Interview: Vance Joy

Melbourne-born James Keogh, better known by moniker Vance Joy, took the world by storm in 2013 with the release of his unforgettable, ukelele-driven love song ‘Riptide’. The track became the anthem of every Australian’s summer when it placed first on the triple j Hottest 100 that year. Far from slowing down, Keogh’s debut album Dream Your Life Away went on to sell close to two million copies while ‘Riptide’ became the longest-charting song in ARIA Chart history by 2015.

After almost three years of global touring, Keogh released his sophomore album Nation of Two in February of this year. Offering up stunning vocal melodies, thoughtful lyrics and lush instrumentation, it’s safe to say that the now-global superstar is sounding better than ever.

We caught up with Keogh in a rare moment of downtime to chat about the album and his upcoming roster of Australian and international shows. Tickets to one of his two September shows in Adelaide have already sold out, so make sure to book quickly while you still have a chance!

So you’ve recently come off the back of the intimate We’re Going Home tour. Can you tell me a bit about those shows and the concept behind them?

The thought was to do something special around the time of the album release. [My managers] had a friend who has a space, a little venue in Venice Beach in LA and it’s called Winston House. They have intimate shows. [We did] it in a few different cities, the main places where there are people who are listening to my music. You could buy tickets and the funds from that went to the Polished Man charity campaign.

The other tickets were given to people who just wrote in and explained why they wanted to come. They were really lovely letters from people, so we had a lot to choose from.

I really enjoyed how low-key it was. It can be really good to make you feel comfortable when you’re playing the new songs. We did it at AirBnBs, so it was just at someone’s house. I would come out, play a couple of songs from the album. I really liked it — it was something I’ve never done before at that level. There was no barrier between me and the people watching.

Tell me about the creation behind Nation of Two. How did it come into its final form after your brainstorming and writing period?

It took a while. There was a lot of brainstorming and writing different pieces when I was touring. I was touring all of 2015 and the start of 2016 and so I had a bunch of ideas accumulated, but I hadn’t made any of the connections to turn those into songs.

I was trying to shake things up a bit, explore opportunities to work with other people and other songwriters and producers. I’d spend a month or two in Melbourne and then go over to Seattle or LA, and it was a mixture of recording ideas that I’d written. I’d usually go over there with maybe one or two songs at a time and record those over a week.

It was happening in fits and starts. It was a really gradual, chipping away at it kind of process. It’s nice to come to the end of all that work and actually come out with ten or eleven songs you really like, so hopefully I can replicate that in the future.

Did you find that this time around there was a bit more pressure to produce something that would be on par with your first album? 

I’m glad that it’s over now. The pressure was there, but it was like feeling like I needed to write songs and I didn’t know when they were going to come about. It would’ve been hard to put pressure on myself by thinking, “this song has to be this, has to be as good as this or as big as this”.

So I’m glad that that somehow didn’t affect things too much. There’s always a bit of pressure but maybe pressure is good to some to degree, if you can find a way to put it in its right compartment.

I’ve read bits and pieces about the name of the album, but I’d love to hear your thoughts behind the meaning of the name Nation of Two. 

It was around September last year and I knew that I had to come up with an album title. I had working titles that sucked and I didn’t know what to do with them. I was looking through my notes and I’d written ‘nation of two’.

It’s from a book of his called Mother Night and the characters are lovers and their whole world revolves around each other, or at least they make sense of their world through their relationship. The extended quote is something about their world begins and ends in bed, or wherever they are [together]. I like that idea, and the songs that I had, there were a lot of relationships between people. It made sense to me. I thought it was a nice way of uniting it all.

What piece of advice would you pass on to Australian musos hoping to make a career doing what they love?

I think it’s good to keep honing your craft, listening to and being inspired by songs. Just getting out there, giving it a go and hopefully you get that feedback you need, that encouragement from people listening to your music and smiling. Their warm response can help give you motivation to keep going.

Yeah, just honing your craft. It’s a nice thing to have, that interest in music and songwriting and if you have that, if you just do it because you’re interested, I think you’re on the right track.

Purchase your tickets to Vance Joy’s ‘Nation of Two World Tour’ show here. He’ll be playing in Adelaide on September 17 and 18 at Thebarton Theatre.

Image by Justin Bettman. 

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