Two years ago, Vance Joy didn’t even have a single. Now he’s serenading an audience of thousands at Hangout Fest with the gloriously summery “Riptide,” and the crowd is singing right back. The tune has caught the ear of millions worldwide, including Taylor Swift—who was so taken with the song that she covered it on BBC Radio One’s famous Live Lounge. Soon after, she tapped Vance as her opening act on the North American leg of her mammoth 1989 tour (perhaps you’ve heard of it?).
His rapid rise to success seems like something out of a movie. So what’s going through his mind now that he’s got a whopping 60 arena dates with the biggest pop star on Earth mere days away? On the eve of his tour, we talked with Vance about songwriting, new music, and what it’s like going from unknown to T-Swift’s hit-making bestie in almost no time. Here’s a hint: it’s pretty crazy.
You try not to have too much going on in your head, you just want to be in the moment. It’s such a beautiful setting and a beautiful breeze coming over you. I guess the goal is to be in the moment and not really think so hard. So I think I kind of enjoyed it today. Sometimes you don’t always enjoy it so much, but today I did for sure.
— VH1 Music (@VH1Music) May 17, 2015
In a few days you’re going to start the 1989 tour with Taylor Swift. Are you getting pumped?
I feel kind of nervous, although at the moment I feel relieved. We flew all night. We left at like 1 AM from L.A. last night so I didn’t really sleep and I’m kind of running on fumes now. I’m just going to enjoy it, go in the water, have a beer, sleep tonight, and then tomorrow start stressing about starting this crazy tour.
What are you looking forward to the most about the tour?
I guess whenever you do something for the first time, like a bigger scale show than you’ve ever done before, you can’t really recreate that moment. So I know that’s awaiting me. Whether it’s great or if I’m nervous and I come off thinking, “Oh no,” it’s going to be a rush and I’m going to be super excited and nervous. I definitely feel 100 percent alive in those moments. So it’s something to look forward to.
The whole thing seems like the plot of a movie: this superstar covers your song and then asks you to open on her huge tour. Can you talk a little about how it all fell into place?
She did this beautiful cover of my song “Riptide,” and I was really blown away by how great it was and how much emotion there was in it. I think her connecting with my song and liking my music was the main reason she chose me. I know she’s very selective and hand-picks her artists, and I was just the fortunate person on the other end.
At the time I didn’t think it was special at all. The only sign it was special was that it didn’t go away. I just kind of shelved it, and I don’t really do that as much now. [Now] I really persist with the ideas. But then I had no rush, there was no record label and no bigger picture. It was just me and I did it for fun. So I started writing and thought, “This is no good,” and put it away. Then four years later I was playing around on a ukulele and it came back to me. Then I finished the song really quickly. I think good ideas stay around.
You got started in music fairly late in life, after having earned your law degree. Do you have any advice for any late bloomers who really want to learn to write music but don’t know where to start?
I think an important part is listening to music a lot and playing covers. You find songs you really love and play them, and you try to unpack the songs and try to understand, “Oh wow, this is what they’ve done. These are the tricks.” Each songwriter has different tricks that they use. So you try to get a handle on different tricks, and basically you just try and copy those things, copy enough people, cover your tracks enough, and it’ll sound like you. I think that’s the best way: playing covers. That’s the perfect starting point.
I understand you’re a big metal fan.
I was mainly just a Metallica fan, for sure. That was a big influence on my guitar playing. When I was 14 I learned all the covers of Metallica songs, especially the intros. I think that sparked my love of music. Or at least sparked my love of guitar and teaching myself.
Is it true that you recorded your album Dream Your Life Away in a treehouse?
Yes! I was in Seattle at a studio called Bear Creek Studio, and this TV program made an episode with my producer, Ryan Hadlock. And they went to his property and built him a treehouse to use as a recording space. I was there at the time recording my album. This treehouse got knocked up [built] in two weeks , and then we just went in there and started tracking some vocals, did some overdubs, did some drum sounds. There’s a bed in there, a big jar of jelly beans, everything you need in there. It’s beautiful. It sways in the wind. It was a nice, intimate place to be sitting close with my producer, just talking and singing. There was no big glass wall, so ideas flowed nicely and easily.
What’s next for you? Are you working on any new material?
I’m always chipping away on songs. Then I’ll get on tour with Taylor Swift, keep writing songs, and I’m sure the year will pass quickly. Then I’ll take a break and get back into music.