By David Hennessy
Well known Bangor musician Foy Vance’s new album Joy of Nothing, featuring Ed Sheeran and Bonnie Raitt, comes a full six years after its predecessor, Hope. Vance’s 2007 debut boasted several tracks that have accompanied top medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy as well as featuring on much television advertising. However, the singer felt the album, while its songs worked on their own, did not work as a collection and this has been the delay in the arrival of another album. The Irish World caught up with him to find out how the “difficult second album” came about.
“I was always writing since I finished Hope,” the singer-songwriter explains. “The last thing I wanted to do was release another Hope. As much as I still appreciate some of the songs on that record, the arc of the album wasn’t there for me. It was like a collection of songs, those songs were like I’d come home and emptied my pockets at the end of a night: A mix/match of things. I sort of felt that in the six year gap, I never really had a collection of songs that had a definitive plot line or familiarity between each other that I could release an album with. And you know what? I’m in no rush. I’m not a pop star so I was able to take my time and release an album that felt right and I guess it felt right this time.”
Upbeat songs like Closed Hand, Full of Friends and At My Least My Heart Was Open seem to hint that the singer has realised the important things in life with friends and heart two themes of the record: “After releasing Hope, I got disheartened because I realised I had released a record that wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be and I started listening to other records that really inspire me and I started to get despondent because I was thinking: ‘Unless you can write a Joni Mitchell Blue, Bob Dylan Blood on the Tracks, what’s the point?’ I realise now that’s a stupid way to look at creating anything but at that time, that’s what I was thinking and I was racking my brain for something that was worth saying and I suppose in the last year or so, I sort of realised that in actual fact, it’s arguable that nothing is worth saying,” the singer says with a laugh. “But this is what I do so I may as well say something and I guess it was sort of serendipitous that I came to that realisation that it’s alright to just say what you want and release records for the sheer joy of doing it: the Joy of Nothing, that was the influence for the record so I think it came at a time when I realised where I wanted to live and the kind of people I wanted around me. I guess that comes across in the songs.”
Another thing that helped was a change of scenery. The Irish World caught up with Foy last summer when he was playing a special gig in London for competition winners. He told us how much he loved the city but getting out of the rat race helped with his creativity for this record: “I had lived in London for seven years and as much as I love it, I sort of found that like many other people in London, I was just working so hard to try and facilitate living there that I never actually got to enjoy the place. It got to the point where the entire world was just one big city connected by flight paths and motorways, I was always on tour and then I would come home and try and relax and I would be back in London and just that sense of pace and busyness. I just needed somewhere where I could stop so I moved up here and as soon as I got here, the songs just started to come.”
Although high profile, other things that came naturally were the guest appearances of Ed Sheeran and Bonnie Raitt, who sing on Guiding Light and You and I respectively, that Foy would not seek unless they were right for the record: “I’m a great believer in it needs to be natural, I don’t think you can manufacture these things. I’ve never been one for: ‘Let’s book this guy because he’s a shit hot producer, let’s get this drummer because he’s played on this record and that record, he’s hip and happening at the minute’. I’ve never been interested in that. I’m more interested in the natural flow, the natural order of things.
“Because this is the difficult second album, I wanted every single note and every breath that’s on it to be on it for a reason and the last thing I would want was for it to appear mercenary. If I listen back and it sounds like I have just stapled Ed on to get more people to listen to it, that would be of no interest to me whatsoever. It had to feel right, it had to work musically and spiritually. It had to feel intended which it does, to me anyway.
“I’ve known Bonnie now for six, seven years and this song in particular every time I sang it, I could hear her singing on it. I don’t even know what it really was. It just made sense in my head so I asked her if she would be interested and she was.”
Bangor has also spawned musicians such as Snow Patrol and Two Door Cinema Club. When asked why the place seems to produce such a volume of musical performers, Foy has an interesting answer: “There’s a place in Bangor called Bangor Abbey and for 250 years, this is back I think in the 1700s maybe, there was singing 24 hours a day every day and I guess it depends on how much you would lean on kind of hippy ideas, but you could argue that the music seeped into the landscape. We could also just argue that it’s quite an artisan little place in many ways so I don’t really know why there’s so many singer-songwriters from Bangor but there seems to be something in the water up there.”
The Joy of Nothing by Foy Vance is out now. Foy Vance tours the UK from November. For more information, go to: http://www.foyvance.com/.