Fifteen albums down and still more to come
Renowned Canadian singer/songwriter Colin James has just released his fifteenth studio album, aptly named just that – Fifteen. Although he states that he had several other working titles in mind, this one just fit the discography as a benchmark of sorts. The new album showcases a myriad of his eclectic styles he has developed over the years, and is evidence of his transition over the years, and even a couple tributes to inspiring artists from his repertoire. From singing about bees to talking of a shoulder to cry on, he touches on a little bit of everything that his career has transgressed through over two decades of rocking and folking from coast to coast and continent to continent.
Martyr’s Devin Size caught up with Colin over the phone on the release date of the album, and even after fifteen discs spun, he’s still just as enthusiastic about his first love as he has been since he was a little boy writing his first songs. He still to this day shows that as a solo artist, or playing in a Little Big Band, he’ll never go stale.
DS: Well, today’s the day, Fifteen is out now, how does it feel?
Colin: It feels good! Been running around for the last week or so getting prepared doing this and that, tomorrow the tour starts and I’m out to Ottawa for a show, I feel like I’ve done all the promo work, and this IS my fifteenth records, so yeah, it feels good.
DS: I figured that the title was self-evident to that fact, seemed conducive to call it so?
Colin: Well I feel like it tells a story. We had some other titles in mind, some from titles on the record and some that we were tossing around that had nothing to do with it. This one, I felt for everyone concerned, we agreed that it all built up to this with the story intertwined.
DS: This album really takes bits and pieces from all of your styles over the years, was it intentional to incorporate all genres into this?
Colin: Not exactly, really you just hunt for the best songs you can. I don’t think it was intentional per se, the songs I wrote with Gordie Johnson are kind of blues and rock just like we have written over the years, and that’s kind of how that went. And when it comes to Ron Sexsmith, he’s such a different style of writer, so the songs I write with him tend to be on the softer side. So that’s how it went down, but I love the dichotomy, cause I love to rock, but I love to write songs with feel, so this album provides a little of all of it.
DS: And that permeates in songs like “Shoulder To Cry On” do you feel like you’re often that person?
Colin: I think the sentiment of that song is universal. I mean, everyone has those people that we lean on when we need to. What I really like about that song is the chord progressions. Me and Ron worked on that one together for a while, and I’m just really happy with the entire structure of that song. It’s funny too because we finished recording the song, and then after realized we forgot the bridge, and had to call the producer and insert it after, which is now my favourite part of the song.
DS: You speak of the dichotomy between song genres, from sweeter and softer to upbeat, what made you choose to cover an upbeat tune like Allan Toussaint’s “Sneakin’ Sally?”
Colin: Well Toussaint wrote “Workin’ In A Coal Mine” and now has been touring with Elvis Costello and that song was covered very well by Robert Palmer. It has recognition factor and it’s a funky tune, it’s probably the only all out funk song on the record. It’s an old favourite of mine I wanted to resurrect, and really that’s all there is to it.
DS: So tell me about the first single from Fifteen and rock tune “Stone Faith” then?
Colin: Me and Tom (Wilson) were trying to write a rocker with that song. Everyone wanted to go with that as the first single, because it does relate back to some of my earlier rock stuff. Playing a few times, actually played it today for a show, it’s really starting to grow on me, it’s a really fun song. It’s long, it has great progressions and a modern feel. I think the idea was to epitomize the entirety of my career as a songwriter.DS: Well speaking of which, after over two decades in the circuit, how does an artist like you continuously keep the writing fresh and stay enthusiastic about it?
Colin: Well I love music and I’ve been passionate about it since I was ten years old. So that will never change. But I guess you just try to find for people to inspire you, old favourite like Van Morrison, always waiting for new releases from Van Morrison. I’ve tried to keep my ear to the ground for stuff that I like new and old, and I’m still a music fan myself so that always helps push me forward. Now I even like Bruno Mars and think he has a bright future, besides the really obvious pop stuff he does, he’s got potential. There’s a lot of great stuff out there and it keep me eclectic as a musician. If I stuck to just rock I think I’d go bonkers. I have to keep it fresh.
DS: So I’ve been looking through your tour list and I have an issue here, I don’t seem to see Toronto on the Canadian dates? Why is that?
Colin: We had a bit of an issue because I played Massey Hall two months ago for a nice sold out show, but as a result now we haven’t been able to nail down a Toronto date for the new album tour. There will be something hopefully near the end of the tour that will be announced at a future date.
DS: So I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering, but will we see a return of The Little Big Band?
Colin: I love doing those records, the third instalment was about 5-6 years ago now, not that long ago, I think there will be a Little Big Band 4, but if I do, it won’t be next, I think that’s something that’ll come back after another two or three records from now. I’ve done the Christmas record too, I feel like I’ve done my duty.
DS: Besides Canada of course, what locale has had the greatest influence on your music outside the border, and why?
Colin: I’ve always enjoyed Europe, they’re big blues fans in Norway and Sweden, so that’s always been a big thing for me. And they’re real collectors out there as well. They’re very knowledgeable about their music and I’ve always had a great appreciation for that. When I toured through Spain I thought it was a very interesting place to play. No matter what though I have a great relationship with LA, because my first record label was Virgin Records America as a young 20 year old, so I always feel at home there.
DS: So it’s safe to say that we haven’t seen the last of Colin James then?
Colin: Absolutely not. I’m playing on the new Alan Doyle record (Great Big Sea) and will be really enjoying bringing the new album on the road. My problem is the set list is getting pretty damn big, but it’s always fun to change it up with such a big library. Interview by Devin Size