Interview with Brock Van Wey on Earth House Hold (Part One)

Hey Brock, how are you? I heard you moved back to China. Can you talk about that decision?

Hey back at ya. I’m good. You are correct indeed, I have moved back. The decision came about, ironically, by the decision to move somewhere else. I’d had a weird obsession with living in Poland for some time, so after having enough of being crushed under the absurd weight of a mortgage in California for two years, in the first days of 2018 I sold my house and picked up and moved to Warsaw in the dead of winter (I’m not known for my sense of timing), knowing no one, speaking no Polish, having zero idea what it would be like to live there, and, quite frankly, having zero idea what I was actually planning to do. The abstract ideal was to live some romantic life of a musical vagabond, but, as with all ideals, instead of bringing me closer to music and basking in the inspiration and new lease on life I had envisioned, I battled the most isolated, soul-crushing, mentally destructive six months of my life. So yeah, I could say it didn’t go according to plan – but since I apparently never had a plan, maybe it did just that.

Let me be very clear. Poland is an awesome country, and a great place to live. In fact I would say it’s one of the best countries you could have the fortune of living in. But psychologically, to say it’s tough is the understatement of the century, and it held a level of isolation I never imagined in my wildest dreams. Actually I probably did imagine it, but thought it would be way cooler and more romantic than it was. Funny how it always works out that way.

I always thought of myself as someone who didn’t need other people. Prided myself on it. My friends and family are the most important things in the world to me, but I always thought I could also have them “in my life” without needing their physical presence, propped up by my lifelong sense of hubris over being someone who could spend more time alone than anyone else. That’s all fine and dandy when it’s by choice – but when isolation is literally the only option, day after day, week after week, month after month, it becomes a very different story. When you go days, even a week or more without literally ever opening your mouth to communicate with another human being, your mind eats itself alive. As I battled my own self-destruction on a daily basis with varying levels of success (i.e. very little), I began to look back on much of my life in an entirely different light, seeing the value in things I never realized before – and learned that I do, in fact, need people. People who care about me. People I care about. That I need to be loved. And love others. After 44 years of believing the complete opposite, the revelation itself was nearly as hard as the torment that brought it about. It’s never fun to realize you’re human I guess.

I couldn’t be more lucky to have so many amazing friends and family back in America who are, in fact, exactly those people. But besides the fact I’m not a self-made billionaire and thus basically can’t live in California anymore without sleeping in a ditch, years later, after the long-looming black bureaucratic cloud of the past decided to lift, I realized what – and who – I had truly left behind when I left this place the last time. People who had waited for me to come back, even when I said I never would. There’s a power in that I greatly underestimated before – one I finally realized it made more sense to fight for than against.

You could say it’s yet another time I ended up in the place I’d least expect. But with more than a third of my life lived here, I guess it all makes sense it’s a place that, in whatever weird or fucked up way, I can’t help but call home. After all these years, I realized it’s not about whether a place embraces you as its own. Hell, my own “home” never did that. It’s simply whether or not that place holds people who would miss you when you’re gone. Who would fight to have you in their life. And for whom you’d do the same. If you’re fortunate enough to have that, you’re home. Till you’re not (haha).

I want to ask about the name of this project. What does Earth House Hold mean?

It’s actually the name of an old invite-only party from back in the early mid-’90s, a really small event that only played true, raw, underground house – an ideal always in the shadows of the pervasive breaks and acid-heavy sound for which California was known.

The Bay Area, while having its share of massive events that will go down in history, was a scene largely comprised of a vast network of much smaller weeklies, monthlies, and just way more intimate, smaller parties focused on their own particular musical vision. By 1995 or so, when the scene had already gotten so commercialized that even so-called “underground” events were actually funded by sources about as “above ground” as you could get, such smaller gatherings had all but disappeared, either at the hands of people running them giving in to despair under the weight of the changing times, or simply being eaten up or destroyed by its money-hungry tactics, having their ability to throw events crippled by corrupt larger promoters calling the cops on any party within 50 miles they considered “competition,” using crooked government connections to literally shut off or rip locations down, and whatever else was at their disposal to ensure theirs was the only game in town – the latter of which happened to our parties more than once as well. Thanks, human race.

At one such large event, one of the last ones I ever went to, the guy who ran Earth House Hold was there, with his tiny stack of fliers as always, only handing them to the few people he knew were on the level. I saw him, he saw me, we nodded in each other’s direction, and he handed me a flier. And in that moment, I remembered not everyone had lost their way… at a time I needed it most, surrounded by a scene decaying by the day at the shallow hands of those who had no business being in its midst. On its last night it was, as it had always been, a super small party. A few dozen people tops. But it was still one of the best nights of my life. True. Real. How it was. How it was supposed to be. When so much else had become all it professed to rail against. There were a few other such events still fighting the good fight at the time (including ours haha), but for some reason that one always stood as a symbol for me. One I always held on to. I can’t really explain why, but I guess you never really can, right?

Lest someone accuse me of merely appropriating a name someone else created rather than taking it as the form of respect it intends, it’s also a book from 1969 by Gary Snyder (a native of San Francisco, and a lesser-known force in the beat poet movement), which features a collection of poems, anecdotes, and diary entries from a myriad of his travels throughout the world, cataloging the depth of the human experience through tribal life, connection with nature, and dance. This was, in fact, where the name of the party came from originally. Fitting on pretty much every level I’d say.

Is there a different aesthetic behind this project versus your other work?

Though some would argue my contention (and have), for me, yes. 100%. Earth House Hold is reserved purely for (what I define as) deep house. For me, the definition of deep house is very narrow – I won’t really get into that here – and the amount of people over the last near thirty years who mislabeled it has maddened me to distraction. There’s this whole supposed deep house revival lately, and while I couldn’t be happier that so many old-school cats who sacrificed everything to make it what it was are finally getting the worldwide recognition they deserve, half of what people still call “deep house” is anything but, while for the other arm of the “revival,” deep house is just about emulating (or literally just stealing) sounds you heard off a record from 1992. There’s a reason why that sound from 1992 still hits you today – because the person who hit that chord, with that synth, at that time, had a reason for doing so. They had something to say. A story to tell. Hitting the same chord again might sound the same, but it won’t mean the same thing. In fact, if you don’t have a reason for hitting it in the first place, it won’t mean anything.

Before I spiral off into an entire diatribe about that that will bore half who read it and piss off the rest, the reason I bring it up is because Earth House Hold is how I tell my story of those times, all my years in the trenches in California playing pure deep house that basically no one wanted to listen to (haha), and the path it took in changing my life forever. What true deep house meant to me. How much it was there for me. How much it taught me about life, and what it meant to be alive. Ambient (and its related forms) were always there, and as many know, I actually started (and ended) as an ambient DJ. But it was my years in deep house that truly formed who I was, and my place in music.

Though you can hear all my past in my music, Earth House Hold is reserved purely for telling very specific stories from that time through a very specific kind of music. No matter the tale, they are a very literal account of a single event from that finite period of time. It’s almost as much a travelogue through my personal history of those times as it is a way of encapsulating what true deep house was and still is to me, in my own way. I am very strict about the sounds, instruments, and even equipment I use on Earth House Hold tracks – they can only be from the period of time the tracks are describing, a big divergence from my work as bvdub, where anything goes. But rather than attempting to emulate the sounds of those times (I don’t need to, I was there), the goal is to keep that true spirit alive while still making it my own, glancing back while moving forward. So while I think it is clearly referencing those times, telling tales from those years, as that’s the whole point of the project, it’s not trying to sound like it was made then. Because it wasn’t. The point of deep house – of all this music – is and was to constantly move forward. As so much deep house of now purely looks back, I think its creators are forgetting that the music they’re emulating was doing the opposite. Maybe it’s easier to look back than face the future. I know it’s as hard for me as anyone.

When composing a piece, do you already know which project and which album it would fall under? Do you work in a particular mode with a beginning and end for each release with a purposeful theme?

I’ve said before that when working on music under bvdub, I never sit down with any predetermined idea. It might end up beatless, might be 4/4, might fly off into 160bpm breaks at the end. I never know, and I never want to know. Earth House Hold is different. As it’s so literally linked to something specific, it requires a bit of a different head space to create. It’s as much or more about a time than an emotion. If that makes sense, since obviously, you can’t really separate the two.

So unlike my other work, yes, when I sit down to make an Earth House Hold track, I sit down to make an Earth House Hold track.

Like with all my work, everything is made from note one to the last, in order, and I already know the story I want to tell. Just like the rest of my work, the album name is written first, then the track names, in order, all before note one. So I already know what I want to say, and how many parts it will take for me to say it. How exactly it gets said, is, quite frankly, as much up to my heart as my other stuff, so I don’t have rigid guidelines of something having to be this tempo, this key, 4/4, broken, etc. What happens happens. In fact for the most recent album, many of those tracks are radically different from what I thought I was sitting down to make. But as always, that’s the beauty of it. And what ends up happening is what was meant to be. Your head may have had one idea, but your heart had another. The latter always beats the former.

At times it can prove quite a challenge, as I might start drifting off into something that wouldn’t fall under my own guidelines for the project, and have to rein myself back in. Which kind of negates what I just said about my heart always winning out over my head. So ignore that I guess (haha). But for me, Earth House Hold has to be made a certain way, and sound a certain way, in a sense, to do what it was intended to do. It’s not easy to work in a narrower scope when nowadays the world is basically your oyster, but in a way, the restriction is also strangely liberating. Which makes about as much sense as the rest of my assessment.

Read Part Two of this interview…