James Bay

by Dima Alzayat

The Score Upon Which Reality is Written
What is James Bay?

A) A Canadian body of water

Located on the southern end of the Hudson Bay. James Bay is an extension of the Arctic Ocean, with a surface that routinely freezes over in the winter.

B) A man discovered thanks to a YouTube video

Cut to opening for Rolling Stones in Hyde Park in 2013, touring with Hozier in 2014, and winning the Brits Critic’s Choice Award last December. This year? A nearly sold-out tour and his first album—The Chaos and the Calm—sees release.

You’re from Hitchin, England—which the Internet tells me has a staggering population of 33,000 people. What was it like to grow up there? 

It was really comfortable and that was great for a lot of years. As a kid, being able to go outside and mess around and play in the street—it was easy to do all of those things. But it served its purpose eventually. I was 19 when I first moved away and it felt really relevant to what I was trying to do to suddenly get out of there.

Do you feel location impacts or affects your music? 

The slightly larger-than-life experience of traveling around the world to these incredible cities like New York, L.A., and San Francisco for the first time—that will come out in the writing. So I guess it’s on the next go-around that you’ll hear a lot about how I felt about getting to all these new places for the first time.

In the past you’ve played solo shows, but for recent gigs, you’ve been playing with a band. What can we expect from you in the future? 

I started in a sort of solo place, but before that I was in my bedroom as a kid, playing guitar along to bands, so I always wanted to have a band. [For the tour] everybody’s coming out and we’re going to rock out, but with that there’s also room for those guys to wander offstage for a couple of songs in the middle, and I’ll break it down and take it to a really intimate place where I’ll be playing on my own. Then we’ll bring the guys back and they’ll build it back up again. I like that dynamic journey in a live set.

What is the writing process like for you?

The better times to write for me, it seems, are first thing in the morning, and sometimes the last thing at night. Those moments are very quiet and introspective. It’s at those times that I find I can get the most detailed or intricate—or be as simple as I want to be.

Was there a song that was particularly difficult to write?

There’s a song on the album called “Scars.” It’s about somebody who had to leave and move away for a long time. It was about two years after I started writing it that I finally finished it. I had to experience that whole bit of her being away, and I had to sort of come back around, and in hindsight look at how I felt.

You’ve done your fair share of busking and open mics in Brighton and in London. What was that like? What did you learn from doing that?

I learned how to play live. All of that stuff teaches you how to write a song because you turn up with your songs, and you find out if they’re any good or not. I kind of recommend doing that as early as possible even if it scares you a bit. It’s about going out there and falling on your face a few times and from doing that, working out how to stand on your feet for longer.

Photographer: James Perry for Coffin-Inc.com.

Stylist: Zoe Costello for Art-Dept.com.

Groomer: Sheridan Ward for WSchupfer.com.

Grooming notes: Rocket Fuel Moisturizer by Kiehl’s, Studio Conceal and Correct in Light by M.A.C cosmetics, and Surf Spray by Bumble and bumble.