Foy Vance's career has seen him embark on a world tour with Ed Sheeran and be mentored by Elton John as a result. Currently residing in Alberfeldy, Scotland he reflects on the process which has led him up to release of his new album, The Wild Swan, on Gingerbread Man/Atlantic Records and what is next for him.
The album The Wild Swan, is set to be released on the 13th May, and it was recorded in Nashville, a long way from your home in Scotland, how was the experience working in the US?
It was a great! Nashville has got such deep roots musically speaking, when you're in that environment, you can't help but soak that up.
Blackbird Studios, has been home to numerous famous artists over the years, what made you choose this particular studio?
Well first of all I chose Jacquire King, the producer, he's worked on a couple records that I really love, like Tom Waits' Mule Variations, I love the sound of that album; aside from the songs being fantastic, the sonic work was really amazing too - so I knew of Jacquire's work. I flew out to meet him and we had a few pints and a chat. It came about that he already had space in Blackbird so we used it. It's arguably the one of the best in the world, it's a beautiful space and with their microphone and instrument collection, it all just made sense basically.
Jacquire has produced a lot more commercial acts (Kings of Leon and James Bay) which might not be the first acts you'd usually associate with your music, did you have some initial reservations?
No, because I know what it can be like as an engineer and a producer, you work with various artists and make various types of music. I didn't want a polished sound like a radio sounding record, he instantly got it and was on board and I was happy with that. It was very much a collaboration, we trusted each other and I still do thankfully. The music always felt really enjoyable, it was quite an explorative process as well, because we didn't go in with a definitive idea so to speak.
Elton John has an executive production credit on the album, did he have much input on the production or was it more the setup?
When I was gearing up for this record I would be sending him stuff, he's been involved from the beginning because he's a bit of a mentor to a lot of people. There's a reason why he's godfather to about 150 billion kids! He's got a real sort of mentoring spirit.
You mentioned Tom Waits' sound previously, would you say he has been a major influence on your work?
Major influences were probably not people like Tom, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Little Feet. It's probably more my dad, he was a singer and I learnt a lot from him.
Would I be right in thinking that you've been inspired by many writers and poets? Do you sometimes find yourself creating songs around their words?
Yea maybe, I think you get inspired by everything because everything can be inspiring - there's a song in everything, it may not be a good song, or a song you want to hear but there's a song in it! As we sit here after I get off the phone to you, I'm going to take my toby key, turn the water off and fit an outdoor tap; that's inspiring, there's something in that. There's a lesson to be learnt in all these things and there's a song in them too, you write about everything I suppose and I guess songs and other peoples work is a part of that, I enjoy listening to other people's work and seeing their art.
You're signed to Ed Sheeran's label Gingerbread Man Records, and I believe you are long term friends, what's it like working with him?
Great! Ed's an inspired guy, he's 25 with the world at his feet and he knows exactly what to do with it. That's inspiring to see someone at that age, with that drive, ambition and clarity - it's hard not to be impressed. He works harder than anyone that I have ever met, so I learnt a lot from watching him, though I wouldn't want the level of fame that Ed has.
You recently went on tour in your VW camper which saw you travel across some of the most remote parts in the UK, Scotland and Ireland, that's not exactly the most reliable tour support vehicle! Did you run into many problems?
Yes, ten minutes in to it we ran into problems but it turns out that it was just a teething problem, there's always teething problems with them old vans, that one in particular wasn't mine, we hired that one from a guy here in Scotland. I used to have one, an old 1979 bay, it was beautiful; at the weekend I was able to just say 'let's go to Brighton', 'let's go to over to France' and be able to hop out in it all the time but I was constantly fixing the things, they're always going wrong.
Not very reliable then?
No, but they look great!
You played in lots of quirky venues, a barber shop being one - how was that?
That was great, I got my first shave with a straight blade razor, they shaved my head with it and that was an experience, it was lovely. That was a bit of a mad tour really - we played a cave in Nottingham as well and a few wee bars round Ireland.
This year sees you doing two very contrasting tours, the VW tour was very much a personalised experience for your fans, and now you're going on the road playing some of the biggest arenas in the UK with Elton John. When gigs are scaled up so significantly, do you feel that some of the emotion is lost?
It's just a different style of gig. Playing in small bars is a bit like a conversation with one person whereas the larger ones might be more like having 105 relatives round all drinking sherry and arguing for Christmas dinner; they're both enjoyable and the emotion of Christmas isn't lost, it's kind of the same with those bigger gigs. I find these gigs are never mine they're always somebody else's, so all I've got to do is go out and do what I do. Those that like me will like it, and those that don't won't, I'm happy with that actually.
I'm sure your favourite changes frequently, but currently which track on the album is your favourite?
Probably 'Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution', it was one of the surprise ones. We were recording 'Upbeat Feelgood' and did it three times in a row but it still wasn't right. As a bit of a mind break we took a detour and began working on a song that wasn't even on the list of songs to do. That song was called Casanova and as soon as that was on the record, I felt like I wanted something else that was in that type of world. I had the first verse of Noam Chomsky for a while, so I wrote another two verses for it, and we rattled it out that night. I suppose that one's got a sense of urgency and excitement for me and I like that.
Pretty Little Liars actress Lucy Hale stars in the video for She Burns, are you a secret Pretty Little Liars fan!?
I've never seen an episode but I know a lot of pretty little liars [laughs]. My daughter watches it, she's watched it from the beginning. Lucy put a post on Instagram about She Burns saying that she loves the track and my daughter lost her mind. At first I didn't know who she was but after I checked her out online, I instantly thought she'd be great for the video and if she likes the song maybe she would want to do it. I'm sure this type of work is way beneath someone like her right now but she felt it, her heart was in it, she took it on board and she had the vision for it. My whole idea for that was to do it like the Audrey Hepburn screen test. I thought it was really powerful to see a woman like her, in her element, just sort of sitting and responding to things. I think they did a great job. I did give her a wee hug when she cried though, because it felt too real.
As well, as the Elton John tour, what else are you up to over the summer?
We've got another couple of dates that we haven't announced yet and we're doing a few festivals throughout the summer. We have just announced the world tour that's on sale now. That starts in Australia in September and then through America, Europe, the UK and finishes of in Ireland.
To finish, would you mind answering some 'quick fire' questions?
Quick fire questions, it is!
What was the first album you ever bought?
Farewell My Summer Love - Michael Jackson. On tape!
Who is the one person you would love to collaborate with?
When you need cheering up what record would you listen to?
Long Distance Love by Little Feat. There's a version of it on Youtube from 1970 and the smile that Lowell George gives at the beginning, just makes me happy.
What's your worst habit?
Thanks for your time, Foy!
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