in the mood for
Over the past few years, James Keogh, popularly known as Vance Joy, has seen extreme career growth. He went from playing small gigs in Melbourne, a little known fact to his coworkers, to selling out concerts worldwide. He posted his first hit single “Riptide” on Facebook where his likes hit the hundreds, and now, he has over 11 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Despite reaching such a high point in his career, he’s remained remarkably humble.
We spent a day getting to know the musician in an intimate space. He’s charmingly shy, seemingly unphased by the fame, and refreshingly genuine. He’s pursuing a passion that happens to be a career.
dimanche How did you adopt the name Vance Joy?
James My last name is Keogh, with a silent ‘gh’ at the end. I used to play open mic nights in Melbourne and when they would call my name, they always mispronounced it. I decided I wanted a different name for my music, something more bold. I was reading a book in 2012 called Bliss by Peter Carey. About twenty pages into the book there is a character named Vance Joy. He’s a very small part of the book, but I saw the name and thought it was cool so I just went with it.
dimanche How would you describe your music to someone who has never listened to it before?
J I would say it’s singer/songwriter, acoustic music. Some of my songs are more upbeat, with a full band and more layers to the production, but the majority of my music is just me with an instrument.
dimanche How would you describe the relationship between you and your band?
J I have a uniquely collaborative relationship with my drummer, Ed White. We went to primary school and high school together. He’s always been my main musical guy and has co-produced all the music we’ve made so far. I’m lucky to have played with most of my band members for almost five years. We’ve obviously spent a lot of time together and it’s allowed us to develop solid friendships.
dimanche What does home mean to you?
J If I’m going home for a week or two, I’ll stay at my parents house and hang out with my parents and sister. Family is an important part of home to me. I also love the morning ritual of waking up late, seeing everyone off to work, and making breakfast. I never get to make my own breakfast staying in hotels all the time. Being away from home so often makes me appreciate the little things.
dimanche How would you explain the emotional process of writing a song to someone who isn't a songwriter?
J It can be super rewarding. I think all songwriters would agree that if you write a good song, it’s very satisfying. That’s the high that songwriters chase, that sense of relief and reward.
dimanche What was the hardest song for you to write?
J They all have their own challenges. You might be sitting on an idea for so long and you can’t find a way past a certain point. It might even take three years to overcome that block. I had a guitar riff that I thought was really good and it was three years before it made it on a song. It was only when I played it to Dave Bassett that it grew into the song ‘Lay It On Me’, which we ended up co-writing together.
dimanche How do you create the feeling of home on the road?
J Chris, our keyboard player, is the leading coffee expert without a doubt. He always brings a French press with him and grinds the coffee beans on the bus. When we wake up in the morning, we gently congregate in the little kitchen area and Chris will have the coffee going. You have to bring some consistency to life on tour to build the feeling of home and community.
dimanche How do you think the songwriting process affects the way you understand yourself and the people around you?
J I never know exactly how things are going to come together. I show up to songwriting sessions with people I’ve never met, but we create real magic together. That magic only happens because I put myself in the situation to allow it to happen. It’s a bit like driving a car and trying to merge into a different lane. When it’s chaotic and you can’t find your space in the next lane, you just keep driving at a certain speed and eventually a pocket in traffic will open up. It’s about waiting for a moment of opportunity to write a song with someone, to talk to a stranger, etc.
dimanche What inspires your songs?
J I find a lot of inspiration in other people’s music actually, especially in well-written songs. As a musician, when I really connect with a song, it makes me want to write something with that same caliber of connection. Aside from that, truly living life and spending time with friends and family nourishes the soul. When you make a genuine effort to do that, it can fill you up with the juice to create.
dimanche Do you have any songs connected to specific memories?
J On the new album, there’s a song called “Little Boy”. It’s about falling off my bike when I was ten years old. It was actually the first biographical song I had ever written. Writing about direct memories is a different experience and definitely something I want to keep doing in the future.
dimanche What would be your ideal setting to perform in?
J Any setting where the audience is engaged is perfect. I love when it’s a small room, the audience is really there with me and I can feel us connecting. Maybe there’s even a bit of good banter and we can all share a collective funny moment.
dimanche What’s something you’ve learned in the past year, something you look forward to in the year to come, and a dream for something far in the future?
J I learned that sometimes I don’t know the answer and that’s okay. I have my own opinions that are usually pretty strong, but to cast a broad net and hear others’ opinions doesn’t mean diluting my artistic direction. I’ve learned that in a few different ways over the past year. In the next year, I’m looking forward to touring and playing some really amazing venues around the world, especially going back to Europe. My long term dream is just to keep doing what I’m doing. I want to make more music that I am really proud of, keep consistently creating work that I am proud of.
dimanche How would you spend your ideal Sunday?
J I’d make breakfast and then just wander. I would definitely hang out with a good friend, someone I really care about. Maybe I’d go for a drink, go see a movie. Sundays give you the freedom to do all the little things that you love.
dimanche What's on your mixtape?
J I'll make you one.
Photography - Emma Craft
Co-Styling & Co-Art Direction - Paige Melkerson and Carly Smith
Assistance - Elisa Labernia & Maggie Cullen
Interview - Carly Smith
Special thanks to Melanie Gerwin