The best-selling Aussie singer-songwriter talks touring, Taylor Swift and album number two.
You know the urban music legend where a songwriter appears, lands a five-album deal and, seemingly overnight, his very first single becomes a hit? That’s James Keogh, aka Vance Joy. His debut, ‘Riptide’ (2013) earned him an ARIA, Triple J Hottest 100 No.1, a top-10 single in the UK, 43 weeks in the US Billboard top 100, and a huge global fan base. This month, Keogh returns with his second album, Nation of Two, a tender, smart and intimate pop record boasting themes of love and storytelling, pushing the songwriter’s skills once again.
Despite any temptation to lie down, Keogh started crafting the album immediately after two years of tours, with a good chunk of that spent supporting Taylor Swift. “My brain went straight into thinking about writing,” he says. “I had almost two songs under my belt and thought I’d better get the ball rolling.” All the success from coming out swingingbegs the question of pressure. “It’s hard to top,” he laughs. “Pressure can build up some kind of intensity like, ‘oh shit, I haven’t done anything’. You might have those little minor meltdowns, but that can lead to a release of creativity.” But, he notes, the pressure is also self-inflicted. “I could take my foot off the pedal, but then, would I be satisfied? I guess in a career you can never satisfy that hunger to do something.”
Counting Bruce Springsteen, Paul Kelly and Brandon Flowers as inspiration, Keogh’s introverted songwriting draws from moments – longing and often – being on the road, though he is still working out logistics. “It’s funny – I don’t know exactly what the recipe is, that thing where you play some chords and start singing a melody, or for some reason, it feels new,” he says. “I heard Sting say it’s seasonal; the songwriting period and then the touring period. You can’t be constantly writing. Sometimes I think inspiration is seasonal. It was hard, but surprisingly, at the end of 2017, I wrote two songs between tours, so it gave me belief that you can write on the road.”
Being tossed into fame early on, Keogh’s attitude has, refreshingly so, not changed. Down-to-earth, humble – he really is the man you expect him to be. So what did the T-Swift circus teach an ex-AFL player-cum- pop star? “I was just totally ignorant when I walked into that!” He laughs. “I thought that it would be easy to play to her crowd – they’re young, I would just be playing, and they would love it.” Alas, that might not have been the case. “I had to come out of my shell and learn to not look at my feet. Taylor gets out and she’s like, ‘Hey! I’m Taylor!’ It’s very overt and engaging,” he laughs. “I had to open myself up and it made me appreciate pop music more. It’s bold, it’s really going for it, it’s making a statement, it’s not being shy about declaring itself... But you won’t see me running around on the stage shouting ‘clap your hands!’”
Nation of Two is out now.