If you have to Google James Bay, you’re not the only one. Just this week, the British singer-song writer, who hails from Hitchin, England, had a comical encounter with the American border patrol as he made his way from Torono to N.Y.C. With his Wikipedia page in full view, they asked, “Should we know who you are?” To which he replied: “I guess I’m working on it, so maybe next time you will.”
From his growing social media presence to his current sold out American tour, we have a feeling that the long-haired crooner with a signature style all his own will soon be very recognizable—as in emerging household name. Part of the burgeoning British pop-folk scene, which includes other artists such as Tom Odell and George Ezra, he’s made quite the splash last year thanks to chart-topping singles like “Hold Back the River” and “Let It Go.” Now, with his first album Chaos and the Calm out stateside, the sky's the limit. We caught up with Bay ahead of his show at Irving Plaza in N.Y.C. Here’s an excerpt from our chat:
The past year has been a whirlwind for you, what’s that been like?
It’s all been incredible. The simple brilliant things are when shows start to sell out. You turn up and you play and they know all the words to all the songs. That’s the greatest feeling ever. Other than that, the feeling of playing in a big space with your band and just playing it loud for loads of people is a pretty euphoric moment.
Have you gotten tired of singing your popular songs like “Hold Back the River” and “Let It Go” yet?
It’s still great and it’s kind of only getting better at the moment. I’m sure it’s a little bit difficult to avoid if you end up playing certain songs forever and ever and ever, but you know I don’t want to become that person. I’m lucky. Playing music and selling out shows is an incredible existence and it’s not everybody’s job. I don’t think I’ll really get tired of it.
You grew up in a small town in England and then went to a music school in Brighton where a lot of other singer-songwriters like Tom Odell went.
Yeah, we kind of enrolled at the same time. He’s had loads of success and it’s going good for me at the moment, so really it’s just coincidence. For a while Brighton Institute of Modern Music was one of the only places in the U.K. where there were people lecturing, teaching, and working there that had genuine, real experience in the music industry. For someone like myself who had no idea whether I just wanted to be a session guitar player or whatever, I really just needed an excuse not go and get a proper degree and to just play guitar more. Brighton has a cool music scene and there’s a lot of young people being creative and that’s a great thing to live around.
If you were going to describe your sound and music to someone who isn’t a fan yet, how would you?
There are comparisons and there’s talking about what I try and do musically. The thing I chase with all music or I look for is that I just want something to move me. I just want something to make me stop and really feel something, so I try to do that with my music. I try do that with songs and lyrics, creating things that are honest and have good clear melodies. But you know, I’m inspired by, and always have been inspired by, old [Rolling] Stones stuff, people like Joe Cocker from back in the ‘70s and stuff like that.
Last year, I saw that Sam Smith did a Twitter chat and he said that he was listening to you and George Ezra and a few others. Are there any up-and-comers you’re listening to now?
There’s a guy called Samm Henshaw and he has a song called “I Only Want to Be With You” and I think he’s about 20-years-old and he lives in London. I mean it sounds like a timeless classic. It sounds like it’s been around for decades. It’s brilliant and he’s got this gorgeous soulful voice. Eva Stone, she’s a UK artist, that’s got another incredible set of pipes. The guy who is on tour with us now, Marc Scibilia, I’m a fan of his, and he is not English! The States has some incredible stuff going on as well.
On a different note, how long have you had your hair long?
Most of my life, since I was about 12. When I was 17, I got my hair cut really short, and thought I’m going do it. I’m going to do something else, and I think about it now, but there’s no effort that goes into this. I put stuff in it so it’s not too fluffy, but otherwise, the main reason I decided to have it long is that I don’t have to do anything with it.
You also always wear a hat, is that your signature look?
Yeah, at the moment, I like the theater of being a musician, from Michael Jackson’s classic glove to Springsteen’s bandana and white vest. I’m not going to be a 35-year-old guy with greasy long hair, I’ll tell you that. I’ll get it cut eventually, and I won’t always wear the hat.