James Bay is on the road again, first in North America, then opening for Ed Sheeran in Europe

Emily Hope

James Bay is restless. Just after touring behind his second album, “Electric Light,” which dropped in May 2018, the British singer-songwriter crafted a couple of songs.

“I didn’t want to stop making music,” Bay says while calling from Los Angeles. “Since the tour ended a couple of months ago, I have spent every bit of my time either writing or working in the studio. It’s paying off.”

On Feb. 22, he saw the fruits of that labor. He released the single “Peer Pressure.” The sweet love song starts as a ballad but picks up steam when co-writer Julia Michaels joins in.

“I made some time to work with Julia and I’m so glad I did,” Bay says. “The first song we wrote together was ‘Peer Pressure,’ which starts in an emotional place. The song is about all of the armor that we have on us to shield us from people. We can isolate ourselves but what the song conveys is that we can open up when we meet the right person.”

He said he likely will play ‘Peer Pressure’ when he appears March 5 at the Durham Performing Arts Center, the second stop of his North American Tour. And of course, he will play the hits that put him on the map, “Hold Back the River” and “Let it Go.” The songs helped him earn three Grammy Award nominations in 2016.

“I hope to play ‘Peer Pressure’ when I get to North Carolina and I would like to play some other new songs,” Bay says. “I feel really good about them.”

Some of Bay’s peers are reluctant to preview tracks because they might end up on YouTube ahead of schedule.

“I get that and I used to be afraid of YouTube but I’m not that way anymore,” Bay says. “But there are so many reasons to play songs before you record them. You test them out and you find out what alterations they might need. I remember playing songs before my first album (2015’s “Chaos and the Calm”) came out and they ended up on YouTube. I played a festival in Mexico and a bunch of people were singing along with me. It was amazing. So I’m in favor of playing new songs.”

Bay, 28, has been an ardent music fan since he was young. He was constantly listening to songs thanks to his parents. “My dad loved the Rolling Stones and my mom was very much into Motown,” Bay says. “I loved the soul singers. Nobody is as direct as soul singers. They get right to the heart of the matter. I grew up on love songs. It’s a shame there aren’t as many love songs out there these days.”

Bay is adept at crafting catchy but soulful love songs, like his pal, British singer Ed Sheeran.

“There’s no one like Ed Sheeran,” Bay says. “He’s the nicest guy. We met on a red carpet in 2014. He said that he really liked my songs and was encouraging. We became friends.”

Sheeran invited Bay to open for him when he embarks on a stadium tour of Europe this summer. “It’s going to be an amazing opportunity,” Bay says. “That’ll be fun, but right now I’m focusing on this tour with Noah (Kahan).”

Bay is co-headlining his current jaunt with Kahan, a fellow singer-songwriter.

“I’m a big fan of his,” Bay says. “I’m looking forward to watching him perform night after night. It’s a good year. I get to hang out with Noah and then I get to hang out with Ed Sheeran.”

But in-between shows count on Bay to write songs. “There is no break for me,” Bay says. “I’ll be coming up with songs and eventually I can preview them at shows as well.”


Who: James Bay and Noah Kahan

When: 8 p.m. March 5

Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham.

Tickets: $29.50, $39.50 and $49.50.

Info: 919-6802787 or dpacnc.com

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