Instead of calling her the Queen of Soul, the rocker calls the late icon "the Queen of Music." "People talk about greatest singers of all-time (and) people talk about Frank Sinatra (and) Frank Sinatra's phenomenal, but honestly, how does he hold a flame to Aretha?"
Unfortunately at Metropolis Vintage in New York City, there's no Aretha in stock — "just can't find a vintage Aretha T-shirt," the owner said — though Bay walks away with a shirt featuring the cover of the Beatles' "Let It Be" and a bright red Keith Haring tee.
As he sifts through the collection, he notes other influences as well. Seeing Kurt Cobain's face on a black tee, he says: "Of all the artists that have iconic looks, his is like, 'I bleached my hair.' He's so cool." R&B star Maxwell is called "amazing!" and seeing Janet Jackson reminds him that a good friend is going to the pop star's new residency in Las Vegas this week.
Several T-shirts featuring the Stones hits home with the 28-year-old singer: "Last summer we opened for the Stones. And Ronnie's been onstage with us." "Keith is cool. We've hung with Keith a few times. He's a good dude. He doesn't say a lot, but he wants to hang. He's brilliant," Bay said.
Bay talks about the musicians who have had a profound impact with the same excitement he does about the songs he crafted for "Oh My Messy Mind," his new EP released last week. A year ago this week Bay released his sophomore album, "Electric Light," and he said he's excited to drop new music faster than he's done in the past.
"There's just such a huge appetite for new music all the time now (and) it's fun to put stuff out — as long as it's stuff you're proud of, you love and you can sort of standby," said Bay, who had Top 20 pop hit with "Let It Go" in 2016.
While his full albums were produced by just one person — Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Tom Waits) for his Grammy-nominated 2015 debut, "Chaos and the Calm," and Paul Epworth (Adele, U2) on "Electric Light" — Bay has collaborated with various creatives on "Oh My Messy Mind," including Joel Little (Lorde, Taylor Swift), Dan Wilson (Dixie Chicks, Adele), Ryan Tedder (Maroon 5, Beyoncé) and Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Vampire Weekend).
"On this EP, the only constant as far as production goes is actually me," he said. "When I say the constant's me, Joel — just to pick one of those names — is such an incredible pro and you can leave him to it, but because it's my music, I feel like I need to be there."
The title of the EP would make you think Bay had gone through a major breakup, and listening to the songs would only drive the point home, especially current single "Bad." "It's a breakup song that just isn't my breakup," Bay said. "Me and my girlfriend are great. We're great. The interesting thing for me about that song is there were a few different people who were very close to me that were going through some tough stuff relationship status-wise."
"I'm almost a vehicle for an emotion, in some respect, as the writer," he added. "Because those are my friends that some of the stuff is happening to, boy is it personal to me, really personal. And you carry that because you're trying to help them or you're even trying to sort of hold the space for them. In this case, it couldn't help but to turn itself into a song."
Bay will get a chance to play the new tunes live when he heads on the European leg of Ed Sheeran's "Divide Tour" this month. Though Bay went a bit glam rock with his fashion style during the release of "Electric Light" last year, you'll probably see him in skinny jeans on the road this time around.
"Fresh out the wash skinny jeans," he explained. "I've always liked sort of tight clothing onstage."