JOY ACROSS THE WORLD
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
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’.