Write a Song Like… Vance Joy

Vance Joy is one of those songwriters who tends to break all the “rules” of popular songwriting and still manages to capture our ears. From using beautiful poetic lines to avoiding the repeatable hook line, there are several features to his songwriting that we can try in our songs. Here are a few ways to write a song like Vance Joy.

1. Switches between pronouns freely

Joy often breaks the rule of keeping all pronouns the same for each person. While he tends to use “You” for all the Choruses, his Verses often use “She” instead. This can be confusing for the listener, but it does create an effect of longing. In “Georgia”, it also feels as though he changes perspective, from an outsider view in the Verse:

She is something to behold
Elegant and bold
She is electricity
Running to my soul

And more of an insider view in the Chorus:

And I could easily lose my mind
The way you kiss me will work each time
Calling me to come back to bed
Singing Georgia on my mind

2. Uses direct language sparingly

Much of Joy’s writing is imagery-based, often describing the love interest in the song. He often uses the Verse to play on images and brings in the emotional angle in the Chorus. There tends to be more “I” statements in the Choruses and the language is noticeably direct. Let’s look at the Verse of “I’m With You”:

I saw you standing there
Sandy blonde hair, the way it came tumbling down
Just like a waterfall

And if you need a light
I’ll be the match to your candle
My darling, I’m ready, to burst into flames for you

And the more direct emotional statements of the Chorus:

Well I’ve been on fire, dreaming of you
Tell me you don’t, it feels like you do
Looking like that, you’ll open some wounds
How does it start?
And when does it end?
Only been here for a moment, but I know I want you
But is it too soon?
To know that I’m with you
There’s nothing I can do

3. Avoids the traditional hook

Although the titles of Joy’s songs tend to be at the end or beginning of the Chorus, like a traditional hook, it almost seems as if the title was decided because of its placement, rather than being the cumulative “point” of the song. Many of his hooks do not end on the tonic/home note or repeat in the way many traditional hooks do. We can see this in “Riptide”:

Lady, running down to the riptide
Taken away to the dark side
I wanna be your left hand man
I love you when you’re singing that song
And I got a lump in my throat
‘Cause you’re gonna sing the words wrong

While the word “riptide” is an important part in the overall meaning of the song, it does not stand out as the title of the song.

In “We All Die Trying to Get it Right”, the title of the song is in the Verse:

Like a feather falling past your cheek
Feel the breath of heaven on your face
And we all die trying to get it right
We’re all gonna die trying to get it right

This song’s Chorus is so short that it’s hard to argue that it’s a Chorus at all. It is interesting that he chose the title of the song from a Verse line that he repeated, but it does not resolve to the tonic note at all.

Although Joy does have songs that have clear hooks in some of his songs (ex. “Saturday Sun”, “Crashing Into You”), using unconventional hooks is definitely a pattern he seems to like and explore.

4. Uses repetition liberally

Even with a non-traditional hook line and title, Joy uses repetition within his lyrics liberally. Check out the Verses of “Fire and the Flood”:

I was only walking through your neighborhood
Saw you out loud honey in the cold I stood
Anywhere I go there you are
Anywhere I go there you are

I been getting used to waking up with you
I been getting used to waking up here
Anywhere I go there you are
Anywhere I go there you are

It’s very interesting that he chose to repeat “Anywhere I go there you are” but that is not the title of the song or the Chorus. The second Verse is essentially two different lines that have been repeated. The effect is felt, perhaps as a mantra or a realization.

5. Melody-based writing

One rule that Joy uses in his music is the Rule of Two. His writing sometimes lacks structure or uses too many metaphors to be very clear—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all—but he is very strict in repeating his melodies only twice before changing something. Even in his guitar playing intros or interludes, he will adhere to this rule.

The only time he breaks this rule is if he cuts the second repetition off early. Check out the Bridge in “Mess is Mine”:

Bring me to your house
Tell me “sorry for the mess”
Hey, I don’t mind
You’re talking in your sleep
All the time
Well, you still make sense to me
Your mess is mine

Using the Tools

No one should copy other writers exactly (plagiarism is not encouraged!). If you’re looking to add a little depth to your music or practice some emotion-based or melodic writing, try out a few of these tricks that Vance Joy often uses in his music.

Which songwriting quirks of Vance Joy’s music would you borrow? Let us know in the comments!


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