New Music To Know: James Bay Bares His Soul on Bluesy Debut

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James Bay, Alex Shahmiri

(Courtesy of Alex Shahmiri)

James Bay started writing songs when he was just a teenager. While many young kids plucking around on a guitar would be too mortified to commit their teenage hopes and fears to paper—never mind setting those thoughts to music—the now 22-year-old Brit told it never made him nervous. It’s something he chalks up to a lack of humility.

“I was never too shy, particularly with like being embarrassed about writing my own stuff,” Bay explained. “I remember this completely naive kind of confidence like, ‘I can do this. I can write songs.’ So I was always pretty carefree.”

Bay was just 11-years-old when he picked up his first guitar. It was a five-string clunker that he found in a cupboard in his bedroom. It belonged to his dad when he was just a boy and hadn’t been used in years. “It was all rusty and falling apart,” Bay said. “But there was something magical about it when I held it in my lap.”

He knew he needed to learn how to play it, but instead of asking his parents for lessons, he took matters into his own hands. “I bought a CD-ROM,” Bay said laughing. In the end, he taught himself how to play by picking things up by ear, starting with standard 12-bar blues patterns and moving into more contemporary folkies like Ray Montagne.


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