Singer/ songwriter Wes Collins readily admits that he makes stuff up. Some of his profession devote their composition skills to personal reflection and autobiography. Others create ballads totally from whole cloth. Collins does some of each.
He fabricates some song scenarios and blends in actual intimate experience for others. The North Carolina native will perform from his award-winning hybrid songwriting repertoire at 7 p.m. Sunday at The Depot, 200 S. Jones Ave. It’s part of the Winter Wind Concert Series.
One of Collins’ songs titled “Pelican” is just cryptic enough that is begged explanation. He spoke with The Transcript during a lunch break at his librarian day job at the Chatham Community Library in Pittsboro, North Carolina.
“I actually wrote that song for my wife Anita,” Collins said. “It’s fictionalized a little bit. But it is in fact about the moment I told her how I felt about her. We were pretty good friends. I felt like I was so deeply in the friend zone that I had an employee of the month picture on the wall.
"I was firmly in the friend zone with no hope of ever getting out. But I had such a crush on her that I felt like I needed to make a break. Not be around for a couple of weeks and get my head on straight. Then I’ll be back and be your friend and everything will be cool.”
Happily, in real life Collins made his move and Anita told him she felt the same way. He wrote the “Pelican” early courtship song 29 years into their marriage. If the song hadn’t been about Collins’ wife but someone else in real life he’d be considered a bold rascal.
“Anita knows I make stuff up,” he said with a chuckle. “There’s a few songs that are true and some completely fictional.”
Collins’ songs are informed by feelings he’s had or personal experiences.
“But they’re generally not play-by play-recounting of things that went down,” he said. “About the only autobiographical song I’ve got is on my first record called ‘Come Around.’ It cracks me up because I felt like I gave away too much in that song. It was a little too bullet-pointy. This happened, this happened and I felt this way. I’ve had people tell me what they thought it was about. I thought I was being way too clear but people are going to hear what they hear and that’s great.”
Professional songwriter judges definitely like what they hear in Collins’ compositions. He took first place in the 2012 North Carolina Songwriter's Co-op Song Contest and made the finals in the 2013 Kerrville, Texas New Folk Competition. In 2015 Collins went back to Kerrville and was among the top half dozen winners there.
In 2017, the North Carolina Arts Council awarded him a songwriting fellowship and he used those funds to record latest LP “Welcome to the Ether.” Collins’ success in Texas is particularly impressive due to the crowded field of talented Americana artists attracted there. But he’s definitely a product of the Southeast as betrayed by some of his colorful language.
“I say things a lot that I guess are North Carolina colloquialisms,” he said. “People have said to me, ‘What did you just say, what are you actually talking about.’ There’s a line in my song ‘I Love You Guys,’ that I’ll ‘get clean up on this bar.’ I’ve been asked, don’t you mean get clear up on this bar. I don’t know, maybe I just made that (expression) up.”
It’s hard for Collins to pinpoint just one thing he likes about his singer/ songwriter career.
“Honestly I think my favorite thing and what has pulled me forward doing it, is coming to places like Kerrville and Folk Alliance’s regional southeast conference,” he said. “Just being exposed to amazing songwriting. It puts you in a milieu where you’re made to hear songs in a way I wouldn’t hear them from a record.”
Collins is nervous and excited about returning to Norman for his Sunday show.
“I want to get my songs strung up just right so they entertain folks,” he said. “Slaid Cleves and Susan Gibson play that series. It’s big doin’s.”