Here’s How You Can Get James Bay’s Rockstar Style
He also talks fame, fashion and the fallacies of manliness. “I don’t just look up to men. Beyonce is an absolute force.”
You don’t have to be the biggest fan to know that James Bay’s music has been a complete success (3 Grammy nominations and more). Hold Back the River and Let it Go were late-2014 and early-2015 songs respectively, and those songs were probably once (or twice) stuck in your head. But his look, that distinct look of fine-cheekbones, silky long hair, the jacket, jeans and hat, it wasn’t a complete surprise that Topman teamed with the Brit-singer for a collaboration collection.
The carefully curated 13-piece collection draws inspiration from Bay’s music (performing live and the way he dresses on tour) and art (the collection features original hand drawn illustrations taken from Bay’s own sketchbooks). Before he tells us more about his style, we’ll have to ask the obvious, no fedora hats to be sold in this collection? Hmm...
TOPMAN: What were you like growing up?
JAMES BAY: Anything academic was a bit of a nightmare, even music theory. I was pants at it. But I was always happy to pick up an instrument. I wasn’t particularly shy but wasn’t outgoing either, so I wouldn’t be jumping around on stage. I was always observing things – and I still do this now – observing things and drinking things in.
TM: Was yours a musical home?
JB: To the extent my parents were always listening to it: on the radio, the car radio. And it was either soul or rock and roll, Michael Jackson or Bruce Springsteen. If I was up in my room drawing or playing the Playstation, everything would be on mute and the radio would be on. I’d be drawing my favourite musicians, idolising them like you do as a kid. This idea of a star in the spotlight was a big deal to me as a kid.
TM: Was it these musicians that inspired you, then?
JB: Michael Jackson did. The way he moved on stage inspired me, and his music really moved me. Then there was the Rolling Stones; their music might have been about sex, drugs, and rock and roll but it appeals to anybody. But it was Eric Clapton and [the song] Layla that really resonated with me and got me to pick up the guitar.
TM: MJ’s moves? So image was important to you too?
JB: The image thing was definitely in play. I’d jump in front of the mirror with a hairbrush to something like Justin Timberlake. I think music and fashion definitely walk hand in hand, too. There’s more to come in how music will influence how I look. I’ve always admired artists like David Bowie – I’m fascinated by him, and love where he took things. Guys like him were all about reinventing themselves, being striking, outrageous, making a statement. They’d wear whatever, even things considered women’s clothes. Jimi Hendrix is another guy who just presented himself how he wanted to be presented – it was meant for anybody, gender aside. That’s what I’m drawn to, that genderless thing.
TM: So you’re not into the traditional idea of masculinity?
JB: That Springsteen, blue collar, manly look is a thing. But I was always more into the presence he had, not the manliness. But there’s just something more out there with Bowie, Prince, Hendrix.
Masculinity, to my generation, is ceasing to mean anything. But not just my generation, there are guys 56, or 12, to whom manliness feels like a weird, old-fashioned word. Those old ideas of what it means to ‘be a man’ are outdated. We’re all in it together. I've actually got a collection coming out with Topman later this year and I just as much expect and hope girls look at it and want to wear it. I’ve done the same thing – bought jeans from Topshop because they’d fit better. That was on my mind when designing stuff with Topman. It’s Topman, sure, but it’s for anybody.
Plus I don’t just look up to men. Beyonce is an absolute force. It’s not about if they’re male or female. I can take things Beyonce is doing – you won’t know when or how, but I will. Just like she took so much from what Michael Jackson did, what Prince did, in her style, her stage presence.
TM: What are you listening to right now?
JB: Old music breaks up my constant search for new music. People get drowned out by how much new music there is, all the time, at the click of a button. I listen to a lot of Drake, Chance the Rapper, Bon Iver. But that’s broken up by listening to Bowie, Jackson, Aretha Franklin.
But I’m not just listening to it. I’m always looking at the presentation of artists. It’s interesting to see Drake. During a show, he’ll wear pretty standard t-shirt and vests. But then segments into different looks, usually all black. First it’s a shirt open over a vest, then he comes back in a black tee, then goes away and comes out in a fancy jacket. It’s all part of the show.
TM: So do you see yourself going down the more outrageous, Bowie or Prince route with your look?
JB: I’ve had a ‘look’ to some extent, and it’s stuck. But I won’t hang onto it. It feels wrong. It feels boring. I have no idea where I’ll go. I am into the idea of change. Rather than sitting on the same thing and letting it stagnate. It never feels right to rule anything out.
The collection will be available to shop exclusively at Topman Pavilion KL and Mid Valley Megamall by end August. Prices range from RM159 for printed tees, jackets for RM449, jeans for RM319 and a full suit for RM1300.