Interview: Vance Joy

Photo by Joshua Platt

Photo by Joshua Platt

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard of Vance Joy, or at least his song "Riptide". From playing summer festivals (including the Calgary Stampede) to opening for Taylor Swift on her tour, Vance Joy isn't ready to slow down.

Under The Rockies' Mary McComish and Joshua Platt sat down with Vance Joy when he came through Calgary in January (and photographed the show). We asked the Australian musician how he's dealing with Canadian winters, his tour openers, Calgary's own Reuben and the Dark, and his touring tactics.

Vance Joy's debut album Dream Your Life Away is out now via Atlantic Records.

Under The Rockies: So, how are the Canadian winters treating you?
Vance Joy: It’s treating me well. I was in Edmonton yesterday and it was 10 degrees colder there. Things are warming up, which is good. Then I was in Banff, which was lovely. We went for a hike and it wasn’t that cold, like we could go outside. I like to be here in the winter, the only thing I don’t like is staying inside all the time, so it’s kinda like this double edged thing. But yeah, it’s well.

Right now you have Reuben and the Dark opening for you, and this is their hometown show. What made you aware of Reuben and the Dark
My agent in Canada sent me a list of bands, and he was like, look at these bands for the opening support gig but these guys in particular are good. I looked at them and I really liked their music. They’re lovely, they’ve been putting on great shows and the crowd’s been loving them.

I saw them opening for another Australian band, Boy and Bear?
Oh wow!

I’d never really heard them [Reuben and the Dark] and they blew my mind, so I’m excited for what they’ll do tonight.
Yeah, they’ll be really great.

Your debut album was released in 2014. It’s been close to a couple of years since then, do you have any plans for future music?
Yeah. I wanna release another album, and I want it to be good, so when I have all the songs ready I’m gonna record it. But at the moment, I’m just kinda on tour and putting together ideas. I don’t know exactly when it will be, but one of my main goals is to release another album and hopefully do it within not too long. 

You’re touring pretty much nonstop until April. Then after that are you hoping to just take a break, or is that when you’re hoping to create more music?
I think I wanna take a little break maybe. Hopefully the break coincides with making music, and I can take a break and let the tour wash off and just be chilled out. Maybe do some kinda trip or something, I dunno. Basically just be open and try a bunch of things and see what happens. 

So you’re hoping that maybe 2016 is the year you kinda take it easy and not be as tour heavy as last year?
Yeah, it will be less tour heavy. I think after this - this is a busy run - but after this, the year is quite open ended, which is cool.

You’re going from playing these massive arenas with Taylor Swift, and now you’re playing these smaller theatres - not necessarily smaller - but compared to the arenas, what do you feel the most at home and in your element in?
It’s funny, cause it’s always different - I think it really depends on the day. I really felt relaxed and comfortable opening in arenas and stadiums, but then also in a room like this you can feel kind of remote from the audience because everyone's sitting down - well, not everyone’s sitting down, sometimes people stand up, but sometimes you can be like nervous because of that sense of distance. It really depends on what’s happening in your head that day.

I read that you like Metallica as a kid. Do you still like them to this day? What other artists would people be surprised that you listen to?
Yeah! I watched the Metallica Some Kind of Monster documentary, and that was amazing. Have you seen that?

I’m not too familiar with it.
It’s really great - I highly recommend it, it’s really cool. So that kinda made me appreciate them in a new way because it was like their kinda behind the scenes look at them and the way they write songs. But surprised by... That’s definitely more surprising. I listen to a bit of pop music every now and then, but I think that would be the main one. I like a guy called Phillip Glass who’s a classical musician but I guess he’s quite contemporary. He wrote the score for The Truman Show, the film, and like a bunch of other films and he’s incredible. So that’s kinda stuff that people will be like, “Oh, what’s that?” That’s a bit of a different one.

Yeah, that name sounds familiar. I heard that you’re adopting a Taylor Swift tour tactic where you pick out fans and give them meet and greet access after the show. Is there any other tactics you adopted from touring with Taylor Swift?
I like tactic - that’s good. It’s definitely like, game plan, right? That was an idea that I think rubbed onto us from her. But not really, besides the fact of just seeing someone perform at a high level, and the way she interacts with the crowd is really nice. I think you take little bits and pieces, and that’s one of those things that’s been working pretty well, I think. I meet people that I haven’t met before, and it’s been cool. I’ve actually found it really enjoyable to meet people to see if they really enjoyed the show, or if they’ve come a long way to be here. It’s always kinda like, good for the soul.

When you were touring with Taylor Swift, did she give you any advice personally?
Not really. I think when we chatted it was just relaxed, and no advice kinda stuff. You can get kinda an idea about how driven she is just from watching her and that kinda thing. So it’s more I guess inspiring.

I read that you’re a film buff, so I was wondering if that bleeds out into making your music videos at all?
It does sometimes, it really depends on the director you get. I’ve worked with some really cool directors. I’m looking forward to a video we’re getting made at the moment for a song called “Straight Into Your Arms.” I think ultimately I don’t have much control over a film clip, it really comes down to the director and their choices, but you can choose the director. My favourite ones can hit the emotional spot, or at least are entertaining - when you watch a film clip and you don’t wanna look away. I think that’s the ultimate, but you don’t always achieve that, but you try to.

Which one of your music videos is your favourite?
I think “Riptide” was executed really well, and “From Afar.”

Could you see yourself one day maybe directing one of your own music videos?
I think so, I think that would be fun. I don’t know if it’d end up being any good, but maybe if I worked with someone who had a bit more experience and then I could - or maybe if I gave them a couple ideas and let them execute it, cause I don’t know if I’d know how to make it look the right way.

It’s interesting, I feel that music videos are such an important element. You look at people like David Bowie and the “Blackstar” video and it’s just kind of a testament - the song is one thing, but to put visuals to it and maybe totally unrelated things, I think it just adds to the art. I don’t know if you’d agree with that. 
No, I agree. Obviously there’s the song, and then there’s the film clip, and if the film clip is great then it can be that perfect marriage. It’s another way for someone to discover the song, just based on how beautiful the film clip is. It’s not always easy to make that happen, but, if it does work then it’s the perfect moment.

Movie magic, almost.
Yeah, yeah, yeah! Absolutely.

Currently, you’re touring with a band. Do you like having the support system of a band on stage, or could you see yourself one day doing more of a solo thing like Ed Sheeran?
I really like the band thing, just for the little flavours of music you can get, and the colourful little bits. Although I think it’s nice to play solo - I saw Ed Sheeran play and he’s got an amazing show, where he does loops and percussion stuff - I haven’t really worked that out. If I ever did one, I think it’d be a smaller scale show, in smaller rooms - or, maybe rooms like this. That could be something cool to do along the track. I’d like to do both.

Do you think you’ll keep putting out albums under the “Vance Joy” moniker, or could you see yourself kinda fleshing out and doing something more?
I think for the time being, Vance Joy. I really want to establish myself as an artist. If that happens, and I have the luxury of being like “Well, people know I’m an artist and maybe they know a few of my songs, or maybe even more than that” then I’d be happy to experiment. I think maybe down the track awhile. Maybe when I’ve got some kids and I’m just like doing it for the enjoyment. Which I am, but just pure holiday stuff.

I saw you here at the Stampede this summer, so that was awesome. I photographed almost all ten days, and I was blown away - you get the first three songs [up front] and then you have to go away - and I couldn’t see you, it was so busy. It was the busiest show there. You’ve got a lot of great fans here, so the show tonight’s gonna be pretty great.
Aw, that’s awesome, thanks. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve always really enjoyed the Calgary crowds, I’ve found them really great and enthusiastic. So, we’ll see what happens.