With his catchy single Riptide and crtitically acclaimed debut EP, God Loves You When You’re Dancing, James Keogh aka VANCE JOY became popular around the globe. We talked to him about hour long bus rides, Twin Peaks and his career in professional Australian football.
Hi James! I have heard that you recently finished your law studies in Australia and also almost became a professional Australian football player before Vance Joy was born. How did you still have time to develop as a musician?
Yes, I was doing a law degree after I finished highschool. Also, i was just really into playing australian football – so it’s been five years playing football and at the time, that was my main goal and interest. These were the things I was doing, but they were not incompatible with music. I have been writing songs too.
Can you recall a specific situation when you decided: Now I am going to be a musician?
In 2009 I wrote a song called Winds of Change that turned out to be better than any other song I have been writing up to that point. I was like: “Wow, this is a decent song – I guess I just keep trying to do this.” It was almost like a click in my mind. Up to that point I haven’t really written songs that were any good to me. But after that I was more focused on songwriting. I finished my law studies and always tried to write songs in the background. It was my main passion from there.
And you were lucky. You signed a 5 album deal at Atlantic Records. Earning a law degree – are you giving your label and team a hard time reading and bargaining about every contract?
Not really – I didn’t have a position of power in there, I was just starting, and especially when you don’t have an established career you can not bargain that much and have to trust the people. I don’t like contracts anyway, even if I did law – contracts are inches big, and sometimes they are almost intentionally made boring so you can’t understand them. Even for me they are sometimes just incomprehensable.
It seems that you have never left “the road” this year. Can you tell me a bit your tours?
Yes – I haven’t really been home since may. It’s been a really busy year. I got a thicker skin about it, I am now used to being on the road. I went to America for two months, to support a girl called Lissie. Then I came home and supported BERNARD FANNING for his Australia tour. The other support were BIGGER SCARY, a band I have always really liked from Australia. I got to travel around with them in a van, and they are so lovely. Then again I went to Canada and the US to support TOM ODELL.
When you are on tour – are you more of a quiet JÓNSI from SIGUR RÓS or a daredevil Gallagher?
(laughs) I am not the party guy. Probably more quiet. I went out yesterday because I have some friends in London, and we had drinks in Bethnal Green which was nice. I am definitely not a rockstar – but I think also not as sensitive as JÓNSI seems to be.
There are plenty hour-long car rides and off-days next to soundchecks, interviews and gigs. How do you kill your time?
Sometimes it is almost the highlight of the day to sit down, drink coffee and read a book. I am reading Stephen King right now. He has a nice writing style and especially on the tour bus you can’t think too hard. Also I watch Twin Peaks – have you seen that? It’s good! Season one is amazing. Season two has 20 Episodes, I have watched the first 10 Episodes of it and they perfectly closed the story, but then there is the other 10 Episodes that just killed it. What the hell? Sometimes, like in Canada, we find cool places where we do stuff like playing minigolf. If you have your eyes open you will find entertaining things everywhere, and I try to experience as much as I can.
Imagine you will play a headline show infront of 10.000 people. Who would you pick as a support?
There is a singer from Australia called Bored Nothing. His sound is kind of grungy and really good. I think he is a pretty small act. But I like the Idea having some band that I really like, and even if nobody knows them, bring them on and say: ‘Listen to this, this is sick!’
Your songs deal with the topic of unreturned love a lot. Will the future songs be a bit more light-hearted, also metaphorically speaking?
Yes, there is a couple ones that are more generally, I sometimes don’t even know what they are about. Sometimes it is not personal, it ist just something that I have been influenced by. There is a film that I love, Infamous that is about Truman Capote. Not the popular one with Philip Seymour Hoffman but it came out at the same time so it didn’t get so much attention. There are some lines that I took out of the film, when they talked about the feeling when you are feeling in control, but then the wind changes and you are not. These lines are not me, but I like the meaning of them.
What does hope mean to you? What does passion mean to you?
I think passion is just right. When we are recording songs, i am so passionate about them. I care a lot about making the best I can do, I am sometimes furious and always very serious about it. Many people say: Thats such a fun job, don’t you love it? And I definitely do. But at the same time, when it comes down to something, you are so serious about it because you need this project to work. If I have the feeling of wanting to protect something – that is me being passionate.