If it were possible to buy stock in things like “British singer-songwriters,” anyone who did so in 2010 would be very rich today. During the last five years, Mumford & Sons, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith have become superstars seemingly overnight. Now, James Bay appears to be the next in line.
Bay quickly went from playing his soulful folk-rock at open mic nights to a major-label record deal on the strength of a YouTube video shot by a fan. Since then, he has opened for the Rolling Stones and made a fan of Taylor Swift, who invited him to open some dates on her upcoming European tour.
amNewYork spoke with Bay.
What musicians inspired you growing up?
From an older generation of music it’s artists like the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, The Band and Bruce Springsteen. But more recently it’s Ray Lamontagne, Kings of Leon, Feist, Ben Howard, Half Moon Run.
When did you first develop a love of songwriting?
I was 13 or 14 when I was writing my first songs. But it’s only since the age of about 19 that I really started to dig in, trying to say something and really create memorable hooks and melodies. That’s when I moved to listening to more songwriters and less just guitar players. Then I developed a greater appreciation for songcraft and started to really love songwriting.
How did that famous YouTube video happen and what was it like to have that kind of success so quickly?
It seems like it all happened really quickly, but there were four or five years of focused and relentless work that I’d put in, working on writing and getting better at performing live. I guess it’s thanks mainly to word-of-mouth and making sure I was out playing gigs and open mics as many nights a week as possible. I think that’s the other reason why I caught record labels’ attention all of a sudden, you could always find me playing somewhere and people were staying to listen.
Why do you think British folk-rockers have had so much success recently?
I can’t decide what people want to hear. If it’s “British folk-rockers” at the moment, so be it. Who could know exactly why? I do think there’s a lot of great songs and songwriting going on at the moment, and I’m just glad it’s all being given the platform it deserves.
If you go: James Bay is at Irving Plaza Wednesday at 7 p.m., 17 Irving Place, $27.