After his first single “Riptide” topped the charts in 2013, the Melbourne-born musician has been riding a wave of success, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Currently mid an eighty-six show tour with Taylor Swift, the busy artist also just released his latest single, “fire and the flood,” in July.
When I first met James, he had his shirt off, casually changing in the middle of our set. At 6’3”, he was taller than I had expected, and undeniably good-looking. An onlooker could easily have mistaken it for a fashion shoot with a male model, rather than a music spread with the man who holds the record for the longest run in the ARIA’s Single Chart.
What struck me almost immediately was how polite and humble he was, with a demeanor more like the Mid-Western boys I’d met than a typical rock star. As he cracked a joke about “limbering up” before one of the slightly more acrobatic poses of the shoot, I couldn’t help but wonder how someone who had climbed the industry ladder so quickly could be so authentically down-to-earth.
“Just working is kind of a good way of keeping it real, because you can go and party, but you kind of always stay within limits. You kind of hate the free time. I haven’t had any free time. I’ve just been going, going, going. But I guess it’s good to have that feeling–loving the work and trying to have a decent work ethic. I go out, but stay in touch with my friends and family. I’m lucky to have a solid friendship group,” he tells me the next day.
He’s on the road in Utah now, just another show in a nearly infinite list of tour dates that extend through the end of the year. At this point, his relaxed personality makes it feel nearly like catching up with a friend. When asked what it’s been like to open for Taylor Swift, as opposed to previous tours, he tells me, “I love playing to her crowds. They’re really enthusiastic, and it’s just so much bigger.” The way he describes the endless line of buses and detailed set up, the 1989 World Tour sounds very much like an intricate traveling circus, a comparison that we both find humorous.
I then ask what playing back home in Australia, where they will be touring in November and December, will be like for him, “It’s a nice feeling to come back to Australia and to see you’ve still got the fans there. We played a festival around New Year’s last year and it was awesome because the crowds were really good. I don’t know, you don’t know exactly what to expect, you don’t know exactly how you’ll be received, especially if you’ve been away for a while. But we got back and the crowds were awesome, so I felt really good about that.” In Australia, it’s clear that Vance Joy is a point of national pride. His single “Riptide” has gone triple platinum, and recently set a record for most weeks in the Top 100 of Australia’s singles chart.
It’s somewhat well known that before James became the sensation that is Vance Joy, he had been an Australian Rules football player studying for a degree in law. But his musical passions ended up winning out over his contrasting talents. “I used to play football. I played it in high school, and then I went and played three or four years of football. It got pretty serious; it wasn’t professional, but it was kind of semi-professional. It was pretty fun. I definitely got really fierce, which was nice, but I was never going to be a top-level footballer. And then, I was doing the law degree at the same time. My brother had a law degree and I thought, ‘That sounds like a good idea.’ I was always interested in English and literature, but I got so much more satisfaction and sense of purpose from writing music and writing songs. I think I wrote my first major song in 2009, and I kind of just couldn’t put it down. And I kept thinking of that when writing from that point on, about writing freely. I was still finishing my degree, but I had this ambition to do music in some form. I didn’t know it was going to be like this, I really just wanted to put some songs into the world. I just wanted to play some gigs. I honestly think I would have been satisfied with that,” and then after a moment’s pause, “Or, maybe not.” We both laugh. By his tone, it’s fairly clear that he is being genuine. In an industry known for it’s focus on fame and recognition, he is one of those rare artists that is still “in it” for the music.
“When I was 14, my dad bought me a guitar and he really insisted that I would learn. And I wasn’t that keen on it because I never liked going to lessons or learning theory. I just thought it meant a painful kind of thing, sitting in a lesson and having to practice. That was always the thing that I didn’t like about that, but I ended up loving it because I started learning my favorite songs at the time, Metallica songs. Learning songs like that kind of sparked my love for playing guitar. It took a bit longer to start singing. I would try, and once I learned how to do it, probably about 15 or 16, I started playing chords and singing along with them. It took me a while to work out how to feel comfortable singing and playing at the same time. It was kind of like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time. Once I started learning to do it though, I actually loved doing it. I enjoyed playing covers for my friends. I think the more you practice, the more you stubbornly just keep singing and singing and singing, and the more you realize you might actually have an okay voice.” Okay is quite an understatement for someone whose voice is so unique it is almost universally distinguishable and acclaimed.
Vance Joy’s newest single, “fire and the flood,” already has nearly a million hits on YouTube from the past month alone. It’s a heart-aching melody of lost love with an equally emotional video and some surprising inspiration. “The line, ‘Everything is fine, when your hand is resting next to mine,’ I had that line way before I wrote the melody for the song. It was in 2013, around September, and I was just fiddling around. I really think that my mum may have helped me write that line, and I finally got to find a place for it. It can take a while for the right lyrics to strike you.”
So what could possibly be next for a triple-platinum artist with a five-record Atlantic Records deal and a world tour with Taylor Swift? I asked the singer-songwriter where he sees himself in five years and even he didn’t have a sure answer. “My goals, I think at the moment, are just to release another album, and do a similar touring cycle that I’ve done for this album. I reckon that’ll probably see me another three or four years, to probably complete that, and at the end of that, I don’t know. I haven’t thought beyond that point...” He trails off, the question seeming to leave him pensive on the future of a career he had never imagined.
One thing is certain: as far as he’s already come; Vance Joy has not reached the peak of his fame. And with his simplistically heartfelt lyrics, catchy melodies and laid-back demeanor, he is one artist that is impossible not to root for. When I thank him at the end of our interview and tell him I wish him the best of luck in his career, it is with complete sincerity. I will not soon forget about this soulful Aussie storyteller, and neither, it seems, will the rest of the world.
See more photos of Vance Joy in Rogue's debut issue.
photography by Shalon Goss
story by Lauren Hoover
styling by Chanel Gibbons
grooming by Mariah Nicole
style assistants Patricia Ramos & Gorge Villalpando
set assistant Alyssa Gengos