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Vance Joy interview

The Australian singer-songwriter previews his forthcoming album Nation of Two.

Vance Joy
Credit: Atlantic Records

Australia’s Vance Joy is one of the biggest singer-songwriters around today, racking up over two million worldwide sales of his debut album Dream Your Life Away (including 60,000 in the UK), and over six million sales of his breakthrough single Riptide.

He’s now about to release the follow-up, Nation of Two, which is due out on 23rd February.

Ahead of the new album’s release, I caught up with Vance for a chat. Read on to find out more about the new record, making the video for his single Going Home, and writing on the road.

Tell us a bit more about the new album…

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Yeah, so the album’s called Nation of Two and comes out on the 23rd February. I’m looking forward to it – I guess when I had one album done I felt awesome, but also after about a year of having an album out my brain was already thinking about a second album and how it would be a really nice and satisfying thing to have made two albums that I feel good about. I guess you do need to do a second one just to give yourself that sense of ‘oh, maybe I’m a bit more established now I’ve been around to make two whole albums, not just one’. I know that sounds silly but a lot of bands that I admire have some longevity, so continuing and making a second album and maintaining things was a big goal.

You wrote a lot of the album whilst on the road – how much of an influence did that have?

When I was on the road I was always trying to collect ideas and I had a lot of downtime, especially in 2015 when we were opening up for Taylor Swift, and then at the start of 2016 we had another headlining tour in America. So that time kind of flew by and then I found when I was off the road at the start of 2016 it was like ‘when is your next album coming out?’ And I was like, ‘well, I’ve got one or two songs written, but…’ So that was a bit daunting. But I found that I was collecting ideas and little parts of songs, it was just that they hadn’t been fully formed yet, and so when I got off the road I was like, ‘cool, I’ve got like 12 kind of disparate parts’ and I didn’t know exactly how I could glue all those bits together into songs and craft them into songs. So I didn’t complete that many songs when I was on the road, but I guess every now and then I’d have a little spark and an idea, and at least I was able to capture a scene of a song. So that was the way I found writing on the road.

What did you learn from touring?

You definitely learn how to pack your suitcase – try and keep it as light as possible, which is an actual tangible thing. But I think… I’ve definitely learned little things about playing in a band. You get better at doing that because you play so many shows and you can maybe play in time better, and as a band you play hundreds of shows together. And then eventually I felt like my family hadn’t seen me play for a while, and we played recently in Melbourne and they were like, ‘you guys are tight’. And we were like, ‘oh, we didn’t know if we were playing well tonight’ and they went ‘no, you’re way tighter’.

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I think that is inevitable when you play so many shows – over time it’s like you probably get much more comfortable playing but also better at sharing the stage with other musicians. So that was good. I think I learned that. And then when I was opening for Taylor Swift I think that playing that and opening to her crowd demanded a bit of crowd interaction, and that was something I had never really been used to even attempting. So stuff like talking to the crowd, saying hi and being a bit more overtly open. That was something that I hadn’t done before, I was more like looking at my feet and singing, and then I was like ‘oh yeah’. And I think it was something that was kind of demanded by opening those shows for her, so that was another learning process.

Did you have any particular places that you really liked – either venues you played in or cities or countries you’ve visited?

Yeah, there’s lots of places that have stuck out to me. I think I’ve loved generally touring in Europe because it’s such a contrast to Australia and America. I think playing Dublin was great and going out at night and having beers with the guys and the team. Dublin was really fun. And then just playing in all these old cities of Europe, like Amsterdam and places in Germany – it’s so varied and there’s just so much history and just different cultures. So that’s awesome. I haven’t done heaps of it. But then in America I guess you get familiar with travelling and doing the circuit quite a few times. I love San Francisco, I love Chicago, I love parts of New York and LA… And even little cities, you might know a good coffee shop or a good Italian restaurant. Like if I think of Columbus, Ohio, I like a good restaurant there and I like a good coffee shop there. You have some points of reference. You don’t necessarily get to do full travelling or like you’re living in a place, but you are kind of connecting the dots on the map which is fun. And London’s awesome!

Do you find that you get different audience reactions in different countries?

Definitely. It’s funny how different places have a different atmosphere and a different kind of collective feeling among crowds. Like Melbourne crowds are a bit more subdued, but they still engage – it’s just harder to tell if they’re having a great time. And then if you go to Montreal people really are much louder and more enthusiastic. Their enjoyment is way more on the surface, screaming the lyrics back to you, which is such a nice thing. It’s electrifying. And then like Sao Paulo – I played there for Lollapalooza South America and it was like, ‘Jesus, you guys are like fully up and just loving it’. They were so enthusiastic, it was amazing. But both those situations are good, be it playing to a subdued crowd or a really excited crowd – it’s just interesting that way that every place has a different feeling.

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Do you have a favourite song on the album? Were there any songs that were particularly easy or difficult to write?

I guess I’ve got a couple of favourites. I really like the songs I’m With You and Little Boy. It’s funny – it’s hard to choose a favourite but those ones are really special to me. And then there’s something more acoustic and stripped-back and Little Boy has tons of childhood stories, so to put something like that down in a song and have it documented is just ‘ah, I got a song out of that memory’. And then I’m With You is just a nice love song, kind of ballad which is… I feel like when I’ve played the album to people that’s what they’ve gone back to and said they like that song, which has made me feel really good about that song. And then the easiest – I don’t think there was anything that was too easy. Little Boy was easy; it came pretty quickly. The song Bonnie and Clyde came quite easily together, and then the final song on the album, a song called Where We Start. I wrote that pretty much almost in one sitting – I just was playing some strange little banjo-y instrument and played the riff and that kind of dictated the melody, and then the next part of the song kind of flowed really naturally and I was like, ‘whoa’. And the lyrics flowed naturally and I was like, ‘whoa!’ It’s such a nice feeling when that happens, and it’s kind of like you can never make that happen; it just takes you by surprise.

What’s the audience reaction been like to the new songs when you’ve played them live?

It’s been good. There’s some upbeat songs like Lay It on Me, so when I play that live to small crowds or even at festivals it’s gotten a clearer enthusiasm. But then there’s some slower songs that when I’ve played those, I find that every now and then I look in the crowd and I haven’t released it and I can see someone who’s singing the lyrics back to me. That is really encouraging. It might just be a couple of faces but it’s like, ‘oh, they’ve sought this song out and somehow they’ve found the lyrics’, so I guess that counts just as much.

You’ve just released the video for your new single We’re Going Home – can you tell us more about those?

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I wrote We’re Going Home in 2015 – I was in the middle of being on tour opening for Taylor Swift and that was a long time away from home. And that song is just… I like the kind of triumphant, uplifting feel about it. It feels kind of epic. I remember I had the verses and choruses done but I didn’t have a bridge for the song, and in the middle of being on tour I just had this bridge that was kind of lying around or this idea, and it fitted just perfectly in that spot and it kind of took the song to a better place. I was really like, ‘oh, this is changing the whole song – it’s been lifted by that’ and I was really excited by that song.

And the film clip – I was lucky, I got to work with a director named Mimi Cave. I love her work and she’s such a talented filmmaker but she’s also a really talented dancer. And so she has connections in choreography and the choreography in that film is really beautiful. So it’s kind of a mixture of dance and then also sequences of memories. I just liked her whole take on the idea of home and it potentially being memories. I thought it was a very graceful clip.

Is that piecing songs together typical of how you write?

I think it’s typical – even if I wasn’t away all the time I think I would still be just taking little snippets from things and overhearing things or reading something or overhearing something in a film and putting it down in my phone. So I think those things would be similar. I think that’s really been a pretty consistent theme with my songwriting. If I was at home I’d probably be noodling around on the guitar a bit more and maybe just… you have those empty moments where you think ‘ah, I’ll pick this up and experiment’. So I don’t know. I think it was Sting who was talking about how songwriting is seasonal and how there’s a season for writing songs and there’s a season you’re in a mode when you’re touring. Not that those aren’t seasons that we’ve created but I guess your mind adapts to those changes. So at the moment I’m promoting and getting ready to go on tour and it’s a different mental state to what happens when you finally get off the road and you think, ‘oh jeez, I’d better write songs now’.

Do you ever get writer’s block?

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I think you can be a bit blocked or even… I’m not sure. I guess the season thing can help explain why sometimes you try and write songs and it’s not happening. It’s always very welcome when a song comes along, because you don’t really know when the next one’s coming. It’s like you can’t force it too hard. So you might have a period where you haven’t written a good song or haven’t even written a song that is worthwhile in four or five months or even longer, and you’re like, ‘do I have writer’s block?’ I don’t know. And that just kind of keeps you and sustains you and makes you feel like you actually can do it, because you can lose faith if you don’t have a breakthrough every now and then.

You mentioned you’re getting ready to go out on tour – what can we expect from that?

I think there’ll be a bunch of new songs that will add to the set, so it’ll be a mixture of the old stuff off my first album and the new album. I think it’ll be kind of like intimate shows – there’ll be a couple of slightly bigger shows, but I think it’ll be just me and my band. There’s about six of us on stage – a couple of horns players, bass, keys and drums. So yeah, I think it’s gonna be really fun. It’s a similar show to the one we were playing around America just recently and I think we were hitting our stride by the end. And we’ll be fresh because we’ve just been on holiday. We haven’t played in Europe for ages so we’ll be fresh in a lot of ways.

If you had a career bucket list, what would be on that?

Oh, jeez! I feel like it’s funny because you get to do things you never would have expected. I got to play at Hyde Park two years ago which was amazing, and I got to play at the Australian Rules football grand final, opening up. It was me and a band called The Living End and then Sting. So that was huge arena, huge stadium packed full of people and then got to watch the game afterwards. So that was a bucket list moment. I don’t know what the bucket lists are now. My bucket lists are less to do with music and more… With music it would be cool to keep progressing in some way – have songs that I really love and that people really love and to do all that stuff that I guess that’s what you aim for. And then it’d be cool to tour around the world extensively and see maybe parts that I’ve never been to, like going to Japan or back to South America, and some of those places that aren’t always the first stops. And then in my life I’d like to go to some of those places as well but just for holidays.

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Is there anybody you’re listening to that you think our readers should know about?

You guys probably know about her but Jillian Jacqueline – she’s awesome. For people who haven’t heard she’s definitely worth listening to and that song LA Dreams is awesome. And this band from Australia called Big Scary, which I think people might not know much about but they’re amazing. Those two are pretty cool.

What’s next for you?

The first part of this year’s gonna be busy with touring, then after that we’re gonna be going to America for a few months I think and playing some festivals, and back to Australia for a bit. I think it’s gonna be mostly touring all year. So I think it’s bit by bit, y’know? It’s just too much to try and think about it all at once, so I think I just take it bit by bit, show by show, tour by tour and reflect on it at the end of the year. But I think it’s gonna be a good year and in the immediate future I’m looking forward to people listening to the album and getting an idea of how they respond.

Vance Joy releases his new album Nation of Two on 23rd February 2018. Watch the video for Going Home below:

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