Getting a haircut and ditching your favourite hat isn’t really a big deal for you and I. But when James Bay emerged from his post-tour hibernation without his suitably un-quaffed long locks and hipster hat, it was enough to get people talking.
In 2015 he’d released ‘Chaos and the Calm’, his debut album after years in the UK honing his skills as a blues-obsessed open-mic junkie. His penchant for Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson (and a little Hanson if you ask me), attracted crowds who enjoyed the emotive undertones of ‘Let it Go’, but wanted to hear someone who could really play and really sing. Not just look kind of wistful with a guitar.
Recognising he was being “pinned down as ‘the intimate acoustic guitar guy’,” Bays says “the ethos of my second album (Electric Light) has been to constantly move forward… it’s forged by the white heat of innovation.”
“My musical taste is broader than what one of my albums sounds like.”
Speaking with Hope 103.2 about the change of image Bay says, “Like any artist, my musical taste is broader than what one of my albums sounds like. I have a lot more to get off my chest sonically, musically, and I wanted to… push the boundaries of the artist I’d become known as.”
Listening to ‘Electric Light’, this goal shows. Yes, he could cause a room to erupt in true stadium style with big choruses and the throng of harmonic vocals, but this time he took a left turn into influences like Bowie and LCD Soundsystem.
“There’s something about [their] ramshackle sound… that’s special,” says Bay. “It’s full of character [and] I was fascinated by those approaches because it isn’t smooth [or] conventional.”
When Should the Private Become Public?
Learning to be himself while including fans on the journey (who by default feel ownership of his music), is something Bay has developed over time. What he keeps private, and chooses to make public has evolved.
“You monitor that [line] every day,” he says. “You do everything you can to sort of further your reach as an artist because that’s all I’m trying to do is reach more and more people, [and] you get more comfortable and more familiar with your surroundings. So the boundaries change, and you kind of go with that gradually, and all the while making sure the music stays front and centre.”
Why Unity Makes Conversation Better
Within the music on ‘Electric Light’, a message of unity is one Bay wants people to pay attention to. His new single ‘Us’, is a favourite that sums it up.
“It’s about unity and the importance of being together, and sharing moments actually in the same room in the presence of each other. It’s all about human connection,” says Bay. “[Outside of touring] the real world is a wonderful place, but can also be a really divided place. In recent times there’s been that in some pretty prominent ways, so ‘Us’ is one of these songs that wants to instil more belief on how we can just be better, and have a better time by connecting on a human level.”
James Bay’s ‘Electric Light’ is out now.