In Conversation with James Bay

Tackling issues of isolation, self-doubt and anxiety, James Bay’s latest album ‘Leap’, released in July this year, takes the listener on a journey into mental clarity and paints a canvas of vulnerability and honesty.

In collaboration with Universal Music’s °1824, the stellar singer-songwriter sat down with a group of media outlets to talk them through the production, inspiration, and behind-the-scenes of his brilliantly hopeful new record, tapping into themes of solitude, the newness of being a father and his goals for the future. Here are our favourite highlights from the enthralling interview session.

What’s something new or surprising that you discovered about yourself either as an artist, a songwriter or a person during the making of this new album?

“It’s not as scary to be more vulnerable with my lyric writing — my songwriting. It’s not as scary as I thought it was. What I mean by that is, I’ve gone to a new depth of reality with regard to what I say in my songs. Ninety-nine percent of my songs are written from a very personal experience. And I was always writing in a more abstract way, I think — definitely on my first album, sometimes on my second album. Because I was always afraid to just say it, whatever thing may have been that I was writing about. I’ve tried to do that a lot more this time because I wanted to face the fear that I felt I had. So I discovered, it’s not quite as scary. It resonates with people and music is about connecting. That’s what I love about music, and I feel like it’s helping me do that even more with my music. There’s something a little more freeing about not having to chase down the best analogy or metaphor.”

In your Spotify playlist, when you talk about each track, you use sensory language to describe your songs as for example sweet and warm. If you could choose three senses or fragrances to describe the essence of the album, what would you choose?

“I had no idea I did that, but now I realise I really do. I don’t know why but the first one would be the smell of sandalwood. Everyone loves sandalwood, it’s inviting. That’s what I want this music to do. I want it to lift your chin. I have been dealing with some darkness, and emotionally difficult times, and as I started to write to remedy those difficulties, I was doing my typical thing of writing down into sadness, and through it. But with this one, I thought, no, I wanted to try and make it stand. There is a warmth and an inviting sensory experience to that sandalwood smell. So that’s in there. Light, the first light in the morning, that glowy, soft light, that is so fresh, that’s there in this music. And in a way, the sense of lying on the floor and feeling the ground, the stability and security. And the freedom that comes with that.”

What would you recommend is the best way to listen to your new album?

“Sitting down with the music, where you do nothing else and just staring at the speakers and listening to it can be quite an intense way to digest music. So I always think while travelling, in transit. Maybe go for a walk or on the train. A plane-listen is nuts, because high up there in the air, everybody’s emotions go nuts. But I would recommend in transit because that’s when we all get time to think about other stuff in our life. So yeah, on the move. It’s the way that I love listening to music when your life is paused for one or a few hours and you literally can’t do anything else but be with your thoughts and experiences.”

What is the process like working with different people and influences when it comes down to the new records versus doing it all by yourself?

“Everybody is chasing writing and creating on their own, everybody’s trying to be the only name in the credits. It’s exciting when it comes off, but collaboration is the spice of life. As far as just spicing up the process, shaking it up when necessary, or just digging in on one thing together as a team, whether it’s two of you or more, there’s nothing like it. I got more into this in the last couple of years, and actually on ‘Leap’, I decided to go to co-writing sessions with no ideas and just speak from the heart about what’s going on and see what we make musically in that moment. I really enjoyed that.”

How do you think have your album and your style of writing reflected this new chapter of your life as a parent and taking on this responsibility?

“All of these songs were written before my daughter was born, but for nine last months that we knew she was on the way, I wrote the last couple of them. I felt like in some way, I was kind of finishing up what I had been dealing with in the writing of the rest of the album, so it didn’t directly connect to this new chapter I was coming into. But I’ve been writing since then and this new version of my life is so unbelievable and overwhelming and wonderful, and it’s affecting what I do. And I’m trying to let it be very organic and let it affect it in the ways that it just will, as I’m writing from a perspective of the present.”

What would be your biggest advice to anyone else looking to learn guitar or make their own music?

“Learning guitar hurts. You know, it will physically hurt, but the thing is, if you love something and you want to do it, you know, embrace the physical, the emotional pain that comes with getting better because it’s through that stuff that you really learn and grow. I think if anybody wants to learn how to play the guitar, or make their own music, do it for you. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to a place where there are people who love your music, but you don’t write your music for them, because at that point they aren’t your fans yet. So there is something to be respected about doing things for yourself and then sharing it.”

As a three-time Grammy Award-nominated, and Brit Award-winning multi-platinum singer-songwriter, you already accomplished so much in your music career, what are your goals and aspirations moving forward?

“So much about music and what I get to do, it’s magic, you know. There is something so mystical and incredible about it. But I want to be able to sell out venues at the end of 2022 and the end of 2023. I want to make moves to exist and not disappear. I don’t know how that sounds. I love music, I love performing live and sharing it with the crowds. I feel like I have so much to offer, and I know these are bold things to say, but I’m trying to get to my peak and take people who are interested in that with me.”

Written by Laura Weingrill // photography by Phoebe Fox

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