Foy Vance

Foy Vance knows how to write a song. It’s a naturally-born but dedicatedly-finessed skill that has led him to collaborate with artists as diverse as Plan B, Sheryl Crow and Rudimental, synced his music on multiple TV shows ranging from Grey’s Anatomy to the finale of Sons Of Anarchy, and caught the ears of some of the biggest players (in every sense) in music, from Elton John to Ed Sheeran.

So it is that in the run-up to the release of his new album, Vance travelled to Nashville. It’s a long way from home for the Irishman, both from the place of his birth (Bangor, Northern Ireland) and the place of his residence (Aberfeldy, Scotland). But for an inveterate songwriter, Music City is an irresistible draw, a place where Vance can work with the best of the best. Not, Vance clarifies, for himself or his own material. For one thing, he’s already completed his new album, and with songs of the calibre and single-minded brilliance of the dozen that comprise The Wild Swan, there’s no need for any outside assistance.

But for another, “I’m not snobby about it, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing with other people for myself. That feels like it’s my own private joy,” adds a man who crafted The Wild Swan entirely to his own vision, in Nashville’s Blackbird Studios, aided by Jacquire King, who recorded and mixed one of his favourite albums, Tom Waits’ Mule Variations.

“And I used to steer clear of writing with other people altogether until I started doing it just by chance. And then I realised that even when it goes shit, it’s still a learning curve,” Vance notes with a smile. “Every wrong path is a way to the right path. I keep it pretty lean. But when good people come up, I give it a go.”

One of those good people is Sheeran. Vance co-wrote “Tenerife Sea” and “Afire Love” from 2014’s multi-millionselling X, and he wrote “Make It Rain”, which Sheeran sang over the final episode of cult biker drama Sons Of Anarchy.

“Ed’s like a wee song machine,” Vance notes approvingly. “He would always go places lyrically that I wouldn’t go myself, so he makes me think about the lyrical choices I make. Working with Ed made me a better writer.”

Now, with the impassioned, rootsy, rousing The Wild Swan – an album that makes nods to, and takes cues from, proper heroes ranging from Noam Chomsky to Ziggy Stardust to WB Yeats – the pair’s relationship moves to another level. Sheeran has signed Vance to Gingerbread Man Records, the label he launched in 2015 with Jamie Lawson and his self-titled, chart-topping debut album.

Trevor Sensor

Trevor Sensor was born in Sterling, Illinois, an old industrial town whose strong foothold in the steel and manufacturing industry once saw it nicknamed 'The Hardware Capital of the World' (though since the mill's closure, Sensor likens it to the Lynchian neighbourhood of Lumberton from 'Blue Velvet'). As a teenager, part-time work in the local golf course was countered with experiments in various alternative rock bands: Trevor would idolise idiosyncratic front-men and vocalists like Billy Corgan or Gordan Gano of The Violent Femmes, as well as the canon of great American authors (Salinger, Miller) he'd go on to study at college in Pella, Iowa.

The two began to fuse in his early songwriting, which was recorded between stints as a dish-washer in the local bar and grill ("you learn a lot from the ex-junkies who make up the kitchen staff," he says now). Among the early results are startling debut single 'The Reaper Man', an ambiguous encounter with death driven by Sensor's raw but soulful voice ("Oh here's the reaper man, he's looking after me / Oh here's the reaper man, he's coming to take me"). Coloured by local love affairs, 50s TV and the mysticism of the Midwest, flip-side 'Villains and Preachers' is a similarly outsider's vision of small-town suburbia, from which Trevor Sensor has emerged one of the most striking new finds of the year.

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