Wearing your heart on your sleeve: an interview with Brock Van Wey (bvdub)


I missed out on a beer recently with long-time friends and label companions, Mike Cadoo and Brock Van Wey, but whilst I sat at home reminiscing about our crate-digging session in Seattle a few years back, Mike was a little more productive and took the opportunity to ask his good friend, Brock a few questions over a pint. We're lucky enough to host the candid and insightful conversation here on ASIP with mentions of Brock's latest album on n5MD, live performances, his biggest fans, beer and (until now) a secret upcoming project...


My first interaction with Brock is something he often sites when we meet up and in the company of new people. In my usual protectively blunt style I tested what was possible in the selection of tracks for an album he submitted. We both stood our ground. I wanted to swap out some tracks. He said, “nope, album as is”. At that moment, from that first interaction, we had each other's respect. Fast forward to now. I have been lucky enough to release four of his albums via n5MD wth his latest album Heartless currently hitting the new release bins.  Since his move back to the east bay, where we both grew up and worked unknowingly a mere two blocks from one another, he has become family. I took the opportunity (and liberty) of hijacking one of our meet-ups, this time at 8 Bridges Brewing, to interview him for Ryan @ A Strangely Isolated Place, and of course have a few Reds - Mike Cadoo. 

Mike Cadoo: Let's start with your latest album Heartless. You've chosen to call it Heartless when in fact it might be your most heartfelt album yet. Why on earth did you choose Heartless as a title?

Brock Van Wey: I don't think you're the first person who's wondered that (laughs). In a lot of ways the album is me trying to face the fact that the world has taken away a lot of my heart. It's really beaten it out of me. And no I'm not talking about politics or world events or other things people mistakenly attach to the concept of the album, you know that's not my thing. I'm talking about just life itself, and a lot of shit that's happened to me in recent years. Life's stolen a lot of my heart away, and quite frankly made me a more heartless person. I always thought heartless people had it all wrong, you know? Now I wonder. When the world punishes you enough, you start to wonder if it's you who's been doing it wrong all along.

M: Yeah I don't think I could even classify you as remotely heartless. I've seen you do plenty of nice things and you have told me first hand how certain decisions or interactions have made you feel. But it could simply be the case that you and I were not interacting much or at all during the callous years?

B: Well we were far apart for a lot of years in the physical sense, as I was living on the other side of the world, but even if we were two doors down from each other, you wouldn't really know. It was a really internal struggle, and as good as I am at sharing my feelings, I'm also just as good at hiding them.

So the album takes heartlessness as an overall concept, and tells the story of a specific time in recent years when I really was... heartless. For once I acted with no heart, no regret, and with a total disregard for another person's feelings – basically the way most of the world seems to do just fine. But it didn't do what I thought it would. I didn't feel liberated... I felt like shit. But I wondered – and I still wonder – if it was actually “wrong.” Was I really being heartless, or was I actually letting someone else dictate how my heart was supposed to feel? I think we all give other people way too much power over our own emotions. It becomes hard to separate how you feel from how you're supposed to, you know?

I will say that fucked up or not, there is a real power in being heartless. Having a heart and sharing in the human experience is as profound as it gets – but having no heart, and no regard for that experience, is possibly equally profound in its own fucked up way. To somehow cast off guilt, regret, caring, empathy, and every other solely human emotion and to just “be” in a way that basically only sees you exist in the world – it may be horrible, but it's also very powerful. I don't think I do it well. But in the end, the whole thing taught me to revere – and fear – both.

M: Some of the reviews for Heartless have touched on it being a sign of the times and even somewhat political which you did mention. I think it's an album that is resonating with people due to how jacked-up things are right now.

B: Oh shit is jacked up, I don't think anyone's gonna argue that. I can't sit here and say that nothing influences my thought patterns subconsciously either, so who knows. I can only say I don't consciously try to deal with any of that in music. I don't even talk about it in life either. It seems every time I run into someone they want to talk about something political, how fucked up shit is, or whatever, it's just not my thing.

M: I think you and I are similar on this front. When the time comes for me to take the appropriate action I'll act for change that I believe in but I'm not going to constantly harp about it. I think making the music we do helps with dealing with the day to day for sure...

B: For sure. You're like me in that this is your therapy. It's not only how you deal with your own internal world, but also process the world around you. There seems to be a weird dogma lately that if you don't want to talk about something or don't have some polarizing opinion about it, you're either ignorant, or some terrible person. But being ignorant about something and simply choosing to talk about something else are two wholly disparate concepts, and you're not minimizing the gravity of one by choosing to discuss another. There are a lot of aspects to life. Not everything has to be an all-sum game. Anyway, let's not go down that rabbit hole...

At the end of the day, what matters is that art means something. It doesn't matter if it's a book, painting, song, or anything else – only the creator will ever really know what they meant. But even they forget over time, or it changes over time as their own life changes as well. So it's always changing, always evolving. And once it's released into the world, it takes on a life of its own, and you really have no control over it anymore. But that's the beauty of it. Think about how many albums you've heard, or books you've read, that meant one thing to you at one time, and something totally different down the road. It weaves itself into the fabric of your life, becomes part of who you are. And who you are changes. It will always mean something different to you every time you hear it, and will mean something to you it will never mean to another person... but it will also mean the same thing. If that makes sense.

So yeah I have zero problem with people interpreting it whatever way they do. If it can be a part of their lives in any way, through good or bad, I'm honored. There is no wrong way to interpret anything anyway, just different ways. I guess in a lot of ways, people's resonating with it in that way gives me something to think about myself, and really it kind of applies to the reasoning behind the album in the first place – which never occurred to me until now. So see, even I get to have a new realization about it now, and go back and listen to it with new perspective. That's crazy. But that's what's awesome about music. And really, all art.

M: I know that the making of Heartless originally started out as being inspired by your concept of a live set, to be as large and spacious. When we worked together on writing the album description you added a specific section of text sighting “painful impetus” to live performances. I'd like to know more about that specific line of text...


B: Yeah continuing with my theme of being a complete mess, live shows are my therapy. Most people go to a therapist to talk things out in private, I decide to talk to a room full of people at an ear-bleeding volume.

M: (Laughs) I can attest to that...

B: Yeah you've been there for the punishment (laughs). It's part of the reason I do so few because they are so emotionally exhausting I'm basically a shell for weeks after. Though I am fortunate to have the most amazing family and friends I could ever dream of, the fact is I rarely leave the house, and have very little contact with the outside world. So the majority of my world is always internalized, building on top of itself into pretty unbearable intensities. Playing a live show is the time I finally get to let that all out, to say all I've wanted to say for weeks, months, even years – not only to the audience but to myself. It's kind of like hearing my own words said back to me. So it's as much a conversation with myself as it is the people there. It's cathartic, but also gutting. I'm not ashamed to say I've cried during most of 'em. So I guess it's no surprise they are usually “big”... and, as anyone who has been there knows, fucking loud. If you're gonna say something, say it.

M: I feel ya on the catharsis. Is this the main reason why don't allow your live sets to be recorded?

B: That's part of it. Would you want to bare your soul to a friend if you knew he was recording it to listen to later? And what good is it later, anyway? It was a conversation between us. Then. And that's where it should stay. It's also a matter of respect, honestly. It's just fucking disrespectful to assume you can record someone's performance for your own personal collection, to put their heart and soul on some shelf for you to show off at a dinner party. And if you don't have respect for an artist or their art, why would you ask them to share it?

That goes for everyone there. I get that you paid money, and I also get that recording things mostly comes from a good place. People just want to remember the evening, because it's important to them. Trust me, it's just as important to me. But put the phone down and be there. What's some crappy thirty-second distorted video going to do? Are you ever going to watch that later? Of course not. You're going to show it to one person to show where you were last night, then it will never see the light of day again. But to get that, you took yourself out of the whole experience. For what? All you accomplished is ruining things for people next to you that are trying to be there, besides the fact it's distracting as shit for the artist.

M: Oh hell yeah. It amazes me going to shows now how many phones are out. You can't experience the show through your phone screen and as you say the quality is horrid. I admit I have taken a pic or two.

B: Et tu, Mike? (laughs).

M: (laughs)

B: You've been there with me at shows. Before the show, after the show, let's take all the pics together you want. Even videos. Whatever. I've stayed at shows for literally hours after they're done to talk with people, take all the photos and videos they want. I actually enjoy it and it's an honor. It's fun. Hell, after the show I take pics too. But during the show, no. We're all there. Be there with us. The whole point is for us to share that night, for us to communicate our deepest thoughts to each other, and for those moments, come as close as we'll ever come to understanding life. You will remember that night for days, weeks, months, maybe years – and every time you do, the memory will change, distort, adapt to your own changing life. But it will still be in there somewhere. And it has truly become a part of your life, through its own evolving form. It happened. Now it's gone. And all you have is the memory. That's how it's supposed to be. It's fucking beautiful. Let it be beautiful. People need to stop their weird obsession with having to have some permanent record of everything. All they're doing is making their entire lives and every event in it all the more temporary.

Here's a good way to gauge it: Next time your friend starts to really open up to you about something in their life, something they probably couldn't tell anyone else in the world, tell them you're recording the conversation – or better yet, pull out your phone and just start recording. See how much longer they want to talk. Or wait until they finish, then tell them you just recorded everything for your own personal use. Why? Doesn't matter. You just wanted to. See how much longer you're friends.

And just so people know, I don't record either. For all the same reasons.

M: I'd like to know a bit more about your fan engagement. Unlike a large percentage of artists who have management and there is a bit of a buffer between fans and the artist you have and do have direct contact with your listeners. Probably hard to pick one but are there any favorite interactions you've had with fans (that you can actually talk about :)?

B: Well I do have management now (laughs) but yeah that doesn't change anything about how I interact with people. Nothing means more to me than communication and interaction with fans, you know that. The whole point of all of this is to share in each others' lives, to be part of each others' lives, and know we're not alone. Anytime someone takes the time to write an email or drop a message, I always answer, every time. And as anyone who has come to my shows knows, I really enjoy spending as much time with everyone as I can. I don't look at a show as some kind of ego-fest where people are there “for me,” to me it's all of us, we're all in it together, god help us (laughs). Every time someone has taken the time to communicate, be it through email or in person at a show, it is pretty much the most amazing and humbling thing that can ever happen to anyone. If it's not, you need to seriously look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself why you're doing this.

I have been super lucky to have some of the most amazing interactions over the years, both through email and in person, it's really beyond words, man. Some of the things people have shared about the deepest parts of their lives, and the lengths they have gone to in order to be at a show so we can share that time in person, it's fucking mind-boggling. I don't think I could ever even say how much I appreciate it, and appreciate them.

There are some, both in email and in person, been some absolutely mind-blowing ones that have literally restored my faith in humanity, which I didn't think possible. I'd love to tell you this one or that, but I think there's two problems with that: one, it's super hard to pick one (laughs), but also, because I think if I highlight one, it somehow makes another seem “less,” if that makes sense. I think everyone shares and loves in their own way. Some people may make bigger moves or have more to say than others – but that doesn't mean those who are less bold or expressive are diminished, they're just different. They do it and say it in their own way, on their own time, you know? Yeah there are some “bigger” ones over the years I will never forget as long as I live. But I remember them all, big or small. Hell, I probably remember a bunch of interactions that fans have already forgotten. They are all amazing in their own way, and I appreciate them all. They all mean something to me. They mean everything to me. For someone who has always been an antisocial misanthrope who is terrible at interacting with people, I am somehow lucky enough to have the most amazing friends and family, and fans, in the world.

M: It is quite funny as you do often speak of yourself as anti-social but I've seen almost the opposite. Even seeing first hand your fan interactions. You are humble, chill and even listen to and interact with what they have to say way beyond standard artist / fan interaction. I still to this day find your physical appearance and your true demeanor to be an interesting juxtaposition. Contrasting. I think your fan engagement, music and even your current black and white promo shot where you are holding your cat points to these contrasts.

B: Yeah I know a lot of artists who just play the show and bounce, but I'm there the whole time, from the sound check, through anyone who plays before or after me, and even after that. I'm there for the whole night – and the whole night isn't just me. I want to be a part of everything as much as possible, and that includes everyone who came. As long as anyone wants to talk or hang out, have a beer, or just shoot the shit, I'm always stoked. Until that moment, the music has been the thing abstractly connecting us. Now we get to meet each other face to face, and literally be a part of each others' lives for that time. For real. What the hell is more awesome than that? It's amazing.

It's kinda crazy because I feel like people I meet already know so much about me through the music. I feel like they already know everything about me, my whole life, but I'm meeting them for the first time. It's a weirdly vulnerable kind of feeling, there's a weird imbalance, it's almost scary sometimes. But in a good way. I don't know, the whole thing is just amazing.

I'm not a fan of people. Anyone who knows me can tell you that. You know that as well as anyone (laughs). But “people” and family are different. And fans are family.

(laughs) Yeah the cat picture. To this day I still laugh at the fact that when that went up on RA, the highest rated comment was someone saying That is not what I expected him to look like. Never judge a book by its cover (laughs). I think by now my obsession with cats far precedes me. But I guess just as a lot of people are surprised I love cats so much, they're also surprised I'm actually a nice guy. I just look really not-nice.

M: So we are now 10 years into bvdub. You gone from that first string of EPs and really never stopped. However, there was a fairly solid stylistic shift in there. What brought on the shift from the more techno style beat work to what has over time manifested into mostly beat-less works with beats as augmentation rather than propulsion?

B: I guess it has been 10 years. Wow, I'm old. Well so are you.

M: Thanks for the reminder (laughs)

B: No problem (laughs). I think the shift was definitely solid but gradual, I just followed what came naturally. The basis of my music has always been ambient (for lack of a better word), so I think it was only natural it would go more heavily in that direction overall. Even when I used to go to parties or DJ, beats weren't the main thing for me. They were a structure, a kind of thing that held tracks together or even caused us to move together, but the music surrounding them was the focal point. Besides the fact I started as an ambient DJ, later I was quite famous as the guy who played tracks with ridiculously long beatless breakdowns, or just veered off into no beats at all in the middle of a house set. Or maybe that's infamous (laughs).

M: Famous. Infamous. same shiz really (laughs)

B: (laughs) Pretty much. As my dad used to say, if no one hates you you're not doing it right.

M: I have to remember that one (laughs)

B: Yeah he knew his shit (laughs). What you say about augmentation is pretty true, but I still work with beats as propulsion in some bvdub stuff, and of course East of Oceans and to some extent Earth House Hold. But for the majority of my work, the beats and rhythm are there as a kind of ghost of the past, like when you remember a track hours or days after you heard it. I think that all comes back to my old obsession with being the last DJ of the night, at like 8 am, the last music you heard when you were walking to the car, that muffled sound after you shut the warehouse door. Not only was that time only for the real heads, but those moments as you were leaving,  the last track you heard as you were leaving and that door shut, that was going to be one of the most lasting impressions of the night, whether you realized it or not. It was always the most beautiful thing to me, and it's carried over into my own music, not surprisingly, I guess. I would say everything comes full circle, but that implies I went away and came back. I think I've always been there.

M: Since you brought up Earth House Hold, I happen to know that you have a forthcoming album on ASIP for the project, That I coincidentally had the honor of mastering @ 37n,122w. Can you fill us in on it a bit?

B: You did. I mean the mastering part, not the honor part (laughs).

M: (laughs)

B: I've been wanting to do a second Earth House Hold album forever, and people have been asking me forever as well, which always kinda surprised me, because when it came out it was so under the radar, but over the years I think it grew into what I originally hoped it would be, and the project too. Everything I do is important – well, to me (laughs) but while my work as bvdub deals with more of an emotional history, Earth House Hold is a more physical one, if that makes any sense, in that it's anchored to a more specific space and time, or spaces and times (wink-wink). But then all my work is in some way. I don't know, I'm explaining it fucking horribly. I guess only I know the difference (laughs). I'm clearly not good at explaining it, but I'm never good at explaining music with words. That's what the music's for, because I'm not good with words.

Ryan actually shares a lot of my history with the music and times that Earth House Hold kind of radiates from, and so although ASIP may seem an odd home for Earth House Hold, actually it's a perfect one. We had been talking about doing something for years, but for this reason or that it never came together, mostly because he was too busy putting stuff out from everyone else in the world and collecting bad pressings for dinner plates (laughs) but also because it had to be right for both of us. One day I emailed him out of the blue and said it was time for us to do something for ASIP, and waited until he already agreed to ambush him with the fact it was an Earth House Hold album. I will say with all certainty that was not what he was expecting, and I think it threw him off, but after it sunk in I think he totally got it. When the album was done, I sent it to him, and he loved it. Ryan is awesome, ASIP is awesome, and Earth House Hold is fuckin' awesome. So there you go (laughs). It will be out early next year on double vinyl, I can't wait, hopefully, everyone will dig it. I won't get into what it all means for now, I'll let people listen and figure it out for themselves.

M: Ryan wants to know what you have against pink beer?

I mean I know he's asking because of that time we went to that bar in Seattle and I lost my mind when he ordered that pink beer – but I think you could ask anyone that question who wasn't even there, and they could answer the question as well as I can. It's pink beer. Beer isn't pink. And pink isn't beer. But that's what you have to love about Ryan. He's the only person I know who would take a shot on a pink beer – in the company of two loudmouthed beer snobs – at ten in the morning. Were we already drinking at ten in the morning? Sounds about right (laughs). Too bad the whole endeavor turned out as badly as one might expect. Plus I'm a supposed “beer snob” who also drinks Coors Light every day. Soooo....

M: (shudders) Coors Light? I guess I'm the beer snob.

B: Yeah yeah I know your Coors Light hate (laughs). Hey, sometimes you want a fancy-schmancy IPA or a nice red, sometimes you want a Coors Light. Well, not you, but me (laughs). I spent half my life in a hick town, gimme a break.

M: I have been known to drink Tecate or Pacifico...so...

B: Yeah, I remember both of us drinking Tecate tall boys out of paper bags on that trip, so not sure how much snobbery you can really flex (laughs). I can't lie though, you are way more hardcore than me. Every time I see you I drink some crazy thing I've never had before. For me, if there's good beer I'll drink that. But any beer is gonna get drank. Or is it drunk? They both sound weird. Great, now everything sounds weird.

M: (Laughs)

B: Anyway, no pink beer.


bvdub's new album, Heartless is now available through n5MD.