Sitting in the master bedroom of his Miami Beach mansion just five days after undergoing major back surgery, Phil Collins is still weak and in no small amount of pain. But when the conversation for an upcoming My Life in 15 Songs feature turns to his future plans, he grows animated and excited. "I'm no longer officially retired," he says. "The horse is out of the stable and I'm raring to go."
Collins hasn't released an album of new material since 2002's Testify, which he supported with the cheekily-titled First Farewell Tour. Since then, he's only emerged for a brief Genesis reunion tour in 2007 and the 2010 Motown covers collection Going Back, but he's now plotting a comeback tour and a new solo LP. "My kids are now 10 and 14 and they want to see what their dad does," he says. "They were in nappies when I was last on the road. They love my music and I'd like to take them out so they can enjoy it."
His young family was actually his main motivation for retiring from the road and moving to Switzerland full-time about a decade ago. But in 2008, his wife left him and eventually took the boys to Miami, leaving Collins devastated. "It left me with a lot of time on my hands to think about what happened," he says. "I went through a few bits of darkness; drinking too much. I killed my hours watching TV and drinking, and it almost killed me. But I haven't had a drink in three years."
"My kids are now 10 and 14 and they want to see what their dad does."
Earlier this year, he moved into Jennifer Lopez's former house in Miami to be closer to his kids, right down the street from Barry Gibb. It allowed him to be with his sons nearly every day, even setting up a soundproof room where his 14-year-old son Nicholas could practice with his band. Everything seemed great until he woke up one morning and couldn't move his right foot. "I had an MRI and my back and hips were just shot," he says. "The doctor had to go in there, work on the sciatic nerve and take my back apart and unscramble the mess."
His medical issues date back to 2000 when he lost almost all hearing in his left ear. His problems grew when all the drumming he did on the 2007 Genesis reunion tour led to a dislocated vertebra in his neck that caused nerve damage in his hands, ultimately leaving him unable to play the drums. He tried to carry on, even taping the sticks to his hands, but it seemed hopeless. "After this surgery, though, the doctor said to me that my vital signs were all there," he says. "He said to me, 'If you want to play drums again, all you have to do is practice.'"
Anticipating a return, he reconvened his old band, including bassist Leland Sklar and drummer Jason Bonham (in place of Chester Thompson), for three weeks of rehearsal last year. "I wasn't in good shape and then I got sick, which didn't help," he says. "Jason's a lovely guy and a great player. We never really talked since we finished that third week, so I never found out how the other guys liked it or how Jason liked it."
"If people rediscover the old stuff and show interest, it'd be silly to not make more music."
He's also moving a studio into his Miami home and says that he'll be begin recording new music in about a month, though he's unsure if the tour will come before or after an album. The decision will be based partially on the public's reception to his upcoming slate of solo album reissues, which will feature tons of unheard demos and alternate versions of songs from throughout his career. "I got very involved in these reissues," he says. "We even re-shot all the covers, which was my idea. I'm easily flattered. If people rediscover the old stuff and show interest, it would be silly to not make more music."
Collins' longtime manager Tony Smith is laying the groundwork for a tour right now, but the details are up in the air. "I don't think I want a very long tour," Collins says. "But I would like to play the stadiums in Australia and the Far East, and that's the only way to do that. But there's a part of me that just wants to do theaters, so we'll see."
News of Collins' return to the stage is certain to get Genesis fans hoping the band will also make a return, but Collins is noncommittal. "Let's start with this [solo] bit first," he says. "I love the guys. I would just prefer to do this first. For now, let's just see how this goes."
The Peter Gabriel-led lineup of Genesis hasn't played since a one-off reunion in 1982 and they haven't toured since 1975. Fans continue to fantasize about a reunion, which baffles Collins. "I just don't understand that," he says. "They haven't thought it through. Pete won't sing 'Invisible Touch' or 'I Can't Dance.' We'd only do material like 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.' Also, I can't play drums, so I can't do what I did. I just want to settle with the bits of me that I can possibly do."
Right now, his focus is on recovering from the surgery and seeing what kind of music he's inspired to write. "No matter what happens, I can go out there, play piano and sing," he says. "I'm just in a very happy place right now."