Blake Van Houten

Blake wanted to be a chef. The dream was to be a rockster. Never knew being a rockster can actually be a real thing.


Take us back to you as a kid.

I grew up not far from here, in Grimes in fact. A suburb to the west of Des Moines. During that time my friends and I would ride bikes or skateboard around town, making trips to Caseys for snacks, hanging out at the skatepark, and general suburban kid things. It was really nothing out of the ordinary. When I turned 13 my dad bought me a guitar and an amplifier for my birthday and that's when I this whole music thing started. 

Who did you want to be?

Growing up I don't recall ever being set on a certain career. At one point I really enjoyed watching the Food Network and I thought maybe I'd become a chef someday. I still enjoy watching the Food Network. When I was really into skateboarding I thought that would make a great career. Even when I started playing guitar at 13 I think I always dreamed of being a rock star but never thought it was possible. Really it wasn't until about last year that I was set on having a career involving music.

"I wasn't sure what that career was going to be, but I knew music made me really happy and I enjoyed it more than anything I had ever done in the past."

What was last Monday like for you?

Last Monday, huh, ummm. I woke up, had my usual breakfast of coffee and Bischoff. I usually will watch Netflix or Youtube while eating my airplane breakfast cookies, then I'll head off to work around 8:45. For my day job, I work at EightSeven Central. I am a screen printer there. My days consist of printing shirts and other various garments. Its a really relaxed work environment and it's nice to be in somewhat of a creative field both in my day job and in my real passion for music. After work, I usually will return home and take a quick hour nap before either spending time with my lovely girlfriend Liz or if I'm working on music that'll take up my evening. 

Walk us through the days leading up to you doing your own music?

I was a student at Iowa State studying Industrial Design and I was miserable, but I was so far into my program that I didn't feel like it would make any sense to drop out, so I stuck it out and graduated in 2017. It was during my time there I realized I wanted a career in music, not design. I wasn't sure what that career was going to be, but I knew music made me really happy and I enjoyed it more than anything I had ever done in the past. 

It was sometime last year when Lauren Penna and I met at church. We discovered that we had similar tastes in music and really both had the drive to pursue music on a serious level. We both had plenty on our plates at the time but decided to start getting together once a week and start to do this music thing. I'd go over to her place with my laptop and record her playing keys and singing and then I'd take it home and add guitar and bass and synth parts on top of her recordings. During this time I was learning a ton (and still am) about producing, recording and mixing. We finally arrived at two songs we were happy with and we would then take those into the studio and spend two days putting them together more professionally.

Describe your music. 

This is always a tough question for me. Under the moniker, In The Evening, Lauren and I are going by our music pulls from a lot of different areas. Post-rock, ambient, cinematic, shoegaze, indie etc. I could go on, but honestly, I don't know how to describe our music. I'd just encourage anyone interested to give it a listen! 

"I'll be honest, I'm not all the time. When I am focused I think it comes from knowing that I know that music is what I want to do as a career."

What keeps you busy?

My day job at EightSeven Central takes up 40 hours of my week, the rest is spent with my amazing girlfriend Liz, working on music, volunteering at Cityscape church where I run sound for the worship band every Sunday. My downtime is spent scouring the internet for new music gear. I stay busy, but it nice. 

How do you stay focused?

I'll be honest, I'm not all the time. When I am focused I think it comes from knowing that I know that music is what I want to do as a career. Although my day job is great and I'm extremely thankful I have that job right now, the ultimate goal is to leave that job and replace it with a job in music.

Biggest challenge?

I think the biggest challenge is there is just not enough hours in the day. Give me like 30 hours per day and I'd be happy. 

How did you overcome it?

I'm still trying to overcome it. Being able to balance a full-time job, a creative pursuit, a relationship, church, friends, family, it's no easy task. Still learning the best and healthiest ways to manage my time.

You get to redo something you’ve done. What would that be and why?

If I'm redoing something in my life I think I'd pursue a different major in college, or possibly not go to college at all. But, for this interview, let's say I get to pick a different major and redo it. I'd go to school for something music related. Producing, engineering, heck maybe even jazz. Just something in that realm.

Someone is starting their own thing. What would you say to them if they came to you for advice?

Something I'm realizing myself actually. Dreams aren't made of money. It's something that I've been telling myself lately because the realities of being a college graduate and not really pursuing a job in the field of my degree are that money is tight. But, I still have these dreams and I'm going to make them happen one way or another. Money shouldn't be the deciding factor for a creative to pursue or not to pursue their dreams. 

Why Des Moines?

I moved to Des Moines after graduating college because I landed a job right here in the city. Now I live and work in the city and I really enjoy it. For me, it's the people that make it great. I am by no means tied down to the city either. There are places all over that I hope to visit or live in someday. Paris, Nashville, Austin, LA, just to name a few. Des Moines will always be home, and I'm very proud of that.

"Money shouldn't be the deciding factor for a creative to pursue or not to pursue their dreams."

What’s one new thing that has caught your eye?

Well since this is an interview about my music I'll keep it consistent and talk about new music I like. James Bay has released a couple singles for his upcoming album and I cannot wait to hear more of this album. He's rebranded himself and it's just everything. He's dropped the British folk vibe and traded it in for this glam rock mixed with an r&b vibe, at least from the singles that's what I've gathered. I think as artists we are always evolving and changing and sometimes big names will completely rebrand themselves because they need to change it up and try new things. I think James Bay has been really successful at this. Also, his new wardrobe of sparkle sweaters, leather jackets, and pointed boots is just the best. 

One wish for Des Moines.

A 1500 cap venue that is well cared for and well staffed. Right now the gap between Wooly's and Wells forces some amazing bands to completely skip over Des Moines as a stop on tour. Which is why Liz and I are constantly road tripping to Chicago, KC and Minneapolis to see our favorite bands.

For someone new to DSM where do you suggest they go?

If you're a guitar player, check out Professional Music Center. The best guitar store in town hands down. If you're looking for coffee it's Mars or Horizon Line. If you're looking to do some shopping check out Fontenelle Supply Co, they have high-quality menswear, house items, and handmade leather goods.

"Des Moines will always be home, and I'm very proud of that."

The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why?

Parking, we have good parking compared to surrounding cities. My first visit to Chicago was a parking nightmare. I'm now eternally thankful for free parking lots. 

What are you most proud of and why?

Right now I'm most proud of the songs we created in the studio last month. My hope is that I'm continuing to be proud of my current creations. Kind of an "always improving" mindset.

It’s been six months, what do you hope to have accomplished?

In six months I hope to be continuing to be working on music. I hope In The Evening has a couple more tracks out, maybe an EP? I hope I am a better producer and musician than I am now. I hope to also be a better person than I am right now. Whether that role is a boyfriend or friend or coworker. Like I said above, always trying to improve.

One thing that matters most to you is what?

Sorry, I can't pick just one! Faith, relationships, dreams.

Photo credit: Andrew Peterson

Derek Jensen