FEATURE: Vance Joy, indie’s friendliest stadium-filler
There’s something about seeing a local muso making it big that really gets those back home brimming with pride. The chances may be one in a million, but it’s true that once you’ve made it in America, you’ve made it everywhere. At least, that’s what Vance Joy certainly believes in.
“There’s a lot more work involved,” he says of the American market. “Clearly it’s such a big country and especially for Australians, it’s seen as a big market. I guess it’s an important market if you want to make a big indent in the world – it’s the first place to try.”
It’s arguable that his big break into the American market may or may not have come sooner, if it weren’t for superstar Taylor Swift’s cover of his song Riptide for BBC Live Lounge in 2014. Since then, the Melbourne native has amassed a list of chart achievements long enough to make your eyes water. His singles Georgia and Fire and the Flood were certified Gold and Platinum on the ARIA charts respectively, and his debut album Dream Your Life Away is also certified Platinum and peaked at #17 on the US charts. As for Riptide? The track holds the current record for longest run on the ARIA Singles Chart, staying on the Top 100 for 107 consecutive weeks.
Vance Joy, real name James Keogh, doesn’t think he’s still riding the success of Riptide, but he does give credit to external factors, such as sync deals, for keeping the song around.
“I’m sure it makes people get sick of the song as well, so you got to be careful,” he jokes. “Especially early on – it’s the way they keep spreading the song.”
Exactly how much Atlantic Records contributed to the success of Riptide, Keogh isn’t sure. “If you write a decent song and you believe in it, then you’re willing to do all the work to promote it. So you will work with your label and management, and they get a lot of opportunities for you.
“But when you’re put on the spot you need to be able to deliver. I definitely have a good team around me that give me a lot of opportunities, and they definitely work hard to make sure that my songs are getting noticed.”
One of those opportunities includes playing to sold-out stadiums as Taylor Swift’s support act on her 1989 Tour. For a guy who once had his eyes on an AFL career, Keogh eventually lived out his fantasy of having thousands screaming his name – just replace the football field with a stage, and have the fans sing back his lyrics to him in the most adoring fashion.
“It’s the best thing that could possibly happen – for people to care about you.
“[…] You’re like, ‘I made these songs up, I created these two years ago and now someone’s singing the lyrics’.”
It’s hard to imagine that Keogh is new to this; watch any fan-uploaded performance and it would seem as though stadium stages are his natural environment. On Keogh’s social media, there are countless photos of fan-made signs, new cities, and 100,000-strong crowds lit up like fireflies; the comments on his photos and videos are nothing but positive (re: “YOU ARE PERFECT”). Despite his cool and collected exterior, Keogh says it took a lot of confidence to adjust from his early intimate shows.
“I’ve gotten to understand that you can do a lot of the same things with an intimate crowd that you can do with a big crowd; it just takes a bit more confidence,” he says. “It’s a new experience of being composed, and communicating a bit more clearly.
“In intimate shows, nothing is lost – you can mumble and you can develop a personal joke with the crowd. You can still do the same thing with a big crowd – it’s just that was a learning curve for me to experience.”
Since joining Swift on the North American leg of her tour, Keogh has played 67 shows in five months across the US and Europe, with two or three day breaks in between consecutive performances. Being in the States for most of the year, he’s certainly noted a few differences between the Australian and American music industry. For one, servicing singles to radio is a lot more work compared to Australia, with label representatives having to visit thousands of radio stations across America just to promote a track.
“There are just so many more radio stations in America – so the workload, your promo, is a lot greater. You can do a lot of promo in Australia but you can also knock it over in a few weeks. But in America, if you want to try and get a song on the radio you’ll visit radio station after radio station – there’s just hundreds and hundreds of them.”
It’s his calm and collected exterior, on and off stage, that has helped Keogh last this long in the States. The day he speaks to TMN is the morning after the VMAs, where he spent the previous night rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in pop culture. It’s safe to assume that he’s assimilated himself into celebrity circles.
“I feel comfortable in my skin at these things [award shows]. I don’t worry too much about feeling uncomfortable or anything. It’s a different scene. I’ve met a bunch of really lovely people – famous people I suppose – but often I just find that they’re pretty real.”
Keogh chuckles as he reflects on the craziness of that night. Nominated for a VMA himself, he describes his first MTV Awards experience as “stimulating.” He praises The Weeknd and Justin Bieber for their standout performances. As for Miley?
“She’s really funny and witty, and very self-assured. Even when she was put on the spot – she acted like a pro. She’s a pro.”
Vance Joy’s Dream Your Life Away (Deluxe Edition) is now available on iTunes.