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James Bay Pushes his Artistry Through the Writing Process for Leap

By Anna Billy | 29 August, 2022

James Bay’s third studio album, Leap, sonically encapsulates summer back road driving with friends where the windows are rolled down and the roaring cicadas drown out the car radio. When asked how he envisions the best way to listen to his new body of work he confidently answered, “listening [to] while in transit.” While he believes the car is an appropriate setting, he prefers listening to the album on train or bus rides, because he does not have to pay as close attention to his surroundings. He can, instead, absorb each individual track and feel the music to the fullest. Bay also confided that the scents he would choose to describe his album would be “sandalwood, dawnlight, and laying down in the grass.” His insistence on these particular fragrances encapsulates the essence of his sound. Leap symbolizes his intention of creating an album which represents overcoming hardship. Bay was very adamant during the writing process in wanting to show the ways in which music can serve as therapy.

The ability to be vulnerable is not something that comes naturally or easily. Bay suggested that musicians are only able to express themselves lyrically because the difficulty of opening up to another person is too great. With his previous two albums, Bay primarily worked alone but wanted to challenge himself to create with more collaborators. However, the pandemic inevitably threw a wrench in his plan. After taking several months to work in solitude, he began collaborating with other artists and producers via zoom. He mused that “collaboration is the spice of life”, and noted the appreciation he had for community in order to “bounce whatever is in your brain off other people, off other voices, [and] off other minds.”

@jamesbaymusic on Instagram

Working with FINNEAS on “Save Your Love” was one of Bay’s most exciting collaborations during the writing and producing process of Leap. Through mutual connections on their respective teams, they were able to collaborate despite FINNEAS reigning as one of the “busiest, most important dudes in music right now” according to Bay. Using one of the most raw forms of a demo - a voice note from Bay’s phone — FINNEAS “wanted to do it right.” Therefore, over the course of their zoom call, Bay allowed him to take the lead, which he jokingly referred to as “finneas-ing” the song. He concluded that because of their collaborative process, the finished product ensured that “every sound felt important and exciting.” When listening to the track, it is evident there is a touch of FINNEAS: simple guitar melodies and stacked vocals to create a choir-esque ambiance.

When asked about the inspiration behind Leap, James Bay cited a John Burroughs quote: “leap and the net will appear.” He elaborated to say his writing specifically shifted once coming across this quote because of his previous battle with anxiety and depression in 2019. Burrough’s words sent “a jolt of lightning” through Bay which instigated a renewed perspective – his senses refined and his focus sharpened, clearing the haze that had kept him from writing and creating. The album, then, shifted to become a collection of hopeful anthems that aim to inspire others to keep pushing forward, not letting their mental health define them. In his own words, “you have to reach f***ing high; you have to leap and not worry if there is a net that is going to catch you. It is just about the reach, it is about the leap, it is about the going for it.” His shifted mentality not only radically transformed how this record took shape but also inspired the title. Without John Burroughs, Leap would not have heavily relied on the themes of love and loss.

@jamesbaymusic on Instagram

While most songs in the pop canon center around love, Bay specified Leap’s focus on discussing love within the context of interpersonal relationships. His interest in drawing inspiration from many different forms of media led him to James Baldwin’s writing while crafting the album. An avid fan of Baldwin’s literature since his early twenties, Bay discussed the ways in which Baldwin beautifully captures love, anguish, and heartache and the ways in which it resonates deeply with his own lived experience. He continued on to note that almost all of his music is “rooted in personal experience… because that is what [he] knows the most about.” Furthermore, in order to challenge himself during the writing process, he frequently wrote about what he knew because it felt important but strove to “write just beyond it” in order to push the boundaries of his creativity. This unique approach enabled him to search for just the right synonym, or the perfect metaphor to translate his individual lived experience into an almost universal experience for listeners everywhere.

Leap exemplifies James Bay’s ability to construct an emotionally charged body of work by innovating commonly used tropes. Discerned to be a “return to basics” compared to the grit of his previous albums, Leap displays Bay’s multidimensionality as an artist. In Bay’s own words, he relaxed and “allowed [himself] to be drawn to what felt effortless.” As a result, diminishing the sonics of each track allowed him to push lyrical boundaries, and showcase how the hardship he faced pre and post-pandemic shaped his music. The chorus to “Endless Summer Nights” exemplifies his refined skill exquisitely: “some moments don’t reverse / so stay up with me forever / throw your arms around the night / all we are is now and never / give me endless summer nights.” When listening to the penultimate track, I can feel the wind rushing past my face as I grip my friends hands screaming the lyrics, watching the last bit of a sunset fade behind the open road.

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