Los Angeles – There were no flashing lights or pyrotechnics at James Bay’s show at The Hotel Café on Tuesday, but he didn’t need theatricality. All Bay needed was his signature fedora, his guitar, and his voice.
The lanky 23-year-old emerged on the tiny corner stage of the cozy breakout venue and was welcomed by coos and shouts from the crowd. When James began to sing, however, the audience was silenced as he played from his new release, If You Ever Want To Be In Love. Each note was still a harrowing combination of silky and husky, but there was an added twitch of his heavy heart that pierced the live rendition.
Bay is a strong addition to the new wave of folksy men gaining quick and loud buzz; after only releasing two EPs, he will be joining fellow up-and-comer Hozier for a short leg of his tour in October. Even more impressive, the British import’s articulate style stems from an 11-year-old Bay teaching himself how to strum a guitar from a CD-ROM tutorial and crafting verses alone in his room at just 14.
With that lifelong dedication in mind, it’s no wonder that the crowd hung on his every word. Paired with his rich raspy voice, he rips his chest open to completely expose his heart with yearning on songs like “Hear Your Heart”: “And I just want to lay you down your burdens, all your fears/ And I don’t need your deepest secrets/ Whisper in my ear/ ‘ Cause I can hear your heart.” How could anyone resist?
Ariela Kozin: I’ve noticed there’s this resurgence of one-man folk performers. Does that make you nervous or does it inspire you?
James Bay: It’s nice to be described that way, but I do have a band and I usually break it down with them and play. I will always enjoy being solo, but I have multiple players. I sit and write on my own, but rarely do I write a song and say this one is going to be for me. I’m a guitarist first and foremost, before I even sung. So I write thinking about that; thinking about drums, thinking about keys.
AK: Do the band members contribute to what becomes the final product?
JB: Absolutely. Big time. That’s why I chose them. I happen to be their close friends as well.
AK: Are you taking the band with you when you go on tour with Hozier later this year?
JB: It’s actually going to be a duo thing, so not really. It’s going to be me and my friend Jerry who plays keys and percussion at the same time.
AK: Speaking of Hozier, how did you decide to come together for a portion of his tour?
JB: I met him six months ago. I think he showed up at a show I was playing and I heard “Take Me To Church.” Recently, I heard from him that he wanted me to come along. Obviously his sound and voice is incredible.
AK: The pairing definitely makes sense.
JB: That’s very cool from a fan point of view. It’s going to be really cool to tour for him.
AK: I’ve also never seen — especially in such a small venue — so many adult women swooning for a musician before.
JB: If I was singing out of tune or singing off time, I guarantee no one would be doing it.
AK: Who are your biggest influences?
JB: That changes and there are so many. Two years ago, I was digging Sly and The Family Stone so hard. That sort of waned a little bit and I still know they’re incredible. I listen to Hozier and I keep going back to Kings of Leon. With Kings of Leon, I listened to their more recent stuff and went backwards, and they’re this great combination of ragged and tight and hooky rock. There was a musician called Emily King that we haven’t heard from in a while, but her EP Seven is probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. I was obsessed with her. My biggest influences are the things that move me the most, and it’s loaded.
AK: Are we going to see any difference between the sound on the LP versus what we’ve heard on the EP?
JB: There are going to be bigger band moments. It’s going to be enormous- think of Adele and her music- she goes huge sometimes. Think of Feist and George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.”
AK: I think it takes a certain kind of musician to sort of lay it all out and bare their soul in front of a crowd of people with just a guitar. So what do you credit that confidence to?
JB: I just enjoy it. It still f**ks with my head a little. I’ve enjoyed and I’ve always enjoyed it since I was 15, but I’m suddenly more nervous because there is a tiny little part of me that asks, “Why are you doing it?” I have to keep saying, “Because you love it!”
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