Culture

James Bay On The Artist That Has Shaped Him

Artist on artist...

01.10.2020

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Like most, this period of isolation has been…a challenge. For creatives there’s also this, almost irritational, burden of what one is creating in confinement? Surely you must have a masterpiece to show for all this extra time? Ugh. Though doom scrolling, a prolonged lack of social interaction and chunks of boredom are hardly recipes for inspiration, or creativity.

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Enter, James Bay’s three-point plan to inject a daily dose of joy

1.) Serve others

At the beginning of lockdown, the singer spent time teaching fans, via Instagram lives, how to play his hits on guitar. “I was a guitar teacher for a year when I was 18,” Bay says, currently at home in London. “There was this one lad who used to come after school - he was 10 years-old; very deadpan [and] used to get dropped off with this wild looking, spiky-cornered guitar. He’d learnt a couple of guitar parts that he would play with zero emotion. I was like, what are you interested in? And he’d say, ‘sweets!’ [laughs]”

2.) Put on something, anything, that makes you feel good

In Bay’s case: scent (he’s the new face of fragrance Tommy IMPACT): “Being inside doesn’t stop me from wearing it. It has this sort of woody, citrusy scent, which I’m drawn to.”

3.) Practice hopefulness

“One of the biggest highlights for me was the second time I went to Glastonbury, four months before I had released my first album,” he remembers. “I went out onto the main stage at about two in the afternoon to play my set [and] there were approximately 80,000 people stood in front of me, that was massive. I'm hoping festivals and gigs will well and truly be back next year. In this time though it’s so important to stay in touch - communicate and unite.” Below, James picks the singer that has inspired, and taught him, the most – Aretha Franklin.

“Aretha Franklin has been the biggest influence on me. She’s a super legend. It’s not just because of her singing – as a performer she’s fantastic. She’s playing the piano herself in most of those records. She’s an instrumentalist; she can really play, as well as really sing. Delivering what I write is so important. There’s some songwriters who are less of an artist, and don’t perform their songs.

I got to see a screening of her concert film, Amazing Grace, in a church in Islington which was really cool. And one of the producers spoke before they played it and said, ‘recognise that she is completely straight-faced throughout 99% of this performance. Not thinking about the cameras, she’s extremely focused.’ She’s just dedicated to delivering these songs. I adored that. The choir is amazing too.

"I was around 16 or 17 when I first got into Aretha, and deeply obsessed"

My parents aren’t musical but they love music. They’ve always played music; she’s one of the artists that my mum would have played early on and turned up when she came on the radio. I was around 16 or 17 when I first got into Aretha, and deeply obsessed.

It’s hard to pick one favourite album of hers. I’m going to pick two because I can’t bear to pick just one. Her second ever release, I think she’s 19. I’m looking at all my vinyl’s [now]...it’s Aretha Franklin With The Ray Bryant Trio and then also her live with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

I love Spanish Harlem, Since You’ve Been Gone [and] her version of Bridge Over Troubled Water just destroyed me. Then she’s got this song of hers, which is a rare called Sweet Bitter Love. Just the combination of those three words together, they kind of sum up the emotion of love. It’s never one without the other, it’s always bits of both those things. It blows me away. 

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