Newcomer James Bay is ready to rock at the Grammy Awards
NEW YORK – For rock singer James Bay, receiving not one or two – but three – Grammy nominations for his debut album is “insane.” That’s because Bay, 25, remembers how scary it was to finally record music after performing around Europe for more than 10 years.
“It’s one of those situations … (where) there’s as much anxiety as there is excitement,” Bay said in a recent interview. “Recording it was a kind of a scary thing because it was very unknown. … I did my first show when I was 14 … (and) recording is not something I’m familiar with.”
Enter Jacquire King, the Grammy-winning producer-engineer-mixer who worked on Kings of Leon’s colossal hit “Use Somebody” as well as songs for Tom Waits, Norah Jones and others. Bay had put King at the top of his list of dream producers to help him not only craft good songs, but also develop his own style and sound.
“Literally I opened up a couple of his demos … about five minutes into them … I was totally onboard,” King said. “I loved his voice.”
At the Grammys, airing live Feb. 15 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Bay is being recognized for a wide range of his talents: There’s his songwriting (best rock song for “Hold Back the River”); his full body of work (rock album for “Chaos and the Calm”); and his overall artistry as a singer-to-watch on the music scene (best new artist).
“Awards are fun, but the Grammys are pretty damn special,” said Bay, who grew up in England and regularly rocks a fedora. “I didn’t think about awards too much growing up, I really, really didn’t, but I always recognized the Grammys and thought, ‘Wow, that would be fun one day to get nominated for one of those.’ It’s a bit of a dream come true.”
His debut album, released last March and recorded with King in Nashville, Tennessee, is a rock adventure that explores elements of indie rock, soft rock, Americana, folk, blues and pop rock – all with the guitar at the forefront. “Best Fake Smile” and “Hold Back the River” are thumping, passionate tunes; “If You Ever Want to Be in Love” is a sweet mid-tempo love song; “Let It Go,” which is rising on Billboard Hot 100 chart, is a winning slow burner.
And the album’s opening track, “Craving,” best describes Bay’s ambitious attitude for wanting more.
“I got trapped into too may bar jobs in the same small town. As you mature and you grow and you sort of develop new tastes for new things, I didn’t want any of that anymore, and I wanted something different. And it was all spurred on by wanting to play music,” Bay said.
“Chaos and the Calm” became one of the top-selling albums last year in the U.K., where it debuted at No. 1. Bay is nominated for four Brit Awards – including British album and single of the year – at the Feb. 24 awards show.
But Bay isn’t only being recognized with awards: The budding singer has been praised by rock vets Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, whom Bay has performed with.
“It’s really hard to put into words, but it makes me feel like things are on a whole other level,” he said of the love from The Rolling Stones members. “It’s an amazing, surreal experience.”
Bay’s raw vocals and skilled guitar playing translate at live shows, where he has won over audiences. He’ll be able to do it again when he performs at the Grammys.
“He understands how to channel that stuff and emote … and give the song and the performance energy and real emotion,” King said, “and people respond to that.”
Bay will hit the stage with fellow best new artist nominee Tori Kelly (pop hitmaker Meghan Trainor, country singer-songwriter Sam Hunt and Australian rock performer Courtney Barnett round out the nominees). His competition in the rock categories range from Muse to Alabama Shakes and Florence + the Machine.
“I would genuinely take anyone or hopefully all three. I think for me, such a newbie, to be recognized by the Grammys is insane,” he said.