Singer James Bay is on the way back to Chicago with two new tour dates.
The English singer started playing guitar at a very young age eventually studying in Brighton while practicing on open mics around the city. After the success of several singles such as "Let It Go" and "Hold Back the River," he returns with a new album called Electric Light. This brings him on the road again after opening for acts like Taylor Swift and The Rolling Stones in the past. This time as a headliner Bay knows his way around concerts with sold out shows and live experiences that need to be seen in person.
He talked about this backstage at Metro before his new record was released.
Windy City Times: The first time I heard about you was when I was interviewing George Ezra. He told me about your music.
James Bay: He is a bit of a brother. We are musically related because we have the same agent. We are nicely rooted toward each other. He's an amazing talent of course.
WCT: You are coming back for Lollapalooza.
JB: I can't wait for that. I was there in 2015. It is one of the best festivals I have ever done.
WCT: What about Glastonbury?
JB: Glastonbury is up thereLollapalooza, Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco, and the Isle of Wight in the UK.
WCT: What is that one?
JB: Isle of Wight is a quite old and famous music festival. It is about as old as Glastonbury starting in 1968. There is a very famous Jimi Hendrix DVD where he headlined Isle of Wight.
Those four are great festivals and I can't wait to come back for Lollapalooza.
WCT: Then returning in October to Chicago… NOTE: The event has been changed to March 2019.}
JB: At the Aragon. There are big, tasty venues on that run.
WCT: When do you have downtime?
JB: Never. I will be honest with you, who wants downtime? I will do downtime when I am, like, 50, maybe for like five minutes. Hopefully I will still be doing this when I am 50, 60, and beyond. Downtime is not the point of any of this.
At the very end of 2016, I finished touring the first record and there were many offers to go play places that I haven't played before around the world and some places were saying come back again.
I had to make some new music instead. I had been playing those songs for almost four years. It was January 2, 2017 when I was ready to start the new music, which I did. So I had a bit of time off. I went on holiday for about 10 days.
WCT: Where did you go?
JB: I went to Grenada in the Caribbean. It was was really cool.
WCT: You started playing when you were very young?
JB: Yes. I was a little kid. Before I was 11 I was in love with music by listening to records and the radio. It was Eric Clapton's "Layla" that knocked me off my feet. I heard that guitar riff when my dad was playing it on the stereo downstairs. I ran down and grabbed the CD off of him and never gave it back. I went into my room and spent the next few weeks learning it.
WCT: George Ezra told me that you, him, and Sam Smith all played together.
JB: Yes, in London. We were the openers for Laura Mvula. She was the headliner. Her music is fantastic and alternative.
WCT: She is like Nina Simone.
JB: Big time. She has a gorgeous voice. We were the opening acts and it was our first show in London. That was the first time we met in 2012.
WCT: Was Sam Smith out of the closet back then?
JB: I don't know. That is a good question. I think in a slightly global sense it took him a moment. I love Sam. It would break my heart if he was not okay about being out. Who cares? He's the greatest.
WCT: How are you on gay rights?
JB: Be gay, be whomever you want to be, be who you are. I think it is nuts in the music industry. It is a very straight male led industry. In the movie industry as well. Until recently it has always been a boys club and in a lame way.
Let's all be who we are actually are and just have a great time. In Sam's case or anybody else's spread your talent around the world!
WCT: You played San Francisco recently. You must have had a thousand gay fans there.
JB: I hope so. That would be great. That's a good point.
I saw the movie Call Me By Your Name the other day. It blew my mind and moved me. What a beautiful film.
WCT: Where is the strangest place you have heard "Hold Back the River?"
JB: Sometimes videos pop up on my Instagram. There will be a guy in Vietnam busting out my song in a club. I have a friend in Singapore who will text me videos of people singing my songs in the street. If I am in a restaurant where it is playing, it's kind of awkward.
One of the weirdest places was at a guitar store when someone was in there trying out a guitar and he had his back to me. He was playing my song. That was a really cool moment for me.
WCT: You have changed your image. Did you feel stuck with the long hair and the hat?
JB: I had been doing that I suppose for a long time and I was done with it. I was over it.
One of my favorite things about this life is the evolution we go through as an artist and a person. I think it is my responsibility and duty to change or else it gets boring. Who wants to look the same all of the time?
WCT: I noticed your clothing style, also.
JB: I am getting sparkly onstage. I am still on that journey and having a good time.
WCT: You are dressing like David Bowie.
JB: Totally. I am somewhere between Bowie and Cher.
WCT: I love it! They are doing The Cher Show here, for Broadway in Chicago.
JB: Is she in it?
WCT: No, but it's about her life. Bob Mackie is doing the costumes. Let's talk about new music.
JB: Electric Light is all very exciting. i was able to tour so long with my first album that it meant I wasn't able to put new music out. It is now here and it is time. People are loving it.
I am having a lot of fun on this run playing the old songs with the new songs. People are getting to know the new music, which is exciting, People are reacting well.
WCT: I listen to "Pink Lemonade" all the time.
JB: Nice one! There is a big theme on the record of unity, the importance of being together. "Pink Lemonade" is one of the exceptions. It is a song about escape. We all go through these moments where we have to get away from the things we love, hate, or whatever.
There is actually a song on the first record where it was like that. "Lemonade"`was that moment. it took me back to when I was a little kid. When I was four years old, I grabbed my pillowcase and my toys. I told my parents that I was leaving. I went out the back door and my mom said, "Well, okay." Then I came back in about five minutes. It reminded me of that moment and being overly dramatic. It is inspired by being an adult, but reminds me of being a kid. I felt that strong feeling. Your parents don't take you seriously, understandably because you are little. When you feel something very serious you will always come back to that when you are a grownup,
WCT: What do your parents think of you now?
JB: They are very proud. They are not musical, but they have a fantastic record collection. My older brother is musical as well. They have always embraced us when we got onstage. They didn't push it or say we couldn't do it. They just enjoyed us enjoying it.
WCT: Your song "Wild Love" sounds experimental to me.
JB: Absolutely. It is all about that evolution thing again. I wanted to push boundaries and go into untouched musical territory that I hadn't done before. It is inspired by music that I love that didn't necessarily inspire my first record. That was everyone from Adele and Carole King to Bruce Springsteen and Kings of Leon who inspired my first record. This time I was listening to Bowie and Blondie to Prince and Frank Ocean.
WCT: Great inspirations. I saw Natalia Dyer from Stranger Things was in the video for "Wild Love."
JB: She even came to my show in LA. Yes, she has done Stranger Things that catapulted her to stardom, but she is capable of much more. It was exciting watching her do her thing. She was into her pert. I didn't know how to act.
WCT: Did you watch Stranger Things before?
JB: I was a massive fan so when she was on set I was a fanboy.
WCT: Do you have a favorite song to play live?
JB: On this tour I am torn. I play the new songs and people recognize them. That is the first time that is happening for me, because they are brand new songs. The first old song is the third song on the set. We have taken them through two new songs, which is a lot to ask, but I trust it.
That song is "Craving," a song that they know. There's a cheer, which is the greatest feeling.
WCT: I am surprised you are not doing the Tom Petty cover "Kings Highway."
JB: Oh, the song from Cars 3. I am not ruling that out. I am not doing a cover in the set currently. I will think about it. That was an amazing opportunity though. I love cartoon movies as a kid so that was cool.
WCT: How was performing on Saturday Night Live?
JB: That is a stand out moment for any artist. Because that show has been around so long it resonates across the pond it was massive. I got to do a costume change on TV, well not actually on television. I did one song in one outfit and another song in another outfit.
WCT: More fashion, and speaking of fashion you did something for Topman.
JB: Yes, in 2017. They had been knocking on my door for awhile. It was really nice because Topman was one of the first places I went as a teenager when I didn't know what to wear. I went when I was 16 and 10 years later I was making a collection!
WCT: Would you try acting?
JB: I wouldn't rule that out but there is a lot more I want to do as a musician. I want to tour the world and sell out arenas. I want to go beyond that if I can. I want to put more music out.
I have been asked to collaborate with people, but I want to prove myself here on my own.
Bay Plays Lollapalooza Friday, Aug. 3, at the Bud Light Stage at 4:45 p.m. and Riviera Theatre on March 19, 2019. More information about him can be found at JamesBay.com .