It’s not uncommon to wonder "What if?" — what path might have been taken, what success could have been.
Vance Joy is one of the few singer-songwriters who can ask that with good reason — he could have chosen to have a professional sports career.
Joy, 30, played Australian rules football a decade ago. The Aussie was part of the Coburg Football Club in the Victorian Football League in 2008 and 2009. Joy, whose given name is James Keogh (“I just wanted to go with a different name,” Joy says), won Best First-Year Player Award in 2008.
“It’s all true,” Joy says while calling from Austin, Texas. “I had a passion for the game and loved the competition. But I discovered that my true passion is music. I have more talent and aptitude for songwriting. I love the thrill of sports, particularly Australian football but I find music more rewarding, so I hung up my football boots and create with my guitar.”
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That career decision has paid off.
Just as his career was taking off in Australia, Atlantic Records signed the folk-rocker to a five-album deal.
“It was really early on when I connected with Atlantic,” Joy recalls. “I had recorded four or five songs then for my EP. It’s a total blur looking back to that. Atlantic believed in me.”
Atlantic’s investment paid off quickly. “Dream Your Life Away,” Joy’s debut in 2014, became a worldwide hit, thanks to the catchy single “Riptide.”
“I played that song everywhere,” Joy says. “I definitely put in the work, and it paid off.”
The quirky tune, which features Joy on ukelele, became a smash in more than 10 countries, including Sweden, Italy and Poland.
It didn’t hurt that Taylor Swift tabbed Joy as her support act for her “1989” tour in 2014.
“That whole year couldn’t have turned out better,” Joy says. “It was amazing. The exposure was incredible, and the experience is something that I’ll never forget.”
The hits continue for Joy. “Lay it on Me” and “We’re Going Home” reached the Australian charts in 2017. Those tunes, which are part of his second album, “Nation of Two," dropped in America three months ago. Now, "Saturday Sun" is generating airplay.
“I’m fascinated how a song becomes a hit,” Joy says. “What makes it fresh and why are people attracted to certain songs is really interesting. Having hits is like capturing lightning in a bottle.”
Joy has learned quite a bit about songcraft from unsung songwriter Dan Wilson, who co-wrote three songs on “Nation of Two,” including the aforementioned “We’re Going Home.”
Wilson, of the pop-rock group Semisonic, has co-written such hits as Adele’s “Someone Like You” and the Dixie Chick’s “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
“Dan brings something very special to the table,” Joy says. “There really is no one who is quite like him. He has a way with melody, and his creativity is amazing. It’s not just the songs he writes, it's his approach that is significant. He had Adele sing a note, and it sounded painful since it was so high. Dan thought it would be good for her to do it and people latched on to it. It has that imperfect raw quality.”
“A Nation of Two,” which is a phrase from iconic author Kurt Vonnegut, will be showcased May 12 at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre. Joy is thrilled to play bigger stages.
“I love having more of a production,” Joy says. “The show is more sculpted. It’s a bigger production. My shows feel more professional now.”
Joy is reveling in a rare day off in Austin. “I can take a breather. I got a haircut and walked along Town Lake. I can’t relax like this very often. This tour has been very demanding but it’s all good.”
Who: Vance Joy and Lovely The Band
When: 7:30 p.m. May 12
Where: Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary
Ticket: $35 general admission lawn tickets; $50 for reserved seats and tables
Info: 919-462-2025 or boothamphittheatre.com