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Vance Joy

Vance Joy

Interviewed by
Natalie Finnigan
Monday 7th October, 2013 3:36PM

James Keogh - who records under the moniker Vance Joy - burst on to the scene in Australia earlier this year with his catchy folk-pop single ‘Riptide’. His debut EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing was released last month and has been well-received worldwide, seeing him pick up a deal with Atlantic Records in the US. Now announced to be heading to New Zealand to play Laneway Festival, we caught up with Keogh to discuss his journey so far, his plans to record a debut album, and why he thinks he’ll never use his law degree..

You’ve just released your EP which is available in New Zealand – it’s a strong EP and your single is doing really well. Does that mean you have an album lined up to come out soon?

Yeah the plan is to release an album early next year, which is still to be recorded but ready to go.

You started out on the open mic scene at bars and pubs in Melbourne – how long have you been writing for?

I’ve been writing since I was about 11 and 12, but the first song I wrote for other people was in about 2009, so for about 4 or 5 years I was slogging away through that process.

Were you at uni at the time?

Yeah from 2006 to 2012, and so I wrote that song in 2009 while I was at uni, and from that point on songwriting was a big focus for me along side uni.

You studied law right?

Yeah, my focus is music now, but I finished my degree, and I don’t really think I’ll end up doing it. Obviously I’m making music now, but no matter what happens I don’t think I’ll end up doing law.

I know a fair few people who had the exact same experience, so what drew you to study that in the first place?

I think I just wanted to do it because you need a high score to get in, and I got it, and my older brother was doing it, and it’s also one of those degrees you do when you want to have options – it’s a good degree to have. I thought it would make me employable and it seemed like a smart thing to do. I enjoyed it – I learned a lot and it was an important period of life in terms of opening my mind.

Is there any way that experience was relevant to what you do creatively?

I think so, because you’re exposed to ideas, like for example through the philosophy and history elements of the course, and all this information sort of builds up like a back-log in your brain. It’s almost just a way of thinking so it has definitely influenced me.

The video for your single ‘Riptide’ is really interesting – where did the concept come from?

I got a whole bunch of pictures and ideas from a range of people first, and then I got an email from Dimitri who’s the director and he said he wanted to do a literal film clip – I loved that idea and was like 'yeah, let’s do it!' He’s done a lot of other great film clips and so I leaned towards him because he has a beautiful artistic vision and a great ability to set up beautiful shots. So I just let him do his thing. He went off and spent two weeks doing it and I was so happy with the end result.

The thing I like about it is that it’s juxtaposed against some of the serious and weighty themes in your music…

I agree – I think it’s good to have the sad and the happy, the sweet and the sour all in the one mixed bag.

Is your approach to everything you do creatively sort of along those lines – are you constantly seeking a balance?

I don’t know – I think it really just depends on the song. I follow my intuition and try to take every song on its own merits and go with what feels right. But I think personally, when I write music I’m looking to engage people emotionally. But, my personality is pretty upbeat, and I’ve got a pretty dry sense of humour, so it’s not often I’d be able to say ‘yeah this song is about my girlfriend who tore my heart out’ or anything like that. It’s not like that at all.

Creating a musical persona seems like something you’ve done quite intentionally – was that your decision?

Yeah I made that decision before anything serious happened because I thought it would be beneficial, and I don’t know whether it has made a big difference to the way my music has been received really.

I went to school with Chet Faker who’s an artist doing really well in Australia, and he uses that alias, and it’s definitely a trend in music. It adds a shine to what you do I guess…

Have you had a structured approach to the way you’ve started to build a career, or are you just taking it as it comes?

I think in terms of the songwriting it was all in my bag before I got any managers or labels involved, which is good because I’d developed my sound and tone before anything really got started.

I think a calculated approach is essential – but that’s why you get managers because they work all that stuff out.

You work with Liberation Music in Australia, and Atlantic in the States is a more recent partnership which must be exciting?

Yeah it’s great. They’ve got so many more resources at their disposal so it gives you a leg-up to get your music out there.

Does that mean you’ll be heading over there soon to play some shows?

Yeah I’m gonna head over in a couple of days actually, to Canada and the States for about six weeks, and then I’m going to Seattle in November to record some songs.

Do you have a band?

Yeah I’m taking the band with me to the States and we’re opening for a guy called Tom Odell, and I think it’s going to be really cool.

Do you think you’ll expect to spend quite a lot of time away from Melbourne now, and does that depress you or excite you or both?

Yeah it’s both. I’m looking forward to heading off on my own around the world, but obviously I’ve got friends and family here and I love it, but it’s exciting to do new things. When you do go back home you treasure it, but it’s hard if you only go back for a few days at a time because you can’t get back into the swing of things and you feel sort of like you’re on borrowed time.

It would be nice to come back for a couple of weeks and chill out, and wait 'til I get sick of the place before I off again.

Also, people work pretty hard to build musical networks when they’re starting out, so it must be kind of hard to leave all those relationships behind?

I’ve kind of gotta go wherever the work is and try to make the best of it I can. There may be a time when everything has gone cold and I can spend as much time in Melbourne as I want, but I’m enjoying the opportunities while I’ve got them.

Are there any major things you’d like to achieve or venues you’d like to play?

Not really… my main focus is to try and create a collection of songs that are strong and true to my vision, and as long as they’re right, then everything else will fall into place.

When do you expect to have the album released?

Not 100% sure but it will be some time next year at some point.

And who will you be working with?

A guy called Ryan Hadlock who’s worked with Johnny Flynn, and the latest Lumineers album, and the Fleet Foxes.


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