In 2019, James Bay was wrestling with contrasts. Released the previous year, his second album Electric Light had revealed a singer-songwriter in adventurous mood, stretching his blend of rock, blues, and gospel into funk, R&B, and electro-pop. Subsequent live dates, including three months supporting Ed Sheeran, then took him across Europe, Australia, and North America. But for all the joys of living the rock ’n’ roll life, darkness was also creeping in. “I was presented with a pretty low low,” he tells Apple Music. “I was going through a chapter of insecurity, sadness, and anxiety; it was a lot to take on. On the surface, I was traveling, I was touring, and it was a very difficult, complex two things to deal with—this sort of paradox of smiling on the outside and struggling on the inside.” He eventually found solace and a way to help process his feelings by writing for his third album. A songwriter who’d regularly explored heartache and despair, Bay initially dug into his sadness and anxiety. But he began to produce more satisfying results when focusing on sources of light. “To write songs is its own therapy,” he says, “but also I looked to the really special people in my life, who are so close to me and so important to me, and I wanted to emphasize in my writing just how they keep my chin above water when I need it the most.” As a result, optimism resonates throughout Leap, its title taken from the words of American nature writer John Burroughs: “Leap, and the net will appear.” Bay’s celebrating the love of his long-term partner on “One Life,” trusting in companionship on “Everybody Needs Someone,” and handing down some hard-won wisdom on “Save Your Love,” produced by FINNEAS. The gently plucked “Better” ends the album by cherishing the restorative support of a loved one: “’Cause everything’s better as soon as you’re next to me/I know I fall apart, but you fix me with your heart.” Rendered in crisply melodic rock, these songs might be less sonically intrepid than Electric Light, but here, Bay’s exploration is within. He’s rarely sounded so emotionally open—or positive. “The last two years [during the pandemic] have taught me that no matter what you do for a living or how lucky you feel, life will deal you all sorts of different things, sometimes at random,” he says. “As cheesy as it may sound, tomorrow is always on the way. Tomorrow brings a fresh perspective, a second chance, a possibility to start again. It’s been a really important thing for me to be reminded of and to have learned in recent years.”

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