Vance Joy's debut EP "God Loves You When You're Dancing" worms its way under your skin. It's not an easy task to produce a record so evocative, yet so stripped-back; simplicity in art is often a challenging feat. For Melbourne-based singer and songwriter Vance Joy, the songs began as a collection of loose threads, which over time naturally weaved together, like they were always meant to find a life of their own.
Like the unforced orchestration of his songs, Vance Joy's recent success developed organically. Earning his chops on Melbourne's open mic circuit, he tested out new material at venues like the iconic Great Britain Hotel in Richmond. Naturally, his music attracted fans, press and label interest. Before long, the musician played sold-out shows at The Worker's Club and The Toff in Town in Melbourne, and penned a deal with Liberation Music. He's since hit the national touring circuit with support slots for Of Monsters and Men and Julia Stone already this year. In March, Vance Joy embarks on his first international appearance at SXSW.
Vance Joy's love of music was inspired by his mother's aptitude at literature and his father's fondness of singing. His parents' vast, eclectic record collection only served to heighten his partiality to it -- while he was growing up he would listen to everything from The Pogues to Paul Kelly. After completing a university degree in law, he decided to take a year's break to focus on making music. He travelled to India and South-East Asia with a collection of songs rattling around in his head. When he came home, they all fell into place. "I'm learning subtleties in my voice, understanding what I sound like and trying to embrace who I am," he intimates. "It wasn't rushed song writing at all."
The production process for "God Loves You When You're Dancing" was any artist's dream. For just one week Vance Joy holed up with producer John Castle (Lior, The Drones) in The Shed Studios with Ed White on percussion and cello. "It was spontaneous," Vance Joy says. "John's style is very instinctive, and that felt really good for me. I'd have an idea, and he'd just say 'let's do it.' For us, the whole process felt right."
The EP opens with the lilting 'Emmylou,' a lullaby with a subtle streak of darkness. "The keyboard and harmonium give the song tension; a sense of pensiveness," Vance Joy says. "The best lullabies are gentle and tender but also hint at the real world outside." The striking element in this song is the delicate guitar, which Vance Joy wanted to sound like "rolling, pulsing momentum. Like a Bruce Springsteen song." 'Riptide,' the EP's second track gives the record a rhythmic texture, highlighting his raw, stripped-back song writing. After Vance Joy made the track available for download on triple j unearthed he quickly developed a fan base.
"I was house-sitting this awesome mansion in Camberwell which had a piano," he says, referring to 'Play With Fire.' "I wrote this song on that piano. It's really just the same chords over, and over. It's not a complicated song at all, and that's why I like it." The song, similar to Tom Petty's simple yet powerfully expressive song structures, was written with as much delicacy as ease for Vance Joy. "That song just wrote itself."
'Snaggletooth,' the EP's second-last track plucks at the heartstrings with every strum of Vance Joy's ukulele. His lyrics are beautifully put, with lines including "when she sings, the heavens part." He explains that the song is about embracing the imperfections in the people you love. Just as you thought Vance Joy couldn't take hold of your emotional core any further, 'From Afar' wallops you in the chest. 'From Afar,' the latest single off the EP, tells the story of romance, friendship or life-long camaraderie gone awry.
"God Loves You When You're Dancing" comes from an artist who finds beauty in darkness, and power in simplicity.