James Bay on new album ‘Leap’: “It’s a cohesive album, born out of the least cohesive time”
James Bay has announced the release of his third studio album, ‘Leap’. Check out new single ‘One Life’ along with our interview with Bay below.
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Bay’s new album will be released on July 8 via EMI Records/Republic Records, and comes previewed by the single ’One Life’. Arriving on the heels of March’s ‘Give Me The Reason’, the song is a tribute to Lucy Smith, Bay’s longtime girlfriend and the mother of his daughter Ada, who arrived last October.
“I’d never written from this perspective before,” Bay told NME. “I’d never written from a place of such joy and positivity. Lucy and I first got together at 16 and have been together ever since. She’s supported me since day one. From open mic nights, right through to my biggest shows. It’s been one adventure after another, but now we’re on the biggest one of all. Raising our beautiful daughter Ada.”
The Hitchin singer-songwriter’s upcoming LP will be his first full-length project since 2018’s ‘Electric Light’ – a record that saw Bay take on a more experimental range of sounds. For ‘Leap’, Bay told NME how he was returning to the stripped-back, guitar-driven sounds of his 2015 chart-topping debut ‘The Chaos And The Calm’.
“On my second album, I threw a bunch of synths at my music and electronic sounds, and I had a brilliant time pushing the boundaries in that respect,” he said. “This time I’ve fallen back to the guitar and an even more stripped back type of sonic.”
He continued: “I’m always going to push boundaries in the music I’m making. The boundaries I’ve pushed this time around have been with the lyrics. I’ve found a way to write from a place of vulnerability that I have not gone to or written from before.”
Earlier this month, while performing at London’s O2 Kentish Town Forum and performing some of his new material, Bay told the audience that his upcoming music would be more upbeat and positive than his previous work.
“I think the bridge between what is ultimately more positive songwriting than I’ve ever delivered before and my usual sadness is typically as emotional as it’s ever been, just in a different way and from a different place in in me, a place of hope and thanks and joy, and there’s a more positive anticipation of the future,” explained Bay.
This new emotional perspective came after the BRIT Award-winner dropped into “depths of anxiety, frustration and emotional struggle” in 2019. “It was a very busy year for me,” he recalled. “I was doing all sorts of touring. I did six weeks of headlining shows in America; I did three months opening up for Ed Sheeran, which was a lot of fun, and I released a new EP, ‘Oh My Messy Mind’, and even that title reflected how I was feeling: ‘What am I about? What am I doing? What am I doing this for? Who am I?’”
Bay went on: “I wrote a lot of weird, sad and awkward songs to help myself through it, but it didn’t do too much for me. But there was a small revelation. I came to the point in all of that writing where I looked around me at a few people, particularly Lucy, who carry me when I metaphorically can’t stand.
“I found myself with two options: fall apart or lean into the genuine strength and life wrapped around me. I leaned into the latter.”
For ‘Leap’, Bay worked with sought after producers and songwriters including Ian Fitchuk, Dave Cobb, Foy Vance and Joel Little in a mixture of in-person and remote sessions in Nashville and London, with songs recorded both before and during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I got home [from Nashville] on March 21, 2020, and two days later everything shut down,” he explained. “So I stayed home and we mixed and mastered the 12 songs that I had, thinking we were going to put them out. I found out over an excruciatingly long period of months that that was absolutely not going to happen.”
It was during lockdown that Bay picked up Julia Cameron’s 1992 manual for creatives, The Artist’s Way, where he stumbled upon the words of American essayist John Burroughs: “Leap, and the net will appear,” which ended up inspiring the title of the album.
“That quote stuck with me,” Bay told NME. “How do I know if the net will appear? How do I know if it will be OK? The second half of the quote says that it will, and you have to therefore trust it. It’s saying you’ve got to take a leap of faith. It’s as beautiful as it is terrifying; that’s what draws me towards it.”
Featuring six songs from the Nashville sessions and six newer compositions, the album is made up of a balance between “light and shade”, according to Bay. “It’s a cohesive album, born out of the least cohesive time,” he said.
Recalling some of his Nashville sessions with Cobb, Bay said the producer – who has worked with Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton and Lady Gaga – wanted to keep their recordings to just a couple takes per song.
“He loves old rock ‘n’ roll like I do,” said Bay. “So he said, ‘Well, if that’s what we love, let’s take a leaf out of the book of The Rolling Stones,’ and he dared me to do our songs in just a few takes, without a click track. At one point I did start to get a bit wobbly because I’m used to hearing what I hear on the radio today, when it’s quite polished in comparison to stuff from decades past. But once I loosened up, I really fell in love with doing it.”
Someone else Bay worked with on ‘Leap’ was Finneas, the in demand US producer and songwriter best known for creating hits for his pop star sister, Billie Eilish. He produced the song ‘Save Your Love’.
Bay’s A&R knew Finneas’ manager and so put the two in touch. They first met on a Zoom call during lockdown, and to Bay’s surprise, Finneas had been a longtime fan of his music and had even sat in on some Q&As with Bay when he was a teenager.
“When I first went ever to the Grammys in 2016, I did a few Q&As in front of live audiences; it turns out that Finneas was in some of those audiences,” said Bay. “He was like, 16 or something. He was there as a fan, he was just running around town watching all sorts of different things, including me. Which I still couldn’t believe.”
Sharing his experience of working with Finneas, Bay said he was impressed with the musician’s creative instincts. “He’s not an over-thinker,” Bay said. “He’s quite an instinctive sort of fellow who follows his gut in the moment. I really liked that.”
The pair have not yet met in person, but Bay hopes that changes soon. “I hope I get out there soon so we can sit down for a drink and connect in the real world.”
‘Leap’ will be released July 8 and can be pre-ordered here. Check out the album’s tracklist below.
1. ‘Give Me The Reason’
2. ‘Nowhere Left To Go’
3. ‘Save Your Love’
4. ‘Everyone Needs Someone’
5. ‘One Life’
6. ‘Silent Love’
7. ‘Love Don’t Hate Me’
8. ‘Brilliant Still’
9. ‘Right Now’
10. ‘We Used To Shine’
11. ‘Endless Summer Nights’