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photos / Tyler Nevitt 

story / Erica Hawkins

“I’m a bit weird but I sort of–and this might sound a bit weird–but I sort of embrace my own honesty in saying yeah, absolutely, who doesn’t feel the pressure? The thing about it for me is the pressure is important. The anxiety is important, that feeling of ‘How will this be received?’ and the fact that people all over are saying ‘How is it going to go?’ because what if they weren’t saying that? What if they didn’t even care? That would suck. So, the fact that there’s any question at all is quite important to me.”
That’s James Bay’s answer to the excitement, anticipation, and exhilaration surrounding his sophomore album, Electric Light, which came out in May. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. He can be long-winded, astute in explanation, and a little bit weird. The English guitar-wielding singer-songwriter is acutely aware of all of these tendencies and leans towards self-deprecation despite a running list of accolades. He reminds me of the smartest and cutest boy in your grade school class — completely unaware of the list of crushes he’s amassing because he’s too busy re-reading the pages of his favorite books to rely on something as trivial as his supernatural good looks. See, Bay, like his music, is charming, disarming, and attractive (with or without the shoulder length hair and Panama hat that were once his calling card but didn’t quite make it to his second iteration).
His debut, Chaos and the Calm, received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album, and his break out single “Hold Back the River” received a nomination for Best Rock Song and also landed him a Best New Artist nomination. But Bay, three years later, was more than happy to embrace every aspect of the birth of a new record, using nervous energy to propel himself in a new direction. “This is the weird thing about me, the drama of it, and the theater of it all, I do enjoy that feeling because I love my own music. I have to or I wouldn’t be able to put it out. There’s a whole lot of excitement in that pressure and anxiety at the same time, but I quite enjoy that moment, as weird as that may sound.” Bay decided back in 2016 that he was ready to stop touring his first album and get back into the studio, “I finally had the burning desire to create and write again. Desperate is one word, but I was very excited and eager to write. I’ll tell you what I was desperate for, I was desperate to have new material in my live set.”

That new material was led by the album’s first single, “Wild Love.” It’s all romance, synths, and echoing vocals. In it, Bay sings with a bit of melancholy: “Let’s be reckless, unaffected / Running out until we’re breathless / Let’s be hopeful, don’t get broken
And stay caught up in the moment.” The lyrical process post the success of his first album wasn’t easy, but Bay didn’t expect it to be. “Nothing makes writing a good song easy, nothing about it is easy, and I guess that’s obviously why it’s so special or so magical when you land on something that everyone thinks is great. Strangely, I got deeper, much deeper into the process of making a record this time around than I did the first time. I ended up in part producing this record, and I cannot follow that statement with loads of bravado and confidence as a budding producer. I don’t have it. But, I stand at the desk in the studio and I do know what I want, and I chase that down fiercely.”
A fierce chase can be felt in tracks like the album closer, “Slide.” Bay notes that the lyrics of that song convey the heart of the message he’d like listeners to receive from Electric Light. “There’s this line ‘nobody teaches you how to reminisce, nobody teaches you how to hurt like this…’ those are the lines that walk into the chorus, ‘slide into the arms of someone else, in disguise we get a little better at controlling ourselves around midnight and then we slide into the arms of someone else.’” That one is about the struggle we continue to go through as we try to connect with people as humans, and how it’s just not that easy all the time.”
Human stories are at the heart of Bay’s work, taking those interactions, romantic or otherwise, and pulling out what’s important about them, shining a light on the profound minutia of dancing or crying or kissing– all with the goal of affecting the listener. “Art exists to move people, there’s kind of no other use for it. You can dance to it, or cry to it, or kiss someone to it, its purpose is to move people. I just hope it does that.”




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