James Bay has moved from folk to harder rock on “Electric Light.” (Courtesy Sarah Piantadosi)

James Bay has moved from folk to harder rock on “Electric Light.” (Courtesy Sarah Piantadosi)

James Bay has a new look, new sound

Touring the world behind his Brit-Award-winning, triple-Grammy-nominated 2015 debut “Chaos and the Calm,” English folksinger James Bay began to notice an unusual transformation: The more he performed his initially gentle acoustic tunes “Let it Go” and the breakthrough “Hold Back the River,” and the more crowds sang along, the louder, the more electric they seemed to get.

“Fans recognized the songs, but it was a whole new experience from what they heard on the record,” says Bay, who comes to the Bay Area this week.

“I’ve always been interested in evolving, I’m not interested in staying the same,” adds the musician, who had something in mind when he returned to London and considered his follow-up recording; he wanted to rock, on raucous electric guitar, like his songwriting hero Bruce Springsteen at his “Born to Run” best.

Tinkering in a quiet hometown studio with his co-composer Jon Green, without informing his label he was working on new material, the soulful singer conceived his entire sophomore outing “Electric Light” (later polished by renowned producer Paul Epworth), with gospel-chorus anthems “Us,” “Slide,” “Just For Tonight” and the chug-riffed single “Pink Lemonade.”

To complement his power-chorded new attitude, Bay ditched his signature floppy-brimmed hippie hat and trimmed his shoulder-length locks to a James-Dean-sleek rockabilly cut.

“It was time; it’s all part of the evolution,” he says.

While restricting himself to acoustic six-string to track a relatively safe “Chaos 2” would have been easy, financially safe and audience-pleasing, he couldn’t do it.

“You have to test yourself and test others for the sake of art, for the sake of creativity, for the sake of staying in love with your craft,” he says. “So I really pushed myself, so I wouldn’t fall out of love with it.”

Oddly, the huge, almost sacred choruses on “Electric” were not inspired by Bay’s occasionally attending chapel as a child, but by his fascination with the R&B catalogs of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and The Staple Singers, and their majestic use of backing-group vocals.

“Those records are my church, without meaning to sound too cheesy,” he says. “That sound stirs my soul every time that I hear it, and I pick it out on every album that I hear. So I wanted to create that kind of experience on record myself.”

Bay, who also has a 13-item fashion line in collaboration with U.K. shop Topman, hopes listeners will follow him on his sonically adventurous ride.

He adds, “I mean, I love my first record. But now, to me? It sounds quite polite.”

IF YOU GO
James Bay
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. March 27
Tickets: $35
Contact: (415) 346-6000, www.ticketmaster.comChaos and the CalmElectric LightJames BayPink LemonadePop Music

Just Posted

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler, pictured in July at Oracle Park, says team members simultaneously can be “measured and calm” and “looking to push the accelerator.” (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
How Gabe Kapler sets the tone for Giants’ success with strategy, mindset

‘There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the hands-down manager of the year’

Artist Agnieszka Pilat, pictured with Spot the Robot Dog from Boston Robotics, has a gallery show opening at Modernism. (Courtesy Agnieszka Pilat)
Screenshots of VCs, Kanye and tech parties by the Bay

In this week’s roundup, Ben Horowitz’s surprising hip-hop knowledge and the chic tech crowd at Shack15

If he secured a full term in the Senate, Newsom would become the most powerful Californian Democrat since Phil Burton at the height of his career, or maybe ever. <ins>(Kevin Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Firefighters extinguish burning material near Lake Tahoe on Sept. 3 in the wake of the Caldor Fire; environmental scientists say the huge fire is bringing to light deficiencies in forest management. <ins>(Max Whittaker/New York Times)</ins>
Cal Fire, timber industry must face an inconvenient truth

We are logging further into the wildfire and climate crisis

Changing zoning in San Francisco neighborhoods where single family homes prevail is crucial in the effort to achieve equity. (Shutterstock)
To make SF livable, single-family zoning must be changed

Let’s move to create affordable housing for working class families

Most Read