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Interview and Photos by Mary Andrews
James Bay interview
"Across The Pond" With James Bay
September 15, 2013
This informal interview was conducted by Mary Andrews from ConcertLiveWire.com. UK's James Bay is here on his first US tour having recently been signed by Universal Republic Records. He has released his first EP, The Dark Of The Morning, which is an acoustic recording of five of his self-penned songs. James is very anxious to get to Nashville to record with a band and release his first CD. This interview was more like a conversation and I found James to be very animated and quite "comfortable."
Livewire: Do you go by James, Jim?
James: I just go by James. James is good.
Livewire: How old are you?
James: I've just turned 23. It was a special one. I've got to say. We were at the Fillmore in San Francisco which this is my first tour of the US and it's amazing I'm doing that coming all the way from London. To be in that venue of all venues on my birthday, it was like a huge deal to me. I'm fully aware of the heritage of that venue. What's more is, not only was it my birthday, right before the last song, I told the crowd it was my birthday. The room was full and they sang "Happy Birthday!" It was really a big deal, amazing! Twenty-three, all of a sudden I'm at the Fillmore.
Livewire: When did your interest in music start?
James: I remember loving music as far back as I can remember. I guess a lot of people say it. I've always loved music. The point when I decided that I loved it enough to want to play it was well when I found a guitar in the attic. I knew it was there and wasn't that impressed by it for a couple of years. When I was about eleven years old, I thought I would really love to get that down. Right about the same time, my parents, my dad was playing Derek and The Domino's "Layla." I heard that riff and that was the moment. I said to myself, I've got to get that guitar down. That's when it really came to life. I wanted to play music and I had such a deep love for music.
Livewire: Were your parents musicians?
James: They were not. My parents had a great record collection. They also had those necessary records from the decades before. They weren't musicians, but they had some great records! These were vinyls. I grew up with cds, but it wasn't long before I started flicking through. I remember being fascinated by the long spines, the sleeve, I had been holding classic cds, but it wasn't long before I turned to vinyl. There is a whole ritual when putting on a vinyl. You pull out this big sleeve and you are really have hold of this big piece of music. You gotta be careful, take a minute. You got to take it out, put it down, bring the arm over, bring the needle down. The crackle comes through and suddenly the magic starts. Now CDs are getting older now. Mp3s are what everyone is listening to. Still, I've got an appreciation for vinyl. I love them. The cover art is something else that is missing from mp3s.
Livewire: Specifically where are you from? I know you are from the UK, but where?
James: At the moment, I live in London. I was brought up in a tiny little town out in the middle of nowhere. It's called Hitchin. It's a little place. A lot of people who work in London come from out lying towns like Hitchin. A commuter belt sort of place. That's where I grew up. Its an easy, comfortable place to grow up in. London is killer. Hitchin got a bit boring.
Livewire: When did you get your first guitar?
James: It was the one I pulled down from the attic. It was the first one I got. It was in pieces. I was eleven years old and I learned on that one for a while. The first guitar I got from the store wasn't even a year later, so I was probably eleven or twelve years old. I quickly progressed. It was a classical guitar with nylon strings. I wanted to play electric guitar!
Livewire: You've mentioned Clapton before. Is he one of your major influences?
James: He's a big influence, that's for sure. Especially as a guitar player certainly, it's him and the Rolling Stones that really sort of sparked my interest in playing electric guitar. I listened to those guys. I listened to more recent stuff as well.
Livewire: What about your song writing?
James: The song writing came just a little bit after. That's the thing though. I started out only wanting to be a guitar player. I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton, those guys. At some point all of a sudden, I was becoming aware of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Bill Withers, James Taylor. This whole scene from the 70's of songwriters and now on the radio, there is this guy Ray LaMontagne and Adele. She's world famous now. She's a big influence. Other people like some British artists like Paolo Nutini. It more like pop songwriting. It felt very organic and very real. Suddenly it was hitting me as hard as electric guitar and the sounds that the electric guitar had hit me previously. I got that urge to try and say something and try to put thoughts together and write a song. That's where it started.
Livewire: Where do you reach inside for the inspiration for your songs?
James: Like all writers and musicians, I'm looking for something different. Trying to do something that feels personal as well as listenable. Each of the songs on the EP were expressions of how I was feeling at the time. It's very much a process of putting feelings to music. Putting emotions to music and lyric.
Livewire: What do you write first, the lyric or the music?
James: It's the music. It's the music every time. Independent of the music, I'm often scribbling down phrases all the time. I'm writing things that come to my head or things people have said. But I've always got my guitar in hand. The music comes first, melody and cords. If I'm lucky some of those words will work with the melody and chords.
Livewire: How many songs have you written?
James: There's a big question! I don't know if I can even answer that accurately. You write songs. Sometimes you write half songs. It feels like you've got to leave that alone for a while. Then you come back 6 or 8 weeks later and you might finish it. I don't know, I've written loads of songs. That's probably the most accurate answer I can give. I've been trying to write grown up songs for the past 3 or 4 years. The songs for the EP came over the last 18 months. You have to write a little bit and go live a little more. You can go through a couple of weeks where you can't get enough songs down.
Livewire: So, when did you actually hit the music scene?
James: I guess towards the end of last year. Maybe a year and a half ago I feel like I made any small impression. That came after spending night after night going to open mics, two or three a night if I had to or if I could. People ask me how did you get to this stage? I say you've got to keep playing. You've got to play, play, play! That's what I did. I played as many open mics as I could. You go all around London. If one (open mic) wasn't so great, then I'd go to another one if I still had time to do another. This year has been incredible. The kind of gigs I've done have been a lot bigger. I played Hyde Park this year on the same bill as the Rolling Stones. Coming from being so inspired by the Stones is mad. Playing the Fillmore on my birthday was amazing.
Livewire: How did you get discovered from these open mics?
James: I guess again, it came down to pestering people and playing, playing and playing.
Livewire: This is a huge break for you getting a record contract with Universal Republic.
James: It's been incredible. There were some important people with record labels who were coming to the open mics. They were coming down to the shows. Universal came down and checked it out. They flew me over to New York at that point, which is crazy. New York is some place I've always dreamed about. The rest is where we are up to now. Amazing, from playing in those pubs to everyone coming down to listen, and flying over to New York and signing a record deal.
Livewire: What do you see in your future?
James: Well, I've just done the EP. That's the start of my recording career. I'm focusing hard on making an album. I'm gonna get a band involved. It's not going to be acoustic. Get a band together and make an album. I want to tour. I want to show as many people as I can my songs, grab as many ears as I can. That's the future.
Livewire: Last question. Are you living your dream?
James: I'm on the way. I think. In so many words, yeah, I think I am. I am doing what I love.