Within a short six years since his debut, we’ve already seen many sides of James Bay…
There was the GRAMMY® Award-nominated troubadour with dusty acoustic anthems of heartbreak on 2014’s Chaos and the Calm. This evolved into losing the hat and leaning into a much louder sound for 2018’s Electric Light and finally mixing the two sounds together on 2019’s Oh My Messy Mind EP.
All three of these chapters are a proud part of James Bay, but in 2020, he’s ready to tell a whole new story…
“I’m a really private person,” he admits. “My home life is a very intimate thing for me. However, I’m ready to talk about it for the first time. These next singles and album are a bit of a tribute to the thirteen-year journey my girlfriend and I have been on. She’s the coolest person in the world. We were close friends before we were in a relationship. Back in the day, we would be sitting in on a Wednesday night watching TV, and she would say, ‘Hang on, if you want to be a big artist one day, surely you should be out in some pub or club playing some songs right now!’ She instilled that in me, and I got out and did it. I wouldn’t be here without her. She’s the fire in the engine tank.”
Honoring the person responsible for igniting this fire (and kickstarting his career), James decided to write about his personal life like never before and asked himself one question while diving into this new body of work…
“Where can I get fresh excitement?” he asks. “I will always honor and appeal to the fans who have stuck by me. However, I’m going to shake it up just a bit. Musically, I’m doing that. I’m trying to give myself a new version of a classic approach.”
Bay has quietly perfected this approach. On the heels of his platinum-certified 2014 debut Chaos And The Calm, he garnered GRAMMY® nods in the categories of “Best New Artist,” “Best Rock Album,” and “Best Rock Song” for the gold-selling single “Hold Back The River.” Meanwhile, “Let It Go” went triple-platinum. Nominated for dozens of awards, he took home two BRIT Awards, two Q Awards, and top honors at the Ivor Novello Awards and ECHO Awards. Tallying 3 billion streams by 2020, he has performed on Saturday Night Live, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!, The Late Late Show with James Corden, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Today Show, Good Morning America and more. He also notably dueted with icons such as Alicia Keys on The Voice and Mick Jagger while supporting The Rolling Stones at Twickenham Stadium in London. In addition to selling out shows on four continents, Epiphone honored him with his own Limited-Edition James Bay Signature “1966” guitar. Following the success of 2018’s Electric Light, he deconstructed his sound to its bare essentials on the Oh My Messy Mind EP a year later. It yielded the hit “Peer Pressure” [feat. Julia Michaels], generating 131 million Spotify streams and receiving acclaim from Time, Rolling Stone, and Billboard. He spent the majority of 2019 opening for Ed Sheeran on his record-breaking stadium run. However, rather than break from writing, he kept going.
“I took all of these experiences, soaked them up, and sort of rang myself out,” he admits. “I breathed out and walked back into my musical journey. I used to think I needed to follow a cycle of write, record, release, promote, tour, and break. Instead, I dipped my toe into writing during tour to see if I could. If I want longevity, I have to try new things all the time. I let the past be the past and just kept pushing forward. Electric Light was a great experience, because it was so different. Then, I stripped everything down for the Oh My Messy Mind EP, which was a therapy session in a way. With the new music, I’ve been able to distill everything into lean songwriting. I’m drawing from what I’ve done, but I’m refining everything. In the past, I had often written from a place of sadness. During this process, I really zeroed in on what’s positive and great in my life. The lyrics really reflect that positivity. It’s a different season for me.”
At the top of 2020, he retreated to Nashville for a month with powerhouse producer Dave Cobb [Lady Gaga, Sturgill Simpson, Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton]. Cobb assembled an A-list group of musicians, including drummer Nate Smith [Vulfpeck, Brittany Howard] and keyboardist Phil Chandler. He also coaxed Bay to deliver some of his rawest studio performances yet.
“Dave doesn’t give a shit about how pop music is typically done,” he states. “He just wants everything to be emotional and human. I love that. He’s a real musician. He sat in the room with the band, rolled up his sleeves, and got dirty. He built a live atmosphere. We never did anything more than five or six takes. It was always very instinctive and in-the-moment.”
“‘Chew On My Heart’ is a great example of releasing something about myself publicly for the first time,” he reveals. “It’s an outpouring of love, and that’s a huge theme across this new music. When I come home from tour, I burst through the door and throw my arms around my girl, and she’ll just say, ‘Okay, relax, cool’,” he laughs. “It’s cheesy, but I wrote it from that perspective. It’s the opposite of being guarded.”
As he prepared for the release of the album, Bay showed another side of himself on social media. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he launched weekly free guitar lessons on Instagram Live, teaching fans how to play his hits with nuance and unparalleled attention-to-detail. It marked a full circle moment as he worked as a guitar teacher post-high school.
“Down to my bones, I am a guitar player,” he admits. “I always worried about singing second. This was something new for me, and it was very gratifying.”
In the end, Bay moves himself forward and moves fans more than ever by opening up.
“When you listen to this next chapter, I want you to take away a new soundtrack to your life day-to-day,” he leaves off. “It’s for rushing to a meeting, going on a first date, returning home on the subway. I hope it catches you off guard and moves you in a positive way. That’s what music has always done for me.”