All it took was a feeling; like the initial hit of caffeine pumping through your veins after your first sip of coffee. One taste of relaying his life through lyrics and Vance Joy was hooked. “I think it kind of really started when it was 2009 and I was playing football and doing this and that — kind of just at university, getting through and tipping away. I wasn’t setting the world on fire with my studies, but I was getting through, and I had wrote a song called “Wings of Change,” — the first song on my first album. I remember when I was playing it, I kind of had the verses … but I had not written songs that much,” he says.
“Then I went to show my mom and my sister, and the chorus line is: ‘I’ve been alone far too long/When are you coming home, my love?’ I remember that line — I remember singing that chorus and that line and they kind of collided and it just felt right — and getting kind of, like chills… like, ‘Whoa, what have I stumbled upon?’”
What he had “stumbled upon” was a knack for taking his own experiences and observations — of both the world and intricacies of the relationships around him — and turning them into songs that would spawn a Hot 100 charting track, tours with pop-icon Taylor Swift, and two full-length albums.
Yet, it’s that inceptive thrill of transforming these thoughts and feelings into songs that continues to drive Joy — almost chasing a high. “The most satisfying and greatest feeling are those moments after writing a song,” Joy divulges, later continuing, “I had always been one to be jumping at opportunities and this would become my thing; this special little shiny thing. I remember playing it any chance I got — really, anytime there was a guitar around. I would get so excited to play it and I would play it and feel like a rush of… kind of like a tingle or goosebumps when I would play it, just because I felt like powerful when I played it. Then once I had done that, I guess I was addicted and I wanted to recreate that feeling trying to find ways to get back to it — writing songs.”
A 30-year-old Australian native, Vance Joy was born James Keogh, growing up living a picturesque, if not relatively average life, in Melbourne with his parents and sister. He played football [and was quite good], learned guitar [also, quite good], and went on to university where he studied law. His family was, and remains, close; with Joy dedicating his track “Little Boy” to his relationship with his parents. He FaceTimes his sister and “core group” of supporters when he can while on tour, and frequently credits his family with influencing both his early introduction to music and sources of inspiration.
Around the age of 14, Joy’s father encouraged him to learn guitar, something he toyed with off and on until his eventual, fateful crafting of “Wings of Change”. His mother’s influence was a bit more fortuitous, and less obvious at the time. “My mom was an English teacher, so when I was in school she kind of would help me write essays” Joy explains, “and it kind of gave me an appreciation of the language since she would help me write a conclusion for an essay, I would be like, ‘Whoa…’ and it would kind of open up the book for me, and identify the emotional power of it and make it really clear for me. I think I want to write a song to be in an essay, or a line in a song that just has that force is my goal.”
His infatuation with literature has infiltrated every aspect of Joy’s musical endeavors: his moniker, Vance Joy, was conjured from the novel “Bliss” by Peter Carey, and his most recent album, Nation of Two, alludes to Kurt Vonnegut’s book of the same name (a fitting title that mirrors Joy’s examination of relationships within the album).
Books continue to act as a source of inspiration, with short lines and thoughts acting as catalysts, often evolving into larger themes. “I always like to have like a book on the go and to be writing down lines from the books I like. So every time I come across a nice line in a book I just type it into my phone. All those little lines gave me lines, time and after time, and I will have spots for them in songs. Either I put them in as they are or they will help trigger another idea. So I think that it is really important.”
These evolutions expand into the auxiliary and sonics of Joy’s sound as he crafts new music. “I feel like in Dream Your Life Away a main ingredient was my voice, very intimate and upfront and close,” Joy says. “It’s kind of acoustic with real instruments that draw you in, trying to provide a good foundation with the voice being the main thing to make clear and making each other cut through.”
Joy’s become known for his raw, yet smooth vocals, delivering a sense of passion and sincerity over a swirl of guitar and ukulele (think Ed Sheeran meets Jack Johnson meets Hozier). Entering the recording process for his sophomore record, Nation of Two, Joy aimed to progress his sound, while sticking to his roots and holding onto the authenticity that draws fans to him.
“We had learned a lot from making the first one, and playing the songs so much, that we discovered what kind of elements we like. We found out that we really like playing the horns from all the touring, so now we made sure to incorporate many different horn sections. It’s nice and adds some kind of larger feel to the sound,” Joy tells The Aquarian. “Also, I think just listening to music over the time and I think just naturally, you want to try things that are different and to go out and discover thing. With songwriting, at least, what sparked my interest in pursuing those songs, was I was playing a new rhythm and it made me think of new ways to put words together and then create a new rhythm in terms of language — all that stuff.”
Reflecting on it further, he adds, “I think it’s just an evolution, like if you do something once, you kind of feel when you’re writing, like, ‘Oh! That sounds new to me.’ Maybe I’ve never played these chords before or sung in this way and I think that is the main reason for changes. It’s not a massive change, it’s a gradual transition.”
The high that sparked Joy is now a full-fledge flame, it’s ignition which spread like wildfire, fueling him rather than engulfing him, leaving Joy reminscing on the nights it’s shone brightest.
“Two days ago we got to perform at the Red Rocks Amphitheater to a sold out crowd and that was crazy. I mean, I knew it was coming for a long time; like within the year I knew. It was penciled in that we were going to play Red Rocks a year from now. It has such a legacy and so much expectation around that show, so it was a relief to have it done, but it was breathtaking to be on that stage,” Joy says. “It was probably the biggest show I’ve played to as a headline show in America, so that was a highlight. Everyone was in such good spirits. It is such a rush to get on the stage, but once you’re off it’s like, ‘Was it good? Were we good?’ You are just riding an adrenaline rush, so when you get off you get to realize, ‘Hey, that was amazing!’”
So it goes…
Catch Vance Joy performing at the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn on June 14.