Interview: Foy Vance (Part 3)

By on Thursday, 7th July 2016 at 11:00 am

This is part 3 of TGTF’s interview with Northern Irish singer/songwriter Foy Vance about his new album ‘The Wild Swan’. If you need to catch up, parts 1 and 2 of the interview are right back here and here.

Along with the previously mentioned ‘Noam Chomsky is a Soft Revolution’ and ‘Casanova’, the slow-burning track ‘Burden’ also found its way onto ‘The Wild Swan’ after the fact. And like the current single from the album, ‘Coco’, ‘Burden’ was written for someone Vance knows. “A friend of mine was going through a bit of a tough time. He’s one of those guys that carries everybody else’s burden and sort of forgets about his own. And again, I never wrote that with an intention of using it for a record or anything. [But] it felt like it had a place on there.”

Writing and publishing personal songs about friends might seem a bit of a risky avocation, but Vance was unconcerned about any possible gossip surrounding his songs. “I always write about my friends,” he confessed. “I would say a good 70% of the songs I write are for my friends or people that I know and love the most. They’re mostly funny, you know, songs that I send to friends for birthdays or Christmas. But there’s a few songs on [the new] record that are specifically written for people.” He did caution, however, that the songs shouldn’t be taken as a literal commentary on any specific situation. “You know, some of it’s written, then it becomes something else. That’s the thing about songs, they’re entities in a sense, they kind of they go on and become something else in the hands of listeners.”

Vance continued, “You know, there was other songs, like I say, ‘Noam Chomsky’ and ‘Casanova’, that weren’t planned for the record but then they found a home, and there was a couple of others that were meant to be on the record that just didn’t feel like they belonged in the end of it. You can’t really overthink these things. If your plan is too rigid, I think you miss a trick, you know, ‘cos life’s not like that.”

‘Noam Chomsky’ became a pivot point in the conversation when I asked Vance if he was including the song in the set list for his current stripped-back supporting slots. “I haven’t been actually,” he admitted. “I like to do that when I’ve got the full band together. [Otherwise] it sort of misses the guitar player. He’s got that lovely little ’50s, slightly slapback, echo-y sound. He plays this little lick and it’s hard to play that song without that, really.”

Vance has just wrapped up his tour with Elton John in Europe as well as a last-minute supporting slot for James Bay. He has scheduled a slew of summer festival dates, including a recent appearance at Glastonbury and upcoming sets at T in the Park, Latitude and the Calgary Folk Fest in Canada. But he seemed most excited about another support slot he’ll be playing in North America later this year with pop singer/songwriter Josh Groban. I was somewhat surprised to hear about that combination of artists, but Vance was optimistic. “Surprises are good,” he said. “I think it’ll be a different audience, but the thing is, you can never underestimate an audience.”

To emphasise his point, Vance related a colourful tale from his earlier days of touring, around the time of his first album ‘Hope’. “I was at this festival in Middlesborough in England, and I had been paid to do a slot in a really cool venue. It was a funny one because people weren’t sure whether they were meant to like it or not, because they hadn’t heard it on the radio yet. Everyone was standing around sort of looking at each other, you know. And when I got offstage, the promoter of the venue was in a tizz and I said ‘What’s up, man?’ He said, ‘A band have pulled out and I need to fill a 35-minute slot, but it’s in a death metal venue.’ And I said, ‘I’ll do it if you like. I’m happy to go and give it a crack.’ And I went in, and I started with ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC on my acoustic guitar and then I did ‘Black Hole Sun’ by Soundgarden. But then I spent the rest of the time doing my own set, which at that time was quite acoustic-y, singer/songwriter-y. And it was a great gig, one of the standout gigs [for me]. They were just absolutely open [to my songs]. So you can never underestimate an audience. I like playing to different audiences, whether it be Elton John’s audience or Ed Sheeran’s audience or James Bay’s audience or Josh Groban’s audience. You know, people are people are people.”

Following the Josh Groban tour, Vance will begin his own headline tour in Australia, where he will be accompanied by Kyle Lionhart. In late September, Vance will return to the U.S. for a run of headline dates beginning at the Valley Bar in Phoenix, Arizona, where I caught him live last summer. The American tour, with support from Trevor Sensor, will continue through October, ahead of Vance’s UK and Irish dates with Ryan McMullan in November and December.

Vance paused the discussion of his upcoming tour schedule to sing McMullan’s praises for a moment. “He is absolutely great. Actually at the minute he’s getting songs together for a new album. I hear a lot of people, you know travelling as much as I do, and doing gigs, and I often enjoy what I hear, but it’s very rare these days that I get completely floored by someone. When I first saw him, I saw him in a terrible sort of set, it was like a conference room for Hoover salesmen, in an old kind of crappy hotel with a terrible PA. But the second he opened his mouth, I was just completely transcended. And it’s just so rare these days that I get that blown away by a vocalist who sings like his life depends on it. I couldn’t help but reach out and say ‘Listen, do you want to work together, do you want to come on tour?’

The second half of 2016 looks to be exciting but exhausting for Vance, with non-stop touring through the end of the year. “Yeah, it really is so busy,” he remarked. “You know, I get home for two days, and then I’m away, and then two days and then away. I’m pretty much gone until the 10th or the 11th of December. But listen, a man of my age and skill set, I’ve got to make hay while the sun shines.”

We look forward to seeing Vance “make hay” on the road later this year. In the meantime, our thanks to Robbie for coordinating this interview. TGTF’s complete previous coverage of Foy Vance is back this way.

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