Interview: Foy Vance (Part 1)

By on Tuesday, 5th July 2016 at 11:00 am

Up to this point, 2016 has been a busy year for Foy Vance, and the Northern Irish singer/songwriter doesn’t show any signs of slowing his hectic pace as he swings into the year’s second half. Vance released a new album, ‘The Wild Swan’, back in May, after signing with his friend and colleague Ed Sheeran‘s Gingerbread Man Records. Following the album release and a sold out, one-off show at London’s Hoxton Hall on the 12th of May, Vance played a string of support dates in the UK for legendary pop superstar Elton John. We at TGTF caught up with Vance for a quick chat about ‘The Wild Swan’ during that run of dates, just before his pre-show soundcheck at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.

Vance was affable and relaxed on the afternoon of our interview, despite the impending soundcheck and the grand scale of the evening’s show. The novelty of the occasion might have worn off for Vance, as he spent the early part of this year touring with John in Australia. Still, he clearly relished the moment as he related that initial experience to me. “Do you know what, Carrie, embarrassingly, that is the first time I had ever heard Elton John live, when I was supporting him [in Australia]. He was an absolute revelation. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him live, but if you get a chance to, make sure you don’t miss out, because he’s phenomenal. The thing that just hits me, and I think hits everyone that goes to see him, is just how many great songs he plays, just song after song, and you end up thinking, ‘Wow, he wrote that’. It’s a great show, very inspiring.”

It’s perhaps well-known by now that Vance’s connection with Elton John was formed via their mutual friendship with pop phenom Sheeran. “Ed had played him [John] some of my songs, and he liked them. And then I went to his house for dinner one night in L.A., me and Ed and Elton, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come on tour with me? And I said, ‘Let me check my diary.’”

Vance, of course, accepted the offer, and later gave John the ambiguous title of Executive Producer in the album credits for ‘The Wild Swan’. “He was a sounding board for me,” Vance explains. “That was a tip of that to him, for taking me on tour, being there when I was writing new stuff or [when] I’d pull out older songs that I was thinking about. It wasn’t even so much that he would lead the charge on that album. I always feel like the buck stops with me, no matter how many opinions I get. I always have to make the last decision. I think that’s the way it should be. If you’re making art, you need to be a bit of a fascist about it, you know. But it was great to have someone like him to bounce these songs off, and get feedback from someone that’s a wee bit of a musicologist. Because Elton listens to so much music, he’s got a lot to say about it.”

After the Australian tour, Vance travelled to America to record ‘The Wild Swan’ at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios, with acclaimed producer and sound engineer Jacquire King at the helm. King has worked with a number of well-known artists in recent memory, including James Bay and Kings of Leon, but Vance cited a different influence for the collaboration. “You know, the reason I wanted to work with Jacquire was not actually for the records that he’d be most known for, Kings of Leon or James Bay, it’s not those albums that really drew me to him, to be honest with you. It was a couple of records that he did with Tom Waits, one in particular called the ‘Mule Variations’. Not only is the album exquisite, you know, from a songwriting point of view, and from a performance point of view, musicianship and all that, but [I found] the sonic identity, the sonic quality of it so inspiring. So I’ve known of Jacquire for a long time because of that record, and when I went to meet him, we had a good chat about the kind of sound that I would want, more to those type records than the sort of newer stuff he’s doing. And he got it, you know, he got where I was coming from and I think he did a great job of capturing what we did.”

Vance deliberately took an unstructured and spontaneous approach to the actual recording of the album at King’s Blackbird Studios. “I guess I prefer an approach that’s a bit more like a collaboration with the space. As soon as you went into that room, it started to sound a certain way, so we started to play a certain way. You play to the space, and I played the songs that felt right.”

Head back to TGTF tomorrow for part 2 of my interview with Foy Vance about his new album ‘The Wild Swan’, including his thoughts on the next single from the album, ‘Coco’. In the interim, you can gain more insight on the making of the album in Vance’s new video ‘Finding the Wild Swan (Part 1)’ below.


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