Interview: Foy Vance

“The whole world is one big city…we’re all interconnected.”

Posted on Aug 26th, 2013 in Features and Interviews, Foy Vance, Glassnote / By Richard Kemp
Interview: Foy Vance Foy Vance is a man of the world - not to say he necessarily understands the life and plight of every human being, but the singer-songwriter has visited and lived in an awful lot of places. No better is this shown than in his music, which has been something of a journey all of itself.

Born in Northern Ireland, Vance grew up on an estate in the seaside town of Bangor. His father was a preacher, whose priestly duties took him and the family all over, eventually seeing them relocate to Oklahoma, USA. After a few years living their American life, the family moved back to Northern Ireland, but with the travel bug well and truly in place, Vance quickly got itchy feet and upped sticks for London. He spent some years in the controlled chaos of the Big Smoke until it was time to move on once more – this time to the Scottish Highlands, a place that Vance has called home ever since.

Art and music were vital elements to Vance’s childhood and so it comes as little surprise that he now does this for a living. “Art was always about when I was growing up… my dad was the one who first taught me the guitar,” he explains. “At parties, Granny would get everyone together and make us all ‘do our piece’, as she called it.”

Granny’s ‘pieces’ helped ignite Vance’s love for music, though he always viewed this part of his life as very personal - more of a hobby than something out of which to forge a career. This ideal he has held close ever since and it shows in his writing style.

Vance’s latest record, Joy Of Nothing, comes six years after his debut. For many musicians, there would be another two albums on the shelves by now, but Vance wasn’t ready to leap back into the recording studio so soon. In 2007, shortly after the release of his first record, Hope, he began to have second thoughts. “After that album came out, I realised there were parts I wasn’t that pleased with.”

Following this, Vance decided to change his whole approach to making music. Rather than rush a song and get it out before it was really complete, Vance chose to let the music create itself. “Songs are not commodities,” he says. “They’re more important than that.”

This led to him sometimes spending days or weeks just mulling over an idea, a chorus or a line of prose before even writing anything down. Naturally, some might see this as procrastination – after all, Vance admires any artist who is able to sit down and simply write a piece of music - but, for him, he considers it an integral part of the creative process.

Listening to Joy Of Nothing, it is clear that this extra time has paid off. The record is a jubilant romp of acoustic bliss, juxtaposed with loud flurries of orchestral intensity. Quiet and loud in all the right places.

As much an individual piece of work, the album owes a lot to Vance’s strong bonds with Irish and American culture. When pushed as to which country has shaped his writing style the most, it’s hard for Vance to decide, though he is aware that the two countries provide very different qualities to his song writing. The US, he says, is a country of inspiration, while Ireland is more poetic. “The States, they’re really one big melting pot of the world…You’ve got Appalachia, country, western, jazz, rockabilly, so many styles all coming together.”

One musical style that has had a real impact on Vance’s writing is gospel. On the road with his preacher father, travelling from state to state, Vance got exposed to this emotive side of worship on a regular basis and it has stuck with him. The title track on Joy Of Nothing serves as a prime example of how Vance can mix calm beauty with seamless lyricism and a colossal onslaught of musicality. Much like Vance’s kinship with gospel, ‘Joy Of Nothing’ stays with you long after the song has ended.

As album titles go, this one came to Vance with relative ease just after he left London for the wonder of the Scottish Highlands. “I don’t want to sound pretentious or anything,” he says, “but I feel it was during that journey, from the humdrum of the big city to the absolute nothingness that awaited me, that this album was conceived.”

Once he arrived, one of the first things that struck Vance was the truly deafening silence. It didn’t take long to happen across a spot where he could be alone, lost in his thoughts or out of them entirely. “There, I eventually learnt that nothing’s worth saying… I found the joy of nothing.”

Over the years, Vance has had the pleasure of sharing stage with many great acts, including Michael Kiwanuka, Ed Sheeran and David Gray. He particularly enjoyed David Gray’s shows, whose fans are some of the best to play to: “They’re real music people,” he says. “They really want to listen to what you have to say.”

Nevertheless, there is one artist that holds a special place in Vance’s heart. In 2005, he was invited to go on tour with blues Americana legend, and staunch activist, Bonnie Raitt. From the moment they met, Vance and Raitt got on like a house on fire, so much so that Raitt invited him on tour again this year. Of all the accolades that Raitt has earned over the years, Vance cherishes her unwavering kindness over all. “One night in Glasgow,” he recounts, “as Bonnie was about to go on stage, she stops and starts asking me, ‘so is everything OK? Do you need anything in your dressing room?’ and I have to tell her, ‘Bonnie, please, just go on. Don’t worry about me!’”

Once he finished writing ‘You and I’, a delicate ode to his audience, Vance went on the hunt for a female singer. However, he quickly realised there was only one person he wanted. “I would never have asked Bonnie to do a duet with me – she’s a multi Grammy award winner! But I asked if she wouldn’t mind doing backing vocals on the track.” Thankfully, she agreed. The song is a gorgeous, lilting trip, made all the better by Raitt’s presence.

Back on the road again, Vance just completed a string of festival dates, including T in the Park, Truck Festival and, most recently, Tennent’s Vital in Belfast. His new material has been getting great responses from live crowds: “There is a kind of camaraderie from audiences that is only just beginning to surface now,” he says.

Vance still has a few dates left in the UK, Ireland and the US before he embarks on a world tour to promote the new album. The tour is scheduled from October until the end of December, so he’ll be plenty busy. Nevertheless, he will make sure to go back to Northern Ireland for Christmas and ‘do his piece’ with the rest of the family.

Foy Vance’s new album, Joy Of Nothing, is released on 26th August 2013 through Glassnote Records.