Foy Vance on Irish shows celebrating 15 years of debut album Hope
David Roy chats to Co Down-born singer/songwriter Foy Vance about celebrating 15 years of his debut album Hope with a special vinyl release and Irish tour, which calls at the SSE Arena in Belfast next month...
HI FOY, you've been doing a bit of studio work prior to the upcoming tour, are you working on your own music or with another artist?
Yeah, I've been working with a kid called Patrick Droney. He's American, originally from New Jersey, but lived in Nashville for a while – and he's got a wild story. You know, he was like a child prodigy on the guitar playing and touring with legit legends at 12-years-old, so now he's kind of focusing on his own music and his own record and getting away from being the 'guitar guy'.
What advice are you giving him?
I'm not giving him any advice, given he's giving me advice. I'm listening. He's incredibly talented. You know what, he's one of those artists – the only people I like to work with, if I can – you know, people that have already got a voice. They've already got a vernacular. He knows what he wants to say. He's a pretty intentional dude. So working with him, it's just kind of easy. It's flowing real good. It's going real good because he's interested. We're just making music all day and settling on the stuff that sounds cool.
You were away touring in America recently behind your current record Signs of Life and are now hitting the road in Britain, Ireland and Europe to promote it and the 15th anniversary re-issue of your debut, Hope. Have you enjoyed getting back to playing live in the wake of pandemic restrictions easing?
The downside was the travel, always. I get paid to travel and bring the gear and you know, the music is free. Yeah, but the gigs themselves, it was incredible to be back. You know, it's incredible. Yeah, it was incredible to kind of just see signs of life – quoting myself there.
That's what's happening. 'What's happened to Foy Vance? He's gone right up his own a***.' I was always up there anyway.
But yeah, it was good to see that people can be just in the same room. And the restrictions are so different everywhere you go, It's wild. But essentially, every night there's a room full of people all in the same place at the same time for the same reason.
It was good to be back, but did it make me want to go out and do it for eight months of the year? No.
You had decided to not tour for extended periods for Signs of Life, but you've ended up being pretty busy with live work anyway. Did you have a change of heart?
Just the way everything worked out, I had to go out for a month there in the States and I've got to do the same here. The UK run starts at the end of August, then we go straight out of that to Ireland, finish in Belfast at the SSE, and the day after that I fly to Paris to start the European run.
But ideally, two weeks [at a time] is good – like a holiday, and then you go home. Anything less than two, to actually sustain an existence as a touring musician? It's not gonna work, y'know – unless I get a side job with the local concrete.
How have you found touring now that you've managed to give up painkillers and control your drinking?
Alcohol is still gonna be a constant struggle for me. To be quite honest with you – full disclosure – everyone had to sign a contract, that no-one was allowed to drink before the show. After the show, do whatever you like – but no drinking before the show.
You know, people have paid hard-earned money to come and see our show, booked hotels, flights and whatever. I feel bad for the times over the years where I guess I just didn't see it for what it was.
I can do a better job sober but I still have a pint after the show, don't get me wrong. I haven't joined the monastery just yet.
How does it feel to be re-issuing your debut album Home on vinyl for the first time on its 15th anniversary – and was it fun to dig into the archives to see what extra material was available for potential inclusion as bonus tracks?
I was gutted that we couldn't get it on vinyl [first time around], I was devastated that we didn't have the money to do it. I'd set up my own label back then, so things were tight.
In getting getting stuff ready for the vinyl, I found that I'd recorded so much for that record that didn't make it – and actually, I recorded a few songs for that record that did make it that shouldn't have.
So there may be a wee treat on there. But with regards to any of the songs that I recorded that didn't make it, hell no. They didn't make it back then for a reason and they're not making it 15 years later either.
Which ones that did make the record are you less than happy with?
Well, there's a song, Hope, Peace & Love and – I just don't know. It's more the production of it, the lack of thought, like 'Wow, you really just threw that one on there. That one was just jammed in there.' That one kind of irks me every time.
But there you go. You do what you do, and it's never even as about doing your best as it is about doing your best in the given circumstances. Which is never your best.
You released a couple of duet versions of your Signs of Life single Sapling with your friends Anderson East and Rag N Bone Man [aka Rory Graham]. Did you ever envisage that song as a duet when you wrote it?
I never heard Sapling as a duet in my life. My manager called me up about it and he said, "Would you be interested in doing a duet?". I said, "Well, yeah, in theory – what are you thinking?". And when he said "Sapling", my immediate thought was like, "are you out of your mind?".
But it made sense to do it with Anderson. When he was playing the Ryman in Nashville, he booked me as the support, bless him. I stayed with him then and we just had a real connection. So, for Sapling, I thought "actually, this makes sense".
With Rory, I love him: I've known him since before he put the first record [on which Vance co-wrote the tune Odetta]. I've always kept an eye on him. As soon as he blew up with Human, I genuinely got worried, because he's such a humble guy I worried that it would really mess with him, because it's not his jam at all. Given his own way, he would just be playing round folk clubs.
He was round here the other week and we got a couple of songs. In the room, just the barrel of the man – that sound, that tone, it's like "Ah, wow". I reckon if he's any level of fame left and the man's still happy, he's still gonna be making music. He's a real dude. He's doing it for the right reasons.
Are you working on any new stuff yourself?
In a very sort of backburner way, that's always the case, you know? I don't know, I write better if I don't focus on it too much. It's like you know, the more I ignore it, the more it kind of wants to come up and wrap its tail around me for attention.
The thing about writing songs is that it's really really easy – but writing something that's worth playing to other people, that's a different kettle of fish.