Interview and words by Greg Bevis
“Obviously I love Justin [Vernon] and his music, but I feel like the comparisons are generally a result of lazy journalism. ”
I catch Tim Bettinson from Vancouver Sleep Clinic as he’s being driven to a business meeting somewhere in LA. He’s never been there before this year, but since posting one song, “Vapour“, on Souncloud just 10 months ago, he has only spent 3 weeks at home in Australia. His self made EP, Winter, is making its rounds on the internet with its falsetto singing 17-year-old creator being labeled as ‘the next Bon Iver’, a title he finds inaccurate. But such comparisons and hype around this stellar EP landed Tim and his 3 piece band a spot opening for London Grammar on their current North American tour, and although that spot was pulled due to Visa issues – Tim isn’t phased. In fact, he can’t believe people are listening at all…
Listen to a snippet from the interview here:
What did you expect when you put out Vapour?
I put Vapour online then went on a two week camping trip with friends. I came back and all of a sudden it had like 15,000 plays and I had emails in my inbox, it was messed up, I didn’t really understand it. I’d just spent so much time with the song.
So you didn’t know it was good?
At no point in making Vapour or putting it online did I think it was really something. I think it was kind of a fluke. I’d written a lot of other stuff before with my other bands, and it hadn’t been that great. Vapour was a different direction and I wasn’t really sure of it. I hadn’t had that direction until I had other people interested in it.
Did you start VSC out as a band or a solo project?
I didn’t start it out with any specific direction. I’ve been in bands before this one, I think that when you’re playing in bands it’s hard to get everyone in the same headspace and committed, so was like screw it, I’ll write it for myself and put it online.
Did you make the EP by yourself?
I did all of the demos in my bedroom, then I took that to a really close friend who’s a producer and we’d sit there and refine the sound. Really just me and him.
What do you make of the Justin Vernon and Bon Iver references?
I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to that. Obviously I love Justin and his music, but I feel like the comparisons are generally a result of lazy journalism. I say that because, obviously I’m singing falsetto and that’s something Justin Vernon has been renowned for, but I think that when it comes to reviewing a song and a sound there’s so much more than that. I more take my influences from The xx, James Blake, FKA twigs. I understand where the comparison comes from, he’s an influence, but I think it’s important to look further into the sound. VSC is dreamy, ethereal, ambient, electronic. The Bon Iver reference is a massive compliment because he’s amazing, but when I write I listen to totally different records – I put on a rock record and basically try to stay as far away from what I’m writing.
How do you write?
I guess my songs start with me just jamming on my guitar or piano. I’m not normally the person that is just playing around for fun and gets something. I’ll sit down at home I’ll try to find a part, I’ll play for like an hour and then something good might come from that, and I’ll track that raw idea. Then I have a studio in my bedroom, I’ll track the original idea, get some lyrics to it. Lyrics take a while, sometimes I write them in a day or two but usually I’ll be playing with them for the next couple of weeks. With the new material I’ve been writing lyrics first and then making sure the lyrics fit into the music. There’s something fascinating about exploring the power behind lyrics. I think it’s really exiting to make music with lyrics that are so profound.
It’s amazing how powerful lyrics can be with just three chords, the lyrics can be the whole song. The guts of the song are in the words…
Ya it’s really something exciting to be explored.
And it’s something you can do on the road. How do you write on the road?
Generally, I haven’t much. I’ve probably had 3 or 4 weeks at home this year, in that period I was like “I have to make the most of this”. It gets really busy and hectic and when I’m writing I like to be in a tranquil state and able to focus on what I’m writing, I love to have no distractions and focus entirely on the song. I tried to export a massive batch before we left for America. I’ve been listening to them a lot, tweaking little things, thinking of new parts, I guess the next step is taking a month off and going to track these in a studio.
“Now I’m just writing music that I love…I guess if I can connect with people through music, if people can find some sort of joy or hope or satisfaction, then that makes me so happy.”
Does it scare you that people are gonna be watching you now as you make this next record? You made the Winter EP in relative anonymity.
I love pressure. I get really nervous still before shows though. I freak out. We’ve only played about 15, regardless of the scale of the show I still get nervous. But it’s the same with putting out new music, the EP, the singles, I’m nervous because I’m not sure what to expect. Now I’m just writing music that I love and that means something to me, and that I feel people can connect to. I guess if I can connect with people through music, if people can find some sort of joy or hope or satisfaction, then that makes me so happy.
There’s a sense of loss in your music. This pining for something that is just gone. I’m curious if you’ve experienced something like that in your own life? It’s hard to believe that at such a young age you can capture that feeling so well.
Honestly, I haven’t had the kind of loss that a lot of people have had. I’ve felt a lot of the emotions that I describe in the songs. I’ve been unsure, uncertain, angry, frustrated, and it’s this whole mental journey from that point that I’ve exaggerated because I know that a lot of people out there have been through worse things than I have. It’s how you deal with that journey. I’ve had that happen countless times. That’s why the EP is called Winter, everyone goes through these periods that are cold and bitter, and the six songs are about how you go to resolve that, I guess.
So maybe you haven’t had it as bad as some other people have, but you can still relate to it and express it?
I’ve still had bad things happen, but I know people that have gone through crazy things. We can all be connected in that respect, we all feel the same emotions.
It’s interesting to me that you called the EP Winter, and like you say you haven’t had this loss but can express it so well, and that you’re from Australia where you have never experienced Winter, but can still express Winter so well.
Yeah, it’s kind of weird.
What does your family think of all of this?
I’ve been blessed with a really supportive family. It’s kind of crazy. I just finished school last year and I know a lot of parents would be really hesitant about doing all of this instead of going to college. But they’ve been incredible, not only have they allowed it, but they’ve really been backing this financially, and with their time, which is something really special. A lot of families, this is kind of against their will, my parents love it and love what I’m doing. My siblings are psyched as well, it’s been amazing.
You need a lot of support when you start out.
My mum does all of my accounting. Dad has been working really closely with my manager, If I had to do all of that myself I’d be really overwhelmed.
“I’ve been unsure, uncertain, angry, frustrated, and it’s this whole mental journey from that point that I’ve exaggerated because I know that a lot of people out there have been through worse things than I have. It’s how you deal with that journey…everyone goes through these periods that are cold and bitter, and the six songs are about where you go to resolve that…”
Now I’m just writing music that I love and that means something to me, and that I feel people can connect to. I guess if I can connect with people through music, if people can find some sort of joy or hope or satisfaction, then that makes me so happy.
Tim and I exchange goodbyes and I express my sympathy for the gutting blow that the Visa problems gave his band. I mention that I’m in a band and one of our moms does our accounting as well, we both laugh as I feel like I’d blown my cover – busted, I think to myself, my mom helps my band out too – Tim doesn’t mind.
Tim doesn’t seem to over think anything. He’s humble and strikingly self-aware, traits that beguile his age, as he describes how he knows people who have had it much worse than him. A fact that seems irrelevant to the music because he is able to capture and fully express universal emotions that we all feel: fear, anxiety, frustration, so well. What should age or personal experiences matter with such a great ability to empathize?
Tim appears unaffected by any shred of ego in that he places very few, if any, expectations on his next release, or ownership over the whirlwind of acclaim that he’s being swept up in. This is the same simple and honest energy that allowed VSC to capture something truly amazing on the Winter EP. His own relaxed work ethic allows him to cut to the chase in his songs and make music that he connects with, and so others can connect with it too. Not bad for a 17-year-old kid.