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Vance_Joy--5Following his meteoric rise with his hit single ‘Riptide’, Vance Joy will release his debut album ‘Dream Your Life Away’ on September 5th. Vance found some time in his busy schedule to chat with Greg Phillips about the album.

Turn on the television and you’ll struggle not to hear Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’ backing some kind of advertising campaign for a product or TV show. The song is fast approaching one million single sales globally, 325,000 of those in Australia. UK’s influential publication, The Independent included Vance in their Glastonbury Festival list of 5 “Best bands to see that may have slipped your radar”. That’s all before the young singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has even released his debut album. That happens on September 5th and it’s titled “Dream Your Life Away”.

Laying down piano track in New York

Born and bred in Melbourne as James Keogh, he was a competitive footballer with aspirations of making it to the big league. For the competitive music world, the promising artist decided he required a pseudonym to fully realise his new dreams.
“I really wanted one,” he says of the decision to acquire a stage name. “it’s hard to know exactly why. It felt right, like a creative decision that you would make … you know, do I like my album cover? Like choosing the font … this doesn’t look right, that doesn’t look right. It comes down to that  creative intuition you’ve got about the direction you want to move in. I also didn’t want it to be James Keogh. I wanted to attach some kind of … not mystery… just more that I wanted to make a serious entry into the music world and have a whole kind of package almost … create an identity.”

While the new album doesn’t stray too far from the musical flavours of Joy’s EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing, it is certainly a major progression. The instrumentation is richer, the production more elaborate and lyrically, it’s more refined. As for the album’s themes, Vance sees a few. “They are all probably love songs I think,” he says to begin with. “I think you can pick up a similar strand in the song ‘Wasted Time’ and ‘Red Eye’ of kind of a down and out dude. Like, don’t waste your time on me kind of thing. ‘Red Eye’ is likening the main protagonist to a dog and trusting his nose. A sympathetic character trying his best, doing the best that he can. I guess there’s that outsider feeling. ‘Winds of Change’ is about being separated and when are you coming home, so there’s a melancholy thing in those songs and also being on the outside. Then they’re all kind of stuck together because they have been produced in a similar fashion.”

‘Dream Your Life Away’ was recorded in the US and produced by Ryan Hadlock, who has worked with acts such as Foo Fighters, Gossip, and The Lumineers. The instrumentation used and warm production values implemented have given the album an atmosphere which is a cross between Americana and Mumford and Sons’ style folk rock. A beautiful sounding old harmonium adds great colour to the track ‘From Afar’.
“John Castle, who I recorded that with, has a small studio called The Shed at the back of his folks’ place in Canterbury,” Joy explains. “That was a super stripped back production on that song. It was me and the guitar and he chucked in the harmonium. Yeah, I love that he put that on. We added a few layers toward the outro.”

New York studio

It’s the detail in this record and Hadlock’s meticulous layering of sounds which will find listeners discovering more with each listen. There’s a wonderful flowing ambience that builds in the background of the track ‘Wasted Time’, where it’s difficult to pinpoint the instrumentation featured in the blend. “That was probably my favourite song on the album,” says Vance.  “It was a great experience recording it. Our producer Ryan put down a beautiful keyboard line which tied the song together really nicely. He kind of had the idea for putting in the drums at the pre-chorus. It’s like a dancey vibe and when you play it live people get really into it. There’s strings, there’s the keyboard, which is a Casio. The strings are weaving in and out of each other with the keys and I’m playing a bit of electric guitar. It’s this vibrating bed of sound.”

On the track ‘Who Am I’, Vance affords his percussionist a fair degree of creative freedom which brings the track to life. “That’s Ed White who is my drummer,” Vance explains.  “He did that on Riptide and does it live a lot. He likes Paul Simon and African drumming. Give him an inch and he’ll run a mile with it. I might say let’s put some more drums on and he’ll say I want to put on a shaker or timbales. With him setting up a rhythm pattern, he can basically go forever. That’s totally his little world and we did that with Riptide and it was amazing watching him put on layer after layer of percussion.”

Vance plays a great deal of the instrumentation on the album himself including guitars, ukuleles, some piano and Wurlitzer organ. His main acoustic is a Maton cutaway his father bought for him in 2007. For electric, he used a Gibson SG which he enjoyed playing on ‘Wasted Time’ in particular. “When you’re playing a riff that you really like, on a song you like … you’re sitting there in the studio and it’s so good,” he says. “There’s nothing better. Rarely do I get a moment to be just a guitarist and play a riff.”

Glasto 1
Vance Joy at Glastonbury 2014

In addition to developing as a songwriter and recording artist, Vance also feels he’s progressing as a performer. With each gig he’s becoming more comfortable on stage, not only with playing his tunes but with the between song stage banter as well. When a performance opportunity like Glastonbury presents itself, Joy doesn’t minding watching and learning from others too.
“It’s had to know what kind of banter you’re going to give before a show,” he reflects. “Sometimes you might not think you are in the mood but the banter is really great. You could be just talking shit and it’s working. Sometimes you don’t feel like talking so it’s just song, song, song. I think you can do a lot by just performing a song well and being present and feeling it. It’s hard to know how to get all of the variables together to create a really  great performance. I might come off stage and think, oh that sucked and then my manager might go, that was really good energy. So why was there great energy there? It’s hard to know  sometimes. Maybe I’m nervous, maybe the bass player is nervous, maybe we all are. That anticipation maybe led us to play out of our skins, it’s hard to know why those things occur. I watched Jack White at Glastonbury and saw his stagecraft. He had a really strong presence. He was owning the stage and owning the space. This guy was a tiny little speck a kilometre away and still leaving a huge impression on people. I can see it when it’s done well. I know it when I see it. I think it takes a long time to get that je ne sais quoi or whatever that he’s got but it comes with experience.”

Dream Your Life AwayVance Joy has much to look forward to and plenty of new opportunities to further perfect his own stagecraft. He’ll be launching the record with a one-off show at Melbourne’s Athenaeum on the day of release. Following the September 5 release of his album, he’ll be heading to Europe for a month of gigs before crossing the Atlantic for an October/November tour of America. He’ll return to Australia for Christmas and an early 2015 Australian tour.

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