Foy Vance has had quite the year. After releasing his third album, ‘The Wild Swan’, on Ed Sheeran’s new record label, he supported Elton John on his Wonderful Crazy Tour, graced the stages of summer festivals like Glastonbury and Latitude, and taken his The Wild Swan World Tour across Australia, North America, and now Europe.
Ahead of a run of UK shows, including two nights at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, he tells us about living in an Oklahoma town as a child, rediscovering love, Tom Waits, writing with Ed Sheeran, working with Elton John, and the seven years he spent in London.
What’s your first musical memory? You’ve previously said that travelling with your dad in the American South during your childhood helped shape you musically.
We lived in Oklahoma, in a small town that only had a few hundred people living there. It had a garage, a shop, a school, and that was it. So, people would come around to our house every week, every Wednesday and Sunday. My dad was a preacher at the time, and they would sing. Singing was their worship. They were the Church of Christ and they didn’t rely on instruments, but the cool thing about that was that everyone used their voice in a unique way. It was the regularity of that happening every week that influenced me. I would just sit and listen to the glorious noise that was being made. It was great.
So when did you write your first song?
I attempted to write my first song at about 15 and continued to write from then on, but it’s fair to say that I never wrote anything worth listening to until I was 24. Oddly enough the catalyst for my writing songs of any merit was the death of my father. Since then there hasn’t been a week where I haven’t written something.
And now you’re on your third solo album. Listening to ‘The Wild Swan’, how do you think it reflects your personal and musical growth since the last one, ‘Joy Of Nothing’?
It was a relatively quick turnaround, making the record. Making it was kind of like all the other ones really. I guess it’s an augmentation, there’s a tip of the hat to some of the stuff I’ve done before I suppose. The whole idea of this record is to get the songs the love they deserve. So the record doesn’t have a sonic feel really. Like ‘Joy of Nothing’ was a bit more thread-lined, but this is just more a collection of songs. We tried to create the right world for the songs. It was just nice to know that when this one was finished, there’s a few more cogs spinning to get it out there.
What particular song on the album, to you, best showcases that growth or sums up what you wanted to achieve with ‘The Wild Swan’?
There’s a lot more about love, and new love, and rediscovering love on this record than there was on the last one. The last one was more about the death of it. I just wanted to pick songs that felt good enough and felt like they belonged together somehow. There are certain songs on the record that are in the same vein as each other and there’s other ones that stick out like a sore thumb, but I like the idea of a little collection of vignettes, and to approach each song as its own entity. ‘The Joy Of Nothing’, sonically speaking, sort of tied in all together from top to bottom, and this record is a bit more of considered tangents.
You worked with Jacquire King, who recorded and mixed one of your favourite albums, Tom Waits’ ‘Mule Variations’. What do you love about that album and what did you hope Jacquire would bring to ‘The Wild Swan’?
‘Mule Variations’ is not only an exquisitely written record but a wonderful sounding record. I actually flew out to meet Jacquire in person before I agreed to work with him because I wanted to look in the whites of his eyes and make sure we’d be on the same page. I didn’t want something too clean, polished, and commercial. He was a joy to work with.
Elton John is the album’s executive producer and took you out on tour with him earlier this year. Were you able to pick his brain?
He was really instrumental in the conversations – not that I always needed his advice, but it was nice to have someone like him seeing songs through when I was compiling songs for the record, thinking what I should record, someone like him, who’s so articulate and educated on music and the music that’s coming out now. He buys every record that comes out every week, new releases. He buys them, listens to them, reviews them; he knows his stuff inside out, so it was nice to have someone like him on board just to talk through songs with. I found it really helpful.
Although you write songs with other people, your own albums don’t have any co-writes. Are these songs too personal to share?
I’m not snobby about it, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing with other people for myself, because that feels like my own private joy. I don’t mind collaborating if the song is for the artist I’m working with or for someone else. In that case, I’m far more open to connecting with their sensibilities and where they want to take it.
One of those people you’ve connected with in that respect is Ed Sheeran. What have those collaborations shown you?
With someone like Ed, I’m valuable in those moments when he gets stumped because I’ll throw a curveball to help him unblock his thoughts. Sometimes, even an offbeat idea we’ll never use can trigger a fresh open door. He’ll take a song places I wouldn’t go melodically or lyrically, which makes me think about the choices I make.
You’ll be performing at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in a few weeks. What’s your lasting memory of your first ever London show?
I lived in south London for seven years, but it wasn’t for me. As much as it is the greatest city in the world – that’s not up for debate – to live in London I was having to gig every hole in the wall to keep the dream alive. It was so expensive. I couldn’t make plans. I found it really hard to be in London and think clearly. You need time and you need silence.
- Foy Vance brings The Wild Swan Tour to Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 18 and 19 November 2016. Tickets are available now.