Whether you know it or not, you may already be familiar with Young & Sick.
Perhaps you’ve seen the album art for Maroon 5’s “Overexposed” or Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”
All of these are the work of Dutch-born Nick Van Hofwegen. Although his creations have been more identified through his visual art, his Young & Sick project also includes a musical component.
In April, Young & Sick released a self-titled debut through Harvest Records. It’s a jaunty 10-track collection, led by Hofwegen’s falsetto with a comfortable pace atop an R&B swing and upbeat synths.
“I never really considered being a singer. I was always the guy in the back playing guitar,” Van Hofwegen said between bites of an oversized cookie at a Koreatown coffee shop. “I didn’t consider that either would ever take off. When the art started to get bigger, I started considering that the music might follow.”
Growing up in “the middle of nowhere” in the Netherlands, Van Hofwegen began experimenting with art and music. Starting off playing in punk bands, Van Hofwegen eventually began making free album art for a variety of indie acts as he relocated to Los Angeles. One happened to be for a teenager named Mark Foster.
“He was this broke 18-year-old … working at a coffee shop here in L.A. and trying to make it, trying to be something,” said Van Hofwegen of the future leader of the chart-topping Foster the People. “He told me that he would somehow find a way to help me and pay me back for all the art that I did.”
Foster was true to his word. In 2010, Foster’s breakthrough single, “Pumped Up Kicks,” rapidly surged through airwaves across the country, hooking listeners with its wavy atmosphere, easing bass line and rebellious undertone.
As the song took off, Foster again contacted Van Hofwegen about creating artwork. This led to designing the cover for Foster the People’s debut album, “Torches,” which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard rock chart. It was a shift for Van Hofwegen, who hadn’t experienced as much direct acknowledgment for his talents.
Anonymity in music
While he began to be more heavily pursued for his designing abilities, Van Hofwegen continued to value anonymity in his music. He took the unconventional route in introducing his work, as he uploaded the song “Continuum” to an anonymous and untraceable corner of the Internet called the Tor underweb in 2013. The song ended up on the music-streaming site SoundCloud within a few days, and the project began to receive press.
“It was a fun experiment,” said Van Hofwegen. “We’re always going to try to find out some weird stuff to do. That’s what keeps it fun.”
Though it’s an easygoing listen, Young & Sick is straightforward in acknowledging the lows that plague Van Hofwegen’s relationships, often exploring solitude. This can be heard in songs such as “Counting Raindrops,” which Van Hofwegen wrote after he spent a night sleeping in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, and in “Heartache Fetish,” which features the gripping line “You’re not in the room / But you got me in a headlock.”
But isolation is becoming less of an issue for Young & Sick. Van Hofwegen and his accompanists have embarked on small tours since the release of the album, and have opened for Van Hofwegen’s old clients, Foster the People. The band also played at the Coachella festival this year, and found a way to underscore its unorthodox nature at Texas’ South by Southwest festival, where it played a show exclusively for sick dogs from a no-kill shelter in Austin.
“The dogs were really kind of calm and sit down and look straight at you the whole time,” Van Hofwegen says of the experience. “That was really cool.”
Although transitioning from behind the scenes to the stage has been a different twist for Van Hofwegen, he appreciates being able to showcase his project in concert.
It’s another component of his steadily growing project.
“It’s never just going to be art and music,” he said. “It’s always going to be growing. We’re completely limitless.”