Interview: Foy Vance

By on Friday, 13th September 2013 at 11:00 am

Amid the trolley cars and bustle of an afternoon in Dublin, Foy Vance took the time out to talk to Cheryl about his week old release ‘Joy of Nothing’. The album includes Cheryl’s current frontrunner for song of the year, ‘Closed Hand, Full of Friends’. Curiously, the video for that song was filmed just days ago and caused an uproar of its own. Makes us all a little more anxious to see the final product.

Until then, Foy tells us a little about what’s going on in his life.

Last week was release day, but you were here in NYC. Why there instead of back at home?
It was just the way it worked out, I was out there doing radio stations and interviews and stuff. The record label is out of New York, the publisher is out of New York, the managers are out of New York, so that made sense. It was a beautiful evening. I mean we were in Electric Lady Studios, come on! It has the consciousness of the world.

When I compare the new songs to the ones on ‘Hope’, the old songs are kind of vague in their structure and ‘Joy of Nothing’ seems to have a more distinct song structure, more form and they stick in your head better. Tell me about the change to your songwriting style.
You know I find it really hard to categorize songs and genres, I’ve never really been good at that. I do know these songs have a bloodline, they have a thread, a similarity. But I don’t know how much of that is what’s beyond the songs themselves, or how much of that is how they were recorded, or the musicians that we used, or the producer I worked with. It’s really hard to know. With this record, we were a bit more efficient. When I recorded ‘Hope’ I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was producing it myself and I never should have done that. It was a steep learning curve and I’m glad I did it, but you know it produced some quite lumpy results as far as I was concerned. I was always happy with the songs, I still am, but I don’t feel like I delivered the album that I would have wanted. With this record the songs were like family, they knew they belonged together. There was a real coherent vision for making this record.

When the songs came out of you, could you tell that these songs were going to be able to take you all the way around the world like your tour is about to take you?
No, I think that’s the beauty of music that is often lost at times. You know, when people treat it like an industry – you need to write a really good chorus and you have to have a strong bridge, and it has to be no more than one minute before you get to the chorus because it’s this that or the other. I think the beauty of songwriting is that you do it for itself, you know what I mean? There’s no other reason bar just the joy of writing it.

Do you prefer to write on the piano or on the guitar?
I write on whatever, really. I’m a big fan of not having a set formula. I know people that do that, most of them write formulaic music. There are some great songwriters out there in the world, some songwriters historically that have co-written together every morning at nine and stop at five and they’ve written some of the world’s greatest hits, but I’m just not one of those people. It works better for me if I sort of just do whatever feels right. If I feel like playing guitar, I’ll play guitar and I’ll just mess around and improvise with chords and if I find something that I like I’ll stick with it, maybe sing something to it. It’s always different. Sometimes it comes with the lyric, sometimes it comes with the melody, it’s everchanging and I like it that way.

‘Closed Hands, Full of Friends’ is probably my favorite song of the year so far. Can you tell me a little bit about how it came about? I know it was the first one that you wrote for the album and that caused the rest of the album to flow but can you tell me how that first one started.
I had been living in London for seven years and I have the opinion that London in one the greatest cities in the world, it’s a great city. But the thing with living there, sometimes you have to work so hard to facilitate your life there that you don’t get to enjoy London for all its treasures. So I found that all I ever did was tour and the world had become one big city, connected by flight paths and motorways. Then I’d come home to rest and I’d be in a city again. And I’d get woke up at 6 a.m. every morning by this tire company across the road unscrewing tires every morning and I’d be thinking ‘Why am I here? I need to be somewhere quiet.’ So I thought I’d had enough of this and I needed to go somewhere quiet. So I moved up to the highlands of Scotland and the second I got there the dust seemed to settle and I could see things clearer and I could think more clearly. And I started to refine things that were going on in my life.

I’m curious, what does it look like up there? Just how far out in the wilds are you?
Well I’m actually in a town which is in the wilds, in the middle of a valley, quite a small town but a very amenable town. It’s very artisan, it’s got a couple of galleries and a 1950s art deco cinema there. But when I open my door, morning, noon or night, there’s no sound whatsoever. Aside, if you listen close enough, you can hear the River Tay run by the house. This town is right on the River Tay and a few miles away from Loch Tay and when you stand on the first mountain, and for a 130 odd miles north there’s nothing but mountains.

On Twitter the other day, you said happy birthday to “Janey”. Who is she and how does she feel about having a song about her?
Oh Janey loves it. Janey’s pretty much my best friend; she’s a great girl I’ve got to know over the last 10 years or whatever it’s been. We’re just very close, her and her husband. I guess it’s an ambiguous song, it sounds like it’s a song for a lover, but it’s just a song for a friend. She’s a beautiful girl and she loves the fact that she’s got a song written about her. We laugh every time.

One of my other favorite songs is ‘Indiscriminate Act of Kindness’, but on this new album it seems like you have abandoned the third person storytelling like in that and ‘Gabriel and the Vagabond’. Are you happier, more satisfied writing more personal songs?
More satisfied, yes, but I think it’s whatever comes naturally I think. Like I said, I don’t like to sit down and try to write a song of any type or style. Other people can do that better than I, I think it’s important to figure out your strengths and play to them. And embrace your weaknesses. So I write whatever comes naturally and that’s what came naturally this time. The next record may be not very personal at all, but I can’t ever see that happen to be honest. It seems natural to write what I know.

I saw you play in January with Ed Sheeran. At the time I thought it was an odd pairing but was blown away by how well you two meshed. And now you’ve gone and recorded your most famous yet to be released track ‘Guiding Light’ with him. How did you decide to do that?
It did seem like an odd pairing to me and to be honest there was a time a few years ago when if someone like Ed had asked me to go on tour with him, I would have turned it down because I would have turned them because I would have thought, “that’s not my crowd’. But what I realized about Ed was that even though he’s got this pop persona in the media, and that’s what we perceive him as, a pop-star, what he does with his audience is really heartfelt. He’s a very sincere guy, he really means what he does. That’s the only thing that really matters in music, you know, do you mean it? There’s not good music or bad music, is it true or is it not? Is it felt, does it have an ulterior motive? I think Ed has that, he’s just 22. He writes about stuff in a 22-year old way. He articulates himself to his generation. And it’s apparent because the guy’s a superstar the world over. But him and I got on really, really well. It was a song that was always important to him. He would close his sets with it for a while before I met him. So we sang it together in the Ryman one night [a historic theatre in Nashville, Tennessee] and we thought we should give this a go together. To see what it’s like. The last thing I wanted to do was appear mercenary because he’s a superstar, and I’m completely not. And I was fully prepared to not use it if it didn’t feel right. I didn’t want it for his name, I wanted it for his heart. There’s not contrived on this album, there isn’t anything on this record that doesn’t belong there, as far as I’m concerned. Whether it’s good or bad and whether people like it or not is another thing. But for me it’s articulate and it’s honest.

Do you have a favorite track to play live?
No, I wouldn’t say I have a favourite, it changes from night to night. Some nights a song works brilliant and other nights another one does. You just get up each night and try to get into the songs as much as you possibly can.

Thanks so much for taking the time with us and see you on your tour in the autumn.
Cheers. See you then.

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3 Responses

11:02 am
13th September 2013

New post: Interview: Foy Vance @foyvance chats with our Cheryl:

2:40 pm
13th September 2013

RT @tgtf: New post: Interview: Foy Vance @foyvance chats with our Cheryl:

12:39 am
14th September 2013

Interview: Foy Vance via @tgtf

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