"If I were to go to college, I'd want to be a physicist," he says. "I took it in high school, and I got really into it. I learned so much that I would never have known about my surroundings, and then it affected me to think differently about where I am corresponding to the world."
At age 19, though, he has the luxury of time, and, for now, he's pursuing a path that relies more on inspiration than education. Anything that influences him to "think differently" about where he is "corresponding to the world" finds expression in a song, or a dozen of them.
On Friday, Oct. 20, at Club Congress, he's celebrating his first release for national distribution. The new collection includes material from two earlier, hand-fashioned CDs, as well as five new songs, all drenched in the influence of The Kinks, Beatles and Bob Dylan records in his father's music collection, but updated with his own novel arrangements and recording techniques. The event is much anticipated by fans who have been drawn to his talent since he started playing out at age 16, attracting comparisons to the likes of Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes, even John Lennon.
Much lies behind Collberg as well. Born in Sweden, he moved with his family to New Zealand at age 7, the same year he began learning to play drums. At age 12, he moved to Tucson when his parents came to teach at the UA, his mother a linguist, and his father a peripatetic computer scientist. Collberg had been to the United States exactly once before, to visit his mother's relatives in Louisiana, but the family had traveled widely since he was an infant.
"I've been traveling since I was 2 months old," he says. "Traveling to new places doesn't really affect me too much; it's just kind of like a part of who I am. Some people live in the same town for their whole life, and they go somewhere and feel a disconnection. Lots of places mean so much to me that really, coming to a new place, and never being here and living here, it was like a new adventure or something."
Intelligent, self-assured, laconic and profoundly relaxed, Collberg gives the impression that such perviousness defines his worldview. Expectation and acceptance of new developments may diminish his sense of surprise, even excitement, but they seem to enhance his agility in adaptation. He gives the impression that whatever happens, he can probably make it work.
Collberg plays all the instruments and creates all the effects in his recordings, often using a collection of musical toys that he says are underappreciated by his roommates. In live performances, he surrounds himself with other, first-rate musicians: guitarist Connor Gallaher, 18, of The Night Owls blues band, and drummer Arthur Vint, 16, founder and drummer of the Afrodelic Stegosaurchestra, and drummer for Naim Amor, Tucson Philharmonia, Arizona Jazz Academy, and the Arizona Roadrunners traditional jazz band. "Their musicianship is way beyond me," Collberg demurs. "They can pick anything up and play it, so I don't really tell them what to do." Michael John Serpe, 35, has recently joined the group on bass.
Many of the songs he performs with the band remain unrecorded, but he longs to capture their unique dynamics in a studio. "Most of the time when I play live, I play a lot of songs that I don't have on CDs," he says. "A lot of times, they'll just change the structure of the song and what we're going to do while we're playing. That makes it more exciting. They all bring something different. Like Connor's an amazing slide player. I can't play slide on my recordings, and I don't. It's just fun to do different stuff."
It's hard to imagine, though, that recording with a band could have added any more variety or texture to the tracks on Collberg's self-titled debut. "Not Me," for example, features an inspired break aggregating the sounds of three organs processed through a computer. Similarly, the intricate drumming on "Water Fell" overlaps parts played on three drum sets. The previously unrecorded "Go Back to You" is a sonic left turn from the collection's overall pop temperament. Its deep, dark and dissonant arrangement reflects what Collberg refers to as "a really bad place doing lots of unhealthy things."
One supposes that's what youth is for. But Collberg will tell you his age is irrelevant, and perhaps he's right. His music would be compelling at any age.