“I had this guitar riff I had been playing for ages but had never found a home for,” Vance Joy said of his latest single, “Lay It On Me”. “When it was glued together with a lyric I had in my phone, ‘everything starts at your skin,’ the song started to make sense.”
“Lay It On Me” marks Vance Joy’s first release since the hugely successful album dream your life away, which recently surpassed one million in consumption in the US, and featured “fire and the flood,” the platinum song “Mess Is Mine,” and the 4x platinum “Riptide.” Based on the success of those songs, Vance Joy was the #1 Most Played Artist at Alternative radio in 2015, the same year he served as direct support on Taylor Swift’s 1989 World Tour.
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. 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,” a 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.