The Coast News Group
James Keogh, otherwise known as Vance Joy, is performing at Balboa Theatre Feb. 29. Photo by Darren Ankemann

Football, Swift and Joy all part of Vance’s success

In 2008, James Keogh was named the best first-year player in Australia’s Victorian Football League, part of that country’s rough-and-tumble Australian Rules Football scene. But he gave up football to pursue music, adopting the stage name Vance Joy, and in 2013, landed a five-album deal with Atlantic Records.

His debut EP, “God Loves You When You’re Dancing,” was released that year. Then came the single “Riptide” and his “overnight” success.

The platinum-certified ukulele pop hit landed Joy on television shows, like “Good Morning America.” It’s been all over the radio and Joy was hand picked to open for Taylor Swift on her “1989” world tour last year. It’s obviously been quite an experience for Joy.

“Compared to a lot of artists, my journey has been shorter,” Joy said of his rise to fame in a recent phone interview.

“In the last two years, I’ve been busy. Before I was writing songs, but it was mostly me and my guitar and being at home. The only shows I played were around my home area. It was a real shift in terms of the size and scale of my performances. The audience has really grown in a few short months of time.”

Joy admitted that the songs that make up “Dream Your Life Away,” his 2014 debut album, didn’t come together instantly. At least one of them dates back to 2010.

“Some of those songs have been five years in the making,” Joy said. “I’d think of it, playing guitar, and work on pieces of it and then the pieces come together. You can’t rush things too much. All those song have taken a long time.”

That slow process means that Joy is constantly working on new songs.

“You’ve always got a little stream of creativity that’s running, you hope,” he said. “There’s always something happening. There’s always stuff slowly coming along.”

Some of those songs are likely destined for a second album. But that’s a ways out yet. Joy has been busy since 2014 playing headlining shows, many on college campuses, some festivals, including Coachella in 2015, where, he was happy to report, thousands knew something of his music, and now opening for Swift.

“It’s amazing,” Joy said of Coachella. “It’s a great festival. The first weekend was exciting. You’re nervous, knowing it’s a big deal. The show was good, though. Then we got to enjoy some of the other acts, St. Vincent, Florence and the Machine and some of the EDM. It was pretty incredible.”

There’s plenty of difference, Joy has found, between playing festivals and his own shows, Joy said.

“At festivals, it’s not all about you,” Joy said. “You come on and you’re part of the lineup of bands. You play for a shorter amount of time and you don’t get much of a sound check. They can be a bit more exciting because of the unexpected.

“The headlining shows are cool because the people have bought tickets and come to see you,” he said. “They’re definitely going to bring a knowledge of the music and an excitement to see you. That can really get you going.”

Understandably enough, the biggest reaction at all Joy’s shows comes from “Riptide.”

But other songs, like “Mess is Mine” and “Georgia,” have also gotten strong in-concert reactions.

“When you’ve got a big song, that’s people’s introduction to you,” Joy said. “That’s what you expect. It’s encouraging to see people reacting to different songs. That’s always good. You want people to appreciate all your songs.”

The “big song” also introduced Joy to Swift. In 2014, she covered “Riptide” on BBC Radio, then tabbed Joy to open her “1989” tour. Joy was, first, surprised Swift did the song, then stunned when he was chosen to open her tour.

“It was very exciting,” he said. “What an opportunity.”

The Swift U.S. tour wrapped up on Halloween at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. But, appropriately enough, Joy also opened three big Swift concerts in his homeland, two of them in stadiums, where he very well might have played football rather than guitar and ukulele.

Those stadium shows — and his current U.S. headlining tour, which plays theaters and large clubs — have served as vivid reminders of the last five years in Joy’s fast-moving life and career.

“I’ve definitely had a really good run so far,” he said. “It’s been a lot of hard work. But I have a really good team around me and we’ve done a lot. I don’t have much time to sit back and go ‘wow.’ But every now and then, I’ll have a beer and we’ll actually look back and it’s been good. But we’re still working.”