A. Tom Collins free mp3s, photos and video in advance of UMS - Reverb

Mile Marker (UMS edition): A. Tom Collins

UMS: Dixie-jazz-punk band A. Tom Collins mixes up a potent party cocktail

By Ricardo Baca

Aaron Thomas Collins is nervous. His band, A. Tom Collins, is playing an enviable slot at the UMS this weekend — 1 o’clock Saturday night at the traditionally reserved-for-film Mayan Theatre. Oh, and he’s playing after indie-rock heroes Black Heart Procession.

“I’m a little intimidated,” Collins said with a laugh last week, his hand nervously picking at a bottle of cider.

Collins isn’t known as an easily intimidated sort. He’s more often associated with words like “fearless” and “reckless.” Having fronted lawless punk outfit Machine Gun Blues for years, he’s since settled into the more melodic confines of the band that bends his name into a cocktail play.

Did somebody say cocktail?

“I remember the first time I brought the demo to a friend’s house, and he put it in iTunes, and under genre, he put ‘boozy,’ ” Collins said. “And yeah, that’s what we’re going for. At the very heart of A. Tom Collins, it’s a good-times party band.”

And that sounds a lot like Machine Gun Blues — only with less blood and nudity. Instead of being free to take off his clothes and meander the club and drink fans’ beers and fall off the kickdrum, Collins is now tied to the piano — guiding his Dixie jazz band of misfits through a memorable collection of original songs that have captivated a burgeoning fan base in Colorado.

“Our music does have a very big Dixie jazz sound to it, but none of us listens to Dixie jazz,” Collins admits. “We’re punk kids, and we picked up horns and blew into them, and this is what came out.”

The band grew out of the Quee-quegs, a late-night party band that would close the nights at the Yellow Bordello, an old Denver punk house, with drunken renditions of traditional sea shanties. Collins first joined the fold by playing a teapot in a crowded kitchen sing-along. Now he’s leading the band and drawing comparisons to Tom Waits — not because he sounds like the legendary troubadour but because his band’s melodic chaos often treads similar musical ground.

“When you’re compared to Tom Waits, there’s nothing you can say about that,” Collins said with an embarrassed grin. “It seems like artists are often compared to giants — a young rapper is compared to Tupac — and that’s unfair. You can’t ever live up to that. Anytime somebody compares me to Tom Waits, it’s really unfair to Tom Waits.”

Collins married Paper Bird siren Esme Patterson in 2010, and the two-musician household brought up the curious nature of artists and their stage personalities.

“I didn’t want to marry Esme for Paper Bird,” he said. “I wanted to marry Esme Patterson, who is the person behind that person. Often, musicians and anyone who lives publically — even on a really, really, really small scale like we do — you have to realize it’s two different people, and you have to turn that person off so you can be with that other person.

“I don’t think anybody would want to marry A. Tom Collins. He’s kind of a (expletive). It’s two different people, and I knew that really early on. When you take the spectrum of your personality and splay it out, a little tiny spectrum is that person on stage, and I write songs from there, and it’s this character that is me, but it’s this little tiny part of me.”

Unsurprisingly, Collins’ wife has him (and his onstage personality) dead to rights.

“Es calls him ‘Party Jesus,’ ” Collins said of his persona. “She says I party hard enough to clear up the sins of everybody else at the party.”

A. Tom Collins plays the Mayan Theatre at 1 a.m. on Saturday, July 23 as part of The 11th annual UMS. Click here to view the full line-up and buy tickets — $40 for a four-day wristband.

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John Hendrickson is the managing editor of Reverb and a multimedia journalist for The Denver Post. Follow his rants on music and more on Twitter.

Evan Semón is a Denver freelance writer and photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work.

Ryan Johnson is a freelance videographer, lousy guitar player, and a social media strategist at OnSight Public Affairs.