“Riptide” singer Vance Joy talks finding connection and artistic inspiration post-pandemic and what it feels like when what we’ve been missing is finally found.
Stream: “Missing Piece” – Vance Joy
I missed the energy that people can give you when you’re together… it enriches you. Even just a small taste of that’s reminded me of how important that is.
2019 feels like a century ago.
Its world and norms have become so alien that they almost seem relics of another age. Quarantine has fundamentally changed us whether we like to think about it or not. The only question is: what happens next?
As the world opens and more and more people get vaccinated (fingers crossed), we begin to rebuild our lives. Try as we might though, they will always look slightly different. Whether it be the masks, the overt caution, or how towns and cities have changed with the shuttering of businesses and the growing dominance of online services, the pieces with which we construct our world are different than the ones we used before.
That’s not to say that what we emerge with is worse than what came before. We still yearn for connection, to find ourselves among and create memories with the ones we love. And when we find that, it almost does not matter that the window dressing is altered.
Like the rest of us, Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy saw his life upended in the past year and a half. “It’s been a bit of a long one,” he sighs. “This thing doesn’t seem to be going away.” He has been fortunate enough to spend most of the ordeal with his partner in Spain, but the collective trauma is not lost on him.
For the longest time, interaction with others has been such a scare resource that it felt like a phantom limb surprising again and again with its absence. Almost a year to the day since the first blankets of quarantine shrouded the world, Vance bottled this sensation in “Missing Piece,” his celebration of reunion after such lovelorn isolation.
I’ve been waiting for the tides to change
For the waves to send you my way
I see you darling but you pixilate
It gets hard to take these days
If absence truly makes the heart grow fonder, then we might be in for a love bomb of epic proportions. And by Vance’s estimation, it’s damn well time. “I missed the energy that people can give you when you’re together,” he explains. “We have a proper laugh and a real connection. There’s that group energy… You just forget about what it does to your body, how it enriches you. Even just a small taste of that’s reminded me of how important that is.”
Earlier this summer, it seemed we had our engines primed and revving to unleash this pent-up energy. In that lull before the crushing wave of the Delta variant, Vance released a reworking of “Missing Piece,” trading in the acoustic guitar for the ukulele that made him a household name. The difference from the original is a bit of a subtle one, but in stripping back the production the song becomes a more intimate affair. It no longer feels like a grand, sweeping adventure that exists in a pop song, but a moment of joy shared in a room with a close friend. In that sense, the acoustic reworking of “Missing Piece” is a more fully realized expression of its themes.
Oh, I won’t waste a minute when you’re here
And we’re finally in the clear
When every day is like the last
I just keeping holdin’ fast
Revisiting his latest hit gave Vance the opportunity to delve deeper into what the song could be. “Often when you’re producing songs, there are a few ideas floating around you to be decisive about it,” he says. “Doing another version allows you to have a bit more freedom and enjoy it.” Songs can be envisioned hundreds of ways by equally many artists but returning one’s own work can expand the realm of authorial intent baked into a piece. Nothing is “missing” from the first recording of “Missing Piece,” but there’s still so much more to be found in its dual compositions.
Staying true to Vance’s strengths, acoustic strings make up the backbone of both versions, guitar and ukulele respectively. While the original gallops out of the gate with thumping drums toward its sweeping, optimistic chorus, he peels most of that way in the latest go-around. It stands on the strength of its songwriting, which rests squarely on Vance’s earnest vocals and effervescent harmonies. The listener is invited to consider the promise of connection, of getting lost in new memories with the ones they love.
The best way to soundtrack these new experiences is perhaps yet another reworking of “Missing Piece” that makes its way into the world today. Electronic duo Sofi Tukker put their own spin on Vance’s hit, ushering it from the intimacy of the living room and into the club for collective catharsis. Though maintaining the spiritual core of the track, it snowballs into a thick drop to soundtrack strobing lights and a sea of pulsing bodies. From inception to intimacy and finally to release, “Missing Piece” chronicles our own journey through the past two years with sweeping emotion.
“When you write something that’s personal and feels true to you, it often finds its echo with other people,” he reaffirms. And this is an echo a few billion people know too well after the past year and a half.
But it hasn’t all been darkness. Through the bleakest parts of the pandemic, we still found ways to connect in the absence of physical presence. Zoom, Netflix Watch parties, and – perhaps most importantly – our art kept us together. Musicians kept a spark of joy in our news feeds and in our Spotify libraries. Even in a small way, their songs helped carry us through to the end. They could not do it any other way.
“Creating is such a natural thing for us to do,” says Vance. “I think it’s not going to stop. It’s a reassuring, encouraging thing that those songs are going to keep coming out no matter what happens.”
We can always find each other, even when it feels like we have so many missing pieces. But through their music, artists like Vance can help us feel closer than ever. Atwood Magazine caught up with him about his time in quarantine, how we can recover lost connections, and the metaphysical origins of creativity. Check out the conversation below.
Stream: “Missing Piece” – Vance Joy
A CONVERSATION WITH VANCE JOY
Atwood Magazine: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. I want to start with the obvious question. It's been a very long pandemic. How have you held up over the past year and a half?
Vance Joy: It’s has been a bit of a long one. I did few months of lockdown in Australia and then I traveled overseas to Spain at some point last year. By the time I came back to Australia in January, it was open because their lockdown worked better than most. At that point, everyone’s like, “Oh, sweet Australia’s free of COVID.” It felt like the end of that whole period. But then the lockdowns started again because this thing doesn’t seem to be going away.
I’ve been in Spain again recently and it does feel like a long time now. But it’s been good to be able to come here and see my girlfriend even though I feel sorry for all my mates in Australia who have locked down kind of severely. And I think it’s probably a nice thing not to read the news because I don’t understand Spanish very well at all, or Catalan. I’m in a little bit of an ignorance bubble, So I’ve been fortunate because of that.
That's good to hear. It's about two months since the release, but I want to talk about the acoustic version of ''Missing Piece.'' How did you decide to record it and what does it add to your vision of the original piece?
Vance Joy: I guess basically anytime someone releases a song now, they do an acoustic version. This is the framework we live in now. It’s always nice to do an acoustic version, but it has to be good, you know? It pushes you to think of another way of interpreting the song. It was like, “How can we play this?” We decided to get the ukulele out and do some slightly different arrangements. It’s slightly different and it allows you to explore — if you if you took a completely different approach to the production — what could the song sound like. And that that’s sometimes nice, because often when you’re producing songs, there are a few ideas floating around you to be decisive about it. Doing another version allows you to have a bit more freedom and enjoy it. So that’s a cool thing.
I know that you collaborated with Joel Liddell on the track, but because of COVID restrictions it had to be done over Zoom. I know a lot of artists have been doing that. It's kind of a necessity. But how was the adjustment to this new medium of songwriting for you?
Vance Joy: It’s actually kind of cool. I’ve done it a couple of times now and I feel like there’s almost no difference in terms of the outcome sometimes. Maybe being in the room together, there’s some special magic, but I still think that can still be translated through the screen. Joe and I did the session in like two hours.
I’m not the kind of person who writes songs every day, so it’s nice to kind of save up some ideas for a few months, and then you just go in and have a new song in two hours and think “Oh, that’s good.”
I think it’s nice to go and be on a songwriting trip and get to be in a new country. I’d love to go to America, be in LA and stay in an AirBnB at Venice Beach. It might not be essential. I could probably write songs without doing that. But it’s a nice experience to be there and let the ideas come to you.
So basically, Zoom is very effective for songwriting. It allows you to have the actual songwriting sessions just like hanging out in places and seeing new parts of the world.
I really enjoy both versions of ''Missing Piece.'' I love the kind of theme of finding something that you've been missing. And I wanted to know, what kind of missing pieces do you grapple with in the absence of people you love?
Vance Joy: I realized last weekend, hanging out with a group of friends here that I’ve connected with more recently that I missed the energy that people can give you when you’re together. We have a proper laugh with people and a real connection. There’s that group energy. I think sometimes people, and me included, find socializing can be exhausting, but a missing piece has been just how much energy and inspiration being with others can give you. I’ve missed that a bit, and dancing with people in a crowd, like at a festival or something. You just forget about what it does to your body, how it enriches you. Even just a small taste of that’s reminded me of how important that is.
I think getting back there is really slow. Things are kind of opening up in LA, but we go back and forth with the mask mandates because cases are fluctuating. And I sometimes wonder, what is going to go back to normal and what is here to stay? How has the quarantine fundamentally changed the way that we interact? So I want to know, how do you as an artist continue to cope with this idea of a new semi-permanent normal?
Vance Joy: Well I recently picked up a book and I’m reading it very slowly, “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. He says that you can’t resist what is. Whatever the situation is, you have to accept it, and then you act. I feel like I’m in a fortunate position where I’m not relying on touring from my income. Luckily with streaming, and maybe getting a song played on the radio, you can still make a living. Because of that, I think it’s easier for me to accept the situation. Either way, I’m trying to enjoy each day without expectation. The world doesn’t have to be a certain way to get by.
Some of us are definitely more lucky than others. I ask a lot of pandemic-related questions because it's what we all have to deal with, right? It's been this collective trauma. And I think this will be like the last of those types of questions, but is there a way music and art can play a part in mending these wounds that we all have?
Vance Joy: You know, a friend of a friend came over from the States, and we had a nice dinner with a couple of people I usually hang out with. It was nice to hang out with them and chat about how COVID was affecting them. It’s great to talk about everyone’s experiences around March 2020, the day that we’re were like, “Oh, shit, everyone’s totally bloody stressed.” I had a director friend who was working on a commercial when it was all going down. And people were worried like it was the end of the world and like, “Can I get back to like home?’ and “Where my parents?” I think it’s important to really imagine what they would have been feeling.
But I think music plays an important role. It doesn’t have to be referencing this situation directly, you know. I think a good song — even if it’s like Ed Sheeran’s latest track which is super upbeat and fun — is such a good contribution to people’s happiness. It’ just another thing in the well for people’s joy or happiness. Especially when there aren’t really any gigs and people are sitting at home listening to music more than ever, listening to playlists and discovering new music.
I really love Bo Burnham’s. special “Inside.” I think it was beautiful and super powerful. He’s so talented and was able to respond so quickly to what was happening around him. On that spectrum, there’s so much that’s happening from Bo Burnham to people that are just making the same music that they wanted to make before anything happened.
Music doesn’t stop just because shit’s going down. The human spirit and where music comes from is totally beyond anything you can throw at it. Creating is such a natural thing for us to do. I think it’s not going to stop. It’s a reassuring, encouraging thing that those songs are going to keep coming out no matter what happens.
That's actually a really good transition to what I wanted to ask you next. I've had a few recent conversations with artists who spoke about art, not really as an act of creation, but as finding what already exists in the universe. Michelangelo finding the sculpture in the marble. When you're writing songs, how does inspiration come to you?
Vance Joy: The Michelangelo example is great. I think it’s like that. It’s uncovering something that already exists, especially the really special songs and the songs that I felt most excited and about. It feels like you’re channeling something and most artists will say something along those lines. I think the really pure creativity and the best ideas don’t come from racking your brains and beating your head against the wall. It’s unconscious.
I think when working with someone and having an experience that takes you out of your thinking side of your brain, it couldn’t be simpler. I might be very excited to work with this person. Maybe you’re doing a songwriting session with Taylor Swift or something and you’re like, “Oh, my God, I’m so excited and terrified about this session.” Your body’s already shooting out so much stuff that you don’t have time to think or to be lost in your head. I think something that could be overwhelming and exciting. I think that can bring out that those creative impulses. Any experience, like hanging out with your friends or doing something really good, can fill you up with inspiration.
I like that. It's kind of this hybrid between outside in and inside out. You can both recognize things in the universe and put out this raw creative energy. So what do you want listeners to come away from ''Missing Piece'' with?
Vance Joy: I just want people to connect in some way with it. I hope it resonates with them, maybe because they haven’t seen in a member of their family for some time because travel is difficult now. For that reason, or any reason, really.
I think that I was writing from a personal experience. But when you write something that’s personal and feels true to you, it often finds its echo with other people. So if anyone likes it, plays it more than once, or enjoys it, I’m just stoked.
And now that the world is getting vaccinated, the big question is what comes next? What does the next chapter for Vance Joy look like?
Vance Joy: It would be nice to go on tour again. I feel like I’m going to enjoy the shows so much. And I’m looking forward to crowd interactions and playing with really good musicians again just to showcase their abilities. So if everyone gets a solo in one song or something like that, that’d be pretty cool.
We supported P!nk two years ago, and every dancer has like the moment to feature all their moves. She’s like, “David!” and he does like a backflip and a body roll. And he’s like, you this one. I saw that and thought we need to do that with the band. So I’m looking forward to those kind of parts of the live show and and developing that.
When you write something that’s personal and feels true to you, it often finds its echo with other people.
I can't wait to see it myself. So I have one last question. Apart from writing for Atwood, I also run their podcast Tunes & Tumblers which is all about interviewing artists and creating original craft cocktails to pair with their music. So I wanted to ask you if you were to describe your music as a drink alcoholic or not, what would it be?
Vance Joy: Oh man, I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask because you can’t be objective and sometimes you downplay it. How would you describe a gin and tonic?
A little bit of a bites. Very straightforward. A classic.
Vance Joy: That’s good. Yeah, that’s what we all aspire to, right? Classic songwriting. Maybe we don’t always get there, and I’m not saying that my songs are as good as gin and tonics. That’s a pretty high bar. But it’s what we try to do and keep it simple. Good songwriting is seamless, and it’s good and elegant. And I know it’s simple, but all those things I think applied to gin and tonics.
Yeah, I'm doing my best. I'm not the mixologist in the show. He's more of a genius with that sort of thing.
Vance Joy: Yeah, my songs honestly aren’t complicated. There’s like three or four ingredients at most, three or four chords, and they’re usually pretty simple. So if someone’s thought that’s that’s way too simple to make a song, some have still become pretty popular like “Riptide.” I thought that just three chords can really work. Like gin, tonic and lemon, some ice or cucumber.
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