In a time where gender expectations are being broken down, and heteronormative masculinity is no longer a universally glorified commodity, it’s reasonably powerful to speak to the nearly two metre tall, ex-footballer James Koegh – who you might know better as Vance Joy – about his gentle elegance in his approach to his new album.
“When I would play guitar at the footy club, maybe an opportunity to sing covers, I found that was always me in my natural state. Even though I was playing Fuel’s ‘Shimmer’ and Foo Fighters, playing to the market,” Koegh says.
“I don’t think I’m a particularly blokey guy, except playing football. I don’t really speak the language. So when it comes to banter, and hanging around the club, it was never my comfortable place. I love football and I love the sport, and when I played at school the connections where very strong, but doing [music] feels natural, and I like that I feel comfortable in my own skin,” he says.
There’s no more appropriate title for Vance Joy’s sophomore album than Nation of Two. The album is so very intimate and contained, that it’s easy to feel like a fly on the wall in this pair of lovers’ bedroom.
“I’m glad that’s the feeling you’ve got, that was the desired effect,” says Keogh. “I didn’t set out intentionally to write a gentle, intimate song. I was just writing, and there’s a few songs that were calling out to be recorded in that way.”
The thread of a relationship that ties the album together, inspired by many of Keogh’s romantic experiences, is his favourite kind of narrative to weave.
“It’s the kind of story that grabs me when I’m listening to music or reading books. The songs that penetrate me emotionally are love songs,” Keogh says.
It’s capturing this emotional response that drives him to continue creating. Though many of the lines he croons throughout the record are pained and filled with heartbreak and rich with love, tapping into this emotion is something that Keogh derives a great deal of joy from.
“The most difficult thing for me isn’t the emotional thing, or ‘Oh this is hurting me to sing,’ because I know that happens to other artists, I’ve heard it described that way. But I’m so happy I find something I want to sing my heart out to, even if it’s a sad song, I’m happy that I’ve tapped into something that feels authentic,” Keogh says.
“The difficult part of songwriting for me is finding those little melodies and the right sequence of words that make it feel like a thing, that make it feel more substantial than all those other ideas that don’t even get off the ground.”
With a hugely impressive to-do list, including touring as a support for Taylor Swift, the time between his debut – 2014’s Dream Your Life Away – and his follow up has been a huge learning curve for the 30-year-old. Though he couldn’t find much time to write on the road, he wrote bits and pieces of songs that would eventually create his second record.
“Now, having compiled a bunch of songs that I’m proud of, I feel good about that. You finish touring for an album and see there’s an expanse of time to fill up, and having done that I feel good. I had my head down and focused on that, and it’s a milestone,” Keogh says.
“With this album, compared to the first, every song is special and has its own life. There are songs on the first album that I still love, and I still think they’re some of the best songs I can do, but I think on this new one, there’s a consistency to the lyrics. There’s some real flavour and juiciness to it.
“I feel like I’m repeating lines less so, but I do like to repeat lines. I did some songwriting sessions, but I learned there is no rulebook. And the songs that I’m most proud of are generally the songs I wrote on my own.”
Originally published in Beat Magazine.