Interview: Foy Vance

Recently, Thank Folk For That caught up with Foy Vance on returning to the UK, forthcoming releases and strange encounters…

You’ve recently returned to the UK. How are you adjusting to being back?
It’s been good, it’s always good to get back. I mean the closer to the UK I get, every time I get a little bit closer to home. I always have this sense of a homecoming when I get back to the UK. Even if I’m not in my house, to know that I’m close to it makes me feel good.

With being on the road a lot, you must have had your fair share of strange/unusual encounters. Are there any you’d care to share?
My goodness, I’ve come across so many strange encounters I don’t know where to begin. I was in Texas and there was an Indian guy standing behind the counter and I was looking at him for a second and he was looking at me then I looked up at the menu and then when I brought my eyes back down, he was still staring at me intently and the two of us just stared at each other for a couple of seconds and he said “you look nice” and I said “what” and he said “you look nice” I just said “thank you very much” I had a curly tash so I must have looked like an odd specimen to him.

You’ve announced a set of dates for later on in the year, how much influence does travelling have on the music you write?
I think it has a positive effect, at the end of the day when you travel you get to experience not only new cultures but you get a feel of what’s happening musically and stylistically in other places. Travelling does broaden the mind, whether that directly influences what I write, I’m not sure but I try to soak up everything that I can when I’m travelling.

Rewind back a few months, all the songs have been picked and the finished album is ready to go, what is the first thing or feeling that comes to mind?
I remember the night when we’ve mixed the whole album and we were mixing it in North London and me, the producer, my girlfriend, the mixing engineer and his assistant opened a couple of tins of beer and we listened to the album as a whole on a playlist (and it pretty much remained the same track list) we listened to it and I just felt a sense of relief and pleasure because I’m proud of it

What would you say is the driving force behind this new record and how does it differ from previous releases?
I think with this record it was like I spent so long trying to get a collection of songs; not trying so hard but waiting for a collection of songs to come to me and they didn’t really come and I started to think you know ‘what is worth saying? Is there anything worth saying?’ ‘What I want to sing about is it really worth singing about?’ and after seven years I realized that nothing is worth saying but this is what I do so I might as well say something about nothing. So that’s what I did.

The response to the first single Joy of Nothing has amazing, what is it about this track that makes it so relatable to audiences out there?
I’m not sure what makes it relatable to everyone but I’ll tell you what; the closer you get to your own bone, the closer you get to other people, so I think the more honestly you write about anything, the easier it is for other people to engage with it because there’s a certain truth in it, Whether they like it or not is another thing but you can sense it’s real and I think I genuinely meant that. I’m at a stage in life where I, as much as it’s humanly possible, try and take the rough and smooth or as Rudyard Kipling said “try and take victory and defeat in the same circumference”

Would you say you had a favourite song from the album?
Well the song called Paper Prince is my favourite, its one of those songs which is still a bit of a mystery to me, I try no to get my head over involved when I’m writing and I try and write when there’s a flow where I can write without thinking about what I am writing and that was one of those songs that came in one sitting and I still haven’t figured out, it gives me an impression of things and I get pictures in my head but I still don’t really know what its about.

You’ve been on tour with Ed Sheeran both over here and in the US, did you find that you were now playing to a different type of audience?
Yeah I did, I mean he was a twenty one year old multi platinum album pop star and I’m a 38 year old single father that likes to write songs about heart ache and cancer. It was a completely new experience, I’ve never in my life played to seven and a half thousand screaming fans and that’s what I did,  he’s got a lot of 18-25 year old girls come to his gigs and screech their heads off and I’ve never experienced that before in my life I’m used music clubs and it all being nice and quiet but it was really interesting and more to the point it was really good fun and at that time in my life that’s what I wanted. I wanted just to kind of not think too much and take a couple of months out to get my head right and have a bit of fun and Ed invited me on that tour and it seemed like the right thing to do.

Ed Sheeran and Bonnie Rait feature on the album, how did these collaborations come about? Was there a natural inclination to work with them?
Completely! The song Bonnie appears on is a song called You and I and when I first heard bonnie back in 2005 the thing that stunned me about her is the relationship between her and her audience. She’s now 63 years old, she’s not go anything in the charts, when she comes on tour there aren’t poster campaigns everywhere and its not covered in every hit magazine, yet she sells out most of the gigs that she does. Every gig that she does is rammed, people love her and she has a real relationship with her audience that I just thought was stunning and that song You and I, I guess there’s an element of that in there so it seemed obvious to ask her if she’d sing on it.

And the Ed thing that was another song called Guiding Light which belongs to a family from Derry in Ireland called the McDades and for various reasons. He’s a good friend with the McDadess and I’m a good friend with the McDades and we were in Nashville at the Ryman theatre and Ed and I sang Guiding Light together acoustically and it felt right so I thought why don’t we try and do this together for the record and if it works it works. I really didn’t want to ask because he’s a name it needed to be right, this is an important record for me and I didn’t want to put something on there just for the sake of it or because it’s gonna shed some kind of light on the record I didn’t want to do that at all so it had to be right and thankfully Ed’s heart is right and he delivered and I’m proud of it.

Recording of Nothing’ gives a valued insight into the making of the record, how important do you feel it is for artists to let listeners in on this process which can often appear sheltered and disconnected from the actual release of an album?
I’m not convinced that it’s important for the artist but I think, artistically speaking anything that is outside of the conception of the song or the sculpture or painting or whatever it is you do not much else matters but I think in this day and age we’ve become so accustomed to seeing behind the scenes and seeing behind the stage which I guess you could argue takes away a little bit of the mystery, but at the same time I think it’s intriguing that that’s just where things are going.

Like twitter! I know when Stephen Fry is having a cappuccino, I have no need to know that but for me I kind of just smile at myself, it’s kind of the way it is I guess.

In ‘Recording of Nothing’ you talk about a considered disregard and taking a more sort of natural approach to writing, do you feel that this has been embedded in the album and also in the way you think about creating music?
Absolutely it’s always been there, I’ve always been able to tap into that abandonment live and what I haven’t done before is capture it on a record but its always been the main influence and I think that if you think too much you make a balls of it, if you consider too much of what’s actually happening you make a balls of it whereas the thing that got me into music was that it was transcendental, music was redemptive for me, it changed me. It was like salvation and light discovering music whether it was when I was really young listening to Stevie wonder, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Pearl jam, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, all these people were enlightening and I didn’t have to think at all when I listened to them.

All those people that I’ve mentioned have that considered disregard they know its important, they know that when you write a song and release it people take it into their lives and utilize it in their own memory but you can’t think about that when you’re making it otherwise you’ll just fucking ruin it, you have to disregard what’s gonna happen to a piece of music after its created or a piece of art after its created.

Questions by Simi Abidakun