Think about it for a second: would you rather put off finishing a law degree… or play sweet indie-folk pop in front of 65,000 people. Yep. You only need a second, right? Because it turns out that being part of 2015’s biggest, most star-studded tour — playing in football stadiums, baseball parks and arenas all around the world — is a little more fun than learning about civil trial law…. Even if it involves negotiating a similarly steep learning curve.
Naturally, though, the Vance Joy story doesn’t begin with joining Taylor Swift’s 1989 World Tour, playing gigantic stadium stages as celebrities look on. Rather, the tale’s innocuous beginnings lie in playing open mics around his hometown of Melbourne, with Vance Joy (real name: James Keogh; “Vance Joy” was lifted from a character — a “storyteller and a crazy old man” — in Bliss, a novel by famous Australian author Peter Carey) trying make a name for himself with his gentle, heartfelt indie folk-pop and lovelorn lyricism.
As far as gambles go, though, Vance Joy believing in his music enough to focus strictly on music and writing and putting law to the side was a big one. Following his debut EP, “God Loves You When You’re Dancing” (2013) Vance Joy released his first single in the US, a ukulele-led song called “Riptide.”
With an unshakeable pop hook and an eminently relatable narrative, “Riptide” unexpectedly swept across the globe on a worldwide wave. It began simply, however, as a “bunch of different ideas I pieced together in my bedroom,” says Vance Joy.
“Riptide” proceeded to go Platinum in the USA (2x), Australia (5x), Canada and Sweden (4x), Netherlands (3x), Norway, Poland (2x) as well as the UK, Germany, Italy and Ireland. It also went Gold in Finland, Denmark, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, South Africa and Greece. To date it has nearly 100 million views on YouTube and more than 265 million streams on Spotify (and remains Australia’s most streamed song on Spotify).
And amazingly, there was more to come.
Vance Joy’s debut full length album dream your life away was released in September 2014 and produced by Ryan Hadlock (The Lumineers, Johnny Flynn), telling immensely relatable tales of love won and lost; of longing and heavy hearts, the beauty of love and an overwhelming humanness, all set to stirring, emotional indie folk-pop.
It was also a stretching of musical muscles: on the flowing, swelling thump of second single “Mess Is Mine” and the mix of finger-picked acoustic guitar and stirring strings on “Wasted Time.” The delicate melodies of “Georgia” (which also went platinum in Australia) showed off a maturing, growing songwriter. “All I Ever Wanted” was an uplifting, rollicking folk ballad that gave Vance Joy’s voice a chance to shine.
Dream your life away prompted an avalanche of accolades. Rolling Stone in Australia gave it four stars and hailed its “universal relatability” and “full of tales ‘about growing up, of love, lust and loss, and time’s passage all painted with a golden folky haze.’” It also hit #17 on the US Billboard Hot 200, topped Australia’s ARIA charts, and solidified Vance Joy as more than just “Riptide.”
Dream your life away and “Riptide” also won over one impressed fan in particular: Taylor Swift. In October 2014 the pop star covered the song for a spot on UK radio, admitting that she loved the song. Not long after, Swift announced Vance Joy as her opening act — an accolade previously held by one Ed Sheeran — for “The 1989 World Tour.”
And so Vance Joy found himself playing to more than 2 million fans on Taylor’s tour and — when not popping by to say “hi” to his famous touring buddy — it shifted his perspective on how immense shows can be. “It really got me out of my comfort zone. Your appreciation of what’s ‘big’ changes,” laughs Keogh. “It’s like, ‘yeah, this is big’. And,” he adds, “Taylor, her operation and her team are all incredible.”
Following the immense success of his showing on Taylor’s tour came “fire and the flood,” the new single added to the special edition of dream your life away, and reminding the world that Vance Joy does a subtle vocal tremble, an insistent thump and a building, euphoric climax better than anybody.
Upon its release, “fire and the flood” was the #1 most added song at triple A and alternative radio formats, with early adds at KROQ and Sirius XM’s Alt Nation among others, and Vance Joy performed the song live on NBC’s “Today” show this fall, while the single’s video has already scored several million views on YouTube.
Back in his native Australia, “fire and the flood” was the #1 most added song at radio and quickly became the #1 most played in its week of release, and has already been certified Platinum. The song hit the #6 spot on the Australian single charts, matching the high of “Riptide.”
Meanwhile, Vance Joy’s “Fire and the Flood Tour” — running from January through March in North America before heading to Australia — has already sold out numerous dates and had to schedule additional shows.
And so, with the success of “Riptide,” “fire and the flood,” dream your life away and (of course) “The 1989 World Tour,” Keogh is taking a very sanguine approach to writing the second Vance Joy album. Writing while on tour means “there are the loose ends of songs,” but that “it’s just a matter of making those songs into real things.” His approach? “Churning. And more churning. Letting songs trickle in when they trickle in. It’s funny how songs trickle in after a lot of work. They’re like odd socks in the drawer,” he adds. “Like,” he smiles, “you’re just trying to wait for that other sock to turn up and fit, and when it does, you’re like ‘cool.’”
“That’s the most awesome thing,” he says, “I just want to write good songs, and it’s all in the songwriting churn; always in the churn.” And judging from “fire and the flood,” the churn works.