FEELS LIKE is our artist spotlight series where we introduce you to artists we love and talk about the way they process life through music, just like we do here! This exclusive from James Bay was made possible by one of our followers, Caitlin, who works at 1824 (Universal Music’s creative solutions team that works to connect fans and artists).
I recently came to the realization that as much as I am a hopeless romantic, I’ve never actually been in love. Just hopelessly in love with the idea of love.
In some ways, I’ve been fighting my romantic nature for the past few years as I’ve dealt with a string of disappointments and disillusionment in my life which led me to forget what it’s like to live life on a lighter note.
It turns out James Bay has also been dealing a loss of light in the last few years and he wrote his new album is a reminder for himself to “lift your chin up.”
Like many folks, I’ve loved James’s music since I first heard “Hold Back the River” circa 2015. I then became absolutely obsessed with his last album, 2018’s Electric Light, around the time I graduated college. So naturally I was eager to hear his next project and further see how his music developed.
“I had been dealing with some sort of darkness and sort of emotional times,” James said describing the beginnings of the writing process of his new album Leap, which started in 2019. “As I started to write to remedy those difficulties, I was doing my typical thing of writing down into sadness to try to get through it. And then I thought, ‘no.’“
The title of the album came from the John Burroughs quote “leap and the net will appear”, which serendipitously got James out of the sad song cycle.
“It inspired the turning point in the writing,” James said. “I was struggling through 2019 with mental health issues: anxiety and something on the borders of depression and frustration and sadness that I couldn’t shake…the words fired a jolt of lighting through me and sat me up. I had been lost and it sort of refined my senses and sharpened my focus.”
But like—same bestie, and I feel like listening to this album has been my jolt of lightning, at least in an interpersonal sense.
I started dating again this summer with the goal of learning to honor and communicate my needs and boundaries while trying to have a little fun. It’s been terrifying for me to use this season to be a little selfish and prioritize my needs above someone else’s because I’m not used to doing that. Meanwhile, my therapist and I have really been unraveling the fabric of me in this process and it has not felt pretty. In fact, I’ve been prone to hopelessness that I’m doomed to fall into the patterns I’ve always fallen into. Or worse, those that my parents have fallen into.
The one-two punch to counter all that is the healing through honest vulnerability and the affirmation of hope. And that’s what James’s goal was for this project.
Whereas Electric Light was about pushing sonic boundaries with “some carnage and chaos in the sound”, James said that on this record, he wanted a bigger focus on being vulnerable in his lyrics.
“I used to write in a more abstract way, afraid to just say it,” he said about the challenge to be more direct in his lyrics with Leap. “To be direct in what I’m trying to say as a lyricist is important. But I have to acknowledge delivery, not just what is said, but how it’s said.”
James explained that he was drawn to the idea of “lifting one’s chin up” and wrote a lot of the songs with that sentiment.
“I wanted to make music for people to use to stay hopeful,” he said. “The message that I want to impart is something that I’m sort of trying to tell myself every day: for whatever happens, whether a day sucks or it really really sucks, cause sometimes they do, there’s tomorrow. And it can all be fresh and start again. I know it’s a bit simple but I’m learning as I grow, the simple things can be really quite effective.”
I’m not crying right now because I needed to hear that, you are.
The album as a whole feels intimate, from the honest lyrics to the stripped back production that’s reminiscent of his first album, The Chaos and The Calm. But what makes this album different from his previous work is the way it sets out to bring the warmth of hope in a very intimate way. Throughout the album, it feels like James’s heart is singing a beeline of hope from his heart straight to mine.
In closing, James said, “I’m trying to keep my chin up and I think if people can find ways through this music to do the same thing, then I’m really glad. Because we all need some of that sometimes. I needed it, so I wanted to share it.”
Special thanks to our Instagram follower Caitlin at 1824 for inviting me to cover James’s press conference! It was really such a special treat to hear James’s thoughtful answers. Per James, it’s recommended you listen to his new album the next time you’re in transit (think your car, a plane, and especially a train) to soak it all in.
Nowhere Left To Go
This is one of those songs that so beautifully makes me crave intimacy, although I’m absolutely terrified of it. But James’s voice here feels like a delicate yet genuine and excited invitation. The lyric “I want to trace my hands across your freckle constellations” is one of those lyrics that just gives butterflies. This song is fireworks.
Save Your Love
I love how this song talks about the wisdom of commitment and the difficult process of guarding your heart. I KNOW I needed to be reminded of this message right now. James’s voice feels like the literal voice of God telling me to save my love and energy for someone special. Knowing that I’m a hopeless romantic, I’m realizing how special it is that I’m wired like that. Truthfully, I’ve romanticized some average at best guys, so isn’t it time I make the depths of my love something to romanticize? Idk, that’s what it feels like God is trying to tell me through James.
I need my friends that are looking for wedding songs to listen to this one right now. The most recent single from this album feels like the perfect love song to soundtrack the start of a marriage and honestly, goals. The vocal runs in the chorus are not only a great vocal warm up, but a sweet and catchy melody. Just such a sweet song.
As someone who struggles with really intense bouts of low self-esteem, this song has made me bawl my eyes out every single time for the way it directly disarms the lies my self-esteem demons like to feed me. James manages to capture a moment of true and secure intimacy via encouragement in this song and it feels so special. To any future lovers of mine, you can use this song as a starting point to speak to me when I get down. This is probably my favorite song on the album because it feels like it’s providing a secure place to just exist.
When I say James Bay makes me want to fall in love, this song is what that sounds like. The love in this song is so intimate and kind yet aspirational. It kind of reminds me of listening to Coldplay’s “Fix You” in that it gives space to express such a simple but profound message of love. This song feels like the warmest, safest hug ever.
I was obsessed with Chaos and the Calm when it came out and saw him live in 2018. After that I kind of drifted away from him, but your post makes me want to listen to his new album.
Thanks for writing it.