When Van Veecock contacted me in the autumn of 2020 to ask me to listen to his album, I didn’t know what to expect. We were still in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this twenty-year-old kid, who was little more than an acquaintance of mine, wanted to come over and play me his hip hop album. In all honesty, I might have been a little skeptical about a suburban kid from a small Ontario city producing a legit hip hop album. In reality, it’s a genre of music I know nearly nothing about. But Van is a good guy. He’s polite, well mannered, and easy to get along with. Although I only had a small group of regular close friends in my home for months, I allowed Van to come over on a Sunday afternoon. He assembled his gear and pushed play on his laptop. I was amazed by what I heard. The authenticity in Van’s music couldn’t be denied, and combined with his passion for his music, I knew that Van Veecock—or as he has come to be known in the local music scene, Van the Man—had something very special on his hands. I believed in him and I believed in his music. As the world has slowly opened up after the global pandemic, Van the Man’s music has become a part of the soundtrack of life resuming, and as he slowly releases his music on various platforms, his growing fanbase has shown that they believe in his music too.
“Music for me is a lifestyle. It is different thoughts but it’s also feeling,” Van tells me, nearly a year after first playing me his album. In the past year Van has released his first four tracks, gaining a sizeable following. “When I’m listening to a song, I can relax my brain and it feels nice, but all the time I’m listening to the snare and how it sounds, and I’m hearing the guitar and the guitar has this kind of rhythm and they’re using this kind of amp in this sort of room. That’s what my mind is doing. I’m wondering how far the mic is from the singer’s mouth. I’m listening and wondering if I went down to the studio now, what could I take from this and put into my own thing.”
Now while we didn’t know each other well, I’ve sort of indirectly known Van for the majority of his life. From Peterborough, Ontario, which has a very active music scene, Van’s family is rooted in music. His parents, Kimber and Shawn, were both notable musicians during the 1990’s. When I was in university, I used to follow his mother’s band, Peacock, which became popular throughout Ontario. So, it’s little wonder that Van inherited the music gene.
“When I was younger, my parents introduced me to iTunes,” Van recalls. “They gave me ten dollars and let me go buy songs. I bought The Gorillaz and a bunch of electronic music. I always wondered how the sounds were made. Did some people just make up these things? I was wondering how it worked. I was always thinking about it.”
“Since I was a little kid, I always knew I wanted to make something that people could experience,” Van continues. “I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I wanted people to see or hear it and I knew that it’d be awesome. When I was thirteen-year-old, my friend invited me to an overnight church camp. I’m not religious or anything like that, and it turned out to be a lot less religious than I thought it’d be. But it ended up being religious for me in a different way because they played a whole bunch of music which was whatever thirteen-year-old listened to, but that’s when I heard Tyler the Creator for the first time. We were in this basement and people were skateboarding and there was pizza out, and I was listening to this music and saying, ‘What is this?’ All the rap before this was just ‘Yeah, yo, got the terminator gun. I got the drugs. I got the women. Yo.” But Tyler the Creator was so different. It appealed to me because he was talking about his emotions in a different way – in a rap kind of way. I thought it was really cool and I knew right then that that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a musician.”
Finding inspiration from his new muse, Van quickly bypassed falling into all the clichéd traps that many young people fall into when trying to create music, and instead took a much more authentic and emotional path. “Tyler the Creator talks about his emotions, whether if it’s girl problems or more like ‘Everything sucks, but I’m going to get there,’” Van tells me. “That inspired me to do the same kind of thing. I go through this stuff, and I get to an emotional peak and then I just let it all out. My best songs are from when I go through a bunch of crap and then I just let it loose. I write songs all the time, even when I’m not in a crazy emotional state, because that’s what I do. But the ones that I am releasing mean something. A lot of the songs on the album were written during a real emotional height.”
“Even recently, the song Vibin’ which I just released, sounds like it’s kind of silly, but it was written during the heat of crazy depression,” Van reveals. “In my second year of university I had stopped going to school and I was just locked in my room because I was so depressed. I couldn’t leave my bed, but I had a piano and two speakers and my laptop. I made an album worth of material, which will never be released because it’s just bad stuff. But then my friend Sully calls me up and says, ‘I have tickets to a J-Peg Mafia concert. You want to go?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah!’ I mean, I had to get out of that room. I hadn’t left that room in three weeks, except for every night at 1 am where I’d skateboard down to the Metro and buy some cereal because that’s all I was eating. So, I go to the concert, and it was the most fun I had had all year. I’ve been to some amazing concerts, but nothing was as good as JPEGMAFIA in that little concert hall in Toronto. We’d gotten rained on before we went inside, and we were all soaked. We were all jumping and moshing, and it was awesome. Afterwards, we got shawarma and then we were cruising around in Sully’s Honda and free styling, and I had just had an amazing time. It was such a juxtaposition of what I was going through, lying in bed and not talking to anyone and pushing away all my close people. So, when I got back home, I wrote Vibin’.”
Although he is releasing his album slowly on streaming platforms one track at a time, Van has a fifteen-track album ready to be released. While he hasn’t stated a full release date or title for the album yet, the album took three years to create, and had some huge names supporting Van in the creation of the album. It’s been a musical journey filled with surprises and triumphs for an artist whose determination to have his music heard has defied the odds.
“Most of the songs were written when I was in university, and I was in this weird depression room,” Van admits. “Two of the songs on the album were written when I was seventeen. I had a whole bunch of songs that I had been sitting on way too long. I was so much in my own headspace that I wanted to make music and that’s all I wanted to do, but then I learnt that I had to get into the other end of the headspace where I show people what I’m making. All my friends would hear snippets here and there. Finally, I let some of them listen to it and they wanted to know why I hadn’t released it yet. So, I thought maybe I should get everything together and finish it and get myself out in the world. So, that’s when I tracked down Peter Moore.”
Producer Peter Moore is a musical powerhouse whose list of artists he has worked with is a virtual who’s who of Canadian artists, including Neko Case, Rush, Cowboy Junkies, Bruce Cockburn, Crash Test Dummies, Gowan, Oscar Peterson, The Guess Who and The Tragically Hip. Obviously having Moore take interest in his project as an unknown was a very big deal.
“Peter Moore mastered my mom’s album way back in the nineties, so we kind of knew him,” Van admits. “Well, Peter likes to work in the shadows, so there wasn’t a huge communication line going on. But my mom said, ‘If you have something good enough to show him, and you bother enough, there is a possibility you’ll get on his radar.’ So, in my second year of university, I was working as a detailer at a car dealership. Working as a car detailer is hard work but we’d get this little bit of time to eat lunch. Every single time during that hour, I’d call Peter Moore. I did that every single day for two months and finally, one day, he picked up. He said, ‘Who’s this?’ I said, ‘…van….’ and then we talked a little bit, and I explained the situation and he just said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’ That was cool, but I had all these files all over the place and it actually took me a long time to get it to be something I could send to him.”
Van had a lot of work to do before he could send his tracks to Peter Moore, but out of school and out of money, Van continued to toil at minimum wage part time jobs while struggling to keep his musical dreams alive. “I had taken a break from school, with the plans of heading back. But by this time, I’m working at a McDonald’s, and I’m working so hard. When you’re working at a fast-food place, there is no time to stop. It was stressful. But all I wanted was to make music and to be heard. At the same time I’m assembling the album. On my breaks, if I wasn’t writing lyrics, I’m writing down contacts for people to reach out to. I’m writing down emails. I’m trying every day to get there. I need to succeed, but it’s very scary. I’m researching names, to find out who mixed this, and who recorded that. I was looking for connections ‘cause I didn’t have any. I live in a small town in Canada. I don’t even live in Toronto. I don’t know anyone. I’m always sending out emails and nobody is writing me back and I felt like I was losing it.”
Things took a sudden turn for Van when a stray lyric from an obscure Whiz Khalifa album led him to another high-profile industry professional who took interest in his music – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based hip hop producer, Big Jerm. “I’m listening to this album by Whiz Khalifa called Kush & Orange Juice,” Van recalls. “I feel like for most people, they wouldn’t say that Kush & Orange Juice was a classic album, but for me, I grew up with it. I skateboarded to it. The album feels like an adult talking to you and telling you that if you want something, you can get there. The rest of the world is crazy. Everything is on fire, and everybody is insane. But if you just focus on yourself and really just apply yourself, then you don’t need to stress out. You can get there. That’s just an album for me that really hit.”
“So, I’m freaking out, and trying to figure out how to make my music happen when I hear a lyric that says ‘Oh yo, Big Jerm’s on the boards.’ Well, I realized I’d heard of Big Jerm in Whiz Khalifa, and I’ve heard him in Mac Miller songs. So, I wondered to myself, ‘Who is Big Jerm?’ I did some research and found out he’s the guy who records these people and mixes them. Well, I looked around and I found his email and I reached out to him. I wrote, ‘Here is my situation. I have a bunch of music that I really believe in and here’s a link to some songs. I want to finish this album and I want to know if you’ll help me.’ Well, Big Jerm got back to me in two minutes. He liked my music, and he said he’d love to mix the album. I was doing a little dance around the house because he’s mixed so many albums that I love. We started sending things back and forth. Our first email chain was a hundred emails. He was really down to talk to me. The first song he mixed was Vogue. When I first made it, I thought it was a fun song, but I moved on to the next one. Well, when Big Jerm sent me back his mix of Vogue I yelled, ‘This is the song!’ He proceeded by saying, ‘You like that? Let’s go to the next song.’ We got through the whole album really quickly and I played it in my car and just thought it was amazing.”
With Big Jerm’s mixes and the pieces finally falling into place, Van was ready to reach out to Peter Moore again. “It’d been two years since I had spoken to Peter Moore on the phone, because each song had about two hundred sounds, and there were fifteen songs, so I didn’t know how it was going to go,” Van admits. “I had had so much evolution and strife. But I reached out to him, and I had to call him a whole bunch of times again, but he got back in touch with me again. He said he would still do it, so I sent him Big Jerm’s mix, and he sent me back the final master. I knew this was the one. I have these songs that have detailed the past few years of school and going through all these part-time jobs that were just killing me and all these different things that were brutal, and now I get to the tip of the mountain where I’ve finished this freaking album! I played it in my car and just cried and cried. I was just listening to the album, and it was just perfect.”
Throughout 2021, Van has released four tracks on Spotify and Bandcamp – Daisies, Vogue, Vibin’ and, most recently, Mr. Good Vibes. He has also been expertly utilizing Instagram and Tik Tok to promote his brand of high-energy and instantly memorable music. By the end of the summer, as venues started to allow live music to return, Van was quick to get back on the stage. In fact, one of his gigs was the first post-shutdown concert I went to. I was so proud to see Van on the stage with an audience truly engaged in his act and responding to his music. He had come a long way from that Sunday afternoon when he nervously played his music to me in my living room.
“It’s amazing, but it’s weird,” Van says of playing to an audience. “I made all these songs, super reclusive in my own space, so you have no idea how they are going to affect people. Literally going on stage for the first time in Kingston, it’s scary. I performed a bit before COVID, but when live music started again, I was now a working musician, and I knew I had to go out again. I honed my craft and I’m still honing it. I got a DJ—, he calls himself Ah Yeah—and we’re just doing it. We’re getting the shows and promoting them and it’s crazy to see the people come and move and respond and talking to people after. It’s the best feeling ever. It really makes me smile. It’s not about me. It’s not about being egotistical. It’s more along the lines of that I created something and if it meant something to someone else, that means so much.”
It’s hard not to like Van the Man. He has a positive attitude, a boyish charm, a passion for creating music and a drive that seems endless. But more than that, Van has created something that is very genuine and comes from a place deep within him. He writes about his highest joys and his deepest lows and releases these emotions in pulsating beats and memorable hooks. There is something humble and honest about him, which serves him well and makes people around him want to work with him. But what’s amazing is that this is only the beginning for Van. As he told me, he’s still writing daily and getting ready for the next album.
“In my music, I want to reflect that, yes, life is hard,” Van says. “I mean, I’m lucky that my parents are allowing me in this situation and are really supporting me. But even with that, it’s hard. It’s really really hard. But there is a way to meet your goals, and there is a way to be what you want to be. Wanting to be in music isn’t always something that is achievable for people, whether it’s financially or because they are not in the right place at the right time. I know I’m against the odds here, but I think if you work hard enough and have your own thing going, I think you can make it wherever you want to be, whether if it’s in music or anything else. That’s what I want to reflect in my music. I don’t want to be all inspirational Mom Facebook vibes, but I want to reflect that I’ve gone through crap, and I know everyone has gone through crap. Everyone has gone through their own personal battle. But I want people to know that it’s not unattainable to achieve your dreams. What is life about other than affecting the world in a positive way?”
Listen to Van the Man on Spotify and visit his website and join him on all his social media platforms for news, updates and more releases.
PHOTO GALLERY BY JESSICA SCOTT