RIsing singer-songwriter James Bay talks to Roisin Murray about starting out in the music industry as a self-taught musician
Upon hearing James’ debut extended play, one could easily be forgiven for believing that they had been transported back to the 1960s blues scene; his rich voice culminates in such a degree of soul that he could give Aretha Franklin a run for her money. He is currently approaching a landmark moment in his career, as he has almost completed all of his supporting performances of Hozier’s US tour. Yet he still views his position with an endearing mixture of incredulity and gratitude. It seems somewhat of an expectation for musicians to profess that their success was distinctly unexpected, but James’ contention is accompanied by the most notable sincerity; he still can’t quite believe that the boy from a small town in England would ever reach this level of success, performing to sold out venues around the world. Albeit, it was always the ultimate, yet distant, hope, “without meaning to sound cheesy, it is all part of the whole dream you have when you’re a little kid”.
James’ interest in music can be attributed to the day he picked up a “broken up, old guitar” when he was eleven years old, and his passion flourished there out. James articulates his love for music as somewhat of a snowball effect, “So it’s a very one thing led to another, sort of situation. Suddenly, it was the most fascinating thing in the world.” His sheer aptitude for his craft is evident in the lack of lessons that he needed to progress as an artist; a self-made virtuoso, James’ music education was self-taught. “I didn’t have much patience for lessons and reading music. Instead, I played along to records. You just sort of put two and two together and write rubbish stuff in your room for however long until you get the balls to play it.” This method of improvisation has clearly served him well.
A far cry from writing in the confines of his bedroom and “busking on the streets of Brighton, trying to be this solo artist”, James has now substantiated himself as a fully-fledged musician and performer. He has since released a plethora of EPs, and his most recent release, the single, ‘Hold Back The River’, was inspired by James’ desire to dabble with a “full band” sound. These records pre-date an album to come, somewhat of a “teaser” for the fans. However, one album is not the only end in sight; when asked about the ultimate dream, the passion filling James voice cannot be mistaken. His desires are not unfounded or superfluous; he desires to “play to sold out crowds all over the world, and would love to have a number one album. It might sound simple, but that’s what I’m in it for.”
This is easy to believe, as he cannot be blamed for tracing the success of his musical influences, and striving to emulate this. He credits the likes of Bruce Springsteen and the more current Ben Howard as his influences, but this list is not exhaustive, and neither is it stagnant, as he “goes through obsessive phases with people.” However, his passion for inspirational figures is not limited to musicians only; further probing reveals that if he were to host a dinner party, he would invite Joni Mitchell as “she has this incredible knowledge of the arts, and I’m a huge fan” as well as the renowned actor, Bill Murray. Revealing an endearing sense of humour, he selects comedian Keith Lemon as an additional guest, for the entertainment factor and “just to mix things up.”
James’ ever growing success is signaled by his ever expanding fan base, distinctly noticeable in his Twitter following. He credits Twitter as a useful way of keeping in contact with his fans and enabling “fans to reach out”, but is apprehensive about becoming too involved with it as “the internet can get you pretty side-tracked.” Nevertheless, he is entertained at, and completely supportive of, the prospect of nicknaming his fan club “The Bayniacs”, affirming that “It has a cool ring to it.” This light-hearted jaunt at his fans points to something more significant; James finds delight in the fact that all but one of his solo shows “have sold out way ahead of the tour” which for him is “a really cool feeling.” This degree of recognition is astounding to James, who finds it difficult to comprehend his progression “from Hitchin to Brighton, to all these places where no-one really knew who I was, to then playing to 800 people in London”, something he credits quite simply as “amazing.” James is set to perform in Dublin at the Academy on the 17th November, and expresses excitement at branching out to his Irish fans, particularly as “people in Ireland, people in Dublin, certainly love music. So it’s pretty wicked to see those guys.”
James is currently in the process of transitioning from performing in support slots, to performing on the main stage in his own right. He may profess to be ‘Holding Back the River’, but it’s evident that nothing will hold James Bay back from his deserved success. He’s doing what he loves, doing it well and showing no signs of slowing down.
James Bay plays the Academy on Monday, November 17th 2014