MTV Meets… Young & Sick
The crazily talented Dutchman making astounding synth-soul-r&B
By Georgina Langford
On paper, Nick Van Hofwegen (who goes by Young & Sick when he’s making music) sounds either: really pretentious, or too-talented-to-be-true. Somewhat disgustingly, MTV can confirm it’s in fact the latter.
Nick is basically a quadruple threat; he can sing – with a beautiful falsetto that will make fans of The Weeknd weep – he can dance, he can play just about every instrument going and he’s also a talented artist, having designed album sleeves for Foster The People, Mikky Ekko, Maroon 5 and Robin Thicke, to name but a few. His Instagram is full of his illustrations, including loads of drawings of pineapples – but more on that later.
When MTV met the beautiful, blonde Dutchman backstage at Great Escape festival, he was a softly spoken, highly intelligent and articulate revelation, able to explain the complex influences that feed into Young & Sick. Having been born in Holland and spent time in London before settling in Los Angeles, he’s a genuine hybrid; making music that features jazz, indie, r&b, synths and heaps of soul. He writes and produces everything himself, but on stage he has gathered a band of expert musicians to create a “true live” feeling and astounding vocal harmonies ensue.
MTV: Let’s start with the basics - how does living in Los Angeles, ciyty of angels, impact on your creative life?
Young & Sick: Very positively, because there’s such an unbelievable amount of art made in LA, whether it’s music, or performances, theatre. Anything. It’s the promised land where everything kind of happens. London has a similar amount of art and maybe it’s the kind of people there, but it’s more pushed in your face. There’s so much happening on the streets. I love it.
MTV: In a sea of new musicians, you stand out because you have this strong artistic background. Have you always seen music in a visual way?
Young & Sick: I’ve never seen the two [art and music] apart. Especially because most of the music I listen to is on vinyl and it’s old. It’s 60s and 70s. There must have been a higher budget for artwork then, because the covers are insane. Now, we are going back to that, because most of the music that’s sold right now is on vinyl. If you like a band, you can only buy a few things from them: the mp3 (illegally or legally) or you can get a shirt, or the record. I think a lot of people are spending money on 180 grams. I’m having to do a lot more work on the art. To me it was never either/or.
MTV: What’s your most prized record?
Young & Sick: I found a test pressing of ‘Pressure Drop’, Robert Palmer’s first album. I’ve always been a Palmer fan, so to find a test pressing was really cool.
MTV: With your debut album, it seems like you’ve paid attention to matching up the vinyl with the art work itself (both the illustrated cover and the vinyl are bright red).
Young & Sick: Yes, yes. It’s fun, I’m on Harvest Records, and the history of that label is that they were a prog label in the UK, they did a lot of Kate Bush releases and proggy stuff, definitely bands that made very costly art work. Triple gate folds, double and triple vinyls. When we were talking about releasing stuff, I said I want to do two 7” and I want them to be white. They need to live together and then after that I want to do gate fold vinyls. They were like yeah, let’s do it. It’s been amazing and the quality of the print is unbelievable.
MTV: Previously, when you were creating artwork for other bands, did that work inspire you to push your own music further?
Young & Sick: It’s funny, all of my dear friends who are artists are getting signed left right and centre. Mark Foster from Foster the People and Mikky Ekko and Lianne La Havas, those people are all finally getting there. In terms of seeing my friends getting signed and working on the arts side with bigger bands…you get certain contacts and a certain push. To add to that, people start to connect the dots when they see the album artwork…and when Young & Sick open for some of those bands so it kind of comes full circle.
MTV: So you did 99.9% of your album by yourself. Although that’s a creative thing, is it also a control thing?
Young & Sick: Definitely. I wanted to make an album on my own, and I’ll do that once. But the next thing will be more collaborative. My touring band will be on it. For this album, it was really cool to lock myself up, we found a really cool basement in the dining room of a New York art gallery. Just to lock yourself up and not let anybody else on this thing, and not let anyone else listen. People liked it. The only thing I couldn’t do myself was play trumpet. Other than that it was a very selfish venture. Which is fine.
MTV: It sounds like you got very lost in the process – in a good way.
Young & Sick: Definitely, a lot of the songs on the record I wrote by hearing melodies in my head walking to the studio. I would get a melody or a part, I would record on my iPhone, and elaborate on it. I’d just get lost.
MTV: There’s a lot of hype around you at the moment, does that feel like pressure?
Young & Sick: I feel very lucky if anything. It’s amazing to get a good review so you feel nothing but lucky. If anything we feel more ready, every time we play we feel a bit more ready. We take more risks, it’s more fun because you can tell that the band likes taking those risks. Big shows will give you a bit more confidence.
MTV: How would you sell your live show to someone?
Young & Sick: Because we are a true band live. It makes me so happy when I see it in other bands, that experience. It saddens me when I see a band who on their record are amazing, when you see them it’s like a backing track, like a single drum and maybe a guitar, just vocals. It becomes too much like karaoke.
I don’t expect everyone to buy the record. People can enjoy it however they want to, and if they go out and listen to the music, it’s the biggest thing I can ask for. So I want the live show to be worth paying for.
MTV: Finally, what’s the deal with you drawing pineapples all the time?!
Young & Sick: They’re very funny looking. I think they’re hilarious. Also in the South of America, they are the sign of hospitality. If you’re ever in the south, if you see a flag with a pineapple on it, you can literally knock on the door and be able to eat at their house. I think that’s such a wonderful thing, it’ so welcoming. It’s hard to eat a pineapple on your own, so maybe that’s why it is.
During Coachella, we handed out about 40 of them both weekends, but we were like, we can’t give people knives! Everyone found a way to eat them, and we were watching Cage The Elephant play, and the singer walks up on the main stage with a pineapple - it was one of ours! He just looks it, says ‘my favourite fruit’ and he bit straight into it, with the rind on and everything.
The Continuum EP by Young & Sick is out now, his debut self-titled album will be out later this year