JUMPING FOR JOY
Vance Joy singer James Keogh, who help will bring in the New Year at Byron Bay’s Falls Festival next week, is happy to admit he gains much inspiration from his family when it comes to creating catchy lyrics
AUSSIE SINGER VANCE JOY BRINGS IN THE NEW YEAR AT BYRON BAY'S FALLS FESTIVAL
Back when Vance Joy was James Keogh and had yet to write Riptide, his mum used to help him sum up essays in high school and uni, where he was doing a law degree.
Post Riptide and with that law degree jettisoned, James Keogh is now Vance Joy but still getting assistance from his mum – the title of new single, Mess Is Mine, came from her after she looked at the lyrics her son had cobbled together.
“She just came out with, ‘You still make sense to me, your mess is mine’,” Keogh explains. “She’d always come up with a conclusion line when I was writing essays but she hasn’t produced the goods recently because I’ve been away so much. But that was a really good line.”
Family members have had other input into Keogh’s debut album, Dream Your Life Away. His Aunt Shari always used the phrase “left-hand man” – it seeped by osmosis into being a key line in the chorus of Riptide. A phrase he read on his uncle’s Facebook page also got recycled in new song My Kind Of Man.
“Mum and Dad pointed out Grant was quoting a Lynyrd Skynyrd song called Simple Man. So I looked it up on YouTube and yep, there were all the lyrics. So I massaged it to a point where, legally, it’s not the same song lyrically. My family have been very helpful – I have to stay friends on Facebook just for the potential lyrical ideas.”
Keogh started making music in 2006 – he remembers jamming Georgia with high school mate Nick Murphy, who’d also find success with a fictional name, Chet Faker. Murphy helped out recording early versions of the first Vance Joy songs Winds Of Change and From Afar.
“We’re good mates,” Keogh says. “When I saw him do so well, it helped me realise I could do it, too. You meet people who turn you on creatively.”
After that, there was a Bloc Party-inspired band called Hypersonique (Keogh insists their song Disco stands the test of time) as well as playing in the VFL for the Coburg Tigers (Richmond’s reserve team), that law degree and a stint as a gardener.
“I used to love the 10am morning teas,” he says. “And I know a lot of the botanical names of plants now.”
The first song Keogh wrote where he found his sound, Winds of Change, tellingly opens Dream Your Life Away. However, it was a song he spent $7000 making, Riptide, that would change his life. He and his ukulele have now spent more than 20 months promoting Riptide around the world, taking him everywhere from a pizza restaurant in the Melbourne CBD to a gun shop in Spokane, Washington, as well as to Glastonbury, Lollapalooza and Splendour In the Grass.
Flying into the black after that initial investment, Riptide has now sold 1 million copies and is now certified triple platinum in Australia. It hit the Top 10 in the UK and is at No. 61 in the US this week, where it’s the most-played song on alternative radio. It’s also been “synched” on TV ads.
“I feel very strongly backing myself on that,” he says. “That’s how artists make money these days. Of course, there’s people who’d want me to write 20 more Riptides, that’s the dream scenario commercially. But … that’s not who I am.”
Riptide’s staggered success meant Keogh had longer to work on his debut album.
“I never want to be that guy who says: ‘I don’t want to play Riptide any more’. I knew it was special but I don’t think it’s the pinnacle of my songwriting. Exploding with a monster song is a big thing to follow up.” Vance Joy, Falls Festival, North Byron Parklands, December 30 to January 3.
Vance Joy plays Falls Festival on January 1.