Back in 2012 Vance Joy had no idea how different his life would become in just a couple of short years.

A former player in Australian rules football – in 2008, he was named best first-year player in Australia’s Victorian Football League, a league that is one notch below professional level – Joy had gone on to Monash University, where he was preparing for his future by studying law.

Joy (real name James Keogh) loved writing songs, but viewed music as a hobby – until one of his early songs turned his world upside down.

The song was “Riptide,” and after Joy posted it to Soundcloud and his Facebook page, it connected online, creating enough of a reaction to get picked up by radio stations in Australia and start Joy on a two-year whirlwind. By the time “Riptide” finally finished its run, the song had topped “Billboard” magazine’s Alternative Songs chart and spent 43 weeks on the all-genre Billboard 100 singles chart in the United States. Meanwhile during that span, Joy landed a deal with Atlantic Records, which put the single on both his 2013 debut EP, “God Loves You When You’re Dancing,” and his 2014 full-length debut album, “Dream Your Life Away,” and he landed the coveted spot opening for Taylor Swift on her 1989 stadium and arena tour.

That kind of fast success can go to a person’s head easily enough, but the 30-year-old native of Melbourne, Australia, didn’t get too caught up in his newfound fame and status as one of music’s most popular newcomers.

“It was definitely a big change,” Joy said in a recent phoneinterview as he looked back on the “Riptide” phenomenon. “I think I was so green to the music industry, or even like that whole thing. For me, I guess what it meant was I was so busy, going from having a lot of time to just chill out and have fun, and my social life was a big part of my life, hanging out with friends and going out and going to see gigs and that kind of thing. Then it was like now this month is mainly just playing shows or traveling around and taking flights around the world and playing at all these different shows at radio stations and stuff. It was a shock to my system to learn how to prepare for that and be like, ‘OK, I’m going to be singing at 7 a.m. on a radio station, so maybe I should wake up at 6:30.’ I think that was a shock to my system, just the work load. I didn’t really have time to even, luckily, I couldn’t get too carried away or too distorted by feeling like I had some kind of social value or whatever, I think, because I feel like it was just so busy.”

Joy, though, was aware enough of the workings of the music business to know what “Riptide” was doing was unusual and he needed to make the most of his situation.

“You only probably get one chance to have a song that can open the door like that song. It was like a fluke,” he said “You get this kind of special opportunity, and I was aware that I had better go all in because it’s a rare opportunity.”

Now it’s 2018, and Joy is releasing his second album, “Nation of Two,” and beginning a new touring cycle. He is coming off of not only “Riptide’s” blockbuster success, but a pair of successful follow-up singles from “Dream Your Life Away” in “Mess Is Mine” and “Fire and the Flood (both of which went top 10 on “Billboard’s” Alternative Songs and Rock Airplay charts).

The new album continues down a similar musical path as “Dream Your Life Away.” Once again, Joy grounds his folk-pop songs in acoustic guitar and vocals, particularly on stripped back ballads such as “I’m With You,” “Call If You Need Me” and “Bonnie & Clyde.” The new album, though, gets a slightly more full sound, thanks to tunes like “We’re Going Home,” “Lay It One Me” and “One of These Days,” whose arrangements swell with horns, backing vocals and choruses that rise to near-anthemic heights.

Joy said he was compiling musical and lyrical ideas for songs throughout the lengthy touring cycle behind “Dream your Life Away,” and his main plan for “Nation of Two” was to let the songs dictate how they wanted to be produced.

“I just wanted to stay fairly consistent with, I guess, the general approach of the first album, in terms of like having it mainly acoustic and the voice to be front and center,” Joy said. “And I worked very closely with Ed White, my drummer and co-producer, and so he was there, and he was a presence on the first album and the second album. So I think his tastes as well as mine, working together kind of helped navigate and make it, I guess, consistent, and different in some ways, but I think it has the same recognizable feel.”

Having two albums of material is allowing Joy to pick and choose the songs he puts into his sets, and his show reflects the level of success he has achieved in just a few years.

“It’s a bigger, we have a really professionally designed show that’s like scalable and is built for like venues to an amphitheater to an arena type of thing. That has been new. We haven’t had that,” he said, describing the stage set and production he’s bringing on tour. “There are like new lights and things that have been built specifically for the show to create like an atmosphere…We want to meet, I guess, that expectation for a professional look.”

Joy’s band has also gotten bigger.

“Our original setup is me on the guitar, and keyboards, bass and drums,” Joy said. “There are so many songs on this new album that have horns, but even before that it was always nice when we got to include some horn players for special shows every now and then. They just added such a nice dimension to things. So we’ve added these two guys. Between them it’s saxophone and trumpet, and they can play trombone, guitar. So they’re really talented musicians and it fills out the sound. I think it’s good to have a more filled out sound when we’re trying to play the bigger stages.”

Joy has also grown in his ability to connect with audiences as a performer, something he had to learn to when opening for Swift in front of huge crowds.

“It definitely was a learning experience. I remember the first show we did opening for Taylor, I didn’t know what to expect, really,” Joy said. “We hadn’t really played to an arena or a stadium before. And it wasn’t like a cake walk at all. A lot of the fans, they knew one song, but it definitely demanded more of me as a performer in terms of just engaging with all of those people. I was more used to like looking down at my feet and getting through the set list. And then, actually now, it’s like smile and say hello and introduce myself, all those little things that I guess when I was playing smaller venues and it was more alternative (rock audiences), it wasn’t as much of a requirement. But you play those bigger venues, if you don’t smile and look out at the crowd and engage, it’s really hard for people watching to kind of even get a sense of what’s going on.”

 

 

 

 

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