- June 2014 -
HAVE A BEER WITH FOY VANCE
Musician Foy Vance was born in the North Ireland town of Bangor, but his passion for traditional music was born in the Southern part of the United States. As a child, Foy relocated with his father, a preacher, to Oklahoma. While there, he traveled the American South, widening his horizons and absorbing rich musical traditions. Returning to Ireland some years later, Foy began writing his own music, deeply shaped by the sounds of his youth. Since those days, he has spent a considerable amount of time on the road, touring with the likes of Michael Kiwanuka, Marcus Foster and Snow Patrol. Foy’s newest album, Joy Of Nothing, was released on Glassnote Records (home of Mumford & Sons, Phoenix and more) in August of 2013 and includes collaborations with Bonnie Raitt and Ed Sheeran.
Foy is currently touring with South Carolina alternative rock band NEEDTOBREATHE on their Rivers in the Wasteland World Tour, which makes a weekend stop at House of Blues Chicago on June 14 and 15 (buy tickets here). We chatted with Foy about his impressive mustache, what "Joy Of Nothing" encompasses and why it's important sometimes to "just be."
The Show: NEEDTOBREATHE with Foy Vance at House of Blues, June 14 and 15, 2014
Drink of Choice: Gin and tonic (made with Hendrick's) with a slice of cucumber.
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: First off, I am loving the accent. How often do you get comments about it?
Foy Vance: Only when I'm here in the States. When I'm home we all speak the same. It's you guys who have funny accents, not me.
Kristen: Yeah, we do, especially in Chicago. You'll notice that when you're here. It's jarring. Important questions first. You have a very impressive mustache.
Foy: Is this website only about alcohol and mustaches?
Kristen: Yeah, basically all we cover is mustaches and beer. Have you had the mustache for a while?
Foy: I think it started during the Joy of Nothing, which is maybe why I've kept it. I was on tour, hadn't shaved and went straight into the studio. By the end of whatever that was--six weeks or whatever--I looked like Fu Manchu. It started off really patchy, since it takes me about two months to grow any hair on my face at all. I thought I'd just leave it for a bit of a laugh one day.
Kristen: It's got a really nice curl on the ends that you don't see very often.
Foy: That would be the ‘stache wax.
Kristen: What advice or tips do you have for guys looking to grow a mustache?
Foy: All you have to do is…if you work in an office, just go to the office, do your work, eat your dinner, hang out with your mates and go to sleep. Then wake up, go to the office the next day and just keep doing that for like two months or three months…depends on how quickly your facial hair grows. Sooner later the 'stache will come. After that it's all about what kind of mustache you want. I saw a man at the airport the other day with a mustache that, I kid you not, was almost out to the end of his arms if he were to stretch them out.
Kristen: No way.
Foy: Yeah, he was clearly part of some mustache exhibition…you know how they have those things? "Beard offs." It looked like it had wire in it to hold it together. So, yeah, you can do what you like with your facial hair. Your face is your own.
Kristen: Did he intimidate you at all? Did you feel your mustache was inferior?
Foy: No, I thought he was inferior [Laughs]. He looked like a man who didn't know when to stop. He was obsessed.
Kristen: Now that we have the two most important questions out of the way let's get to the real stuff. You traveled with your dad in the American South for a portion of your childhood and you absorbed some of their music and traditions. What part of that experience do you feel like shaped you the most musically?
Foy: You know what, the part that shaped me the most would actually be what happened in the house. 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.
Kristen: So, how long did you actually live there for?
Foy: It was about four or five years. My dad and I went back to Ireland when I was a bit older. I was only a kid at the time. We came back to Ireland when I was five.
Kristen: Maybe you were too young to remember, but what was that transition like? Was it hard going back?
Foy: Yeah, like I said I was a child, so my memories are little snapshots of here and there. But I do remember being upset on the plane. I remember being upset about having to live at my Grammy’s house for the first month or so after we got home. It was freezing cold and she had an outdoor toilet. You had to go outside to pee.
Kristen: No way. That's what we call an outhouse here in the States.
Foy: Yeah, she had an outhouse. That’s mainly what I remember about that transition.
Kristen: So, you're currently living in Northern Ireland then?
Foy: You know what, I don't really know where I live to be quite honest. I did have a house in Scotland that had some pants and socks and stuff in it, which I get to see every now and then. But I’ve been on the road now for so long. When I do go home I go back to the Highlands of Scotland. I was in London for about seven years, but I needed to get out, get away and be surrounded by things that were hundreds of years old.
Kristen: My next question for you was going to be what your favorite thing about home is, but I guess I'll ask this instead: what's your favorite thing about being out on the road?
Foy: The thought of getting home [Laughs]. You can make home wherever you are. I'm pretty good at making house in my bunk on the bus. It's quite fun. They all laugh at me because I've got little bags in there. I've got my rubbish bin, my water, my books…Everyone else has got nothing but a pillow and a duvet and I've got my life.
Kristen: You're basically moved in.
Foy: Yeah, and I quite like that. It's nice. And obviously getting to play in front of a new group of people every night is the icing on the cake really. That's what we do it for. Sometimes traveling can be a bit mundane if you don't utilize your time well, but it's all worth it once you get up there and get to play music.
Kristen: You're on tour right now with NEEDTOBREATHE. How has the run been so far? I'm looking forward to seeing you guys at House of Blues. It's going to be a great show.
Foy: It's great. They're a great bunch of guys. I had never heard of them before, even though I know they're quite big over here. I listened to their stuff and I was going, "Yeah, that's good, yeah that's good," but when I heard their song called "Brother" it just hit me like a freight train. It really did. That was the song that unlocked them for me and I saw everything else they did. And now that I've met them they're all just great guys. They're all in it for the right reasons. We played Pittsburgh the other night and after the gig we stood out in the back by the car park and the buses and sang songs and passed the guitar around until all hours of the morning. It's good fun. That's what it's all about. The music.
Kristen: That's awesome. Let's talk about your album Joy Of Nothing. How did it come together as a record?
Foy: Well, you know what, it kind of came in two different spurts. I guess the catalyst for the record was a song "Closed Hand, Full of Friends" because I had lived in London for seven years and London is a great place to live if you want to go and see comedy, or a show at the theater or live music. It's got it all. But when you live there, you've gotta work so hard to facilitate the London dream that you end up not getting to appreciate the finer points of the city. So, I wanted to get out of there--I wanted to get out quick--and when I did, I was like a man let loose. I remember sitting on the train and eventually getting up into Scotland, passing through the mountains and the ranges and just watching the scenery change and feeling like a new beginning was happening. That song "Closed Hand, Full of Friends" was written on that train. I was renting a house in the Highlands, which I hadn't seen. I saw one picture of it online and I said, "Yeah, that's good." It was this little house that I found through a friend of a friend type thing. I'd been down there before and I knew roughly where the house was. I also knew it was a beautiful setting. In the evenings all you can hear is the river run by. It's lovely.
Kristen: How could you say "no" to that?
Foy: Exactly. So, that trip was the catalyst for the song. When I got up there I wrote another batch of songs. I can't remember what they were, but five or six songs came in three or four days. They all felt complete, kind of like siblings, and it seemed like they belonged together. That was pretty much the beginning of the record.
Kristen: This could be my own personal take on the album, but there's a bittersweet element to it. There's a recurring concept of beauty found in sadness. Can you touch a little bit on this theme within the record and how it developed? For me, the title track “Joy Of Nothing” encompasses the whole feel of the record.
Foy: Absolutely, it does. If I had a better memory I would be able to quote this verbatim, but there's a poem by Rudyard Kipling called "If" that my dad used to recite to me. It was one of his favorites. There's a line in it about victory and defeat coming to you, and if you can treat those two impostors just the same, the world is yours and everything in it, and further more you'll be a man, my son. I always loved that idea. No matter what comes your way, you deal with it for what it is and take it on the chin. And that's kind of what the Joy Of Nothing is. Everything is worth appreciating. What else is there to do?
Foy: Yeah…I'm not sure if you can tell but with a couple of songs on there…that year had its moments. But I think having written the “Joy Of Nothing” before writing those other more painful, more raw songs…I think I was in a better headspace to start making the record. It was a cathartic thing you know.
Kristen: I think about that all the time with creative endeavors. If you create something tangible out of your experience, it's a sort of healing process.
Foy: Absolutely. And that was actually my introduction to music. I never started writing because I wanted to be in a pop band or I wanted to be famous or wind up losing money. It was just an outlet for me-- and my own private outlet. For many, many years no one even knew I wrote songs. Even when I was playing in cover bands I would keep it to myself. I was writing for my own self, not for anybody else. Thankfully I’ve been able to keep that approach when it's the right process.
Kristen: For sure. I have a professor that told me when you first start writing it's because you're trying to understand yourself. But the farther along in the process you get, the more it becomes about understanding the world around you. And then everything just goes so much farther than just you or one song.
Foy: Oh, absolutely. If you get all the parts right and they all fit together nice--the cadence of the piece and the melody of the piece, the identity of the piece, the lyrics of the piece--if you get that all right, something transcendental will happen. There's no feeling quite like that.
Kristen: Obviously then you've grown as an artist from this album and your 2007 album Hope. How has the creative process changed for you? Or has it?
Foy: With regards to documenting the pieces and capturing the pieces on Joy Of Nothing, that process was very different than it was on Hope. With Hope, I did most of it myself and with a friend of mine named Sam. We did it at a cottage in Northern Ireland. Basically that process was just putting mics in the general vicinity of instruments and playing songs. I didn't really think too hard about the arc of the album or what songs should be in there or what it was trying to say. I was 22 at the time, and that was my first record, and I felt like I needed to have everything in the kitchen sink. I wanted to start off young and end up old and wise and have everything in between. It was just too much. But in terms of writing songs, that's always been the same. I just sit down and play, and sometimes I’ll hook onto something--a lyric will come or a chord structure will come. And you can always tell when it's got a little bit of DNA in it. You think, "Alright, there's something in this." That has remained completely the same, but with recording the album, I wanted to make sure I got a producer and a producer that wasn't going to overly stamp the record. It's so difficult finding a good producer because the good ones have their own sound. And it ends up coming down to whose sound you want to align yourself with. Thankfully I found the right guy, but the recording process was completely different this time. It was more of a collaborative process.
Kristen: Yeah, and I also saw that you collaborated with Ed Sheeran and Bonnie Raitt on two different tracks. How was it working with other artists like that?
Foy: It was interesting because it came about very naturally. The song "You and I" was pretty much inspired by watching Bonnie Raitt and her relationship with her audience. Bonnie is one of those artists that you never hear on top of the pops or the top 40. She's not getting heavy rotation on the radio stations she's not on billboards around town when she's coming. But every time she plays and everywhere she plays-- from the UK and Ireland to Europe and in America--people just turn up in groves. And that's because she has developed a relationship with her audience. I was really inspired by that. So, "You and I" was really inspired by her. That's what it's about. It always felt right to have her on the track. But I did have an awkward moment when I had to call a 10-time Grammy-award-winning legend to sing back-up vocals on my track. It was a bit cheeky but I explained as candidly and honestly as I could about why I’d love to have her voice on there. And she was actually cool with it.
Kristen: Yeah, I can't think of a more intimidating phone call than that.
Foy: You know what, though, she's an absolute pussycat. She's a sweetheart of a woman. A really, really beautiful woman. If you meet Bonnie Raitt and you don't like her, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like you.
Kristen: Well, you guys got a great song out of it, so that's awesome.
Foy: Thank you very much.
Kristen: Who are you currently listening to or who you're wanting to see live?
Foy: I rarely get stuck on one thing. What always kind of happens to me quite naturally when I’m on tour with a band I’ll tend to listen to them. I try to understand them a little bit, so right now that's NEEDTOBREATHE. And I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Aside from them I listen a lot to a traditional Irish band called Beoga. They're like a traditional Irish band but a bit more fusiony. That makes it sound terrible actually. Is that even a word? Fusiony? Contemporary, maybe? Yeah, but they're just great musicians. I listen to them a lot and I also listen to Frank Ocean and the classics like Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. I like to have music playing all the time.
Kristen: I'm with you on that one. I tend to jump around a lot. What is the least rock-'n'-roll thing you've done in the past year?
Foy: [Silence] My goodness. My silence is not because I'm wracking my brain to think of one. It’s because I'm wracking my brain to think of which one would be the least rock-'n'-roll. We all have our moments, goodness knows I have mine, but thankfully most of my rock-'n'-roll moments were out of my system at 19 or 20. My theory now is to keep life simple so you can be violent in your work. When I'm home I tend to do very little but make sandwiches. I mean…I do everything with a heart of rock-'n'-roll. I make sandwiches with a heart of rock-'n'-roll. I spit in them to make them taste better.
Kristen: I've heard some really funny stuff when I ask that question.
Foy: Okay then, what's the least rock-'n'-roll thing you've heard?
Kristen: I had one singer in a band tell me they're addicted to flossing. Every night after they play a show, they get in their bunk and they have to floss like three times over before they can go to bed.
Foy: Wow. Isn't it funny that rock-'n'-roll goes above and beyond a musical thing and people who floss their teeth are not rock-'n'-roll? You know what, I bet Jack White flosses. I wouldn't be surprised.
Kristen: Yeah, if I ever interview him that will be my first question: do you floss?
Foy: Do you floss? And do have a mustache? And if you don't, how long do you think it would take to grow one?
Kristen: Yes, and also what recommendations do you have for people who want to grow a mustache?
Kristen: What's the best advice you've ever received?
Foy: I've heard a lot of good advice in my time. Wow, that's a question. You blindsided me with that one.
Kristen: That's my strategy. I blindside you by asking all of the mundane questions and then I hit you hard at the end.
Foy: And then you hit me with a deep, philosophical, let's-check-your-life kind of question. You know what, actually, it's probably been given to me quite recently by my girlfriend. She said, "Remember to be." I thought that was pretty good advice. I would get upset about being out on the road and being away from my daughter, being away from my girlfriend, my home, my friends…the people I love, my boxer shorts and socks in my drawers in the house that I never see[Laughs]. I would sometimes get upset and she would say, "You know what, you are where you are. Just remember to be." Be there and enjoy it. Sometimes she quotes my own lyrics back to me. She'll say, "Did you not say this? You're a hypocrite. You need to remember to be."