Three years after his debut album „Chaos And The Calm“ which sold more than 3.5 million copies and received multiple awards James Bay now releases „Electric Light“. The 27 year old Brit is going through a transformation – musically and visually. We met him prior to his show in Huxley’s Neue Welt, Berlin.

Foto: © Sarah Piantadosi / Universal Music

TAHIR CHAUDHRY: Compared to other artists who are touring you seem to be very calm, as if you would be here in the present.

JAMES BAY: This is nice to know. Do it yourself! It would seem strange to me if I would be only calm because other people around me would making sure that I was. Then I would not have control over myself. In this day and age we kind of live in our smartphones. We are looking at this thing and thinking about what was and will be. I do appreciate you saying that because it can be hard to feel like you are living in the present. There is this internet and social world that consumes us. Thank you for saying that. It’s cool that this comes across.

TC: A lot of people are talking about your new look. Do you find it superficial?

JB: I guess if they talk more about my looks than the music then it really starts to feel strange and wrong. Pop music and fashion have always existed together. One will lead the other. I don’t care to an extent but if all people talk about the looks then I find it quite sad because I am obviously a musician. And that is the thing I want people to affect with.

TC: But you work in a very superficial business. In pop culture the focus is often more on the looks than on what someone is trying to say or deliver.

JB: You are absolutely right. For me the center of all of it is music. Now you talk about pop music and their superficial elements. I think it’s a bit of a shame. I don’t think your wrong. But I hold my hand up! I play my part in that because it helps fuel my music career. To a degree you kind of have to. I’m 27 and weared my hat since I was 18. I got bored of it.

TC: People don’t recognize you anymore immediately. Is this good or bad?

JB: For a minute they don’t recognize me. But of course I did all of the promotion with my name as they known it before and with a different looking: no hat, no long hair. As a business person it was part of it, just a tool. I’m coming back with new music and it kind of helps the signpost: Hey here I am! New Music! And don’t I look the same anymore! It’s a visual aid.

With Justin Bieber at the BRIT Awards 2016 | Foto: © Ian Gavan / Getty Images

TC: Some people will not like your transformation.

JB: If I lose some people that liked my music but they’re are now upset that I look differently so be it. Yes, I cut my hair and can’t grow it back tomorrow. I can’t compare myself to geniuses like Michael Jackson or Pablo Picasso. But they are examples. In ten years Michael Jackson had an afro and was wearing tuxedos, then he was wearing the hat and the glove, later he had longer hair and was wearing a big biker suit. So he changed gradually and less drastically. Picasso is interesting because he made a lot of paintings and it took a long time for people like the paintings but eventually they did. By the time they did and wanted to buy them Picasso started painting everything in blue. They bought all of his paintings and said: “Do more of these great ones…Oh, you are painting in blue now, we don’t like it. Where is the Picasso?”. Picasso said: “I’m the artist and I wanted to paint everything in blue now”. Eventually they fell in love with the blue. And then when they were asking for more Picasso went and did everything cubist. People said to him: where is the blue stuff?!”. You know, you have to do what you have to do as an artist.

TC: When I look at your new style, the new cover, but also the way you move on stage it seems that you don’t want to be that readable anymore. Am I right?

JB: Very interesting. I wouldn’t really have known how readable I was. In this day and age, in 2018, we have a much shorter attention span than people had ten or twenty years ago. When we pick up our phone we want to see a new thing. When put it down and take it up again we want to see a new new thing. I wanted to try with time to move to a new thing and accommodate everybodies and my own attention span. It’s not that I don’t want to be readable any more. But if there is a bit of a mystery about it – fantastic! Not everything should be entirely predictable.

TC: There is a difference between signature and the handwriting. The signature shows how we want to be perceived and the handwriting shows who we really are. What should your musical signature show?

JB: I think as someone who is constantly creative and a quite open minded individual who isn’t tied down by one thing. I can only explain it by referencing music. I love music. And everyone I know loves more than one type of music. I’m the same. So as a creative I’m inspired by different types of sound. I want people to see me as explorative. This is potentially the right word.

James Bay: “When you meet that person that you deeply feel love for it is almost an aching. It has a weight, you have a heavy heart and you even feel a strain of anxiety. True love sits between pure euphoria and complete turmoil.”
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TC: In your song Slide you say: “The weight of the world is love / Under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction the weight / The weight we carry is love / And so must rest in the arms of love at last, must rest in the arms of love”.

JB: It is a Allen Ginsberg poem. My friend David spoke those words that we used in my song. So I take a sort of partial ownership because I think these are beautiful words and I believe in every word I say.

TC: Most people will say love is the most beautiful thing that exists and you call it a “burden” and “weight”. Why?

JB: Because it is. I think that love is the greatest sadness in existence but also the greatest source of euphoria at the same time. When we fall for somebody and we see that person it hurts, it’s such a strong feeling. When you meet that person that you deeply feel love for it is almost an aching. It has a weight, you have a heavy heart and you even feel a strain of anxiety. True love sits between pure euphoria and complete turmoil. We say that true love is glory but when it appears the first time we panic because we want the other person to adore us and feel the same about us as we feel for them. In that respect the weight of the world is love. There are different versions of love as well. Think about all the crazy people in the world who want to dictate and rule over many people. They want adoration. They are desperate to feel acceptance from a large amount of people. It is very heavy feeling.

TC: On my way to the venue I saw some beggars and very old people who usually suffer the most from being overlooked and not being needed anymore. They lack love in form of adoration and acceptance. On the other side there are pop icons as Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson who got too much of it.

JB: Yes, if I give someone too much of one thing it can probably destroy the person. It is a sad thing to say that people who are living in poverty and in the opposite people who are so wealthy and successful that it can ruin their lives. It is an interesting reality.

TC: There is no doubt that image is as central for your career as it was for a Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson or Prince. Their image also played a role in their breakdown.

JB: Fantastic. Elvis became fat and people noticed. People had to say a lot about it because he was this pristine godlike figure. As he grew older he became this sad version of the same thing. He still tried to do his hair and wear the suits but he was a bigger guy. People talked about it in a negative way. And Michael Jackson? Something was going on with his skin. It might have been a disorder but I don’t know. He tried to go through from looking like a traditionally black looking person to looking a lot whiter. For the time those were quite drastic changes.

TC: When you hear music as an expert what is the most important element for you?

JB: I need music to make me feel true joy, sadness or nostalgia. I appreciate you are calling me an expert. I hope I will never be an full expert because it is more exciting to to be constantly learning. I do know that music is really great when it moves me. When it makes me truly feel and gives me goosebumps.

TC: I asked my friends and acquaintances about what they had to say about you and your music. I made the experience that if one in the group said something good about you everyone seemed to agree but if someone said something like “That’s cheap mainstream music!” the others also had something bad to say.

JB: Haha!

TC: Could it be that we don’t really listen to music that we personally love but rather listen to music that other people would love to see us listening?

JB: Great! It is very accurate for a lot of people. I like that. Somebody called my music “cheap mainstream”. I don’t know what they mean by “cheap” but I think it’s great if they call it “mainstream”. To be considered in any way like that is quite important to me to some degree, not entirely. I don’t need to feel that I’m the most mainstream artist that there is but it is nice that anybody feels that I exist on that wider scale. It is interesting. If you said “Shawn Mendes” or “Taylor Swift” to that guy. How would he have reacted? It is so cool for a lot of people to be seen to like Taylor Swift because she is so enormous and successful. But the a lot of music critics might say that it is the simplest form of pop songwriting and that it doesn’t really test the mind or the emotions. It is nice to be classed in the same field as those artists but personally I’m a passionate fan of music that doesn’t exist in that room and I’m inspired by music that doesn’t exist in that room.

TC: Do you have a vision about where your evolution will or should take you?

JB: I’m excited about where my mind wanders next. I stay inspired by what David Bowie said about 20 years ago when someone asked him what he is going to do next: “I don’t know but I promise you that it won’t be boring”. I think that is brilliant.

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