James Bay Talks Debut LP ‘Chaos And The Calm,’ Touring With Hozier & Living His Dream: Idolator Interview
At this point, the question isn’t so much if James Bay will crack America — as when. After releasing two critically-acclaimed EPs in 2014, the Brit is preparing to drop debut LP Chaos And The Calm on March 24 and the buzz surrounding it suggests a major commercial breakthrough. All the project needs is a radio hit and “Hold Back The River” — already a smash in Australia and the UK — should take care of that.
I spoke with the singer/songwriter about recording Chaos And The Calm late last year and he expressed a desire to move away from the bare-bones approach of his early work in favor of a richer, fuller ‘band’ sound. James also opened up about his old-fashioned approach to winning new fans (i.e. non-stop touring) and hitting the road with “Take Me To Church” hitmaker Hozier. Find out what the Hitchin-born breakout star has to say about his journey to the top after the jump.
What was it like touring with Hozier when “Take Me To Church” exploded? It’s been amazing. It’s cool for me because he actually invited me along to be the tour’s opener. I’m a fan as well, so seeing him explode over here has been fascinating. The cool thing is, for all of that, every night there has been someone coming up to me and saying “We just checked out Hozier and he’s a really cool bonus, but we bought tickets to see you as well.” That’s really cool.
You seem to be taking the old-fashioned approach to “breaking America,” by non-stop touring… I only see that as the classic way really. I get what you’re saying about it being old-fashioned because the way of the Internet and everything, you can get an enormous fan base in different ways now. But it feels natural, the way it has been going for me.
I can’t really see it working in any other way, I’m glad that it’s happening. At the end of the day, you’re playing someone a song and giving them the opportunity to like it or not. If they don’t like it, you’re not going to throw it in their face every Wednesday night. I’m totally appreciative.
Your debut Let It Go EP won rave reviews. What’s next? I’m going to do one more EP. I got a song “Hold Back The River,” the first song off the EP that came out November 24. I’m developing this sound and playing with crescendo and bigger band sounds, but always staying true to my roots of the solo singer/songwriter. It’s a journey that leads up to the full album Chaos And The Calm, which we’ll get out the beginning of .
So you’re moving away from the raw acoustic sound of your early work? Yes, because that’s something I was inspired by just as much, if not more before I even started releasing music. As a kid, I was playing my electric guitar to the Rolling Stones and Kings Of Leon. So it still feels very natural for me to do that, and I want to show people that I can do more.
Which producers have you been working with? I’m working with someone who I’m a fan of. His name is Jacquire King he works out in Nashville in an amazing studio called Blackbird. It’s been great; it’s all coming together really well.
Your music has a slight country feel to it. Has working in Nashville influenced you? It all circles around my love for guitar music and the fact that it’s such a big thing in those parts of the country. I’ve had a good time out in Nashville because it’s incredibly forward thinking musically. There’s a lot of new music being made out there, so that’s what I was drawn to.
I’m cool with country music, but it’s nothing I find myself directly inspired by. It was all of the new sounds being worked on in Nashville and the incredible source of studios that did it for me and inspired me to make the record.
It seems to be a hot spot at the moment. Yeah, it’s because of the new stuff that’s coming out there. There’s just the stigma of Southern music is only country music. But it’s  and there are 17-year-olds who are making hip-hop music down there.
Speaking of hot spots, there’s so much new talent coming from Britain. Why does it keep producing so many great vocalists? I think it works in cycles in a sort of brilliant way. Us, the states and Australia are always inspiring each other and going through cycles of one moving forward with a sound. It’s hard to say really, but it feels like it’s based on a healthy competitiveness. Everybody is looking to each other to see what they’re doing and trying to improve on that, and be inspired to take on a certain sound and put a new spin on it. I think it’s a natural turn of events.
Where are you based now? You seem to move between London and New York. I’m living in North London at the moment, I spend most of my time there. But lately there’s been lots of flying around. I do enjoy getting back to England as often as possible.
How crazy has this journey been for someone from a small town? I sit back and think, “Oh my god, this is so cool!” I don’t want to try and make it something too unique, but it was just a dream of mine. It’s a dream for a lot of people, but not everybody gets to do it. So it’s being able to be driving up the coast from LA to San Francisco with my guitar in hand, it’s crazy. It’s more than I could’ve hoped for. When you’re really living it, it’s an amazing experience and I’m so glad to be doing it.
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