Hailing from LA, and with quite an attitude and swag under his belt, Nick Van Hofwegen has taken the creative industries by storm. Not only has he been illustrating for some of the most successful artists of the past five years, but his illustrations have become intimate aspects of image and branding for bands like Foster The People & Maroon 5. Beyond that Nick has also dabbled in fashion with Urban Outfitters and Rag & Bone, but it’s his project Young & Sick that raises Nick to public awareness and qualitative highs. A collaborative effort from his two creative brains, Young & Sick is the “music and art project” that dons a stylish sound with a distinctive and enigmatic front man.
It’s a story as old as time- actors becoming singers, models becoming pop stars, we’ve seen it before- but a transition from visual artist to R&B crooner? It’s a little more rare, and it was Nick’s unmistakable album artwork that crafted a bridge. “Since I was young, I’ve drawn all over things. I always really liked doing it. When I was in design school in Holland, a teacher encouraged us to make some art for one of our favorite bands. I sent a single idea to ‘The Velvet Teen’ from California. One day they wrote back asking if they could actually use it for some merchandise. Through their manager, I was connected to Mark Foster (of Foster the People), and Andy Dick. More requests for art came in, and it kind of just happened from there.” On the other side of the project it was the Dutch Punk scene, with little fourteen year old Nick playing guitar in several bands, that led him down a musical rabbit hole. From Punk bands to a guitar mentor to the discovery of Jazz and Soul, Young & Sick is the beautiful result of a very specific course through life.
His expressive outlets don’t seem to be distinguished in his own mind- they are simultaneous gifts, complimenting each other, “Making music and art for me goes through a very similar process, and I do both on the same days currently”. It’s obvious in the quality of his music that this is what Nick is meant to do, and being able to craft all aspects of the audience’s experience with an album is a very special and unique opportunity. One must wonder though, does the staple style become a trope among album art, and if so wouldn’t it be difficult to redirect it for ones own work? “When people see my art next to say, Foster the People, they definitely recognize it’s the same person. With my own project though, I can really hone in on the tiny details that make it solely Young & Sick. It’s only helped gather more eyes and have people connect with the style more.”
Musically Young & Sick dabbles in many genres from the 60s, all in an elating package, and Nick proudly shares his inspirations. “Like my dad, I’m a vinyl collector. Records force the listener to listen to at least five songs of the same artist; it keeps you focused and closer to the music. Most of my inspiration comes from 60’s music- from rock, to soul, and jazz. I believe that taking cues from recent “new” music makes bands sound the same.” Some of Young & Sick’s direct inspirations are Prince, Steely Dan, CSNY, Curtis Mayfield, & America. While Nick’s genre cues are admirable, valuable and enjoyable, they are also somewhat on trend, and one of the projects major criticisms comes from Pitchfork’s review of the debut album on that very topic. Author Kyle Kramer writes, within a framework for criticizing the state of music in general, “it’s unclear who’s to blame, but somehow we’ve ended up with a new template for comfort music—a little bit of soft rock, some smooth R&B, and a measured dose of bleepy-bloop synthesizers, jazz syncopation, or acoustic guitar. The results of this formula are, more often than not, broadly appealing; at the least, it makes good background music for parties or cocktail bars”.
But Young & Sick is more than being reduced to a trendy sound, or being opposed to the inspirations of new music. It’s a beautiful study in the juxtaposition of joy and sadness, a new approach to darkness, and a flip on what we all expect to hear. “Deeper thoughts and melodramatic words aren’t always there to make us feel sad. Sometimes they can be used to reflect, or even overcome darker parts of life.” The track Gloom is a great example of the contrasts Nick loves to employ. The title itself is an illusion of darkness; the song a sultry, simmering jazz track, with encouraging vocals. Darkness may be the focal point, but it’s utilized to bring into focus the light.
Another aspect of Young & Sick that’s right on the money is Nick’s vocal performance style, live and on the record. Whoever said white boys couldn’t run may have to retract their statement in light of Nick’s soulful voice, clearly the product of some serious inspiration, and a dedicated stylistic choice. Paired with his unique synth arpeggios, these are the two most characeristic and exclusive traits of the project. “I believe it was a Jeff Buckley’s “Everybody Here Wants You,” that I used to sing along to that got me into singing falsetto and doing the curls. I think CSNY got me into using big vocal harmonies. As far as the synths go, I am mostly a guitarist when it comes to playing and writing, so for me it’s fun to play with all these synth sounds and arpeggios.”
Criticism and praise aside, Young & Sick delivers. The live performance is invigorating and satisfying, with Nick’s swag translating beautifully to the stage. He captures just the right amount of rock star cockiness to make you want more. His shows in NYC have made quite an impact, and the reception here has been widespread enjoyment. What has it been like in his home base across the way? “Los Angeles has a silly amount of amazing bands and collectives. There are not that many venues in LA in contrast with how big the city is. It keeps the “scene” very small and close, but we’ve gotten some wonderful love from the Californian radio stations and blogs we love.” Speaking of the LA scene, Nick lends his two cents on who to check out in LA- “The Preatures are a new band I absolutely love. They might not be from LA, but they are signed to the same label as us. The insanely talented Syd Arthur from Canterbury is another band I’ve grown very fond of.”
Keep an eye out for Young & Sick on tour this summer, and in the meantime expect to see Nick collaborating more on illustrations, writing, and production.