Don’t sleep on this EP.
On don’t wake me – I’m dreaming, Toronto-based hitmaker Virginia To Vegas (aka Derik Baker) takes us on a dreamy, day drunk trip through quarantine – from nostalgia of summers past to watching days “flyby”.
We caught up with the songwriter and producer to talk creating an album during COVID, grade six love songs, sharing cigars with Pitbull, and what west end bars he was really talking about in “Just Friends”.
Do you remember the first song you wrote? Tell us about it.
There’s a cool story and there’s an embarrassing story. The cool story is about an angsty song I wrote called “Angst”, which I usually tell people was the first song I wrote. It was kind of a cool blues song. But really, the first song I wrote was called “The Ashley Song”. I remember I had a crush on this girl in grade six or something like that. I wrote this song about her and it was the worst song ever. I played it for her in one of my best friend’s houses and I made her wait at the top of the stairs so I wouldn’t have to actually look at her. I was actually writing it in assembly at my elementary school and I remember my teacher took my notebook away thinking I was doing something bad. Then they gave it back to me with this look of embarrassment on their face when they realized I was just writing a super corny love song for a girl in grade six.
That’s pretty ballsy that you played it for her, good for you.
I mean, shooters gotta shoot, right?
Right. Was there a point in your life that made you realize music was what you wanted as a career?
I never really made a conscious decision that I wanted it to be a business or that I wanted to do it full-time in that way. But I knew I didn’t want to do anything else with my life. I had done a slew of other jobs. I worked for fundraising agencies. I went to school for Travel and Tourism Management. I worked in the Caribbean. Literally, any job under the sun you can think of, I did. But they were always kind of a means to an end. My goal was always just to be able to play music and stay alive.
Your new EP just dropped on October 30th! You produced it in complete isolation this year. How did that change your creative process?
I still wrote the EP with my friends over Zoom, so that was weird. But for the actual musical process, I was able to really dig in more. There were a lot of nights filled with drinking red wine during quarantine where I was like, I can spend as much time as I want on this one tiny little insignificant guitar part. And I think a lot more of my musical influences came up from under. Stuff you wouldn’t normally hear when I’m just creating a pop song with my friends. I was more meticulous with the sounds and the production of the actual music.
Did COVID also inspire the title of the EP – don’t wake me, I’m dreaming?
EP titles are always funny to me. I never think about them for long. When I put the songs together, it’s usually the first or second idea that comes to mind. I don’t know what your experience was like in March when everything started to get weird, but for me, everything kind of felt like a dream. Days went by really quickly and then days turned into weeks that turned into months. And then the next thing I knew it was summer and everything just kind of felt hazy. I didn’t really come out of that feeling of time being weirdly strung together until I was finishing up the EP and was like, that whole process kind of felt like a dream. It’s just a strange time. So much Uber Eats. I bought 4 boxes of red wine at Wine Rack one day because I didn’t know when I’d be able to go there again.
So much Uber Eats. That dreamlike quality was the exact experience I had, and I think it really hits home on the EP. Do you have a favourite track on the album?
I think “Told You So” is my favourite song on the EP. It feels so warm to me. When I listen to it, it makes me really happy.
After a brief stint in LA, you knew you needed to make music at home. You even wrote a hit song about it (“betterman”). What is it about Toronto that keeps you creating here?
I remember when I was a little kid – I grew up in Guelph – and anytime I would drive into Toronto I would feel such an overwhelming sense of inspiration. When I was thinking about making music professionally, I remember just driving through the streets of Toronto being like, if I can do it here, it’s gonna happen. That thought was so vivid and just kind of stuck with me. Everywhere I’ve worked in music has been great. I’ve worked in Sweden and L.A. and Nashville. It’s nothing against any of those places. But I just find Toronto to be so inclusive and diverse. There’s so much going on in Canada and especially in Toronto. There’s a country scene, a hip-hop scene, an R&B scene. I feel like it’s been a melting pot for the last few years and you’ve seen massive artists come out of here, like Bieber and Mendes and Alessia Cara and Drake.
Okay, here’s the best way I can describe it. Toronto has always been like the little brother or little sister to New York City. It’s a big city with big culture, but the people here always feel like we have something to prove because we’re in Canada. That’s why the work ethic is so good here. People have that ambition to prove something.
I had that same experience driving in from London as a kid, seeing the CN Tower and thinking, this is it.
It was so epic! I would have been on that exact same drive, driving Eastbound on the Gardener into the city.
Who’s the most memorable artist you’ve shared the stage with (so far)?
I’ve got to share the stage with artists I would never imagine. Like, we played the Jingle Ball with Backstreet Boys. If you would have told me I’d one day play a show with Backstreet Boys, I’d be like, what? The most surprising artist I’ve ever played a show with – in terms of being cool – was Pitbull. He offered to share a cigar backstage and was just a super gentleman and the nicest guy in the world.
Mr. Worldwide. 305.
I was actually at that Jingle Ball performance! It was so much fun.
I think Cardi B and Post Malone both played that show. If you think about how stacked that lineup was in terms of the artists who came out of it – so wild. I remember my mom referring to Post Malone like, “Who was that guy? He was so cool!” I was like, “Mom, you think that’s cool?” She was like, “Yeah!” I was like, “Alright, mom’s cool!”
You’ve gone 4X platinum. You’re Juno nominated. You’ve accumulated over 260 million streams. But you’d probably be the first to say you don’t get recognized on the streets. What are your feelings towards fame, success, and how the two intertwine?
I really like being successful because it allows me to work at a craft that I love and I’m honoured to do. I think the fact that I get to tell stories and make music is the coolest thing in the world. When I was in my early 20’s, the idea of being famous was a lot more attractive to me. Now, I think fame is a scary thing because I think ego is scary. The things that come with a big ego are pretty much all the things that aren’t supposed to make you more deserving of things. Ego is just a weird thing. If I’m being completely frank and honest, the thing I enjoy about my little bouts of fame is when somebody does recognize me and I have the opportunity to make them feel special through that. I really like making people happy. I’m a huge people person. I’m the guy at the hotel resort just making friends with everybody in the pool because I love people so much. I mean, obviously, I’d love to put out a record that’s Grammy-nominated. I’d love to sell out arenas around the world. But I don’t know what comes with that, right?
What advice would you give to a Canadian kid who wants to write and produce their own music?
Just keep going. I’m not the best guitar player. I’m not the best singer. I’m not the best music producer. And I’m certainly not the best artist. I try my hardest, though. And I think the one thing that led me to have my small, very humble amount of success is that I just haven’t given up. I really love what I do and I haven’t given up that. So I just keep going. I know that sounds so corny and cheesy, but that’s usually the thing that separates someone who is successful from someone who’s not. Just don’t quit.
One of our favourite lyrics from “Just Friends” is “Why don’t we go out and get a drink in the west end.” So, do you have a favourite west end Toronto bar?
Oh yeah, so many! 416 Snack Bar. And that bar on top of Locals Only, Laissez Faire!
Oh my god, the eggplant doubledown at 416 Snack Bar.
So good! But the night that lyric was actually written about was 416 Snack Bar and The Drake.