Photo: Daniel Kielman

James Keogh could have been a lawyer; he’d completed the degree for it. Or he could have been a successful, yet underpaid, footballer in Australian rules football. But he’d lost the passion for sports. Instead, he wrote some songs and became Vance Joy, whose earnestly peculiar song that name-checks Michelle Pfeiffer – “Riptide” – is probably playing on your radio right now. Last year he signed a five-album deal with Atlantic Records – in sports analogy terms, his team believes he can take them all the way – and his debut album, Dream Your Life Away, will be released September 9.

The Bay Bridged chatted with the Melbourne-based singer and songwriter at Outside Lands last week, and found out more of Keogh’s backstory. You can catch Vance Joy November 29 at Slim’s.

The Bay Bridged: Your best experience at Outside Lands?

James Keogh: When I got here, we were pretty hungry because we had a long flight. We got here, went out and got some split pea soup. It was so good. It was the best soup I ever had; the best I can remember. It’s a bit chilly, and it’s warming my heart.

TBB: You have a law degree. How did you find yourself as a musician?

Keogh: I’ve always loved writing music. I was halfway through my law degree and I’d written a couple songs I was really proud of. The dream of being a musician was growing in my heart. By the time I finished my degree a couple years ago, I had written about four or five songs that … I wanted to show the world. I could have tried to go and get a job, but I thought, I’m going to spend a year doing this music and see where that road takes me. I went straight into it, and since then, I haven’t looked back.

Photo: Daniel Kielman

TBB: Any chance of you going back into law?

Keogh:  Not really. I really don’t think that I’d go with law. If I wasn’t doing music, I’d do teaching or something else, like be a librarian.

TBB: You were also an athlete. And you also played football. Does that mean soccer, or rugby?

Keogh: It means neither. It’s an Australian sport called Australian rules football. It’s full-contact. It’s physically intense as rugby, but you need to run around more. If you type it into YouTube, you can see how mad this game is.

TBB: How high up did you go? Are we talking college or pro?

Keogh: We don’t really have a college system. But it’s the league below the big proper league – semi-professional. You get a little bit of money but not much. … If you love it enough, you persist through the injuries.

[Writer’s note: Keogh won the Victorian Football League’s equivalent of rookie of the year award in 2008.]

TBB: Why did you give that up?

Keogh: I just think my passion for it was diminishing, and I just needed to recalibrate. I needed to get something new into me. I took some time traveling, and when I left, I knew my passion was music.

TBB: “Riptide” is an interesting song – it feels very earnest, yet the lyrics are proclamatory and pop culture-referencing. Tell me about how that song came together and what it means to you.

Keogh: It’s a weird one. A lot of it was random things in my head and experiences I was having at that time. I know what you mean. It is a quirky song, and I think that can happen when you have a string of consciousness, and you’re kind of just letting things out. There’s desire, a melancholy, and an earnestness to it, but it is quirky, and I think the (video) shows that.

TBB: The lyrics mention you’re afraid of dentists. Did you have a bad experience?

Keogh: I had braces. It was when I was awkward and 14 and socially inept. That wasn’t the best mixture.

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