By David Menconi
If you ever find yourself at Pittsboro’s Chatham Community Library and come face to face with librarian Wes Collins, don’t worry if he has a far-away look in the eyes – he’s probably just writing another song. The Chapel Hill resident is one of the best songwriters in the Triangle’s vital Americana quadrant, but librarian is how he makes his living. And it’s actually the perfect job for a songwriter, at least some of the time.
“The days working the desk can take a lot out of me,” he says. “But the times when I’m not on the desk is pretty close to the ideal place to hold my brain if I’m at the editing stage of a song. Tending to the shelves and seeing that 81254 comes after 81172, that’s a good place to run (a song lyric) over my tongue, see if it stands. It’s not exactly sub-conscious, just a process I’ll have running in the background.”
It’s worked great so far for Collins, a late-bloomer who did not actually write a finished song until the age of 44. That was “Rabbit Hole,” one of 12 songs to appear on his 2013 debut album One Layer Down. A second album followed this year, Welcome to the Ether, recorded with a North Carolina Arts Council grant and featuring cover art by his son Will Collins.
Collins’ songs feature elegant finger-picking, hook-filled arrangements and impeccable wordplay with neither a sound or a syllable out of place, everything fitting together perfectly. His songs and voice bear more than passing resemblance to Texas singer-songwriter Robert Ellis, with former Chapel Hillian James Taylor serving as an inspirational lodestar for Collins. Revisiting the latter’s music is something of an occasional compass-setting ritual.
“James Taylor’s like the Beatles for me because his music is unbelievably complex and gorgeous,” Collins says. “I remember being 19 years old and trying to crack him, but he’s a realm unto himself. Figuring out his songs takes a lot of work, with a lot to unlearn. When I went to climb JT Mountain, I found that the tools I had were useless. It was a long, long process.” So is record-making. With two albums done, he’s starting to think about a third and hopes to work again with producer Chris Rosser.
“I’m definitely writing and also trying to figure out what to do with a whole bunch of things at various stages of completion,” he says. “I didn’t think I’d ever make a second album. Or even a first, really. I’ve kind of surprised myself by thinking about making another. We’ll see.”
To learn more about Wes Collins, visit his website here.