“Mum’s like my ghost­writer”

Tay­lor Swift took him on tour with her. Ju­lia Roberts is a fan. So for mu­si­cian Vance Joy, the re­lent­less na­ture of life on the road is un­doubt­edly pay­ing off

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy TIM HUNTER Styling GEMMA KEIL In­ter­view CAMERON ADAMS

Aus­tralian singer/song­writer Vance Joy tells Stel­lar how his fam­ily help him stay grounded as he rides the rip­tide of in­ter­na­tional suc­cess.

“Your hap­pi­ness can get tied in with where your song might be on a chart”

How do you de­com­press af­ter sell­ing two mil­lion copies of your de­but al­bum and tak­ing it on tour for more than two years? If you’re Mel­bourne singer/ song­writer Vance Joy, you hit the road again – atop your trusty skate­board.

The 30-year-old singer, born James Keogh, dis­cov­ered the thrill of ol­lies and heelflips at the start of 2016 while knee-deep in global travel as he shared his first re­lease Dream Your Life Away with fans in con­cert.

It may have hor­ri­fied his man­age­ment – Ed Sheeran had to can­cel shows af­ter fall­ing off his bike and break­ing both arms last Oc­to­ber – but Joy re­mains proudly ac­ci­dent­free. When he meets with Stel­lar, he rolls up his jeans to ex­pose his only bat­tle scars: some gnarly scabs on his lower leg. “I do get a real sense of sat­is­fac­tion do­ing some­thing right on a skate­board. I spent most of my time off af­ter the last al­bum skate­board­ing and read­ing books.” Still, Joy ad­mits, “If you’re good at skate­board­ing, I don’t think the beat-up shins re­ally hap­pen. I’m hop­ing I can get bet­ter for the next 15 years and still be ol­ly­ing, and have a lit­tle ar­ray of tricks I can do when I’m 45.”

A decade ago, he was play­ing Aussie Rules for VFL club Coburg while fin­ish­ing a law de­gree and do­ing land­scap­ing to pay the bills. He was also in an in­die rock band called Hyper­son­ique. By 2008, he had writ­ten the first ver­sion of a lit­tle song called ‘Rip­tide’, be­fore shelv­ing it for four years. Then he de­cided he would pur­sue a solo ca­reer, along with a more laid-back sound. By then he was trad­ing un­der his adopted name. “Keogh is too hard to pro­nounce,” he says. “Peo­ple call it ‘Cough’ or ‘Kee- ogg’.”

He would end up pay­ing just $700 to record ‘Rip­tide’. The ukulele-fu­elled tune swiftly scored him an in­ter­na­tional record deal with At­lantic Records and se­duced the world, peak­ing at num­ber 30 in the US, num­ber 10 in the UK and num­ber six in Aus­tralia, where it topped Triple J’s Hottest 100 in 2013. Over two years of in­tense pro­mo­tion, he sang it ev­ery­where from the AFL Grand Fi­nal to Amer­i­can Idol. The song can now claim sales of more than six mil­lion copies world­wide, Youtube views of more than 200 mil­lion and Spo­tify streams of around 550 mil­lion. That’s an in­cred­i­ble re­turn on in­vest­ment for a song from such hum­ble be­gin­nings. “The first time I put ‘Rip­tide’ up on Face­book, I was look­ing by the hour to see how many peo­ple liked it. I re­mem­ber be­ing so stoked when it got to 100 likes,” Joy re­calls.

Still, he in­sists, “‘Rip­tide’ is an ano­maly. That song opened me up to a very broad au­di­ence. It’s hard not to look at things like itunes charts; it can do your head in. You think you’re su­per­fi­cial car­ing about rank­ings, but like it or not there’s a cer­tain com­pet­i­tive­ness that comes out when you start put­ting your­self on a list.

“Your hap­pi­ness can get tied in with where your song might be on a chart. But you can al­ways find a fig­ure that will give you some en­cour­age­ment. If it’s not in a chart, it might have been streamed a mil­lion times. Sweet. You sold out a show yes­ter­day? Awe­some. You can al­ways find the right data!” Con­cerns it would be­come an al­ba­tross were scup­pered by a string of hits that fol­lowed and, to some de­gree, Joy’s ef­fec­tive­ness at put­ting him­self out there. All that tour­ing built him an in­ter­na­tional fol­low­ing; he will play this April’s Coachella fes­ti­val in Palm Springs, his sec­ond time there. Last year, he was sup­posed to have his 30th birth­day off. In­stead he per­formed at Hamish and Andy’s farewell con­cert.

“When you’re in the thick of it, you just keep your head down and chip away,” he rea­sons. “All the gigs and in­ter­views and ra­dio and TV shows are the things that al­low you to make an im­pres­sion. The hus­tle is part of the gig. But you think you’re a hard worker, then you look at some­one like Ed Sheeran

who plays a bil­lion gigs and is al­ways writ­ing songs. And some­one like Paul Mccart­ney, the great­est ever, and you hear how he’s al­ways re­hears­ing be­fore a show. And Tay­lor Swift, who tours the world and writes a new al­bum and is al­ways so pro­duc­tive. It’s hard to fathom, but it makes you think that’s where the stan­dard is. It’s good to have those sto­ries float­ing around – they make you work hard and not get too com­pla­cent.”

Joy was hand-picked to open for Swift on her 1989 tour af­ter she heard ‘Rip­tide’ and then cov­ered the song for UK ra­dio. “I was see­ing some­one at the top of her game ev­ery night. It’s next level with Tay­lor,” he says of their time to­gether on the road.

On one of the US Swift dates, Joy was told a fan in the au­di­ence wanted to meet him. It was Ju­lia Roberts.

“I had to take a mo­ment,” he ad­mits. “But I met Ju­lia and her kids, and she said she lis­tened to ‘Rip­tide’ in the morn­ings. That was pretty cool. That was a good story to tell my par­ents. And my par­ents got to meet Tay­lor Swift in Mel­bourne. That was Tay­lor be­ing su­per-gen­er­ous, she of­fered to say hello to them. Then I was watch­ing Tay­lor Swift play side of stage with my mum and my best friends. These are not nor­mal sit­u­a­tions!”

Joy’s mother takes a spe­cial in­volve­ment in his mu­sic – she’s given him lyri­cal ideas that ended up in his sin­gle ‘Mess Is Mine’ as well as a new song called ‘Alone With Me’, which fea­tures on his sec­ond al­bum, Na­tion Of Two. “Mum’s al­ways there to sug­gest tweaks and ideas to my lyrics. She’s like my ghost­writer.”

Joy will tour his al­bum in­ter­na­tion­ally for the next 18 months to two years. Be­ing in de­mand all over the world is the dream of any mu­si­cian (es­pe­cially an Aus­tralian one), but the travel means that while Joy’s songs are filled with ro­mance, the man him­self re­mains sin­gle. And it’s in his lyrics where some of his most mem­o­rable en­coun­ters play out.

One new song delves into a semi­fic­tional on-the-road ro­mance. “When you’re on the road, you def­i­nitely meet peo­ple you think are amaz­ing,” says Joy. “You might only spend a small amount of time with them, go to din­ner, think, ‘ This per­son is awe­some,’ and then it’s a case of, ‘OK, see you in seven months.’ In the song, the per­son doesn’t stay on the road, he goes and chases it down. I’m not at the ‘OK, tour is over’ stage. I’m more like, ‘Ac­tu­ally… I have to go on tour for three months now.’

“The song is about hav­ing a crush. I have crushes all the time on the road. I might get a crush on the per­son in­ter­view­ing me. They’re the peo­ple you’re sur­rounded by on the road: fleet­ing as­so­ci­a­tions and con­nec­tions.”

Joy went to school in Toorak with fel­low Mel­bourne muso

“I was watch­ing Tay­lor Swift side of stage with Mum and my friends. These are not nor­mal sit­u­a­tions”

Nick Mur­phy, aka Chet Faker, who is now based in New York. But he has so far avoided mov­ing to the US; in fact, he took all of Jan­uary off in Mel­bourne.

“I like the smell of the air in Aus­tralia. It feels cleaner and qui­eter and with more space. Even if I met some­one from over­seas and was in a com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ship, I wouldn’t want to not be in Mel­bourne for sum­mer and Christ­mas.”

An­other mea­sure of Joy’s suc­cess? Cov­ers of his songs by fans lit­ter Youtube, and JB Hi-fi now stocks ukule­les. “I meet a lot of kids who say I’m the rea­son they started to learn to play gui­tar or the ukulele. That’s awe­some,” he laughs. “That’s how I learnt to play gui­tar – play­ing songs I liked by other peo­ple. I still do it now. When I hear a song I like, I try to fig­ure out the riff. It’s flat­ter­ing peo­ple are try­ing to work out my tech­nique. Mu­sic is such a life­long gift to give. To be able to con­trib­ute to that is very cool.” Na­tion Of Two is re­leased on Fe­bru­ary 23.

“A lot of kids say I’m the rea­son they started to learn to play gui­tar or the ukulele. That’s awe­some. Mu­sic is such a life­long gift to give”

(from top left) Vance Joy per­form­ing at a mu­sic fes­ti­val in Austin, Texas in 2017; Joy gifted Tay­lor Swift a cus­tom Ken Done paint­ing to thank her for choos­ing him as her 1989 al­bum tour sup­port act; and as pho­tographed for Stel­lar.

VANCE WEARS (op­po­site and left) Levi’s jacket and jeans, levis.com.au; G-star RAW T-shirt, g-star.com; R.M. Wil­liams boots, rmwilliams.com.au

VANCE WEARS Bas­sike jacket, T-shirt and pants, bas­sike.com; G-star RAW boots, g-star.com

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