Keeping the blues at bay
Imagine stumbling across your Dad’s old guitar, uncherished and left to gather dust for twenty years. It might sound like the opening to a wistful musical fairy tale, but for JAMES BAY this encounter was the first step to where he is now, a promising singer-songwriter about to embark on his first headline tour. “My Dad had this guitar which he never got round to picking up,” he explains. “It’s always been in our house and I have this recollection of seeing it when I was a little kid. Eventually, I just went for it. It’s something I had always wanted to do and I’ve never looked back since.”
The origins of his venture into music are fitting for his style. Listening to his material, there is a distinctive home-grown charm to it, of a relaxed style that has come about naturally without forcing it. There is a sense of something familiar about it, despite carrying its own sense of personality; it’s easy to slip into, yet you still feel drawn to Bay. Although none of his relatives played instruments, he was immersed in their favourite records growing up, to the point that he wanted to make his own. “As soon as I picked it up, I felt I had to play – it grabbed me, and that’s why I’ve kept at it.”
This urge to play guitar was coupled with a strong desire for self-expression, something he had seen the potential for in music for a while. “There’s an endless, broad selection of artists that have influenced me, like singer songwriters from back in the 70s, and also more recent like Ray LaMontagne. I loved how expressive those artists were in their music, and when I was 12 I was zoning into it more and more, until it took its toll and I had to do it myself.” Perhaps that is where the familiarity comes from; Bay successfully channels what has worked so well for other artists into crafting his own distinctive blend.
Bay has dabbled in bands in the past, but he always found himself leaning in a certain direction, an instinct that pushed him to go solo. “I enjoyed being in bands, but I always had this vision in the back of my mind, of trying to do my own thing as a singer songwriter. I always wanted to push ahead, but at the same time I needed to go through that period of being in bands to get to where I am today.” Considering what he’s done so far, this move has evidently paid off. Last year, he released his first EP, The Dark Of The Morning, and he has just finished recording his debut album out in Nashville.
A collection of lush acoustic musings, The Dark Of The Morning feels like a logical first step, reflecting how he first found his way into music; just a man with his guitar, albeit one with an engaging and enthusiastic identity. Opening track Move Together is soft and inviting, while Clocks Go Forward balances intimacy with vulnerability; it’s a versatile record. With his debut album, Bay has expanded the sound into bigger territory, which is almost ironic considering his initial choice to go solo, but Bay stresses this was all part of the plan. “I’ve always wanted to go for a big sound- you know, “plug it in and turn it up,” that sort of thing.”
Bay has managed to get the album under his belt just in time for his first headline tour of the UK, but he’s keeping his lips tight on when it will be released; for now, a series of free demos on SoundCloud are very promising. He’s also refraining from bringing a full band out with him on the tour: “I’ve got a friend who’s going to be helping me out with percussion and piano, so I’ll be extending what I’ve been doing to pave the way for the full band sound. I can’t wait for the Liverpool show as I’ve only been once when I was a little kid, for maybe a day, so it was a fleeting experience – I can’t wait to experience it properly.”
First headline tour, first album… it’s no wonder James Bay is sounding a bit anxious as we chat. But at the same time, there’s a sense of determination and excitement that overrides it. “People have said some amazing things about what they’ve heard and I want to live up to that on stage, which I plan to do – I guess it’s the standard nerves, but in all honesty I really can’t wait for it at the same time.” Bay’s enthusiasm is a welcome product of his hard work, a testament to the fact that if you find something that has potential, all you need is a bit of determination – and maybe a new set of strings.