He’s currently on tour with one of music’s biggest names, Tom Odell, and has just come off touring with John Newman, not only that, but he is just about to embark on his first headline tour across the UK, later this week. So, to say it’s a busy time for this young singer/songwriter from a small town just outside of London, is an under statement. I was lucky enough to catch a rare moment of his free time to chat, and did I mention he’d just come off the stage from practising a little something with Tom Odell, that’s rumoured to be happening at tonight’s show? All I can say is the audience are in for a treat.
I caught up with James Bay earlier just before his show tonight in Edinburgh supporting Tom Odell. We chatted about his forthcoming début album, touring and what inspired him to pursue a career in music, plus much, much more. Please read on to hear what he said.
Since I last caught up with you, you’ve been working hard to complete your forthcoming début record. How’s it coming along? Has there been anything that’s surprised you during the process of working on the record?
Well, yeah. You know natural surprises. I’m taking things from a smaller, more solo acoustic sound to something a lot bigger and a lot more of a full band sound, so it’s been going great and I’m really excited for everybody to hear it. But it’s just a massive adventure, it’s actually kind of hard to talk about it and describe it, I think, until I’ve come to a place where I can show what I’ve done. But with that said I’m over the moon with how it’s been going and yeah I can’t wait for people to hear it.
They say that the first album is the one you spend your entire life writing and with this being your first record. When did you start writing tracks that you knew would make the cut for the record?
I don’t think you really kind of take stock of when you started writing if it’s your first record, like it is for me. Some of these songs are a lot older than some of the others, but it’s all sort of come together since I sat down however many two or so years ago and said you know, ‘I really wanna have a go at being a solo artist’. So in that time up until now, I’ve been working away writing as many great songs as I can, I chose some and they’ve made the album. There was no point when I went ‘Okay, let’s begin’.
I’m always fascinated by song lyrics and phrases; you’re particularly good at writing the perfect lyric.
Oh, thank you.
So I wanted to ask, what’s your favourite lyric that you’ve written so far?
That’s a difficult question, I’m sure you can imagine. There’s a lot of lyrics, a LOT of lyrics. One that sticks in my head that I’ve always been pretty proud of is in the second verse of a song of mine called If You Ever Want To Be In Love.
There’s a line, it’s kind of the second half of the verse really, it starts with:
wanting to ask if we could’ve been, but my tongue wouldn’t break the seal
and then my favourite bit is:
you always had something effortless, in school you were the biggest deal
It’s that second half that I’ve always…I just really like it. I’m proud of my lyrics, but that bit always sticks out.
Can you talk us through your songwriting process a little bit?
Again, it’s a difficult one because it’s never the same. Basically, it kinda goes like this, however many times you sit down and say ‘Okay, I’m going to write a song’ it doesn’t happen. Songs, lyrics, melodies and ideas, they catch you off guard and that’s kind of the beauty of it and the magic of creativity really.
You kind of just have to grab it, as soon as you see that little light in what feels like a load of darkness, you see a little shining light and you just try to follow that for as long as you can and it might disappear at some point. But there you go, you’ve got maybe nearly half a song. It’s a spontaneous and sporadic thing writing a song, so it’s hard to pin down the exact process of it because it changes all the time.
How long did it take you to write the song, Collide?
I suppose that was across a couple of days really. Collectively it was kind of in bits, like so many songs are. I sit down and come up with maybe a guitar part that will start an idea, then I’ll leave it, after an hour or two or sometimes there are other times when songs probably come together in a number of hours, but that one must be somewhere across a couple of days.
If you could collaborate with any artist, who would that be and why?
That’s a good question, that’s a very good question. Like everybody else I’m a big fan of beautiful voices. There’s a girl who’s just coming about, I’ve heard some of her stuff on soundcloud. Her name is Eva Stone and I think she’s got such a cool voice and if I could sing with someone maybe it’d be her.
I wanted to take some time to try and get to know the man behind the music a little more. At what point in your life, did you realise you wanted to pursue a career in music and what drove you to want to pursue a career in music?
Well, I guess a number of different things really. When I was a tiny little kid, I remember hearing and seeing different big pop stars like Michael Jackson and people like that, and just being blown off my feet. So early on, it was folks like that that made me think ‘Man, wouldn’t it be cool to be up on the stage like that?’ and then kinda later on, it was when I picked up a guitar and I started learning guitar parts and learning songs and started getting to write my own stuff.
The thing that made me wanna keep doing it and try and pursue it as a career is how much I enjoy it and I’ve always enjoyed doing it, so that’s kind of why and that’s how I got to where I’m at.
In recent years, the music industry has changed in regards to the way it distributes music with an emphasis now more than ever on downloading music, and with the increased accessibility for illegal downloading, artists have had to counteract this by releasing free music themselves to gain the public’s interest. Do you think this DIY culture of releasing music is the best way a new artist can get their music out there and noticed these days?
With the internet it’s tough, it’s a hard and an easy one to answer. There’s a million different ways of being developed and discovered and used, every day. I’m lucky enough to have a platform to be able to push my music and get my music out there, like so many other artists.
Part of that is down to the internet but part of it’s down to touring, and playing live in front of people, it’s all just as important at the moment and if you write great tunes, then hopefully you’ll get somewhere with them. No one can take a song away from you, in that it will always be you who wrote it, no matter where it gets downloaded.
You’ve toured with big names such as Kodaline, Tom Odell and John Newman. What is it like being part of touring shows of that size and did you ever get the chance to sit down with any of them and chat to them?
Yeah, they’re all fantastic people. I have to say I can’t say a bad thing, they’re good down-to-earth people and they really enjoy what they do and it’s an honour being asked to join them on the road. It’s just an incredible experience being in front of those huge audiences and then watching them perform in front of their fans like that. It’s one of the things as musicians we work towards and so to be given that opportunity by those artists, it’s a big deal and it really does mean a lot to be up there.
Your first headlining tour is starting this week, what can people be expecting from it?
Well, ME. [laughs]. They can be expecting me playing a lot more songs than I usually do, playing some new songs and I’m going to be mixing it up on stage a little bit. There’s going to be more than just me sometimes and hopefully just a great time, a great night.
Yeah, I wanted to bring that up about the Kodaline shows in March, they will be your first full band shows.
They will, indeed. I’m really looking forward to that. I’ve been writing songs with a band in mind for a while now, so I’m really going to be able to bring that to life and I’m really excited about it, I can’t wait.
You hear all the time from blogs and music websites who we tip for greatness in the coming year, so I wanted to turn the tables a little and ask you, who do you tip to be huge or at least break through into mainstream consciousness in 2014?
There’s this guy called Hozier. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him yet?
Yeah I know him.
I think he’s incredible and I’ve got high hopes that he’ll smash through into the stratosphere.
What has being a professional musician taught you about yourself?
It’s taught me to have patience and remember that I’m doing something because I love it and to sort of stick to it basically. I know it’s a really simple answer, but being a professional musician is about sort of sticking to it, even if you get a little down or things aren’t going in the right direction, keep following it because you love it, not for any other reason.
A special thanks to James Bay for this interview and for more info on his music, check out the following links below.