MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Phil Collins, the former Genesis drummer whose earnest ballads made him a star in the 1980s, is penning songs again. Although he dreads the idea of extended touring because it would take him away from his five children, Collins says he has missed the creativity of music since he retired in 2010.
Collins spoke recently in Miami Beach. He was in town to promote the expansion of his nonprofit Little Dreams Foundation, which he co-founded with his now ex-wife Orianne Collins to help youth realize their artistic, musical and athletic dreams.
"I’ve decided I kind of missed that writing creative stuff, so I’m trying to get back into writing, and that’s getting into a certain headspace and personal drive," he said.
There’s no magic for getting into the groove, "just banging away at it," he said. Sometimes the lyrics come first, sometimes the music.
"I’ve got some lyrical ideas on paper that are good. I’ve started to thrash around at the piano. A lot of it is hit and miss," he said. "All you need is something to hang an idea on and you’re off."
Collins got his start as the drummer for Genesis in the 1970s before becoming a solo star with hits such as "In the Air Tonight" and "Against All Odds."
Collins said putting on live shows is fun, but he doesn’t like missing his children’s birthdays.
"I’ve been like that pretty much most of my life, and I don’t want to do that anymore," he said.
Collins has three adult children from his first two marriages and two young sons with Orianne. They divorced in 2008.
Road plans uncertain
Pressed when he might hit the road again, he said it wouldn’t be before the end of next year. He didn’t say whether it would be a solo show or a Genesis reunion.
Collins said he gets a kick out of watching his concerts with his young sons Nicholas and Matthew.
He said they ask him tough questions, like why he makes a crazy laugh on the single "Mama" from Genesis’ 1983 self-titled album. The answer: It was tribute to the granddaddy of hip hop Grandmaster Flash.
"But they don’t know who Grandmaster Flash is," he said. Collins credits his boys’ interest in his concerts for encouraging him to even consider getting back on the stage.
Critics also give him pause about returning.
"I can’t believe that amount of hate that is out there," he said, referring to the online reaction to his declaration earlier this year that he might consider touring.
Even after all these years, the Grammy- and Oscar-winning artist still takes critics to heart. Over the years, they’ve often panned his pop tunes for being safe, bland and overproduced.
"Knowing that I’m just thinking of it, and someone saying, ‘No, God, please don’t do that!’ It kind of undermines your confidence," he said. "We’re all sensitive chaps, you know."
Collins said he was pleasantly surprised at how certain songs have held up over time, such as "Easy Lover" and "In the Air Tonight," which was featured in the 1980’s hit TV show "Miami Vice."
"That’s going to be on my headstone. He came. He wrote ‘In the Air Tonight.’ He ... died."
Talent, motivation, enthusiasm
As for his charity, Collins said he often used to receive letters from kids asking how to break into the music business, so he and Orianne decided to create the nonprofit to help those without resources get coaching, training and advice. At first, they turned to their friends in the music industry to serve as mentors and later expanded to sports and visual arts.
The Miami chapter is the first in the U.S. Children are selected based on talent, motivation and enthusiasm. Once accepted, they work with mentors, who have in the past included Tina Turner, Natalie Cole and others.
Collins doesn’t promise the 10 or so youth who will be selected each year a guaranteed path to fame.
"But we’re giving kids with the same kinds of ambitions I had solid ways to prepare," he said.
Collins said he was a lucky man.
"All I set out to do was to earn a living playing drums, you know? And as luck would have it, I’ve surpassed that."