FM96 + 103.1 Fresh FM Present – Wednesday July 15th, 2020
Jack Johnson grew up surfing and playing guitar in Hawaii. Since 2001, he has released 7 studio albums and 2 live albums that have sold over 25 million copies worldwide. His Brushfire Records label and touring crew have been leaders in the greening of the music industry and his All At Once social action network connects fans with local non-profits at each tour stop. Jack, with his wife Kim, founded the Kokua Hawaii Foundation to support environmental education in Hawaii’s schools and communities, as well as the Johnson Ohana Foundation to support environmental, art and music education worldwide.
You don’t sell close to two million copies of your debut album without some seriously hard work… and Australian singer/songwriter Vance Joy has never been shy of major elbow grease.
Introduced to the world via the ukulele-led charm of instant classic ‘Riptide’, Vance Joy (born James Keogh) consolidated on that first impression with further anthems ‘Mess is Mine’, ‘Georgia’, ‘Fire and the Flood’ and ‘Straight Into Your Arms’.
Those hits all found a home on 2014’s debut dream your life away – the record hitting No.1 in Australia, No.2 in Canada and Top 20 in the UK and US.
The figures are remarkable. ‘Riptide’ (a Top 10 Australian hit, Top 10 UK, Top 30 US, not to mention former triple j Hottest 100 winner) is about to clock over 200 million YouTube views and over 500 million Spotify streams. In Australia, it is now certified a phenomenal 8x platinum and remains the longest standing local single in the ARIA Top 100. Subsequent singles ‘Mess Is Mine’, ‘Fire and the Flood’ and ‘Georgia’ boast a further 400 million Spotify streams between them.
Touring dream your life away saw Vance Joy surface everywhere from singing on American Idol to being handpicked to open Taylor Swift’s 1989 Tour worldwide, festivals from Lollapalooza in Chicago and South America, to Coachella, Splendour in the Grass and of course, the AFL Grand Final.
Listeners all over the world connected to Vance Joy’s intimate yet anthemic songwriting. “It’s a cliché but we’re so lucky to be in this position, to know there are fans around the world. To go to South America and people know all the words to the songs.”
Then there was that moment Paul Kelly joined him on stage in Sydney singing a Beatles song, and selling out iconic venues in Canada, the US and the UK to thousands of adoring fans, plus a sold out arena tour back home in Australia. dream your life away went platinum in Australia, the US, Canada plus numerous territories in Europe and Latin America, nearing two million sales worldwide, his songs soundtracked an array of TV series and movies including Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, animated feature Storks and acclaimed film The Big Sick.
It was only during 2016 that Joy and his trusty band finally wound down from nearly three years of global touring to start working on Album #2.
“I just wanted a solid second album, one that would stay at the same level, maintain the standard. More solid songs I’m proud of.”
The ol’ second album pressure? Not so much.
“I wasn’t too stressed out by the idea of people waiting for a new album, it was more just actually writing the songs for it. You can’t force it. It’s hard to schedule things like writing sessions around things that are so unknown. How do I know when it’s time to stop and chill and let my well of inspiration fill up?”
However for sophomore album Nation of Two Joy wasn’t starting totally from scratch.
He tapped back into his youth for the stunning ‘Little Boy’ – a tale of a childhood accident and growing up in the Melbourne suburbs. “I’m glad I could get a bit more personal on this album with a song like Little Boy,” he says.
Elsewhere, his trusty mobile phone was a very modern archive of some vintage lyric and music ideas. One pre-prepared riff salvaged by Dan Wilson – who has worked with Adele, Halsey, Pink and Taylor Swift, and with whom he wrote a handful of Nation of Two tracks – became ‘Like Gold’, and was released as an early taste of the album for hungry fans.
Another song Wilson helped bring to life is album highlight ‘We’re Going Home’. “I’ve had that song in my pocket since 2015,” Joy says. “I had the demo for a while. I’d tried writing it a few times but working with Dan we finally got the right vibe.”
Nation of Two’s first single ‘Lay It On Me’ was another song Joy had half-prepared earlier. “I’d actually given up on the guitar riff that starts the song, but I played it to Dave Bassett (Rachel Platten, Fitz and the Tantrums) who I wrote it with and he thought it was cool.” Cool might be an understatement – the track is just about to tick over 2x platinum in Australia and has made a steady climb to the top of the Alternative Charts in the US.
‘Saturday Sun’, a tune so good that he held up delivering Nation of Two to ensure it made the cut, was also finished with the help of Bassett.
“Co-writes can be scary, but you learn things from working with other people. If you’re willing to step into the unknown and be a bit vulnerable, that’s when something exciting might happen.”
Whilst stepping out of his comfort zone was important in the scheme of Nation of Two, Vance Joy remained the driving force behind all of the songs on the album, with many still written solo, including the classic opener ‘Call If You Need Me’ and the gorgeous ‘Bonnie & Clyde’, inspired by his love of literature. “I’m really proud of the songs I wrote by myself for this album, I wanted to maintain the ability to do that.”
Complementing the dynamic song-writing, it’s fair to say that the Melbourne turned global star is sounding better than ever on Nation of Two. Joy’s compelling vocals dance around thoughtful lyrics and luscious melodies, and while he may have the special skill of making it all sound effortless, every word and metaphor is there for a reason. The album’s title came from Keogh marrying his Kurt Vonnegut phase with a book by Richard Ford called Between Them.
“The phrase Nation of Two reminds me about how your world begins and ends whenever you’re with that one person. It felt right.”
He even drew the album’s striking cover art himself.
Now, with a swag of exquisite new material added to his already impressive repertoire, comes time to start the crazy cycle all over again, this time with the bonus of simultaneous global releases and a ready-made audience.
“It’s a luxury to have made one album and it’s nice to know people are waiting to hear some new songs.”
Few artists are storytellers as deft and disarmingly observational as Andy Shauf. The Toronto-based, Saskatchewan-raised musician’s songs unfold like short fiction: they’re densely layered with colorful characters and a rich emotional depth. On his new album The Neon Skyline (out January 24 via ANTI-), he sets a familiar scene of inviting a friend for beers on the opening title track: “I said, ‘Come to the Skyline, I’ll be washing my sins away.’ He just laughed, said ‘I’ll be late, you know how I can be.'” The LP’s 11 interconnected tracks follow a simple plot: the narrator goes to his neighborhood dive, finds out his ex is back in town, and she eventually shows up. While its overarching narrative is riveting, the real thrill of the album comes from how Shauf finds the humanity and humor in a typical night out and the ashes of a past relationship.
His last full-length 2016’s The Party was an impressive collection of ornate and affecting songs that followed different attendees of a house party. Shauf’s attention-to-detail in his writing evoked Randy Newman and his unorthodox, flowing lyrical phrasing recalled Joni Mitchell. Though that album was his breakthrough, his undeniable songwriting talent has been long evident. Raised in Bienfait, Saskatchewan, he cut his teeth in the nearby Regina music community. His 2012 LP The Bearer of Bad News documented his already-formed musical ambition and showcased Shauf’s burgeoning voice as a narrative songwriter with songs like “Hometown Hero,” “Wendell Walker,” and “My Dear Helen” feeling like standalone, self-contained worlds. In 2018, his band Foxwarren, formed over 10 years ago with childhood friends, released a self-titled album where Pitchfork recognized how “Shauf has diligently refined his storytelling during the last decade.”
The Party earned a spot on the Polaris Music Prize 2016 shortlist and launched Shauf to an appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden as well as glowing accolades from NPR, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and more. “That LP was a concept record and it really made me want to do a better album. I wanted to have a more cohesive story,” says Shauf. Where the concept of The Party revealed itself midway through the writing process, he knew the story he wanted to tell on The Neon Skyline from the start. “I kept coming back to the same situation of one guy going to a bar, which was basically exactly what I was doing at the time. These songs are fictional but it’s not too far off from where my life was,” Shauf explains.
For The Neon Skyline, Shauf chose to start each composition on guitar instead of his usual piano. He says, “I wanted to be able to sit down and play each song with just a guitar without having to rely on some sort of a clever arrangement to make it whole.” The resulting album finds its immediacy in simplicity. While the arrangements on folksy “The Moon” are unfussy and song-centered like the best Gordon Lightfoot offerings, his drive to experiment is still obvious. This is especially so on the unmoored relationship autopsy “Thirteen Hours,” which boasts an arrangement that’s both jazzy and adventurous.
Like he’s done throughout his career, Shauf wrote, performed, arranged, and produced every song on The Neon Skyline, this time at his new studio space in the west end of Toronto. Happy accidents like Shauf testing out a new spring reverb pedal led to album cuts like the woozy closer “Changer” and experimenting with tape machines forced him to simplify how he’d arrange the tracks. Over the course of a year-and-a-half, Shauf ended up with almost 50 songs all about the same night at the bar. Though paring down his massive body of work to a single album’s worth of material was a challenge for Shauf, the final tracklist is seamless and fully-formed.
As much as The Neon Skyline is about a normal night at a bar with friends and a bartender who knows exactly what you’ll order before you sit down, the album is also about the painful processing of a lost love. Lead single “Things I Do” examines the dissolution of the narrator’s past relationship. Over tense and jazz-minded instrumentation, Shauf sings, “Seems like I should have known better than to turn my head like it didn’t matter. Why do I do the things I do when I know I am losing you?” He explains, “a lot of this record is a breakup record. I haven’t had a breakup in a long time, but a lot of relationships have had one of those nights where one person shows up somewhere when they weren’t supposed to and then picks a fight with their partner.” Elsewhere, songs like “Clove Cigarette” explore the better times, honing in on a memory that “takes me back to your summer dress.”
With any album about a lost love, the key ingredient is a generosity and kindness that can only come from a writer as empathic as Shauf. On the standout personality-filled single “Try Again,” the narrator, his friends, and his ex find themselves at a new bar. The former lovers’ reunion is awkwardly funny and even sweet, as he sings, “Somewhere between drunkenness and charity, she puts her hand on the sleeve of my coat. She says ‘I’ve missed this.’ I say “I know, I’ve missed you too.” She says, ‘I was actually talking about your coat.'” It’s a charming moment on a record filled with them. Shauf’s characters are all sympathetic here, people who share countless inside jokes, shots, and life-or-death musings on things like reincarnation when the night gets hazy.
On top of heartbreak, friendship, and the mundane moments of humanity that define his songwriting, Shauf makes music that explores how easy it is to find yourself in familiar patterns and repeat the same mistakes of your past. His characters wonder, “Did this relationship end too soon? Would going to another bar cheer my friend up?” Or in the case of the foreboding “Living Room,” where a character asks herself, “How hard is it to give a shit?” the songs on The Neon Skyline ultimately take solace in accepting that life goes on and things will be okay. Shauf says, “there’s moments on the album where the characters are thinking ‘this is the end of the world.’ But there are also moments with some clarity and perspective: Nothing is the end of the world.”
*Rock the Park is a rain or shine event
*Artists are subject to change
*All ticket sales are final
*Tickets purchased are for the festival not individual artists
*Lawn chairs not permitted