What’s the distinction between really catchy pop and bubblegum?
Pfft, Billy Idol knew what he was doing when he named himself “Idol,” so he has no one to blame but himself when it comes to not wanting to be thought of as “bubblegum.” Anyway, the distinction is humor: Bubblegum music goes further than merely not taking itself seriously. It is to some extent a parody of pop music, and self-parody is very definitely part of the form of the genre.
Is there a modern-day equivalent of bubblegum — wherein you have producers angling for mainstream bucks with the catchiest stuff possible? Today’s teen pop, maybe? Are you into any of it?
When you put it that way, it’s all bubblegum, but not in any kind of a good way. Current-day pop music is the worst, most cynical cash play going, even worse than movies. Nobody is in it for the music — they don’t even think of it as music; it’s “product” to be “shipped.” In order to sell the most “product,” music has gotten progressively blander and dumber. There are even computer programs to help reach the lowest common denominator (Google “Hit Song Science” if you don’t believe me), which is why most modern pop music sounds so much alike. I hate pretty much all of it.
Now that the Dirtbombs have finally crossed the bubblegum album off the list, what’s left for you to do? Please don’t tell us you’re going away!
In all honesty, I have no idea. I’m strongly contemplating finally abandoning the LP as a medium. I’d never envisaged the Dirtbombs as an LP project in the first place, so now might be the moment to recommit to a singles-only policy.
Rank the following five genres in terms of the likelihood the Dirtbombs would do a covers record: Latin freestyle, ’80s hardcore, ’90s R&B, West Coast hip-hop, New Wave.
5. ’90s R&B: Too many dance moves.
4. Latin Freestyle: While rocked-up versions of things like ‘I.O.U.’ by Freeez are not outside the realm of possibility, I can’t say as I’m inclined to make it so.
3. West Coast Hip Hop: Again, low probability, but I wouldn’t rule out a Dirtbombs collaboration with a hip-hop artist (from anywhere). Maybe Slum Village would be interested…
2. ’80s Hardcore: You have no idea…
1. New Wave: I thought we were New Wave. I’ve been telling people that since the ’90s. Sigh. No-one ever listens to me, I’m just the guy who writes and produces the records…
What’s next in terms of touring/recording?
Well, I hate touring in the winter, so don’t expect to see me before March at the earliest. There’ll be plenty more records, though.