James Keogh is a pretty laid-back sort of guy, but even he ad­mits he was blown away by the world­wide suc­cess of his hit Rip­tide. But he in­sists it’s busi­ness as usual and he’s just happy to go with the flow

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Whether it’s record­ing in a tree house or hear­ing his hit Rip­tide per­formed in Gaelic on Ir­ish tele­vi­sion, James Keogh takes life as folk-pop star Vance Joy one sur­prise at a time.

The 26-year-old for­mer VFL foot­baller and for­mer law stu­dent con­tin­ues to go with the flow.

While Rip­tide is re­spon­si­ble for his in­stant, global suc­cess, the Mel­bourne mu­si­cian’s ap­peal goes deeper than a jaunty ukulele an­them full of ran­dom im­agery.

Last year, Keogh show­cased his depth when he re­leased his de­but al­bum, Dream Your Life Away.

There’s lit­tle sur­prise that the al­bum fea­tures Rip­tide, which won the Triple J Hottest 100 in 2013 and has sold five­times plat­inum in Australia.

“IT seems to be trav­el­ling the world of its own ac­cord,” Keogh says of the up­beat tune.

“I love hear­ing sto­ries from kids who ex­plain how their teach­ers have taught it to them at school, or some­one tells me they heard it played by a busker in Spain.”

He ad­mits he did worry for a while there that Rip­tide could over­shadow his mu­sic ca­reer.

“I think I guess my game plan is just to keep writ­ing songs I’m happy with and kind of em­bed it ( Rip­tide) in a big se­ries of songs,” he says.

But the song re­ally has taken on a life of its own. Re­cently, 168 stu­dents from an Ir­ish-speak­ing col­lege in Ire­land per­formed a ver­sion of it in Gaelic on Ir­ish TV.

“I love it – I think it’s so amaz­ing,” he says of the Ir­ish ver­sion.

He may not have pre­dicted the song’s world­wide reach and catch­i­ness, but Keogh knew when he wrote Rip­tide he was on to some­thing.

“I think I re­alised it had some spe­cial abil­ity, or some sort of qual­ity,” he says.

“It fit to­gether re­ally nicely ... like fin­ish­ing a puz­zle or some­thing or crack­ing a code.”

Vance Joy au­di­ences are evenly split down gen­der lines, women drawn to his open­hearted lyrics and men pick­ing up tips on how to tap into that sen­si­tive fre­quency.

En­com­pass­ing songs writ­ten five years ago (opener Winds of Change), Keogh’s much-an­tic­i­pated de­but al­bum epit­o­mises the mu­sic biz cliche that you’ve got your whole life to write your first al­bum.

“It’s true,” Keogh says. “I've been living with those songs for a long time.

“When I came to as­sem­ble the songs (for Dream Your Life Away), I had some that were like old clothes in the wardrobe – the most familiar, worn-in songs – but I still had to add an­other six or seven that I hadn’t even writ­ten.”

Dream Your Life Away fea­tures sev­eral songs that would push any singer, in­clud­ing plenty of falsetto and al­most yo­delling on Red Eye.

Keogh says that bal­lad, about a long-dis­tance love af­fair, was semi­au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal.

The singer draws on lit­er­a­ture, films and his favourite mu­sic to “fill those spa­ces where your own story might not work”.

The al­bum, which takes its ti­tle from John Len­non’s Watch­ing the Wheels, drops in ref­er­ences to W.B. Yeats, Ernest Hem­ing­way and Tru­man Capote along­side Ray Charles’ Ge­or­gia on My Mind.

“With­out be­ing too con­scious of it, you just ab­sorb as much good cre­ative ma­te­rial as you can and then it comes in handy,” Keogh says. “It adds to the tool­kit.” Keogh says his game plan is to con­tinue to go with that flow.

“I don't want to look too far ahead,” he says.

“I do it a day at a time.”


James Keogh, bet­ter known as Vance Joy, hap­pily de­scribes some of his songs as ‘like old clothes in the wardrobe’.

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