In a number of ways, Nick Van Hofwegen is coming out of his shell. The visual artist known as YOUNG & SICK was virtually unknown for a number of years, if you disregard his illustrative collaborations (Foster The People, Maroon 5), and it wasn’t until recently that he exposed his aptitude for music. “For Her”, “Continuum”, and “Glass” all outline a composer that’s fond of diverting your ears to a sound that’s actually fresh – one that picks at the creativity behind modern R&B and solidifies a vein of digital pop by leaning on a powerful voice. To really uncover who Young & Sick is, we spent some time with the songwriter at SXSW, where he posted up at various showcases including an acoustic gig at the animal shelter Austin Pets Alive. Our conversation was brief but we were able to discuss his debut album (out April 8th on Harvest Records), dying mediums, and how general expectations can be an artist’s worst enemy.
Do you agree with Albert Einstein’s quote: “Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”.
Yeah, it can be. I think it’s hiding your sources and trying to make two or more things that have nothing to do with each other have something to do with each other.
Can you tell me a bit about crossing the bridge from art to music?
I always did both and then one of them got bigger and the other started catching up. Now it’s kind of the same.
Do you find having that musical ability helped you advance in the art world?
It was the other way around. Getting big design clients got me a lot of contacts in the music industry.
Which became more demanding: art or music?
I think I spend my time half and half. There’s quite a demand for both at the present time.
Were there artists or collectives that really pushed you to commit your life to music and art?
Well, I was always super interested in musicians that care about packaging and art. So I’ve been pushed by everyone from the Grateful Dead to even Pearl Jam who always had amazing packaging and prints. I love buying prints.
I work in advertising and over the years people have claimed that print is a dying medium.
Definitely not. I think the CD is dying – I mean it’s a fact – and I’m not even putting out my album on CD, it’s just vinyl and digital. As for print, there are people now using Kindles to read books but there’s always going to be the romantic that wants the book or a typewriter and not a laptop. Even the demand for vinyl is steadily rising. I think the demand for physical is always going to be there.
So why do you think people prefer vinyl over compact disc?
I think a disc makes sense in a car but it’s the same quality as an MP3 or .WAV file. A record is a different experience – you have to sit down and listen to a whole side and you have a big piece of art that’s hopefully a gatefold. I think seeing the art that much bigger matters because the size that we look at album art online is almost similar to the CD was versus a record and I think the art part makes it important.
How do you think social media is affecting fine art? Is it too easy for anyone to be an “artist”?
I personally think it affects it positively as Instagram is great for capturing what’s around you. Personally I only put up drawings on my Instagram but it’s generating content. People have been forced to be more creative in these last four years because there’s so much that you have to find a way to stand out, and the same goes for music. There’s a higher standard because there’s so much readily available and pushed in your face that to stand out you’re going to have to make something that’s different and higher quality. The best will always rise to the top.
So do you think everyone is an artist?
Yeah, I think so. I mean not everyone is a good artist but I think more people have found artistry in themselves because of the weird, readily available apps on your phone and being able to shoot little segments of photos or videos. I have more documentation of my life now more than ever and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Art is generally a pretty difficult life endeavor and it usually takes years of struggle before any kind of pay off. What motivated you to get into something that has such a low success rate?
I had a lot of jobs on the side before things started happening as they are and before I got bigger clients. It’s never been a choice for me. I can’t do one of the two, I have to do both. Both of them are equally important to me and take up an equal amount of my time and there will be moments like SXSW where I’m not drawing a lot. But I just came off doing the second Foster the People record which took up way more time in the art realm so it was really a decision. It’s like how you can’t decide your sexuality.
There’s a long history of drugs in art and music culture. Do you think that drugs are necessary to initiate the creative process?
No, definitely not. I think for some people it helps them expand their horizons and that’s not a bad thing – there’s been a lot of artists who’ve gotten something from it. I think personally if I were to do that a lot, I would be held back because it would mess with me too much. I don’t need anything to do what I do.
What would you consider to be the biggest enemy of creativity?
Expectations in life. Being expected to get a job, a house, a wife, and a dog. I think those constant social pressures of what you should be getting hold a lot of people back from what they should be doing. My first step toward doing what I’m supposed to was to move to London from the Netherlands at age 20 and not look back, and realize I had a shitty job in the Netherlands and I could also have a shitty job in London. But there I was in London and it was a way better place for me to be doing what I wanted to be doing. I was definitely poor and there wasn’t one moment where I thought I was going to be fine. I was basically scared of not doing well or being poor because in music and art – even if you do well and end up making it – the second you aren’t anymore, you’re back where you were.
What do the next few years look like for you?
I have an album coming out April 8th on Harvest Records and I’m really excited about that. Basically, I just want to keep making music and art. I don’t have expectations. There are people that I work with on the team we’ve established that have those expectations and those plans, but I just look at art and music and just try to keep doing it. I can have ideas… but if I can feed myself, then amazing. Anything above that is incredible.