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Simon Collins and Sound of Contact: Making Prog Rock cool again

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I don’t know when it happened, or why – maybe we can blame the media – but along the way, progressive rock became “uncool.” And what was bizarre about this whole phenomenon was that the ones railing against the genre were the same folks who always sang along to their Rush, Yes, and Genesis records. But however you explain it, you could say that prog rock is returning to prominence, a movement not just led by pioneers like Steve Hackett, but from the new breed led by Simon Collins and his band, Sound of Contact, who check into the Santos Party House for a gig tonight.

But don’t call it a comeback.

“Progressive rock has always been there, but it needs to be more in the mix,” said Collins. “Porcupine Tree brought a heavier, and maybe even a darker, element to it, but nonetheless they pushed things forward, and as a band we’re all for time traveling sonically. We want to take the best of progressive rock from certain eras but our album is very futuristic. We want to take it into the future with new sounds and new sonic territory. There’s so much fun you can have with progressive music and I don’t think there’s any rulebook to it. There is room for nostalgia, and then there’s also room for growth and evolution, and we’re trying to keep that healthy balance.”

If anyone is qualified to discuss the past, present, and future of prog rock, it’s the 37-year-old Collins, who, as the son of drummer Phil Collins, had a front row seat during Genesis’ heyday.

“So much of that material, it was groundbreaking back then and a lot of those songs were unprecedented,” he said. “A lot of those bands set the bar so high. I think of bands like Pink Floyd and Genesis, and I’m not being biased or anything, but growing up around that music, when you’re young and before you develop your own influences and your own musical tastes, you tend to listen to whatever your parents have lying around. For me, that was a lot of Genesis.”

He laughs, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t eventually explore other forms of music before returning home to his roots with Sound of Contact and their debut album, Dimensionaut.

“I was in a lot of bands in high school and after high school as well, from punk to death metal, and as a drummer I would play anything just to get my chops and get my bearings,” he said. “When I started playing in high school bands, it was when Nirvana broke, so I’ve got post-punk influences. Later on I got into DJing so I’ve got some electronic influences.”

In 1999, Collins released the first of three solo albums, All of Who You Are, yet soon, he realized that what he wanted to do on a progressive rock scale wasn’t going to work with him doing it alone.

“Exploring my progressive rock influences wasn’t something I wanted to do as a solo artist,” he said. “It was something I wanted to do with a band. And I really needed some time to develop my sound and hone my skills as a producer and as a songwriter. So by the time my third album came out, I was working with (guitarist and bassist) Matt Dorsey in the live band. (Guitarist and bassist) Kelly Nordstrom had been working with me since my second solo album as my guitar player, and he collaborated with me as well. (Keyboardist) Dave Kerzner and I met at Genesis rehearsals in 2006, and we were all working together on different things. It was almost a foregone conclusion that by the time I finished promoting (third solo album) U-Catastrophe, there was a need for change. And this felt like the right time.”

And Dimensionaut feels like the right album for the genre in 2014. Progressive, with all the bells and whistles that go along with that tag, the 12 tracks also have enough pop hooks that will allow the band to crossover with those listeners that give them a chance. That’s a tough thing to pull off, but they nailed it.

“The whole point of progressive rock is to keep it progressive and keep things moving forward,” said Collins. “There are so many hybrid bands coming out that have that pop sensibility and that still want to explore some new sonic territory. We’re big fans of bands like Radiohead and Coldplay and U2 and The Police, and what if those bands had gone that one step further into the realm of progressiveness? We want to meld the two. And when I think of the heyday of progressive rock, that’s what a lot of the bands were doing. It wasn’t just an album of whittling about and musical nonsense. There were well-crafted songs that were journeys that they took you on and the shows were an experience as well. That’s something that long-term we’d love to do ourselves – bring back the experience of music.”

Sound of Contact play Santos Party House in New York City tonight, April 29. For tickets, click here

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