Vancouver Sleep Clinic‘s ‘Onwards to Zion’ Is a Sonic Coming-of-Age Story [Q&A]

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Photo: Peter Llyod

They say the further from home you allow yourself to travel, the closer you’ll get to finding yourself. This was most definitely the case for talented twenty-three-year-old Tim Bettinson, more popularly known as Vancouver Sleep Clinic. His sophomore album Onwards to Zion has gracefully made its way into the hearts and minds of listeners and is already becoming an ambient playlist staple. The album contains a collective of refreshing guitar melodies, frosty synths, and angelic vocals that have a way of gliding into the spirit of a listener and settling into the crevices of their bones.

Bettinson embarked on a journey of self-discovery during a period of isolation in Bali with a couple of friends, and during that time, most of Onwards to Zion was conceived. He purchased a $100 nylon guitar at one of Bali’s only music stores and allowed himself to create music that he wanted to create. Bettinson spoke on Onwards to Zion, sharing,

“I’d started getting used to making three-and-half-minute songs with a beat and a hook—but the thing is that I don’t really come from making beats. I used to busk: that’s where I came from. The whole direction of this album changed for me once I realized I wanted to put the focus back on guitar again.”

Ones to Watch had the pleasure of picking the mind of the artistic genius behind Onwards to Zion. Check out the interview below. 

OTW: Onwards to Zion has this connotation of an adventure. Like a long journey to a destination better than the current one. What was the concept for the album? What were the inspirations?

Vancouver: The loose concept for the album is based on a book I read as a kid called The Pilgrim’s Progress. The main character is trying to make it to a place called the Celestial City, but he is carrying with him a burden and the whole way he is encountering people and situations that are trying to destroy him. Onwards to Zion feels like my coming-of-age kind of album. I wanted to express the trials and difficulties I’ve encountered in my youth, but ultimately I wanted the album to have a theme of perseverance and endurance until the end.

OTW: I understand you wrote this album during a period of isolation in Bali. That experience had to have been so transformative and uplifting. Do you have any standalone memories from the trip that may have influenced you as an individual? 

Vancouver: The whole trip was magical. It really just changed my entire outlook on how I wanted to make music. I re-discovered how much of a joy it is to make music with friends. Up until that point, I’d felt a heavy toll on me spiritually and mentally from being in different sessions and studios with people I’ve never met before. At the end of the day, you have to have fun with it, otherwise it’s not worth doing, and Bali was just so fun, with the best people ever.

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OTW: It’s a natural human tendency to stray from things that come most natural to us. But we oftentimes find our way back to our roots, and that phenomenon seems to have shown itself with your reconnection with the guitar. How do you think this experience has caused growth in yourself, both as an artist and as the person that you are today?

Vancouver: I think most importantly over the course of the album, I learned that I have to make music for myself! I’ve spent a lot of time and energy in the past trying to jump on trends but at the end of the day I was a 16-year-old kid out busking in the city three-four times a week and that’s where I fell in love with music! This album really brought me back to that original joy, and I have more peace and contentedness releasing this music than ever before, for that reason.

OTW: You’ve stated that this album is a reclamation of your music. What are some Tim Bettinson “tags” that are either incorporated into the album or currently under development? Anything that lets yourself and others know, “Tim Bettinson made this.”

Vancouver: It’s funny, I listened back to the album for the first time in a month the other day and I was thinking, “Man, every song starts with a pretty normal structure - then goes off into something wild at the end.” I never really set out to plan my songs (or anything in life for that matter), which means you’re usually gonna be in for a trip!

OTW: The music videos for “Summer ‘09 and “Bad Dream” are both very cinematic, captivating, and so emotional. Where did the creative direction and inspiration come from? 

Vancouver: My good friend Max, who directed the videos, came out to Bali with us and that is where we started to put together the whole vision! It’s the first time I’ve been able to plot the visuals and music simultaneously, so it felt like we were able to be a lot more thorough and build more of a concept.

OTW: Your tour is starting in November and you’re going worldwide! Do you have a tour bucket list of places you’d like to play?

Vancouver: Yes one place that I HAVE to play is Brazil!! I’ve always wanted to go there anyway but to play would be unreal. I’m also really trying to go back to Asia as soon as possible because I absolutely love it there, and the people are the nicest ever!

OTW: What are your hopes for the future? Where do you see yourself in five years?

Vancouver: As I foreshadowed, I’m not really much of a planner - but just doing what I love and making what feels right! And also I want to be a Chess Grandmaster!

OTW: if you could be an animal, what animal would you want to be and why?

Vancouver: Hmm… probably an eagle, who wouldn’t want to fly!?

OTW: What is your all-time favorite album? 

Vancouver: That’s a tough one. Hard to say one favorite but my most listened to album of all time is This Will Destroy You’s self-titled album. It’s all instrumental and it’s really been that record that got me through everything. No matter where I am or what state of mind I’m in it gives me an overwhelming sense of peace and nostalgia.

OTW: Last question, who are your Ones to Watch?

Vancouver: There’s heaps of great music from my hometown Brisbane. Keep an eye out for Akurei, T Scarlett, Shadow Jenkins, GOVS, Emerson Leif! I feel lucky to be around so many great artists and people.

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