How Vance Joy’s ‘Nation of Two’ was a project of many
An overnight success can be years in the making. Vance Joy’s career, by any casual observation, blasted off like a SpaceX rocket: it fired up immediately, made a stratospheric trip with the world looking on, and the rest of the journey has been smooth. No catastrophic failures.
Flash back to February 2013. Michael Gudinski is energised. The Mushroom Group chairman has rounded up friends and supporters of his company, which is celebrating its 40th year in business. Business is good.
The Melbourne restaurant is packed out as guests are treated to an Italian meal, and a performance by a young artist. Remember his name, Gudinski insists. Vance Joy. An industry crowd is typically a tough one. The sun is still up; there are no pyrotechnics. No effects. No mics. No problem.
I’ve never worked with an artist who works as hard as him
The team behind Vance Joy’s meteoric rise are looking on, from Mushroom Music managing director Ian James, to UNIFIED Music Group Founder and CEO Jaddan Comerford, Liberation Records Managing Director Damian “Damo” Slevison and many others.
Nothing about this artist’s launch has been without meticulous planning, and with his new album Nation of Two on target for a place at or near the top of ARIA Albums Chart, it’s a trek years in the making.
Working closely with James Keogh, who records and performs as Vance Joy, is a test of stamina. He’s a wanted man. Unified’s Rachel Comerford is in the midst of an international sprint with the artist, who she co-manages with her husband, Jaddan. In the space of a month, Keogh’s global promo trip visited Germany and the U.K., dashed across Canada and both coasts of the United States before pausing on the east coast of Australia. Comerford’s feet never touched the ground.
“I’ve never worked with an artist who works as hard as him,” she says. It’s an “old school” promotional trip, Comerford tells TIO just days before embarking on another long haul. “Three months ago we started planning out where we need to be, which markets needed more time, which were priorities. We went for all our markets.”
There was lot of expectation for this record. But he’s nailed it
Vance Joy has no shortage of interest. He’s a global priority for Atlantic, which released Nation of Two throughout the rest of the world, excluding Australia and New Zealand, where it’s issued via Mushroom’s Liberation Records. Thanks in part to the phenomenal success of ‘Riptide’ and his connection with superstar Taylor Swift (she famously covered the song and invited the Aussie to support her on the 1989 tour), he’s emerged as a frontline act in North America. Joy is putting up “extremely solid pre-sales” for 10,000-plus arenas in Canada, explains Comerford, and turning heads in South America, where he played on a 2017 Lollapalooza bill that visited Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
This old-school campaign is tapping into some new-fangled tools, namely Spotify, which is helping Joy’s team identify where the love is. “With streaming we know where there is an audience. We’re continuing to build the markets that are already very solid foundations, Australia, North America, and looking to rebuild the U.K. and Europe. South America is a huge emerging market for us on Spotify so why wouldn’t we go there? It’s about trying to connect the dots.”
Planning for the tour began back in 2016. “As soon as James went into the studio, we started hashing out a rough plan,” notes Comerford. Management created a shiftable tour outline, so when ‘Lay it on Me’ was delivered in January of 2017, the machinery was ready. With just one new song in the can, a whistlestop tour was organized for the end of 2017. Those dates would gauge Joy’s box-office after a stint out of cycle, and give him a chance to try new material.
U.S. dates sold out in minutes, explains Comerford. “That gave us so much confidence. When you’ve been away a little while, you never know how you’ll come back. It’s been non-stop ever since.”
He gets back to the craft of great lyrics, and great storytelling and melodies
In truth, it’s been non-stop for the past five years. Vance Joy’s debut EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing, and its standout single ‘Riptide’, dropped back in 2013. The multi-platinum track smashed records (breaking the old mark of 107 consecutive weeks on the ARIA Singles Chart), finished atop the triple j Hottest 100 poll, and gave the artist a break on both sides of the Atlantic (‘Riptide’ peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 10 on the Official U.K. Singles Chart. It’s nine-times platinum in Australia).
His career was away. More certified hits would come (‘Fire and The Flood’, ‘Georgia’ and ‘Mess Is Mine’), and Joy’s debut album, dream your life away, has skipped past two million global sales, and a billion streams. The one-hit wonder syndrome was averted early on.
“There was lot of expectation for this record. But he’s nailed it,” says Liberation’s Damian Slevison. So what’s the magic? “Fucking great songs,” he says with a laugh. “He really is quite traditional in that he gets back to the craft of great lyrics, and great storytelling and melodies.” Nation of Two is “more personal but it stretches back a long period of time of preparing and building for the moment. People are responding to it.”
For the new album, Joy invited a few collaborators to write with him, including songwriters Dan Wilson (Adele, Taylor Swift) and Dave Bassett (Rachel Platten). “Some artists can be protective of that,” notes Slevison, “but he’s of the impression that if you can improve on a song and it gets the right result, then it’s a win for everyone.”
You really need to have to build a long-term plan of where you’re going
Joy has done the rounds in support of the record, including slots on The Project, Sunrise and the Today Show, and a stint on the ABC Breakfast couch. JB Hi-Fi pushed the CD in a mailshot earlier this week, and the streaming services are supporting too.
Night owls in the U.S. can catch Joy’s performance of the single ‘Saturday Sun’ on The Late Late Show with James Corden. “It couldn’t feel any better set up,” notes Slevison. “It’s a very exciting phase we’re about to go into.”
Come March, Vance Joy will take his show on the road for a long run of dates throughout the U.K. and Europe, the U.S. and Canada, and South America. He’s booked for Coachella, held over two weekends in April, and he’ll perform at the iconic Red Rocks in May. In September, Joy will head home for the Australian leg of the ‘Nation of Two Tour’.
Everything is planned, everything is clicking. “We’ve filled up this whole year,” notes Comerford. “The trick is, if you do 40-50 tour dates in North America, you then have to figure out how to do an extensive European and South American tour.
“You really need to have to build a long-term plan of where you’re going.”
Vance Joy’s second studio album Nation of Two is out now through Liberation / Mushroom Records in Australia and Atlantic internationally, and will tour the album globally before returning home for an Australian tour in September, dates below.
Vance Joy ‘Nation of Two’ Australian tour dates
Friday 14 September
Hordern Pavilion | Sydney, NSW
ticketek.com.au | 132 849
Saturday 15 September
Rod Laver Arena | Melbourne, VIC
ticketek.com.au | 132 849
Tuesday 18 September
Thebarton Theatre | Adelaide, SA
ticketmaster.com.au | 136 100
Friday 21 September
Riverstage | Brisbane, QLD
ticketmaster.com.au | 136 100
Sunday 23 September (Queens Birthday Holiday Eve)
Fremantle Arts Centre | Perth, WA
18+ (minors to be accompanied by a parent or guardian)
oztix.com.au | 1300 762 545
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.