It’s hard to admit it’s over. Someone’s moved on in your life and you’ve been left behind. They’ve changed but you remain the same.
It’s even worse to see them looking great. Somehow sexier. They’ve changed their image but not much is happening in your life.
This is how Hat feels now that James Bay has ditched him.
It isn’t quite as bad as a ‘dumped you’ text but James admits: “A lot of people have asked me about the hat. Where it is now. It’s done. I woke on a Tuesday and it had left. It’s time to call it a day and set if free. Let my head finally be free.”
To be fair, following the success of Hold Back the River in 2014 the soulful song was almost played to death on the radio.
And after what felt like a lifetime of video plays on music channels hat’s popularity was beginning to wear a bit thin like a stray thread.
Maybe James’ forthcoming album Electric Light writes about his past relationship with hat?
If so, he’s not letting on. The all new sexier singer has turned a musical sheet in his life.
Though he’s ditched his Memphis hat he’s not turned his back on the music associated with the greatest sound on the planet – Soul.
Rather, he’s gathered other music genres and artistic influences along the way from Prince and Bowie to Blondie and The Strokes.
This is reflected in the varied sound of his eclectic second album Electric Light.
It had to be brilliant, there was no doubt about it.
After being showered with so many accolades for Chaos and the Calm, Bay’s debut album in 2015, a massive hit has to be followed by yet another.
Electric Light has sexy, pop, gospel and even a country slither to it. Is it possible to have the blend of Prince, Emeli Sande and Bryan Adams in one album? Why not?
Track Wild Love has a sultry Prince vibe which young male teenagers will know doubt thank Bay for in a few years time.
Just for Thought has a country Bryan Adams feel, Pink Lemonade is quintessential Eighties pop and Us has an Emeli Sande gospel persona.
So does Bay crave the longevity of these massive music icons?
He says: “I’ve only existed for a couple of years mainstream. It takes time. I’ve been exploring. The reality is nowadays artists aren’t given as much time to make it. It’s the ‘now’ attitude. Pop music exists in that way. I have recognised I have a new confidence as a writer more than I did before partly because of the success of my first record and also you start to get comfortable in this way of life. I’ve learned how to have a good time more than when I started out – I was a rabbit in the headlights!”
James finished touring at the end of 2016 and as soon as he stopped his quest began to make new music.
The 28-year-old from Hertfordshire spent four months recording the album tracks in a basement studio round the corner from his house.
He recalls: “On the second of January last year I woke up and looked in my diary and thought ‘nothing’s in there’. There’s a little basement studio round the corner from my own house and I went there nearly every day for days and days.
John Green, a good friend of mine, who is a talented writer, musician and producer, spent time working with me in that studio and in that little studio Electric Light was born.”
After touring his songs from Chaos and the Calm for four years James was listening to David Bowie, the Strokes, Blondie, Frank Ocean, music he hadn’t listened to that was now inspiring him to put pen to sheet for his second album.
He says: “I was also exploring LCD Soundsystem. That’s why it (the album) sounds the way it is. The changing sound and look come hand in hand. I came up with my new look. I laugh when some people say, ‘This look isn’t you’. I’ve never been asked if I feel sexy. I guess I do.”
Bay had been binge-watching his favourite Netflix series Stranger Things and had a light-bulb moment about how the music video should be designed.
James recalls: “Around the time I was releasing Wild Love I was flying everywhere. I had an idea for the video. I’m not a good actor but thought wouldn’t it be awesome to use someone everyone person would recognise in the video and then put them in a different environment.
I’m a massive Stranger Things fan so we contacted Natalia Dyer (Nancy) and she said she loved the song. It was a day of shooting in LA and then she went back to filming in Europe. I was nervous on a million levels before we had even started shooting face to face. We’re in touch but she’s busy doing her thing.”
As nervous as Bay was of meeting Dyer, nothing else apart from an on-screen smouldering was ever going to come of the meeting as the singer is happily holed up with his girlfriend back in Islington.
Bay says of his relationship: “It’s nice to be back home. The madness [in the music industry] is the greatest thing to make life difficult. It’s easy and hard for the two of us. My girlfriend has a job and her own life. It’s wonderful but you have to navigate. Of anyone that keeps me grounded my girlfriend is top of that list. Also, my oldest friend I’ve know since I was three, Tom, is my bass player. He’ll give me that look if I’m ever too over the top. He gives me that look nearly ever day!”
And for all music enthusiasts studying music or playing for passion James has some great advice: “If you want to be a song-writer and performer the best way is to get out there and do it!
“I spent thousands of hours listening to music videos. No matter how full or empty you are with ideas, practice makes perfect! Try and write a song every day. Quantity can help with quality.
“I studied a GCSE in Music but I can’t read a note. Some musicians can’t read but they can play. I then went to music college in Brighton for 18 months.
“Music is a passion project. It’s what you put in you get out. I played in lots of bands and the experiences were amazing. Initially I was never a frontman, I played guitar on the sidelines.
“Then I started my own band and eventually I was playing six nights a week living in Brighton while I was working in a bar at the weekends.”
interview by Susie Daniels
James Bay will play TRNSMT on June 29 at Glasgow Green. Electric Light is out on May 18th.