James Bay: Imposter Syndrome, Trauma & Controlling The Voice In Your Head | E166 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "James Bay: Imposter Syndrome, Trauma & Controlling The Voice In Your Head | E166".
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I remember writing "Hold Back the River" and everybody at the label jumping for joy and thinking that they had a hit on their hands. I dreamt about being on those stages in front of all the people that my heroes were in front of. I remember this burning desire. I was dead certain that I wanted it more than everyone. Chaos in the Com comes out, debuts are number one. That's crazy. And the winner is... JAY SPEAK! Thank you so much, this is insane. Nobody could have made us understand it was going to be traumatic. Who I was on the Chaos in the Com campaign. I needed to stop all of that for my soul and my mental health. Yeah, it's pretty fucking intense. Ed Sheeran invited me to open for him in football stadiums around Europe. And the bit I hate to admit that I'm anxious to confess is that... Life can take a toll on people. To be male and talk about your feelings, it was more about can you suck it up though? It's all like an act. Would you do it all again? I'm really concerned about what happens next. So without further ado, I'm Steven Bartlett and this is the DiR over CEO. I hope nobody's listening. But if you are, then please keep this yourself. James.
Personal Life And Musical Career
So you're a 90s baby? Yeah. 1990. Same as me, 1992. Okay. What about those early years defined you and the person you would go on to be? When you look back at the dots and say, "Well, that, that, that is the reason I am who I am." What are those first dots? I grew up in a kind of commuter belt town called Hitchin in Hertfordshire, which is about an hour outside of the center of London. I hate it going into London. It's horrible, busy, noisy, smelly, awful. The quiet calm of my little hometown was perfect. It was safe. Pretty much safe. I'm the youngest of me and my brother. And then there's my parents, my mum and my dad. And we don't have my, I only have one cousin who was born 10 years after I was born. So we were small family. It wasn't a big crowd. It wasn't a sort of noisy experience growing up. In that respect, my parents are pretty fiery people. And they're kind of party animals in a way. They're very social. They're very loud and kind of excitable. So I feel that was going on sort of all the time. They had people around all the time and they kind of, I suppose, inspired me and my brother to sort of be okay in all sorts of social situations. And I think all kids, myself included, go through moments of shyness and moments where they're a little more outgoing, then maybe a little more shy again than outgoing again. I remember most vividly the sort of shy at times. And I stood behind my older brother, who would lead 9 out of 10 times into any situation with other kids or whatever. So I felt I was a more timid person, gentle compared to my parents and my brother, who were more just louder. Were your parents affectionate? In a kind of, I want to say like wartime ways, stiff up a lip kind of way. My dad was older than other dads, still a great dad. But he was 42 when I was born. He's nearly 75. And he comes from like very, well, his parents were, you know, his dad was flying, fighter planes in the second world war. Most of my friends, parents, parents, parents, like there's another generation usually involved. Whereas for me, it was my dad's dad who was doing that. So my parents come from this, you've asked if they were affectionate. They were affectionate in their sort of steely way. It wasn't sweet and sugary and cuddly, to be honest. For example, when I showed some vague interest in performing of any kind, my mum was less. Oh, that's nice. Meen it. Go on. Like it was with a bit of a smile. It was encouraging and I got on board with it. But ultimately it was like, if you're going to give it a shot, don't do it by half. Look at, and she'd name any one of my heroes, or any one of her heroes musically. My parents are big music friends. She'd say, look at what they give it. You've got to give it that. And without quite saying it, she was saying, you know, you have to be believable. It's all like an act. So affectionate, they were encouraging and they were excited by, for example, when I got into music and wanting to play an instrument and performing and all that, they were excited about it, I think. But they weren't, like, if I wasn't into it, they weren't, you know, if the one and a half times in the early, early days that I kind of went, oh, I don't know if I want to play guitar, actually. It's probably a bit hard. They weren't like, oh. And they weren't saying, try harder then. They were just like, all right. Okay. What about your dad then when he finds out that you want to be, you know, you might want to piss you that avenue? One thing my dad and both my parents said a lot about and kind of required of me was that I would do something to earn some money and actually go back to, I was 12 or 13 when they first said, pocket money's done. And I think I know a lot of kids who were getting that till sort of 16 at the time, some of them longer because there was various kids whose parents weren't, they didn't need their kids to get a job. They just wanted their kids to be kids and have a nice time. And I guess it's not that my parents didn't want me to have a nice time, but from like 12 years old, they were like, there are jobs you can get as a paper round. There's this, that's that. And there was a, my dad who had loved music and going to see music live since he was, you know, much younger, since way before me and my brother came along. He was definitely like, there's a job at the market. Like so and so's kid is working down at the market. Go and ask him how he got the job, try and get the other shift. And I did. I got that shift. My brother got that one of the shifts as well. And at 13 in January at 4am, I was on my bike on the way to the market in the dark, shivering my nuts off. I remember the like anxiety dreams that I would have before getting up for that because as a teenager, I just wanted to be asleep for hours and hours and hours. And you're supposed to like, we know more about that now. It's like really good for teenagers to get as much sleep as they can. The kids of any age, but teenagers apparently, very important. My dad didn't know any of that. Not interested. You know, if James wants to buy guitar strings because he's snapping him off his guitar off the time, then I can't. He's like, I can't keep paying for that. Which I respect. I didn't at the time. My dad and my mum, but also because my dad had had jobs as a kid, you know, helping some one like a, you know, a corner shop or something. He like heartily believed in that and was trying to instill that in us from clearly, you know, very early on because whatever our hobby might have been, he's like, I don't want to have to fund it. And I understand that we don't come from money. You know, we don't, my mum was sometimes working and sometimes not because, you know, she was being a stay at home, mum half the time. But my dad was, you know, bringing in the big bit that paid for the family to sort of exist. Yeah, so he was he believed as long as we could sort of fund the things that we wanted to do more or less, then they were doable. You talk a lot about how having idle time is really, really important to discovering who you are and being a creative and finding yourself.
Idle time, insecurities & expectations (08:50)
Something I've, it's actually a concept that I've not really heard before, talked about from my guests is the importance of just having a window of time. And I imagine even today when it comes to creativity, that's maybe a big part of your creative process. Can you talk to me about that, that early age, then how idle time helps you to become who you are? Almost against the odds, basically, it helped me become who I am today. And it helped feed my creative everything. What do I mean by that? My mum's type of person who, so when I was a kid in the house, you know, if I, if I was having some idle time, another way to say that is if I was, wasn't doing anything, middle of the afternoon, she'd be on me like, you know, straight away, or my brother, like, what are you doing? You can't do nothing. You can tidy your room. You can come and clean this thing for me. You can go out the back garden and do this thing for me. You could do that. What do you mean you're doing nothing? That's my, that's a vivid memory. And it's not like unfair, I, I respect it in certain ways, but I know it was a, at this point, someone who's sort of professionally kind of creative, you know, wound up in a position where I can sort of call that my job, that it's very important to be staring out the window. There was some quote, I can't remember who said it, and somebody told me it the other day, and I haven't got any sort of reference names for you. Sorry. But the guy said, it was Einstein. Einstein, perfect. Einstein's wife said to him, what are you doing? He was looking out the window. He said, I'm working. And that was it. And it's perfect for a creative that because it's, it's bang on. If I'm staring out the window into space, as the rest of us might say, then it just looks like I'm staring into space. But I'm probably having an idea for a song or a lyric or working something over in my head. I find it hard to say that stuff to you or anybody without worrying that I sound pretentious or like a bit of a dick. But I know that's the experience. When I was a kid thinking about something I wanted to draw, whatever it may have been, and having some of this idle time, like I say, my mum was like on me, like, no, that's not okay. So maybe that's why I'm sort of concerned even now that I look like a pretentious idiot. No, I have to say I completely agree. And it's logically, it makes a ton of sense that you have to clear the mind to allow new ideas to arrive. And that we all, I mean, every business, every person that works in a business will know the best ideas don't come from a boardroom. They don't come when you're trying to think of them. They come when you go for a walk or you're in the shower. Yeah. All these places where you have that space. Yeah. So it makes perfect sense. I remember that David Gilmore and Pink Floyd said, every time I sit down guitar in hand to write a song and that really creative mood, I want to write a song and I'm going to, and it's going to be great. Nothing comes. And it is generally that way. So it's quickly, a long time ago, it quickly made me understand and sort of cherish the opportunity to sit around with the tools nearby and just exist and think and dream and play. By a bit, chimee, play guitar, play music, but just play. And just people generally, I think, have a lot of guilt associated with just sitting around, but it seems to be so incredibly imperative to creation. It's a huge, huge part of it. It's probably 95% of the reason why it ever works, if it ever works. 95% of it is about having, not watching a clock, not there not being any sort of consequence. And we put, I put hundreds of consequences on myself. We all do. But as soon as you do those things, the quality starts to sort of lessen. So yeah, it didn't help that experience when I was a kid of my mum sort of going, no, no, no, no, no. It's so busy. Yeah, you got, you know, if you're not, you know, it was almost, if you're not, if I don't see you kind of playing and getting something from the playing, then you're not spending your time, you could be helping me. You could be doing this. You could be doing that. Is there, is there some homework you haven't done? And yeah, there probably was like hundreds of bits of homework I hadn't done, but I was already so into trying to write a song or get better at playing a guitar or being creative in some other way that of course I was pushing the homework under the rug. But that, unfortunately that, that even that small sort of pressure that I felt then has ended up as like so many, like you say, you've met so many creative people who feel that sort of guilt. It has height in the sense of guilt. So it's a strange one to juggle. And I find myself fighting against it. And that's a, that's really inconvenient to what I'm trying to do as a passion and actually for a living suddenly. What insecurities did you have at that young age? I spend a lot of time talking about all of mine, but... No, man. I'm just gonna talk to someone about your, theirs. Insecurities. I had an insecurity. So in school, in like primary school, as a young kid, I was a fast runner. I was good at drawing and painting. I had this selection of things that I was good at. And like the talk in the classroom was that I was the best at running. I was one of the best at football. I was the best at drawing. And I'm not fully sure how, but that started quickly to really matter to me, to the point that as far as, you know, what insecurities did I have? I think back about the worries that I had about, well, what if one day I'm not the fastest? And what if somebody draws something better than me? And I hate to admit that. I don't know why I felt those things. But I had an ambition and a drive that wanted to be really, really good at these things. And as a kid, yeah, I wanted to sort of be able to feel like I was the best at. Why? Do you know why? I don't know. Well, I know it's dangerous territory is what I wanted to say. I know now as an adult that that's dangerous territory because there's enjoying things and being really good at them. And then there's a difference between that and whatever somebody decides is the best. Why? One theory as to why one of my theories, I suppose, just as I think about it now is that I could maybe then sort of maybe I could validate idle time. I think I really enjoyed until this day, I really enjoy having an endless amount of time and space to create. And I'll throw that thing about being the fastest runner, sort of off the table for a minute because it doesn't really sort of relate to the context of the other things I love then that have sort of fed through into my life now. Why was I? Why did I worry about that stuff? Yeah, I wanted to, if I could say people think I'm really good at this, then I could have a reason for why I should be allowed any amount of time to focus on them. Yeah. And you could present that evidence to who? My parents, anybody trying to stop me doing it, a part of my conscience because I have a conscience that feels guilty. If I'm looking at the clock all the time, it made me a very punctual person, but I also look at the clock out of paranoia. How much time have we got? How much time have I got? And it shouldn't matter at all to creativity that. But I find myself doing it all the time. You know, I actually, I have a baby now, we have a nine month old daughter and, and, and, um, Ada, Ada, some people do pronounce it, Ada, some people, I learned this, but Lucy went out, took Ada out the other day. And because Lucy's the absolute greatest, she was like, it'll just give you a load of time to just have a guitar, you know, next to you and think about the things that you sort of, you see what I'm getting at? She just gave me, hey, you just do you for a bit. And it's a, it's a, that was a incredibly generous given. Now I know what it's like to be, you know, a first time parent and it's, it's a, it takes a village, um, uh, and still an hour into that time. I knew I was an hour into that time because I'd looked at the clock. I didn't need to, but I still carry it. Uh, fucking frustrating. Was there any, anyone in your circle at that early age that made you feel like that wasting we quote unquote wasting time or not using time in a evidently productive way was, would meant that you were a lazy person. Was that, is that it was, that was part of the language of, of, of who and what I grew up around. Um, you know, yeah, like I say, like we didn't, we didn't, we weren't a sort of, we weren't like a particularly wealthy family. Neither were any of the sort of friends that, that, that my family had or that, you know, everyone was somewhere between working class and sort of just about middle class. But I felt a lot of penny pinching all the time, partly probably because of what my parents come from. So how they operate. So, and it felt like middle class came like later in life. I think my parents are there now, but like that's slightly sort of besides the point what I mean is, um, time was precious. Uh, and you had to, the, the language around idle time was, you know, don't waste it. Before anybody had thought about what anybody was doing with idle time, they were already being told not to waste it. That was a, that was, yeah, in my wider circle as a kid around, you know, my, my family and my family friends and friends of friends, that was the energy. So there was like a pressure and there was, of course, yeah, a narrative that, that said, oh, he just sits around all the time. He's so lazy, not directly to me necessarily, but if anybody was doing any sitting around of any kind for any prolonged amount of time, lazy guy. So it was a negative thing. And I felt a pressure and a sort of self conscious need to stay away from that while all the while I absolutely kind of craved it for, for being a creative kid who wanted to draw and paint and explore music. Did you get the impression that people in your family and close to you had high hopes for your future? You know, I do think that they thought I really wanted the kind of things I've achieved. I do think that they believed I wanted this stuff. And I think they saw that in my, how I went about my days. I remember a friend of mine who's still such a good friend of mine, Matt. We learned to play guitar together. Me and Tom, who I mentioned, who plays bass in my band and Matt and my brother Alex, and like, you know, we were all playing guitars at the same time, learning to do this, that and the other. And me and Matt, we were doing our GCSEs and we were in like a biology class. We did the same, we had the same science class. We were talking, and Matt is a brilliant, beautiful soul who is sort of, he's a total party animal, but he's wonderfully sort of earnest in his own way as well. And we were, we were sharing the pressures of what we're supposed to do after our GCSEs, after our A levels, that we're going to do uni. Oh my God, who are we going to be? What are we going to do? And he said, man, one thing's for sure. I don't think you'll ever have an office job. And I knew how we meant it. And I really, I really appreciated it. I've never forgotten it. And I think I've brought it back to him. I've brought it up with him again since. And in a strange way, it felt like he was a guy, you know, you asked what my parents would say. Well, he was someone who was very close to me at the time as well, who I felt believed in me. What's funny is he was one of 10 of us who were all starting to play the guitar at the same time. We all looked at Jimmy Hendrix or the Red Hot Chili Peppers or any of our rock heroes. In the same way and we wanted it. We wanted that because you do when you're 14. Yeah, I want to do that. And I remember this burning desire. And I can't tell you even to this day whether it was the same or less or more than any of the other guys. But in the moment, I was dead certain that I wanted it more than everyone. And I did sit with my parents some nights with some music on the TV or on the radio or coming off the record player and almost get emotional about how badly I wanted to do that kind of thing, make that kind of sound. Like when I grow up was the sort of thing I was saying. And they didn't take the piss out of me. They were very straight faced about it. I think they liked, I think it excited them. And obviously they had no idea if it was actually going to happen, but they did encourage it. So my very long winded answer to your question, if you called them up is, yeah, I think they would have believed or hoped that I'd have sort of got close. Maybe even half as close as I've come. Yeah. And off you go to study music, right, and Brighton.
Becoming a musician and its learnings (23:13)
It's really a wonderful thing to hear that one of the real sort of catalyst moments in your early career was just a clip of someone, some punter in a pub recording you singing. Yeah. That ended up on YouTube. YouTube. And I will say it was at a time when there were YouTube sensations popping into the charts, getting signed by big record labels. Very exciting because they got 500,000 views overnight. They put the video up at 7 p.m. and by 7 a.m. at a million views, had 2 million views. That video that went online with me, it was there for six weeks or more. Twenty five views, maybe. Maybe twenty six views. And I wasn't, I hadn't thought about it. I met the guy because he filmed me and he said, I'll put it online. You know, he'll do like a little sort of filter on it. Little edit. Thanks, man. Great. I'm just glad you, you lent myself. And I didn't hear about it until this record label found it with its 25 views and they called up my manager. I had a manager at the time. Still the same manager I got today. Called him up and said, we love, we love this. We'd love to meet you, meet James. And we fly to New York, which is sort of, that's where they were based, the record label. It was just a very whirlwind, exciting experience. Just to go and meet these guys, they just wanted me to come and sit and sort of play for them like in the flesh. And so I did. And they went on to be the label that I sort of signed to after a second visit. And it was all very exciting given that it feels like, you know, that was one of a million open mic nights that I was performing at at that time. Just rolling up, putting my name down, playing three songs, moving on to the next one. What has that taught you about knocking on doors and you never know which one's going to open? You know what I mean? Because as you say, people will look at that and go, I'm fucking so lucky. You know, but what does that, what is that told you about the nature of how life happens and I guess it's taught me to use the idle time. My idle time in those years was long empty evenings that I filled with finding open mic nights to hone my craft. Sounds a bit pretentious again, but it's exactly what I was doing. It's exactly what I was doing and it's exactly what I'm doing at every gig I do today. The only difference is that there seems to be some people today who are actually there to see me and they've done a bit of homework. They say they like my songs and that's so flattering. But every single show I do to this day, I just want to be a bit better. I just want to deliver a slightly more effortless every time, more effortless, hopefully more moving and enjoyable experience for the people standing in front of me. Back then, it was seven or eight, maybe 11 or 12 people smatted around a bar, privately trying to have a drink, probably after work, trying to catch up and I'm in the corner barking. And they don't know who I am and they haven't paid to see me or anything and I want their attention. And I don't just want their attention. I want the thing that I've written to be good enough to effortlessly turn their head. That's how it has to go. And I had a lot of time to fill with those trials. It was all trials. It's all training. So I did and I remember earlier than when that thing was when that guy filled me in that bar. I remember years before that when, for example, I was taking a couple of originals and a couple of covers to an open night night and people really enjoyed my delivery of the covers, which was really encouraging. And then I'd do an original and I'd play the verse and they're just talking away and I'd play the chorus and they're still talking. Then I'd play the bridge and a few heads would turn and I'd go home that night thinking the bridge has got something but the other bits need work. Clearly the other bits need work because I didn't have them in the verse and I didn't have them in the chorus. But I had them in the bridge and that's why it was all training. And so I'd go home. This was when I'd moved to Brighton actually, particularly. I had a lot of idle time between lessons and the course that I was doing and I filled it with just trying to be better, just soaking up. I was going to record shop. This is just right before streaming sort of exploded. It wasn't like a thing. So I was buying records still. The difference I suppose for my generation at that time is I put them on my computer and stick on my MP3 and I could walk around without a stack of CDs in my pocket, away my bag. I was soaking up as much as I possibly could, just trying to get better, trying to create a more enjoyable experience for anybody who's in front of me because that's all I love about music and that's why I want to do it because for some reason I want to be able to create that for other people. People often overlook that part but it seems to be if there was a sort of a through line or a common thread between all the guests I sit here with, whether they're comedians or they're music artists, the ones that have become really successful and also really unique and unique is the right word, really unique is you get this like bit before where they were pothfulment to no one and kind of just doing it for the love of it for themselves and it seems to me that that moment is the defining moment when no one's there, when there isn't the arenas and there's that part there, that 10,000 hours part that they talk about is the most important part. Somehow I think it probably is. Everything that might follow that or that does or everything that followed that for me has been so important but there are moments in the very beginning for anybody whatever they're doing that are vital to what happens next. 10,000 hours is the right like description and reference and all those open mic nights and I was busking when I was in Brighton as well which is kind of wild, you're just walking down the street with a guitar on your shoulder and then you stop. Amongst all the other people you're walking next to and you have the balls, the confidence, somehow, the courage to start singing at people in the middle of the street. It was always terrifying until I was sort of getting into the first chorus of a song and then I could almost sort of blend in but give it some to try and catch some people. Anyway, all of that, those times, they are vital. It's about learning about what doesn't work. It's about sometimes there's people who are hell-bent on talking over you and they've every right to. They've every right to. If they haven't come to see you intentionally or it's not a private actual venue where people buy tickets to come up, then they've every right to and it's always about how I managed in those situations. I remember going into noisy pubs that wanted to hold an open mic night at the same time and someone plugging me into a PA saying, "Go on, let me think in this place it's round and they're all just having the greatest night of their lives, just having the big old chat and they're drinking their pints and all this and I've got to sing into this and I remember being so excited. I remember thinking, "I'm going to get them all." I don't know that it worked every single time but I remember winning over rooms and leaving. These weren't open mic nights actually. In between the open mic nights, there'd be some individual who'd seen me and say, "Will you come and play at my pub?" Which felt like a real win. "Will you come and play at my pub on Thursday night, on Saturday night, whatever it might be, Sunday night?" I say, "Yeah, all right." Half the time, they'd say, "There's 20 quid in it for you." I say, "Oh, absolutely. Play for an hour." Sure. They'd pay me nothing to play for two hours at that time and I'd have done it. I just wanted the opportunity to stage the microphone, the opportunity. I remember, yeah, a couple of really busy rooms for the people who had no idea who I was and I remember that you catch some eyes of people going out there is, another guy plugging in a guitar. Let's all speak up a bit when he pipes up. I remember thinking, "I'm going to get you." It's one of the really interesting things I was just thinking about as you're explaining that story is how the environment in which you started your career in those pubs and noisy pubs, trying to get people's attention, you described it as actually changing the music, you would go home and say, "Okay, the chorus held them, but this part didn't." The environment actually changed the creative because you realize that attention, you learn very early that their attention is the thing. We'll all listen to a good song. People forget the ones that aren't good enough. That's a quite a brutal comment in itself because I can't guarantee that every song I've ever written will hold every room in the world every time, but I still love it enough to try again and try harder. It does change to me. It absolutely changes the music because until I changed those things, I was just playing something that wasn't because I was often going back to the same rooms, not always. It always eventually changed, but I would go back to the same place because that's just another place that I knew I could go and play a few songs. If I cross a two-week period, I didn't get round to changing some stuff and I still played the same song, then it just wasn't every time it wasn't working. Every time I was getting them for the same minute in the song, maybe it was the second chorus or something, so yeah, you have to adapt. If you just keep taking the same thing and ultimately, flogging a dead horse, I was never, if I kept doing that, I was never going to be on any of the stages that I'd seen my heroes on. When I was a kid at home and I was being affected by all that stuff I saw on TV on VH1, pop-up video or even music in movies or any live stuff that I got to see on TV that was broadcast on TV, I dreamt about being on those stages in front of all the people that my heroes were in front of, so many people singing their words back. I was never going to get there if I just stubbornly took around the same song that I wrote when I was 17 that I might have thought in my heart of hearts was so incredible. That doesn't matter. I have to open my mind up to what other people think and accept it. I was trying to understand and learn that as a 16-year-old, 17-year-old before I got to Brighton. Me and my brother and Tom, we were in a band as 13, 14-year-olds and then we were in another one as 15, 16-year-olds and 16, 17 and 2, 18 and to 19 and I left. The bands kept changing, I just said another one and another one. Often I was moving it on because something wasn't quite good enough and so I thought, "Well, let's change it into this and let's change it into this thing and let's tweak that bit and that bit and let's make that bit better and we'll change the band name and we'll be this and we'll be fresh for people and then we'll keep them." I don't know why I was thinking about that back then in such a sort of like A&R kind of mindset but I was and I still sort of do. So six weeks after that clip of you singing in a pub, six weeks after that clip goes online, you end up signing a record deal in New York, right? Yeah, there was two visits to New York so it was probably more like sort of couple of months, two or three. That's the story to say six. Let's go six. It was actually, it was 98 days, four hours. Very quickly after that clip, you end up signing this record deal and then soon after that, your first EP comes to the world, The Dark of the Morning, Five Tracks. I listened to it earlier on. Oh yeah. It wasn't on Spotify, so I had to go on and say about that. Sorry about that. There you go. You owe me 16 quid out. I wish it was 16 quid out on that one music. Just for the subscription of Apple. No, no, no. It's all good. It's a really great album.
How did it change your life? (35:06)
Thank you. What was that like then, that first EP goes out into the world? Does your life change at that point? There was a change. It all felt too fast. I think one side signed a record deal as exciting as the initial part of the ride was. Everything started to move quite fast. In hindsight, what I realized, I was nervous about the pace of things, but I had this huge, I don't know what to call it, it's a record label, obviously. This huge backing, this body of people who wholeheartedly believed in me and wanted to sort of throw me kind of in at the deep end, but really just sort of throw me in the ocean where it's all really going on. I've been like on the shore training, open night nights, little shows, solo acoustic stuff, whatever, writing, trying to get better, staying up all night, writing, using all that idle time. Learning to swim. Learning to swim. Then they basically looked at me having visited New York a couple of times and played them from songs and going, "Oh, you're ready to be in the sea." You're not surfing a big wave yet, but we're going to put you in the sea now. I was like, "Whoa." So it was fast, but... Within a year, you've got a headline, sold that UK tour. Yeah. And on the one hand, yes, on the other hand, it was rooms full of sort of 50 to 100 people, but they were all there to see me for the first time ever. They'd all bought a ticket because somehow they'd found my music, they'd found the EP, which again, because of where streaming was at, it didn't go straight on to Spotify and Apple and all that stuff. There was some sound cloud-like thing. It wasn't even sound cloud that it went on to where people had to go and find it. And they think they had a choice maybe to pay if they wanted to. Just kind of sweet. Like, one can't be. Kind of, yeah, but it wasn't in Bandcamp. I mean, I don't know. I wasn't there yet. So I had those songs and they were like, "Let's record." There was a couple of months between signing, recording that EP and releasing it. It felt very fast. And it was exciting, but yeah, I'd been in this training mentality, which I was doing kind of at my own pace. I was trying to do it all the time. I was constantly training, as I say. But I didn't appreciate there would kind of be an end to that in a way, in another respect, I'm sort of still training. But at that time with what was going on, it was like, "No, we're going to step up a gear now." And there's a few more people involved. And they're going to push you onto bigger stages literally and metaphorically. So I didn't feel fully ready for it. And I'm kind of glad. I don't think you're supposed to ever be completely ready for any of these things. Things move even faster from then on, right? Because your second EP comes out, Let It Go, and your album comes out in the same year. Album was March 2015. Okay. The EP was, it says, "Same six months." It was 2014 into 2015. And Let It Go had come out towards the end of the summer before, and then the album in 2015. I remember Let It Go is a song. I loved the song. I've never known really, I can't write a song and say, "That's a hit, guys. That's just not, I can't, I don't do that." I've tried. I've tried. But it's not really sort of my calling to be able to do that. I write the songs and I remember writing "Hold Back the River" and everybody at the label and my managers and everyone sort of jumping for joy and thinking that they had a hit on their hands, which is very exciting to be a part of. And I think at the time I thought, "Really? How do you know that?" And then they did their thing. They went to work and they got that song around the world. And I got that song around the world, I suppose as well. And it kind of took off, but Let It Go was an interesting moment because I remember doing lots of different festivals in America and all around the world. I remember a place, there's a festival for outside lands, which is in San Francisco or near San Francisco. And I got on stage in this sort of valley-type-shaped bit of land throughout this sort of outdoors festival because there were sort of banks of grass at the sides. Quite a big stage and it felt like quite a lot of people, sort of three, four thousand people. I was like, "Wow, this is exciting." And they all sang the words to Let It Go, every single word, particularly the chorus is, and we filmed it as well on my phone or whatever. And it was amazing. And I came off stage and the promoter said, "I hadn't met him. I was like one of the neuro artists on the festival." He said, "That was incredible." He said, "You were in front of 20,000 people there." I was like, "No way." I said, "They were all singing the words." He said, "Yeah, 20,000 people. Singing the words." He said, "We'll have you back." I said, "Thanks." And I sort of went on my way. But that was a real moment where everyone recognized that there was whole back of the river and there was Let It Go as well. And Let It Go might be able to carry this album as well. So that was Things Move Faster again. I remember actually, as far as Things Moving Fast, we got on a plane after that show in San Francisco at that festival. We flew down to LA. We crossed the airport. We got on a plane to Australia. We flew for 15 hours. We did a show in Sydney. Then we got on a plane. We flew back to LA and carried on the tour. So we went to Sydney to do a show for about, we went to Sydney for about barely 36 hours. 30 of them were on a plane. Where's the idle time? Idle time on a plane is not what everybody's all sort of cracked up to be. You can't get your guitar out and start writing. So I guess it's like emergency rest time in a way. And try and get your head down on a plane, which is as we all know, kind of tough. But yeah, idle time starts to sort of disappear a little bit. And it felt like writing a song in a hotel room on tour felt like such a heavy cliche to me that I was never very good at that either. I've got better at it now. But we had a lot of time in hotels and I was crap at using that idle time to write more songs. What did you feel like throughout that process? You put the album out in 2015. It was right. So 2015 put the album out. That is a smash hit. Let it go is one of my favorite songs. It's so funny because when I listen to that song, it takes me back to so many times in my life. So many times in my life. I was listening to it before and I almost start to feel the feelings of like the relationship heartbreak that I was going through when I was that age. Funny man. I played that song all the time. I'm glad you liked it. Thank you. The music has that power of sending you back to... For what it's worth just as a sort of maybe an interesting little sort of side fact. I recorded that album at the end of 2013 and at the beginning of 2014. I took two stints and it came out in 2015. But I finished recording in January 2014. September 2020 was the first time I listened to it after I finished recording it. I just played those songs so much and I had the time of my life. It's going to have something to do with the bit of perfectionist in me and we all have a bit of that. So much sort of pressure and hype felt heaped onto that first release for me. That first big album release that I couldn't listen to it. And I still don't really. I mean I suppose typically I don't spend my time listening to my music once it's out. I have to do so much listening as we're finishing the productions and the mixing. And then once it's out it's less for me. It's so much for the fans. But the frenzy around that music on the first album in a ways... And I don't resent anything or anyone here but it stopped me listening to it. I was playing those songs every day somewhere in the world live. And yeah I didn't feel a need or a desire to listen to it at all. So it was interesting six, seven years later listening for the first time and for the first time listening and going this is decent. This is okay. Work harder though, keep trying. That's really the other voice that sort of rings in my ears. Chaos in the calm comes out. Debuting number one. That's crazy. Yeah, wow the things that that sort of does to you emotionally and psychologically. And it's a little bit of a trauma in its way actually. There's not a sort of drop names. That's not really my style. But I was at a show, a great artist called Maggie Rogers who is just fantastic. I know Maggie and I'm a big fan at the same time. And I was watching the show Sam Smith and Niall from One Direction. Three of us are watching the show in LA. And it's like her debut album show and she's had a really great reception particularly in America but in various corners of the world as well. And it's a party. It's like a big event. It's really fun and she's playing a great show. And Sam said she's about to go on a roller coaster ride and it will involve trauma. And it is trauma he said. And we know all about it. Each one of us three was talking to me and Niall. He said we know what that's like. And he said we know that nothing could have prepared us for it and that nobody could have made us understand it was going to be traumatic in a way beforehand. And we see it now with Maggie and we're fans of hers and we're so excited and we can't communicate that to someone. Because I use the word trauma. It's good and bad. And again, I wouldn't change a thing. And I don't think Sam would or Niall or Maggie, I don't think any of them would change a thing about their ascents that they went through. But you just said to me, chaos in the car, Davey album went straight to number one. It did and it was amazing. And I'm still trying to work it out to this day when I talk about trauma because it really affects and changes someone's life and changed my life. And I love so much about what happened. And I would love to experience that again. But also it changed so much about me and my life. And I'm still trying to work that out. Does any of that makes sense? All of it makes sense. Cool.
Your albums and their influence (45:10)
The part of the trauma that changed you, what is that part? Great expectations follow. Ah, that's difficult. And I thought my duty was to come with something brand new again, second album, third album. And I'm having a great time. I've just put out my third album and I can't believe I even get to say that. It went in. It was number four. It's a top five album. Not everybody gets to say that about their third album. So I'm so grateful for the reaction. I really am. And yet there's a part of me that, you know, spent such a long time promoting that first album after it came out. You know, I would like to create that exact same experience again for different music that I've made. That is easier said than done every single time. The chances of anyone getting a number on album at any time. There's only one number one spot, you know. Me as a lover of so much music. With so many influences and inspirations, different artists, records, songs. I put a handful of those into. At the end of the day, I put a handful of those into my first album, what inspired it, you know. And then that created me as an artist. And I arrived, you know, the shock of the new on my debut album and a bunch of people around the world said, yeah, I'll buy that literally and metaphorically, I'll buy that. I'm into that. And I represented something to them. I can't believe that. To this day, I can't believe I represented something to them that they were willing to sort of buy into and want to share and kind of agree with and feel the words and the melodies in their way. And then another album, it's time for another album. It was about showing a different time to myself. And I appreciate now in the fullness of time with the greatest perspective or with greater perspective years after my second album release that only I am in my head. What else is it? So it was interesting who received the second album, who of all the people that got on board for the release of my first album and followed my music and me as an artist. Some of them came for the second album. Some of them, I guess, kind of went, oh, it's not the same thing. So I'll just sort of come back when maybe it's, I can't sort of speak for people. But my expectation naively was that I could do the same thing again by surprising people with something they hadn't had before because they hadn't had my debut album before. And it didn't quite go the way I hoped it would go. As I say that, I don't want to sound ungrateful because I had so many people around the world really loved my second album. And I'm so grateful for those people. I can't speak to number two in the album, John. Yeah, I can't. I really cannot complain in the slightest. And when the one above it is this, it's a soundtrack to a movie. It was the greatest showman that just reigned supreme for so long in 2018 at the top of the chart, there was various number of other artists who didn't unfortunately sort of beat that soundtrack either. So they all kind of went to number two as well. But it did. It peaked at number two. People loved it. And they're still telling me that they do. And there's a real sort of a clash between my gratitude towards all of that reception and the other part of my brain that I suppose bought into the hype of my first album and wanted the same frenzy. In hindsight now, if you could go back and you could just move the order of things, you know what I'm going to say, right? You could just move the order of things. Would you maybe put, you know, electric light first? Oh, good. I don't know. Because then that would have managed the expectations, right? Yeah. The expectations is always the curse of happiness. It's always the killer thing. Because if I told you when you were whatever age, your album would peak at number two in the album chart, should we have the fucking moon? I would leap. Yeah, I would leap a jump for joy. Yeah, definitely. I was awful. Sorry, I was awful. Can we go again on that? I would jump for joy. I did not mean that. But would you move the order of things? Honestly. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I wouldn't move the order of things at all.
Would you change anything? (49:45)
Because the psychological difficulty comes from purely the fact that you have to almost compete with your own success, right? Yes, it does. But it was all my choice at the end of the day. And I do stand by a love electric light. And it came when it came. What's interesting is electric light, I'm so proud of and I adore it every song. It was also a reaction to what I felt personally to me was almost overkill on my first album. I had had enough of who I was when I was roaming around the world on the Chaos and the Calm campaign, what I represented and the songs that I was playing. I needed to stop all of that for a minute. For two reasons, one, it was exhausting. I keep wanting to throw this in. I was very grateful to have that experience, beyond grateful. But I just for my soul and my mental health, I needed to creatively go elsewhere. So I did. And I also just had, like I say to you, as a creative, more than one thing or one set of things inspires me to do what I do. And I wanted to celebrate that in the music I created for a second album. So I went deep on David Bowie and Blondie and Prince and LCD sound system, all that list of artists and more. I love that music. And I don't know that that resonated in the same way with all the fans of the first album. I certainly did, but some of them, and maybe it didn't so much with others. I can't control any of that. The only thing I can control is what I create. And that I do, there is so much of a part of what I create that I do for myself, which I think is the same for every artist. So I chose to do that. So you see what I'm saying? In ways it was a reaction to something I needed to do as a reaction to how my first album campaign had gone. We knew. So I wouldn't have changed the things around, the order of things.
Your mental health (52:01)
When you spoke about mental health, when was your first introduction to mental health? Good question. Because it, of course, has become so talked about in the last five years. It's suddenly become more okay than ever to speak openly about it. My first introduction to mental health. When I asked that question, I remember at one point thinking, so the timeline of my relationship with mental health is people with mental health at one point, maybe 10, 15 years ago when I was younger, I thought it meant that you were crazy. And then as I experienced things myself, and then there was a word for them, I understood that we all have mental health. Yeah. And that we're all, none of us are too tough to experience different mental health, predicaments at times. And then going through my own journey with mental health, that's when I was like, ah, I can't, I understand now. As a kid, I thought it meant someone was unhappy and you couldn't help them. Depressed and unable to be helped. And as I grew up, I remember struggling with, you know, as a teenager to be male and talk about your feelings wasn't the, should never be the sort of first choice. I remember feeling like it was, it was more about, can you suck it up though? I think your dad talking. My dad has been on his own journey with mental health previous to me, even being born. He had some struggles and he did talk to some professionals about it. And I really respect that. So actually it wasn't my dad talking. It's funny though. He comes from those kinds of attitudes. Both my parents come from those kinds of attitudes. You know, it's that stiff upper lip thing again. That kind of brush it all under the rug thing again. I come from that, you know, difficult things we don't talk about. All we shout about them, know in between. And I didn't want the chaos of the shouting as a kid and as a teenager. I never wanted that. It was always too much to deal with. So I joined the sort of brush it under the rug brigade. And so it took me until I was into my twenties. It took me until I was touring extensively and relentlessly. So really only five, six, maybe seven years ago for me to sort of finally understand that life can take a toll on people when it's relentless, when work is relentless or when anything in life is sort of relentless and weighing down or bearing heavy, it can take a toll and it's okay to talk about that, to try and relieve some pressure and some strain and some stress. That came as a result of various individuals that I was touring with or that I knew doing their own touring, needing to stop for a bit, maybe speak to a therapist to help them and that it was okay. So it only came in the last sort of few years for me. Reading back through your story, 2019 was a bit of a mixture. That's when you did the tour with Ed Sheeran. And I was reading about almost this conflict that you're undergoing, which is I need to show up and perform and be who I, you know, who I have this responsibility to be, but also this other conflict of like, you just weren't feeling good. Yeah. I sort of encountered various sort of people, fans, people or not or people I work with or people interviewing me or whatever who, and this is ultimately like really quite flattering. They think I'm, you know, I don't know how to put it other than like bigger than I feel I am as an artist. I don't know if I agree with them. And so I felt like an imposter syndrome essentially in that time. On the one hand, I'm being, you know, it's really disproportionate and probably unhealthy when I think, okay, Ed Sheeran has invited me to open for him in football stadiums around Europe for three months. There's 80,000 people every night. Wow. And the bit I hate to admit and I'm anxious to confess is that there's a part, there's a voice in my head saying, why aren't you doing the stadiums? Call myself all sorts of names. Why isn't it your show? Come on. I feel ridiculous saying that. I also just fit, it's a little embarrassing because I'm doing good and I don't want to sort of get ahead of my station or I don't want to seem like big headed, but I tell you I am very ambitious and driven. Everybody is. I understand that and I am in my way. And so I do want those kind of rewards of selling out such an enormous venue and so many and so often in the way that's, Ed's an example. And also I will say that, you know, he was kind enough to have me on that tour as the main support actor would go on right before him. There was three of us most of the time, you know, open a second, open a me, the third opener and then him. And it was pretty wonderful and exciting to find that in almost every stadium, it was a third of that crowd which rounds out approximately 20 or 30,000 people singing all the words to my songs, which was just, again, I was very thankful in that moment that he brought me in front of such big crowds because it was exciting to see that my music was still reaching and it stopped my ambitions and my drive feeling silly. The bit I was a little bit confused about there is you're saying you felt like an imposter in those moments, but the voice is saying, so I would expect the voice in your head to be saying, why are you here? But the voice in your head is saying, why aren't you at the top of the middle? Why isn't it your show? Why don't you have your own stadium show or even a arena show, whatever it may be? Why are your crowds not bigger yet, James? Gosh, that's such an insidious thought, isn't it? Because if you're James Bay big and you still have that voice whispering about that, fuck me. Yeah, it's pretty fucking intense and I appreciate that like it's probably a bit cruel. Cruel is a good word. It's just a standard issue, I suppose. It's a sort of, sorry, it's a standards issue. I'm holding myself to a standard that might be unrealistic, but then I'm so driven and I feel so driven and ambitious to achieve those kinds of things that I can't shake that voice. Where's that voice coming from? Deep inside. A deep inside because it's sort of a voice I recognise from various chapters of my life. It's on the one hand I was too timid and uninterested in drinking and partying as a teenager to sort of go out and get amongst it. On the other hand, that voice was talking to me back then saying, don't waste your time doing that, James. Get better at songwriting, get better at singing, get better at playing guitar. Get to the point where you're able to confidently play well and make it look effortless. Get to that point and then maybe we can have a night off. Well, you got to that point. I'm still working in my mind. Is there not a bit of a fear in terms of, listen, if I'm playing in a big arena, there's 3,000 people, they're all singing the words back to me and I still have that voice whispering inside my head saying, this is not enough or you've not achieved enough, then that voice will always be there regardless of the height or how high up and out of your eye. I think so. I think therefore trying to kind of come to terms with it is one of my big exercises at the moment. Because it's holding your happiness hostage, right? Kind of, yes. And I know that it's winding up my managers, for example, who I have a very close and longstanding relationship with. I cherish. And they're saying, James, mate, you've got to sort of rein that in. You've got to try and find a way to rein that in because it's okay. More okay than I'm able to realize half the time. And I don't want to jeopardize my relationship with them or all sorts of people. I'm working out therefore that I can potentially control some of the unhappiness and make my life better and easier as a result. I'm just trying to tame the various voices. What do those voices say today? They say some of them say, well, it's very nice to be here. You've been invited to talk on this podcast that's had so many exciting guests. Some of those voices say, yeah, they just had someone pull out. So they've got you last minute because there was someone exciting who clearly you're a back up. You're just somebody who they thought, all right, I guess, there's a voice that's quite extensive in those kinds of details and sort of takes me apart a little bit. So it's versions of that one voice and it's versions of that other voice that are speaking often in my head and that's what they're saying. All of these voices, they have adverse consequences.
The consequences and symptoms of your inner voice (01:02:15)
Some of those consequences are positive in the light of the world. They turn into drive and motivation or perfectionism, which end up producing really wonderful art. Obviously some of the consequences of those voices can be very personally as it relates to your happiness, detrimental. Talk to me first about, because I want to talk about the positives that those voices have, you know, manifestation on that side, but talk to me about the negative, detrimental impact of being having those voices. The longer I sort of exist with these voices, the negative ones, the more they can have an effect, unfortunately, a negative effect, the more that they can sort of, they can stop me going out into the world and doing certain things. You know, the more they can get into my head and sort of inhibit my ability to sort of speak to you in a free-flowing way, for example, or go to a party I've been invited to by an artist I might know or by somebody whose work I might admire, I'm being sort of hypothetical in that respect, but it could very much sort of be a reality. The benefits of coming and speaking to you and the benefits of going to some party or whatever, are just that those are the things that color life and that's just a good thing. But sometimes the voices get so loud that I don't go and do these things and my life remains kind of gray, just personally and privately. And that's not helpful to when I get that idle time back in the moments that I do, because all the things that color life feed wonderfully in most of my experience into that idle time, whether I do create something or not. So they are an obstacle, they are a barrier, those negative voices and I'm trying to grow and get better at sort of managing them and dealing with them and understanding that no voices, no narratives kind of go away entirely, happy or sad. They don't. You know, 2019 was a difficult year and I've learned since then through various types of therapy, one of those is songwriting for me, another one is typical sort of therapy, as we know it's speaking to somebody. I've learned a little bit more about sort of being able to quiet the negative voices or control them a little bit. You can never do any one of these things, 100%. I'm learning. And there's a part of my mind that wants 100% here, they are everywhere. I want 100% be the headliner at this thing. I want 100% be able to stop those voices so they never come back. And I'm just still sort of trying to learn that there's no 100% anything anywhere. Everything is a gentle sort of balance. That's a really liberating thought though, because there's so many people that are still struggling with things after many decades and that will beat themselves up because it's still there. Yeah. And I actually had this conversation this weekend, this weekend, I think this weekend, yeah, it was on Saturday morning with my girlfriend where I said, one of the things I've come to learn from doing this podcast and just my own sort of early traumas is that we shouldn't hold ourselves to the standard of completely ridding ourselves of our trauma or insecurities. It's really about diminishing the power they have a view to the point that your decision making can be made through another set of stories. Yes. So like with relationships, I have a lot of traumas. So I still have those and I'm still, I still think to some degree a relationship is prison, maybe 40% now. It's still there, but the 60% is like you're being an idiot fucking got on with it. And it's 60 rather than less. Yeah, it's less. So it makes the decision. But so yeah, perspective, trying to sort of gather a better and a broader perspective on your present circumstance or whatever, or me on my present sort of circumstance, trying to sort of get the full context certainly helps the negative voices quiet and down a little bit. In 2019, you said you described it as feeling like you were drowning. Yeah. And that was definitely, I had a lot to do with the negative voices and feeling like they were all getting way too loud and way too much and way too overpowering. And it could feel at times like I was sort of drowning in those. And there was such a stark contrast between the walking on stage with the big sort of smile and the grand gestures and the performance. Because that's a real spike in the day. It's a real high. It's wonderful and it's a real process. And I know it to the point that a lot of it is sort of like muscle memory. I'm in the moment, no question. I'm in the moment. I'm very present, but I know how to do all sorts of things on stage. And I know I'm good at them and I've done them for 35 minutes and I'm off stage and the voices are back. I'm walking down the steps from the stage and the voices are back in there. I'm saying what? Saying could have been better. Saying they just waiting for Ed Sheeran on that tour. Which they were granted. But they'd take even something like that that was okay. It's okay that it's very exciting and flattering and humbling that I've been invited to open on that tour. And that's what it is. But the voices were turning those things around on me and using them as a reason to tell me I wasn't good enough. What does therapy talk you about that? Those voices. Well, the things I've just said really, it's talk, therapies talk me very sort of crucially, it's taught me that they're not going to go away entirely. And I think that's been a really important thing to learn and talk about again and again and again. Because I can be quite, I can't think of the word, but I would absolutely like to work out what the ingredients, what the recipe is to get them to go away forever. I'd like to know what it is and use it and be done with it and never hear them from them again. And so therapy is teaching me still that. It's actually, that's not the process. The process is about talking with them and asking them, hey, you know, reasoning with myself, reasoning with them, bringing in more context, bringing in a broader perspective. And then asking myself, you know, are these voices right? Honestly, because in the worst moments, I'm saying, yeah, you're absolutely right to all these voices and I'm not good enough. In 2019, when you feel like you're drowning, what are the symptoms of that? What are the, what are the, what are the, that's the heart. That's a good question. A hard one to answer. The symptoms are so invisible to most people, everybody really, and often me, because I'm, I feel a sort of duty, sadly, sometimes in my personal private life as well, to be so on so much at the time, sometimes there's a, you know, like a sort of drug I use to keep myself high. It feels like that because that means that I don't have to feel the sort of despair. You know, again, like when I go back to my parents, my family, my home life, I had lots of people around very social people. And everything was very up, or it was shouting and fury, or it was like calm water. There was no in between. And it sort of, it turned me into this person where, you know, if, if there are two sides in a river in between and, you know, there are two banks and I'm on one bank and I want to get to the other bank, I always try and jump over the river. And that's not, that's, that I need to get better at getting in the water, getting a bit wet, wading through against the currents that are trying to send me downstream and like climbing out the other side and drying off and it all taking the time that it takes. Because you typically, like the river I'm talking about is never any less than like 20 feet wide. So I'm not jumping over it. You can't, I can't fly. I'm going to have to just get in the water and go through. What is the river in that metaphor? The river is so many things in that metaphor. It's all, it's, it's the river is the dealing with those voices. It's probably confronting, you know, some of the issues that I've carried forward from, from my sort of childhood. If not a lot of those issues. The river is the fighting with an imposter syndrome, an issue with imposter syndrome. The river is kind of a lot of the sort of demons that I have ultimately. But getting in the water would give me sort of perspective and wading through. That teaches a lot probably about like it being everything being about the journey rather than the destination. In my, in my household at home, it was about we're furious. We need to get to not furious. So we'll force ourselves straight there by blocking things out. And there'll be no processing and talking about who feels what and how and how it makes them fit this, that, the other. The perspective is, is, you know, very important. Zooming out in my life, I find this is helpful very often. Actually, not to go off on too much of a tangent here, but it really resonated with me only a couple of days ago. Someone from my label was telling me about her time. A long time ago now, actually, but she was working with the Bee Gees and it was in the early 90s. And their household name to us today, we know everybody knows the Bee Gees music like they know other household names. And this lady was talking to me. She was saying, she said, I was about to turn 34 and I was working with Barry Gibb. And he said, what do you think of my music? What do you think of me as an artist? She's been quite open with him about on that. I'm about to turn 34. I'm ancient. People in pop music think they're ancient beyond 21. Everybody. And he said, no, you're not, no, you're not in that ancient. They'll be silly because he was in his 50s or something at a time. He said, what do you think of my music? What do you know about me? She said, you're a legend. She said, you're just, you're a household name legend. I love all your records. You're brilliant. He said, you know what? He said to her, when I was 33, I've just got divorced. I've fallen out with my brothers. I hadn't had a song on the radio for years. If we were doing any gigs, we were playing working men's clubs. This was the late 70s, I think. And he said, I was 33. And we'd had our initial sort of spike, our high, our hits late 60s, very early 70s. We had it all and it went away. And I always believed that in pop and in music and entertainment, you have your big moment and then it's all down from there. He said, and then someone offered us the opportunity to write a soundtrack for a movie. The movie was sat at an eye fever. And obviously ever since then, he's talking as a 50 something year old. He said, it's just been up and up and up from there. And now you're telling me I'm a household name. He said, I, unfortunately, if I'm honest, he said, I still struggle with all sorts of these demons that I'm not good enough in having this and that success. But he said, I've got more perspective now and I appreciate when you tell me that you think my work is so well known. And I thought before all that that it was all over. Well, I just thought it was a decent bit of wisdom from obviously, yes, granted, he's a total legend and he's going to be quite a good example in that respect. But like so easy to slip into that mindset of like, it's all done. You've had your time. But life is long. I'm trying to remind myself of that. You know what, 31? Yeah. Ancient, no. But it's so, most people don't start their careers at that point. Yeah, I guess, you know, but the drive is there. I keep coming back to things I've said before, the ambition is there. You know, I'm very hungry to be doing it. What are you hungry for? Connection. What is that? Favorite thing about music? Where does that come from? In music. Performance, creating, writing, recording, releasing, performing. There in all of that is so many opportunities for connection. Not just with fans, but with people I work with as well. I cherish my working relationships. I don't love lots of people coming in and out of my sort of work circle. I like to grow with people.
The cost of fame (01:15:26)
Is there this weird paradox of the thing you're chasing in terms of like, you know, that peak again, you talked to it about this like big moment that you, you know, you stood there and you watched this young artist who you know is going to go through it. But at the same time knowing that there comes a real cost with that, because I sometimes want to speak to musicians, it's, I have that a lot where they're like, I think I'm thinking of Craig David who I think he had his wonderful album at 18. You know, quite honestly says, you know, I'm looking for that moment again, but it was also pretty much the worst moment of my life. It's funny, man. Yeah. And it does come back to that when I referenced trauma and Maggie's concert and Sam what he was saying. It's funny how that works, but we see there are some real one in a millioners who might have two, three, four consecutive peaks. And everybody else looks at that. And even the people who go through that look at it as like, but it's something could be better. It's funny. I can't explain that and I suffer from it like so many people do. But if nothing else, it's because I really care about and love what I do and I really want to be in it. I really want to be kind of on the pitch. I've slipped into a football analogy. But for good reasons or for like slightly toxic and serious like because I love the game. For good reasons. Are you sure? Yeah. Is sure it's good reasons or? Yeah. I'm talking about the accolades here though because number one is just a comparative measure. Okay. And actually I'm the same, but I'm playing devil's advocate for the sake of conversation. That's fair. That's just a comparative measure. There's nothing inherently special about it other than you were better than someone else. I can't on that. Just quickly on that, I can't tell you how many times people I work with have sort of like, and me as well, we've gone, wow, our Grammy would be great, wouldn't it? That would be awesome. And we've also said like five would be awesome. We all know that 10 would be incredible. And just off the top of my head, a household name legend called David Bowie got one I think posthumous Grammy award for a music video. And the Grammy award one for the music video is just as valid as the rest of them, but it's a little further down the list. You know, the big record of the year, artists of the year, all those ones are the most exciting ones apparently. And he didn't suffer, it seems, for that one music video, Grammy award. And there's a handful of my other absolute favorite artists of all time who have recognised all around the world, have ever got near to certain award ceremonies or whatever, and it just couldn't matter. So but I suppose my point is that I've found it unfortunately easy to get wrapped up in the hype of those, those things. I hate to confess that, but part of my working through it all is getting out into the open. So I can hear it sort of with my own ears as well, because music is not those things. It's so much more than that. And that's why I've felt another that as a small child in a way that I feel is the same as I love it now. I love it just as much. I'm just blown away by great music as I was when I was, I don't even know how young. Let's talk about your new music. Sure. Your new album. You know, yeah, let's we can do that. I struggle. I struggle talking about my stuff. But let's talk about it. Would you struggle talking about it? Your body language is shifted somewhat. Yeah, because I feel like a salesman. Oh, right. That's fine. No, you know, also the other reason I feel like a salesman sometimes, you know, but also the other reason is that like the songs that they mean a lot to me, I just write about things that mean a lot in my life. You know, there's been a degree of sort of vulnerability that I've sort of gone to in the writing of these songs for this new album, Leap, that I don't feel I had been able to tap into before and reach. So this is why I asked you the question about your affectionate parents. Right. Because you've clearly been on that journey of learning how to be a different type of vulnerable. Yeah. You know, the, you talk about it, like the thank you, I love you vulnerable. Yeah. Yeah. Which is why I was searching for when I asked that question at the start, whether you had a lot of, I love you, thank you's at home. I'm just remembering that whatever I said was sort of, we just laughed. Yeah. So fucking stunted. Yeah. I said, go on. Sorry, Kevin. No, that's the point. That was, that's why I asked the question because, you know, you've been on that journey of trying to be a different type of vulnerable. Yes. Yes. And that's becoming more evident. Yeah. Yeah. Are you, you're feeling it does in this new music? I'm really glad that you feel that because I'm trying to access that for all the reasons that you're sort of circling around actually. Yes. The optimism as well comes through in a big way. Well, and when you talk about, you know, I'm trying to access a different kind of affection I am and I had said to you, I am trying to access that. And I had said to you that I felt like I was, I have grown up to be a different kind of affection than the people I grew up around, my immediate family. Yeah, I'm not afraid to say that because I don't criticize them for how they were affectionate. It was different. It was different. And as a result, and I've talked about it, and I will talk about it now, like in the writing of this album, it's taken me going into a new depth of vulnerability to find ways to say in songs these things. I love you. These things like I need you. These things like thank you. Because those phrases were not thrown around freely in my house. It's not to say they didn't exist in my house when I was a kid. It's not to say they didn't exist there. But I'm not used to that environment. But I want it. And I've had a baby and I want it in her life. And I didn't write these songs when she was, she wasn't here yet when I wrote these songs. But for half of them, I knew she was on the way. So it changed my perspective again, and it probably did affect the writing. And but it's all so honest that it's of course rooted in feelings that are about me and how I feel. And I'm just trying to change the landscape, my immediate landscape in my life, my personal life. And that's why songwriting is such a therapy, can be such a therapy for me. Because those very personal issues and scenarios will come out in my songs. And then I'm actually glad to say that I've arrived now on this third album with songs that manage to say those affectionate things that we've now listed a number of times. That I'll happily list again, but probably make me feel a little bit uncomfortable. But yeah, there's a song called, there's a whole bunch of songs in this album I could happily and easily reference. But one life has been a big moment. One life is a song that has been a big turning point in the writing. I love the gesture. I've only got one life and I want you in it as a lyric, as a notion.
Your partner (01:22:54)
Who's that for? Lucy 110,000%. What does she mean to you? Everything. Why? She knew me before I, you know, got near the music industry. I think she knew me who went together, but she knew me. But like intimately as a friend before I even was certain how much I definitely wanted to leave my safe little hometown venture into the big white world and try and do music. And she wanted to sort of stick with me ever since. And there were many years when we had no idea where it was going or if it was going anywhere. And we're still not certain. We still live every day like it could all be gone tomorrow. And you know, as a result, in the healthiest way I can possibly express, I feel like I need her. She's got the most healthy and brilliant bullshit radar I've ever met. You know? Mine's not so good. Mine's sort of attracted to the shiny things and the shiny possibilities. And she's like, I suppose I'll say she's got my back, often better than I have. Have you told her how much you appreciate her in person? I hope so. I do try to. And you know what? In a beautiful way. She'll say, yeah, I'll shut up. You know, she'll say, yeah, all right. She'll, she will give me the time of day. She's steely and I love that. And she's driven. And she's ambitious for me, for us, for her, for our family. But I do tell her, I do talk to her about it. What do you think your life would be like without her? God forbid. It's a calamitous tragic. Difficult. Difficult. She sort of helps tame my kind of wild emotions. She absolutely sort of, she knows them so well. And I mean, I think it's important to say, like, and I do the same for her, she knows how to let them kind of run wild and free. But she knows how to sort of sharpen my focus when I'm struggling to do it for myself. Yeah. She's quite vital. And I'm very OK with saying that. We've been on a journey, man. You know, we really have. And I can't, you know, we continue to get to be on one. And that's just so important to me. It's a beautiful balance. It's a beautiful balance. It's a beautiful thing to hear. I mean, you've known this person since you're 17. I've known this as 15. 15. You got together when you were 17. You've been together somewhat 13, 14 years now. That's one hell of an achievement. And especially because you often hear that those earlier relationships, when you really are changing and figuring out who you are, are the hardest to ever hold on to. Because it's kind of like, how is the analogy I always think of is almost like two parallel lines. But at the start of our lives, these parallel lines are like the variants in terms of the direction that they can go in. Yeah. And become completely different person in the 20s. Yes. And when you're 14, you don't hear the fuck you are fitting in. Correct. And so to survive all of those chapters, it's amazing. I can't explain it fully. It feels like a wonderful sort of coincidence sometimes that we've, you know, we've, we all here we are all falling through life. And our paths have never veered too far away from each others. There's something about it that all kind of just comes down to chance, which I love because she never compromised, especially in the earlier years, she had an opportunity to the degree that she did to go to America for a year and she did it. And we decided to sort of hold on to each other in that time. I didn't get to go. But we sort of said we'd, we'd, we'd be together and just sort of see on the other side sort of thing. That's where chance goes out the window because that's hard work. True. And this is some, with the soulmate analogy, which can sometimes be a little bit dangerous is. It can. I was asked if I believe in soulmates the other day and I didn't know what to say. Because yes, I know, right? Yeah, because we, yes, but it was, I suppose as I look back in a sort of pragmatic kind of fashion at that moment when she went away, it was such a big, scary, big wide world moment for her. And I went into my first year living away from Hitchin, my hometown, first time ever that I was like on my own, doing my shopping for myself or like, you know, paying the rent for myself. And to check in with each other every other day, when the time difference allowed on Skype or wherever it was, or a very expensive text message was so critical to us feeling all right. And all anybody's ever trying to do, whatever age they are, I just feel all right. She helps me do that, did back then and still does. And I know I do the same for her. You know, she's like a sort of anchor. And you know, the rest of me is sort of flailing around in a stormy sea.
Your latest album (01:29:17)
How much did that go into this album leap? How much of that, those feelings towards her and that new sort of ability to be a little bit more vulnerable? More than ever before. I've been very honest in all of my lyrics that I've sort of ever written really, but vulnerability requires me to, being vulnerable to my sort of lyric writing requires me to kind of be more direct and open up and be more open and talk about what I'm talking about in the songs. So so much of what she means to me went into this album in a more vulnerable and more direct way than it ever had before. And we were actually at a point, I felt like it was overdue in a way because our choice, our choice together has been in the last nearly 10 years where people have known about me in some capacity, in some public capacity and I've, you know, gone around the world and sold tickets to shows and released music and all of this stuff and been on TV a bit, whatever. Our choice together has been to keep our private life quite private. But then there was a moment where it felt like she didn't exist and that was just awful. It felt like that we were living a lie. So it's overdue in a way that I'm saying, this is Lucy, she's like one whole half of me. And more than that, here's what she means to me. So on the one hand, it's the first time I've been more sort of public about sort of talking about my relationship. On the other hand, it's a total celebration. And rightly so. If she was sitting here now listening to me, so that she'd be like, cool down. Simmerdown, again, because she's the most humble person I've ever met. But yeah, it was sort of time. Why leap? We need another two hours for that. Because it's something I needed. It's a bit, it's been a bit of a mantra as a word. I sort of needed to it. I've needed to hear it. I've needed to use it. I've needed to say it. I've needed to exercise it. Leaping the net will appear is a phrase, a quote from a guy called John Burris. He said, leaping the net will appear. I read that. And it sort of blew me away. Because I'm so paranoid about the net, where it is, when it's going to be there, how strong it is, will it hold? I hate to admit, I feel like I'm sort of revealing a side of myself that I'm quite sort of self-conscious about. But I'm very concerned about the net. And I'm quite, can be so reluctant to leap. If that's surprising to people because they think I sort of spend my life getting up on stage, that's a different thing. I know that might be confusing in itself, but it's just something I do and I know how to do and I love and I compartmentalised it in a different place in a different way. But just to leap in many respects, literally, figuratively, spiritually, whatever, a struggle. What is the cost if we don't leap? You'll never know. You'll never know if the net will appear. I think we want the net to appear. We want to leap, do something wonderful in the air and land safely. And if you don't leap, there's no wonderful in the air and there's no landing safely. So you've not gone anywhere or done anything and then you probably did. Interestingly as well, I think regardless of really what happens in the air, I think like the leap itself is life. And I think it almost seems to be the case, regardless of what happens in the air, you land safely. Part of it seems to me that even if you land on your back, you land comfortably. But I've struggled to trust this. Yeah, yeah. And there's some voices in my head that have really stopped me sort of trusting those, that beautiful sort of concept that you've just sort of presented there. It was your concept. Well, it was John Burris. Can you move it back? Yeah, no, it's the way that you've put it was really great. So I've looked at it from all angles. If it's my concept, then I have looked at it from an angle from which I do celebrate it enormously, which is also the way I think you delivered it then. But I've also sort of looked at it from a nervous standpoint and not moved. But in a fight against and in a campaign against the negativity that I've struggled with in the last few years, and actually a lot in my life, it's not just about 2019. I just was having a particularly difficult time that year. I wanted to use it as an album title to represent so much of what is in these songs, so much of the heart in these songs is about in the face of difficulty, I have this and this and I have you and that references Lucy quite directly most of the time. That's the you I'm talking about. It's about silver linings. I've struggled to see them when they've been there sometimes. And I just needed to make music that that that celebrated and represented them to remind myself because yeah, sometimes I feel like I'm drowning. But there is leaping always as an option. Hindsight seems to tell us that the greatest risk is taking no risk at all. The greatest, well, the most costly leap would be taking no leap. Because if you think about that and ultimately it means a life of stagnation, it means no challenge, it means no excitement, it means no heartbreak. If you never put yourself in a situation to be, and so I've seen that throughout my life is just that sometimes when I think about risk actually, it's a real misunderstanding of what the risk actually is. The risk actually was. It's funny because when I told people I dropped to the university, started a business, this business made 700 million, whatever, they go, oh my, you're just so courageous. And my head has always struggled with that concept. Right. And then I thought that was the greatest or brave, because in my head, the courageous and brave thing to do was staying at university. That was the risk. The risk was staying and potentially ending up in a life that wasn't for me. The cowardice thing to do was leaving and going for it. That was the coward approach. So I think sometimes if you really analyze and sort of swap the world around, you can be a bit more empowered. You throw a bunch more perspective at it. Yeah, exactly. You throw a life context and, yeah, it's there. Life context. People don't realize that they're going to die someday. You know what I mean? And I think about that a lot. I have a sound timer. I don't know if it's behind. It's worth reminding. Is that it in the bottom corner? Yes, that's why it's there. And look at that guy. Yeah, because that's the only way you can really see time. I think humans struggle with finality and infinity. The two concepts that something can end and that it can last forever. We don't think we really don't think we're going to die. Right. And it's a story I've seen other people do that. Yeah. But when you think about the things you're consuming your mind with the concerns, the procrastination, this is not someone who thinks they're going to die. Right. You know, there's a timer. We've only got time. We've got procrastinate. Yeah, but that's very true. And it's worth reminding ourselves once in a while. Just timing it over. Yeah. And oh shit, I'm going to go and leap. I'm going to go and do something. I'm going to go and, you know, take a risk or else I risk nothing being my day today. Yeah, that's sort of dangerous. And I was just feeling quite sort of safe keeping my private life private and my... But there was so much I had to say about it. I keep my private life private and my, you know, trying to sort of say, you know what my public life is, people who are interested. And that's that. And when I suppose I use this word, the most wonderful way to go about it was to share in the way that I have today with you, but also by celebrating one of the greatest things in my life that will always sort of change and evolve and has done for the time Lucy and I have been together. So it doesn't sort of set something in stone that I can't then, you know, explore sort of sharing or, you know, using is the wrong word. Celebrating again. It's been, it's been sort of enlightening and helped me feel lighter to share it, to celebrate, to celebrate like full stop because it's so easy to get dragged down by sort of darker thoughts that are always going to kind of exist. Like forget the light on the horizon, the silver lining. That's there as well. Leonard Cohen, I'm not going to get it right, but he said something really great about like everything has cracks in it. That's how the light gets in. You know, he smashed that when he said that. 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Our last guest’s question (01:40:31)
So our previous guest leaves a question for our next guest. Right. Go on. Okay, so the question they left for you. And I really want you to think about this because this is a really interesting one. Would you do it all again? Why are you battling with that? Because it's like this consequences with how I ask it. I want to say yes. I want to say I do it all again because it was fucking brilliant. I wouldn't do it all again. So much of it was brilliant. But there's a caveat to my answer. I would do it all again if you let me like I didn't, if I wasn't going to waste the time I have going forward. Like can I just go back in time, do it all again and come back to this moment and then carry on from here as I was. Do you see what I mean? I got you. I want to fill the next 10 years with doing the last 10 again. Okay. Okay. So but that's something to who she is. Yeah. Well, it would be you have to go through an experience again. So the next period of your life would be the same thing again. I'm guessing from the question. Okay. This is what we don't know. Because my answer, the reason I say no is because I wouldn't enjoy doing it all again because you've done it. Like I personally wouldn't get the same. Oh my God. Wow. Yeah. See, I was thinking I was, I didn't know that it was, I've been for it before. The old men in black. Men in black. Yeah. Yeah. So otherwise I'm not as famous you. Okay. Interesting. I, I, there's a, there's a sort of fantastical fantasy world within which I would do it again where I was where I was just doing it. But before I said that, I thought, well, no, I really, I'm, I'm really excited about what happens next. What happens next? I don't know. And that's what keeps it exciting. That's also what makes me sort of, you know, fight with all these voices. But it's also what makes it exciting. Well, James, you aren't a person who is particularly enjoyable to talk to. Oh, thanks, man. I think likewise, very much likewise. Thank you. Evidence of that comes, you know, when you're looking at those music videos and they're giving you a little bit more depth and you are the person to try and search out the depth from a very, very young age. Well, clearly someone that wants to go a little bit deeper and that makes you a man of my own heart because I, that this is what I do in my spare time is probably to the detriment of, you know, casual social situations. But your new music is testament of everything you've said today. It's, it's evidence that you have unlocked a new sort of, I almost sort of is like a wall falling and like something wonderful flowing out of it that hadn't been there before. Thanks, man. So, people who listen to me are going to, are going to feel this conversation. But they're also going to feel this, this new side of you that's created art that feels much more relatable because it's much more well-rounded, if that makes sense. So, thank you. It really, you know, I'm, those are incredibly kind words and I, and I appreciate them and I'm a bit blown away so that you, that you feel that towards the music. So I'll hold on to that for sure. Thank you. Thank you. I had a few words to say about one of my sponsors on this podcast. My girlfriend came upstairs yesterday when I was having a shower and she said to me that she tried the heel protein shake, which lives on my fridge over there. And she said, it's amazing. Low calories, you get your 20 odd grams of protein, you get your 26 vitamins and minerals, and it's nutritionally complete. In the protein space, there's lots of things, but it's hard to find something that is nice, especially when consumed just with water. And that is nutritionally complete. The salted caramel one, if you put some ice cubes in it and you put it in a blender and you try it, it's as good as pretty much any milkshake on the market, just mixed with water. It's been a game changer for me because I'm trying to drop my calorie intake and I'm trying to be a little bit more healthy with my diet. So this is where heel fits in my life. Thank you, heel, for making a product that I actually like.