Nashville Is Falling in Love With Foy Vance
Forgive yourself if the first time you heard of Foy Vance was when Keith Urban covered his song "Burden" at the 2019 ACM Awards. If that's the last time you hear him, though, you're just being stubborn.
Vance — a northern Ireland-born singer and songwriter who spent important years in the American heartland and deep south — is the kind of artist one hears and quickly develops a lifelong appreciation for. It happened to Urban — in fact, he cites that as a motivating factor in recording "Burden."
In advance of Vance's new To Memphis album (released on Sept. 6), Holly Williams and Anderson East did separate three-part Q&As with Vance where all were given plenty of time to praise one another. Ed Sheeran discovered him in 2012 (to the extent that a working musician near 40 can be discovered). The British pop star also proved to him that songwriting need not be an act of isolation.
“He talked me into it," Vance tells Taste of Country of Sheeran, "and I wrote with him and then I wrote with him steady that whole year. My eyes were opened to collaboration and how much I learned from that experience.”
Nashville stands to benefit from this new appreciation soon, even if he still prefers solitude for his own records. That's how To Memphis (recorded at Sam Phillips Studios in Memphis, Tenn.) and From Muscle Shoals (recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. and released in June) were created. Vance came upon stacks of old demos labeled "Soul" and "Americana" and set to finishing them. Some (like "Have Me Maria") were closer to the finish line than others like "I Won't Let You Fall," a rising ballad mixed with organ, acoustic guitar, a gospel chorus and Vance's defining muscle at the front.
"Cradled in Arms" — a place to start for the curious — was a Christmas present to his mother, but a maternal influence can be felt across his poetry. It was his father who unintentionally set his son on a life of music by shepherding the family across Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alabama as a pastor and then looking back with longing upon returning. For Vance, America was a land of milk and honey built by immigrants like them, and anything that came from America was see through the same shade of rose.
“Massively so. Massively so," Vance says when asked how these formative years shaped him. "I’m only realizing that as I get older and start to think about things more clearly. First music I would have heard was gospel music, you know, the Church of Christ didn’t allow instruments. It was all voices."
One of the first American country songs Vance's name appeared on was "Pushin' Time," a love song from Miranda Lambert's The Weight of These Wings album. Devin Dawson's cover of "She Burns" for Taste of Country's RISERS program opened even more doors. In fact, Vance reveals he met "Rednecker" singer Hardy through Dawson and the pair recently got together.
“Forty-five minutes later we had written a country song that will stay with me through the end of my day,” Vance says with true wonder.
“Nashville’s popping at the minute. To me it’s the epicenter of song.”
Little Big Town, Brett Eldredge, Urban and Julia Michaels are four more Vance has written or recorded songs with recently. Few of the products of their labor have been released, which is terribly exciting for fans of this singer and his influence on country music. He's kind of soaking it all in himself, patiently turning mutual respect into beautiful relationships.
“I loved Devin’s version of ‘She Burns,’ I thought it was beautiful," he says. "And I thought Keith’s version of ‘Burden’ was incredible. I really did, and I wasn’t expecting to. I don’t normally like when people cover my songs, but when I listened to that I forgot it was my song, to be honest.”
Expect another Americana album in 2020 and look for Vance to return to Sam Phillips Studios to cut it. From there, you'll likely be seeing more of him in the near future, be it on stage (he's playing Americana Fest this week and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in October) or around town. The twisted mustache, flat cap and soft eyes define him physically, but it's his refreshing approach to songwriting that's his true signature.
“It’s almost like (songs) already exist, you just need to listen," he says.
See 50 Modern Country Songs for Traditionalists