Why singer-songwriter James Bay is our latest music obsession

When I went to the Hozier concert a few weeks back there were some things I expected and some things I didn’t. I expected: Hozier’s melodic angel voice to sing all my new favorites. I expected the audience to lose their minds with joy when he sang “Take Me to Church.” I expected the kind of incredible live performance that leaves you picking your jaw up off the floor. All of those things happened. What I didn’t expect: To fall hard for Hozier’s mighty-excellent opener James Bay. But that happened too.

James Bay is like if Ray Lamontagne and all your most private thoughts about love had a musical baby. His song “When We Were on Fire,” was the first to really turn my head and is kind of the epitome of what’s awesome about Bay’s music: it’s deep but catchy, melodic but beautifully lyric-driven, and all capped off with sing-a-long-able power chorus. It was love at first sound.

Bay’s heartsick, acoustic quality has the effect of making it seem like every love song was tailor written to your life. His incredibly personal lyrics also lend the feeling that you’re listening in on a private conversation through a crack in the wall. When later I asked him in an e-mail interview who his greatest musical influences were his response made a lot of sense – all artists with power, and a pop appeal, and feeling. “Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson are two quite different but very big influences of mine from the past,” he said. “More recently it would have to be Ray Lamontagne and Feist, but there’s always more!”

After borderline tearing up during his performance of his song “Let It Go” (absolutely zero Frozen relation) I came home and Spotify’d everything he’d ever recorded, and scoured Google for anything I could learn about the British musician.

What did I learn? First of all I learned that I was not nearly the first person to fall for “Let It Go.” In fact, it was a hit in the UK. I also learned Bay is 23-years-old and from Hitchin, Hertfordshire (in the UK). I learned that his big break came opening for the Rolling Stone in Hyde Park in 2013, and that he has two EPs under his belt: “The Dark Of the Morning” from 2013 and “Let It Go” released earlier this year.

In an e-mail interview he also shared a few other tidbits. I learned that his song “Scars” is a current favorite of his and that it took him two years to write. “It’s about the struggles of a long distance relationships and the lessons you learn trying to hold that together,” he said.

I learned that he’s proud of his success but sweetly humble. When I asked how things had changed for him since releasing his first EP he said, “Suddenly people know the words to these songs that I’ve worked so hard at writing over the last couple years. It’s pretty incredible. I still do the dishes after dinner, though. (Not so incredible.)”

And I learned that he’s pretty good at giving advice. His advice for other young musicians? “Take your time and make sure the song/performance is the best it can be. You can do as much as you want to try and make things move faster, but in the long term that can do more damage than good. So focus on your next show and don’t worry about what comes after that. If the show is good, the rest will work itself out.”

What’s the last thing I learned? I learned to always make it to a concert in time for the opening act. They might just blow you away.

Bonus PSA: Bay’s next EP Hold Back the River will be released on November 24. Here’s the pre-order link.