Foy Vance on new album Signs of Life and why he's cutting out touring - along with codeine...
David Roy chats to Bangor-born music star Foy Vance about his forthcoming new album Signs of Life and why he's putting family first from now on...
"RIGHT about now, if I wasn't speaking to you, I'd be down in the coffee shop drinking coffee until I start to palpitate," explains Foy Vance of what he'd normally be doing at 11am on a Friday morning were he not chatting to us about his forthcoming new album.
Currently, the Highlands-based Bangor-born troubadour, who is signed to his friend Ed Sheeran's label Gingerbread Records (Vance was also a co-writer on Sheeran's hit collaboration with progressive Irish tradsters Beoga, Galway Girl), is having to schedule his Herculean intake of flat whites around daily doses of promotional work for the release of his sixth LP, Signs of Life.
It's out on September 10, followed by a short and sweet return to international touring for the first time in four years with An Evening With Foy Vance, which includes an already sold-out pair of dates in Belfast and Dublin on September 12 and 13.
"We've shot a load of videos in the forest where I'm doing acoustic performances of the new songs," explains the Co Down man of the ongoing campaign for the new record, which has already been teased by the release of three strong singles, Sapling, Time Stand Still and title track Signs of Life.
It follows 2019's US-recorded efforts From Muscle Shoals and To Memphis (the latter recorded at the city's world-famous Sam Phillips Recording studios) and last year's live set Hope In The Highlands.
"We've done a load of animations for them too, so there's always all these little things that need done or watched or 'okayed' for me to get involved with."
Most of Signs of Life was recorded last year at Vance's home studio, Pilgrim, in Aberfeldy, where he's lived for the past decade along with long-time partner, Marie, his teenage daughter Ella and their two sons.
The pair married in 2019 in "a secret wedding up in the woods near Kenmore" and their youngest son, Sol, has just turned one after being born in the early months of the pandemic – the new album's soothing, life affirming title track was inspired by his imminent arrival.
"I got up early this morning and went in and had a wee nap with him," Vance reveals of a more recent addition to his usual Friday morning routine.
"He's a big boy already, actually, he's nearly the same size as his 'big' brother, who's four."
When asked what it's like having a baby in the midst of a global pandemic, Vance simply points out that life tends to go on even in the most trying of circumstances.
"It was sort of scary, more for Marie than me," explains the singer-songwriter.
"We were freaking out about what it was going to be like, was I even going to be allowed to go in with her [for the birth]. I was more worried for her, but listen: the kid grew, it came time for him to come out, he came out and the people who knew what they were doing helped get him out.
"Everything happened as it would have, there were just a few more masks than usual and a lot less visitors."
Clearly, there's plenty to be keeping Vance at home right now even as he prepares to get out into the world again as a working musician. Happily, he's already had a prolonged period of 'family time' to enjoy: after touring his 2016 breakthrough album The Wild Swan relentlessly, the veteran performer resolved to quit 'the road' for a while at the end of 2017.
"My first son, Sonny, had just been born on St Patrick's Day 2017," recalls Vance.
"He was six months old at that stage and it was just time to stop and be around a bit more. Also, on the road, man – I've been there and couldn't afford the T-shirt. It's a long, hard slog and being on the move constantly really messes with your head.
"I like playing live and I love that unity that happens in a room when you're playing live, but it comes with such a lot of baggage. For that album, I'd been away for three months of the year for three years, more or less. That's too long to be away from my family."
Once off the circuit, Vance then found himself having to conquer all the bad habits he'd developed to cope with the grind of touring life: "two bottles of wine and at least a half bottle of vodka a day", a morning dose of codeine "to get myself sorted", plus countless cigarettes and joints.
"When I got home to my wife and daughter, that's when it was really quite revealing" he explains.
"In the house it was really visible: waking up every day with a sore head, and looking for hair of the dog every day as soon as possible. That's what Sapling is about – that realisation of 'oh s***', I've got a loving wife, lovely kids, a career to enjoy and I'm just p***ing it up the wall by being foggy every day'."
Having successfully gone 'cold turkey' over three bed-ridden days, Vance's new-found sobriety is a subject playfully addressed on the woozy, funky new song Hair of The Dog, which details a shopping list of favourite vices – "codeine, nicotine, alcohol" – and includes the telling refrain of "I don't remember a time when I didn't feel high".
Now in a better, codeine-free place – "That was the one my friend Mike Farris from the States told me I had to get rid of. He knew because he actually OD'ed on it twice," he comments – there will be no more long hard road slogs for this particular performer, as Vance explains.
"I don't ever want to do that again," he affirms.
"I'll still tour, but it will be two weeks here – off, then two weeks there – off. Nothing crazy."
Another poignant tune on Signs of Life is its moving piano ballad closer, Percolate, which brings a pleasing hint of the Eagles' hit Desperado to a song inspired by one of Vance's greatest champions and inspirations (as its title suggests, it also uses his beloved coffee as a convenient musical metaphor).
"Percolate is a sad one for sure, because it's about my da," explains the songsmith.
"He died when I was 23. I've now lived longer without him than I did with him, which is crazy. He was quite the figure – well, he was my da.
"He was a great musician himself. He didn't play live or any of that sort of stuff, but he taught me how to play guitar and he was a great singer. He was a good man to have at parties, y'know?
"He would have been driving me around karaoke competitions when I was about 14 or 15, just stuff that he thought would be good [for me]. He was always pushing me. But, y'know, he was born in east Belfast in 1945 – he didn't have any clue as to what to 'do' or how to direct me. But he pushed me in whatever way he could and that was actually enough.
"The problem was, as talented as I may well have been as a guitar player or a singer, I just didn't have any songs – I wasn't writing anything, I wasn't saying anything. It was all sort of 'borrowed knowledge'.
"It was only when my dad died that that really changed. In a weird way, his death gave me the gift of song. Everything opened up. That was a sobering moment.
"Trust me, I'd give up song to have him back for a minute – but at the same time, what a great thing to have left me with."
No doubt Foy Vance's legion of fans around the world will raise a flat white or 15 to that.
Signs of Life is released on September 10, pre-order now via Foyvance.com