Photo: Daniel Mendoza/Recording Academy
British singer/songwriter James Bay is, among other things, a well-versed music aficionado. From his folk-friendly debut Chaos And The Calm to his electrified pop-tinged new album, Electric Light, simply listen through his first two albums to experience the range of great music he draws inspiration from for songs. In both cases, what makes Bay stand out isn't the influences he draws upon, but rather the way he brings them to life in his music.
We tracked down Bay backstage at Lollapalooza to ask him about his newly released cover of Tina Turner's "The Best," the new slew of influences who informed the sound of his sophomore album, the story behind "Pink Lemonade," and more.
You just dropped your version of Tina Turner's "The Best" earlier this week. How did you pick that song to cover?
It was two things, really. Most importantly it's a song I've always loved. And unashamedly, it didn't have to fit any criteria other than, "do I love it?" And it felt unexpected. I think that it's fun to catch people off guard like that. I like lots and lots of different music, and I love to talk about the wide variety of music I like. But… you catch them off guard with something like that, and everybody kind of goes, "Hey, that's exciting, we didn't expect it."
Sure, you definitely have musical range, and I think your new album demonstrates that. In the three years since Chaos And The Calm, how did you choose the direction you took for Electric Light, musically?
Well, one of the first things, and the kind of the main reasons, is that for all of the music that inspired Chaos And The Calm, and that was a long list of [Bruce] Springsteen, Ryan Adams, Adele, Carole King, it's a list of lots of different artists. I tried not to lean on those [influences] for the second record, because I had so many [more], there's so much more music that I love and that I listen to and inspires me. Prince's music, Michael Jackson's music, David Bowie, and then more recently Frank Ocean, and Lorde, and the list goes on and on.
I was listening to that music in the gap between touring Chaos And The Calm and making the new record, and it inspired me more. I love it, as much as I love a lot of other music, and it inspired me enough to respond to make a record, and I guess that's how Electric Light sounds the way it does.
"Pink Lemonade" hit a lot of people's ears as a fresh sound from you. Can you talk a little bit about writing that song and how it came together?
That's one of those songs, if you break down the chords… if you play those chords on a piano, at a slightly slower pace, they exist under a pretty kind of jazzy kind of light. Sometimes when you thrash those chords out on a guitar, it's this kind of nuanced sort of alternative rock sound. But the song started out almost as a ballad. It was John Green who I made this record with, an old friend and a fantastic musician, writer, producer. He was on the piano, I was on a drum kit, playing like a half time feel, and we loved it. And we were getting the melodies together like that, and then we just wanted something that had more and more and more urgency, so I just started to thrash it out on a- I have this amazing old 1960 Gibson Les Paul special, we had a little Fender Champion. The combo was great. And it sounded like a lot of different things, and it sounded fresh at the same time. And the song was born.
Nice. Lastly, what are some hobbies you have outside of music?
Football, soccer. I am a big fan! I'll translate that one there, yeah [laughs]. I love playing. It really removes me from all of what work is. I like to draw. I've always drawn. I like to hang out with people and chat… I like to sit and talk with old friends for long periods of time, and just kind of be a human and live.
Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
For those who love great guitar playing, 7-time GRAMMY winner Buddy Guy is in a class by himself, less because he is a legend and more because he just rocks the blues like no other. At the 58th GRAMMY Awards the blues master was joined by his producer Tom Hambridge, winning Best Blues Album for Born To Play Guitar. That same year, Guy received his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy. Guy and Hambridge have joined forces again on his follow-up to be released on June 15, The Blues Is Alive and Well, with a spectacular featured artist lineup in tow.
Guy, who will be appearing on Netflix's "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman" on May 4, has credited the South for both the origin of what's called the Chicago Blues sound as well the spicy Louisiana cuisine he likes best. But it's his own special flavor that caused the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards to tell Rolling Stone in 2015 that "He's the top honcho now."
Pharrell Williams' "Happy" brought the house down, OneRepublic wowed the crowd with an unplugged performance, Macy Gray honored China by dressing in red, and Daya showed natives what it means to have "girl power!"
These were among the many highlights at the inaugural GRAMMY Festival China at ChangYang Music Theme Music Park in Beijing on April 30. A partnership between the Recording Academy, Bravo Entertainment and China Music Vision Ltd., the festival played host to a collective of GRAMMY-nominated and -winning artists as well as Chinese musicians William Chen and Nicholas Tse.
Beginning with "Sit Still, Look Pretty," Daya had the honor of kicking off the festival, rocking the stage with her all-female band. Speaking with China Radio International's EasyFM following her set, she revealed that her stage name Daya means "kindness" in Sanskrit while describing her personality in terms such as "weird," "chill" and "passionate."
Those words seemed to resonate as Daya interacted with the audience, portraying a sense of humor as well as passion through performances of her hits "Hide Away" and "Don't Let Me Down."
Next, veteran GRAMMY winner Gray performed a standout set, delighting the audience with a rendition of Radiohead's iconic hit "Creep." She channeled her roots with a rendition of the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame-inducted Louis Armstrong classic "What A Wonderful World," in addition to rolling out her own hits such as "I Try." Decked out in red and sporting red hair — an obvious homage to the Chinese audience — Gray gave the fans more reasons to show more passion toward her music.
Learning phrases and songs in Chinese proved a popular move to help connect with the Chinese audience. Case in point: Phoenix's set included a special version of "Happy Birthday," which was sung for a crew member in Mandarin. Reportedly, the GRAMMY winners extensively practiced this version. Aside from birthday wishes, Phoenix lit up the sky with performances of "Entertainment," "Lisztomania," "J-Boy," Ti Amo," and "Fior Di Latte," the latter three from their 2016 album, Ti Amo. The reaction from Chinese fans was palpable, especially when frontman Thomas Mars started waving his hands during the chorus of "Fior Di Latte" — the frenzied audience returned the favor through the entire song.
Before the festival, Carly Rae Jepsen told China Radio International's EasyFM that she is choosing among 120 different songs for her new studio album, which the GRAMMY nominee promised would be coming soon. Adorned in pink, and rocking a new blond hairstyle, Jepsen channeled a Marilyn Monroe-esque look.
The Canadian singer/songwriter's performance of hits such as "Run Away With Me" and "Making The Most Of The Night" were ripe with star power, moving the audience to their feet. But it was her viral 2012 hit, "Call Me Maybe," that undoubtedly drew the biggest cheer from the Chinese fans.
As part of a continuous loop during the festival, promotional videos ran as backdrops on the big screens, including Lay Zhang, GRAMMY Festival China ambassador, who spoke highly of the performers and introduced the production team behind the festival.
Silver pants and a complementary T-shirt revealed James Bay's good sense of style onstage. The former Best New Artist GRAMMY nominee drew big applause with performances of songs such as "Hold Back The River" and "Let It Go." New songs such as "Us" from his upcoming sophomore album, Electric Light, were also rolled out as James' set coincided with sunset, adding a bit of atmosphere to his set.
A post shared by onerepublic (@onerepublic) on
OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder was in a buoyant mood onstage, speaking a few sentences in Chinese to the obvious delight of Chinese fans. He also took time to draw attention to his wardrobe choice, noting that his T-shirt was adorned with a dog pattern to honor the Chinese year of dog. Songs such as "Stop And Stare," "Secrets," "Counting Stars," "Apologize," and "Born To Race" were enough to make OneRepublic among the festival's standout performers. Virtually every song became a sing-along, but it was an acoustic version of "Halo," the GRAMMY-winning hit by Beyoncé co-written by Tedder, that added a special glow to their performance.
Taking the stage for the finale, Williams admitted he had been suffering from a cold and was concerned about losing his voice. The GRAMMY winner did not disappoint, however, telling the crowd he was in awe of what he's seen in Beijing, noting that it's his first time visiting China's capital.
Williams made good on his first visit, with his hit-filled set featuring "Blurred Lines," "Feels" and "Happy," which electrified the audience and sent everyone home in a great mood and feeling optimistic that GRAMMY Festival China will become an annual addition to the music industry's international festival calendar.
(Beijing-based Abu Zhao focuses on writing about pop music and has also been a songwriter, whose music used for TV play and albums. She started her career at China Radio International's EasyFM.)
Photo: David M Benett/Getty Images
When the Rolling Stones head out across the U.K. this summer, they'll be tapping some of the best British rock and pop acts around as openers, starting with two shows in London with GRAMMY nominees Liam Gallagher on opening night and Florence + The Machine the second night.
UK TOUR SUPPORTS ANNOUNCED! #StonesNoFilter— The Rolling Stones (@RollingStones) April 23, 2018
LONDON – @liamgallagher
LONDON – @flo_tweet
SOUTHAMPTON – @thevaccines
COVENTRY – @thespecials
MANCHESTER – @richardashcroft
EDINBURGH – @richardashcroft
CARDIFF – @Elbow
TWICKENHAM – @JamesBayMusic https://t.co/DKiBR3No1m pic.twitter.com/ILUmDgbNmT
Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine tweeted her excitement and appreciation for the opportunity, saying, "We are so excited to be supporting the Rolling Stones," she wrote. "It is a huge honour to be playing with one of our biggest influences."
Gallagher also tweeted his gratitude and praise for the band, saying, "It's a dream come true to be asked to open for The Mighty Rolling Stones - the best Rock n Roll band EVER."
The Stones' No Filter tour has been rolling since last year and will extend into Ireland, Germany, France the Czech Republic and Poland. A full list of dates and ticket information can be found via the band's website.