But it could have been so very different. The Melbourne-raised singer and songwriter (real name James Keogh) had something of a sliding doors moment a decade ago, when a song came to him while he was completing his law degree.
“I was finishing my last class, a summer class. I must have failed a subject along the way and needed to fill a gap,” he recounts. As he hit the books, he wrote lyrics in his notepad. Those lyrics would become “Riptide”.
“It’s funny how that song came along at the last moment of my studies. It came along at that important moment when I was deciding how I was going to spend the next year. That was fortunate. For whatever reason it opened-up at exactly the right time.”
In music, timing is everything. “Riptide” was the zeitgeist. It topped triple j’s Hottest 100 poll, won APRA’s song of the year in 2014, caught the attention of TayTay, and it changed the artist’s life.
To date, Joy’s singles, which include “Mess is Mine,” “Georgia,” “Fire and the Flood,” “Lay It On Me,” “I’m With You,” “Saturday Sun” and “We’re Going Home,” have been streamed more than 3.2 billion times.
The legal community’s loss is the music industry’s gain. With the prospect of a career behind a desk in the rearview, Joy has released two studio albums, both of which hit No. 1 on the albums chart in his homeland. Dream Your Life Away, his debut from 2014, hit No. 17 on the Billboard 200; and 2018’s Nation of Two peaked at No. 10 in the United States.
Music has taken Joy to arenas and stadiums around the globe, and created opportunities to live abroad. There was a stint in Los Angeles several years ago, and, now, Joy calls Barcelona home. “It’s a beautiful city that cares about art,” he explains. Joy fell for the home of Gaudi while visiting prior to Pink’s Beautiful Trauma World Tour, for which he opened on the European leg. He also fell for a girl, and they’ve been together ever since.
His Spanish is ok, but not great, he admits. Catalan is another challenge altogether. “I would like to learn,” he tells Billboard over a Zoom call, “but I also feel like my attempts to learn a new language are doomed.”
With borders re-opening around the globe, Joy is ready to embark on new travels. From September 2022, he’ll hit the road for The Long Way Home Tour, a two-month run spanning 13 outdoor concerts across Australia, including a special date at the Sydney Opera House Forecourt.
His first tour in four years will be his biggest-ever headline trek of Australia. The dates are presented by Frontier Touring, triple j, Village Sounds and UNIFIED, with supports including The Rubens, Thelma Plum, Middle Kids, Budjerah and Mia Wray.
International shows will be announced in due course.
When asked if his next run will support a new, third album, Joy didn’t flinch. “Yes, yes definitely. There’ll be an album out,” he tells Billboard.
Thanks in part to the downtime created by the pandemic, Joy has made a good start on his next musical phase. A new song, “Missing Piece,” dropped this year, scooped five nominations this the upcoming ARIA Awards, and recently led Billboard’s Adult Alternative Airplay chart. Other works are taking shape.
“It’s a bit unorthodox releasing a tour before the album is all locked away, but for me it’s nice to have some deadlines, to help motivate me,” he explains. “We’ve been operating in a bit of a vacuum, where there’s been no deadlines. Things can drag out for years. I’m glad there are some deadlines, to get things done and focus on other things. I might be closer than I realize (to completing the album) but I still want to keep writing songs.”