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James Bay: Shedding the Bluesy Layers of Albums Past

On July 8th, James Bay released Leap– his highly anticipated third full-length album dedicated to having faith that the sun will rise again. This week, META had the opportunity to sit in on a conversation with Bay about all the memories, both bitter and sweet, that were compiled to make his album. “Sometimes I just need me and an instrument to work through stuff,” said James. “I feel like songs pair well with [thinking about] circumstances, whatever they are.” With most of the songs on the album written with a baby on the way, it’s perhaps fitting why the album feels like such a buoyant new chapter in Bay’s career.

In October of 2021, he and his partner welcomed their first daughter into the world, which inevitably brought an organic sense of freshness to his project. “This new version of my life is just so unbelievable and overwhelming and wonderful,” said Bay when reflecting on how the birth of his child has touched his process of making music. The album, in all its glory, is an upbeat medley of R&B, folk, and pop influences. While Leap has more doo-wop bliss than past albums, he remains authentic to his acoustic roots. As James says, it’s about, “leaping without worrying if there’s a net that’s going to catch you.” In theme with this opportunist mindset, he said one ballad was even inspired by a memory of him dipping into below-freezing water with his friend, Ed Sheeran.

While fans have known him to release gloomier sets in the past, Leap presents a shift in his bluesy aesthetic. Back in September of 2014, tracks like “Hold Back the River” and “Let It Go” earned him his place in the industry and his wardrobe was just as subdued and subtle as his approach to music. He became known for wearing a white-brimmed hat and centerpiece bomber jacket. However, he ditches his signature fedora in the music video for “Save Your Love.” It seems as though the aesthetic for Leap is a peeling of layers, absent of the unnecessary fuss that might accompany headwear and accessories. Sometimes the most precious things in life are simple, as Bay said, “any day with a second breakfast, for me, is a blessed day.” The video was filmed in the early hours of the morning with only Bay, his guitar, and the sea in frame.

This soft sensation of melting sunlight is precisely what the record’s sound exhibits. “The simple things can be really quite effective,” said James as he compared his music to the warm, musky scent of sandalwood. While his previous albums, Chaos And The Calm and Electric Light, offered moodier, somber melodies, Leap is the acoustic equivalent of brewing fresh coffee as the morning seeps in: a new beginning. “In Electric Light, I wanted some carnage and chaos in the sound…I wanted things to fight for center stage,” said Bay. However, in Leap, he strips away these tensions and background noises to expose the rawness of his lyrics. In the video, Bay bares his full head of hair. While he maintains his commitment to skinny jeans and Chelsea boots, it’s clear that Leap positions Bay as more than what’s on his head and instead brings attention to what he’s saying.

When writing the lyrics for the album, Bay said he pulled from many corners of his life. In its own way, Leap feels like Bay is shedding the layers of fame that his success in the industry has coated him in. During dark moments, Bay suggests “trying to make tomorrow different than yesterday.” This fluid mindset of wiping the slate clean is an echo of his refurbished fashion sense. In moments of despair, sometimes the best remedy is simply turning over a leaf.

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