James Collington, the East Providence singer-songwriter who goes simply by Collington on stage, is having a moment, though he would probably put it differently. “I just go through the doors as they open. One door leads to another,” James says, adding the caveat, “I’ll gladly go through them but if it doesn’t work out I’m okay with that.”
That’s a levelheaded perspective for someone who had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time, not only opening for a national act, but also having that performer turn around and offer to produce his album.
Here are the Cliff’s Notes: over the summer James had the opportunity to open a show in Boston for Paramore’s Aaron Gillespie, but only after one of the originally scheduled bands fell through. From there, Aaron waited for James backstage and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “When I finished my set he told me he enjoyed it and invited me out to Utah to make my record,” says James. “Then I kind of laughed at him.”
Speaking with James on Thayer Street he struck me as genuinely humble, so it doesn’t surprise me that he laughed off Aaron’s offer. Clearly, Aaron didn’t take it personally. Over the course of two weeks in Utah, James hunkered down in the studio and found the voice he’s been working towards. He chalks it up to his collaboration with Aaron, who as a producer wasn’t afraid to call him out when something wasn’t working. “The worst thing you can hear when you’re working on a record is, ‘well what do you think, it’s your record,’” James says. “There were some things where he would say ‘dude, this sucks.’ He helped settle me down in areas where I needed it.”
The result is the deeply personal We Swim in Seas That Never Rest. The dreamy, anthemic “Don’t Crumble” starts things off and demonstrates James’ strong indie-pop sensibilities while setting the stage for the tracks to follow. As the title of the album suggests, recurring themes are coping with life’s struggles, which he explores most intimately on “This Ain’t My Home.” If there’s a single on the album I’d say it’s “City Lights” whose catchy, jangly licks were lodged pretty firmly in my head for a few days after seeing Collington perform at The Met in January. While words like “jangly” and “indie-pop” can paint a certain kind of picture, the folksy harmonica and slide guitar heavy “Steam Train Heart,” bluesy “Coffee” and borderline pop-country “Driving All Night” prove that the voice James has found is as mercurial as it is confident.
Since finishing the album, James finds himself presented with new opportunities. He’s working with a booking agent for the first time, and the merits of the record are landing him gigs that would have seemed pretty out of reach just a year ago. You’d think this would go to a guy’s head, but as I said, James is super level headed about all of it.
“I’ve been doing this for years and it doesn’t always make sense sometimes, but doors are opening,” he says. “It’s a fun dream to have. I feel like a lot of people have it and a lot of people wake up. Somehow I’m still asleep. I just feel like it’s the thing I’m supposed to be doing.”
He hasn’t ruled out that he might wake up someday and, should that happen, he seems perfectly willing to accept it. In the meantime, he’s just riding the wave.