The Clean White Toms Behind “Dirty White Vans”

By Sophomore Jack Bennett’s unlikely path to Spotify popularity

By Piper Curda

With over 150,000 streams on Spotify and lyrics brimming with smooth confidence, one might expect the person behind songs like “In This Moment” and “Dirty White Vans” to have a somewhat dominating presence, commanding attention in the same way his music does. But sophomore Jack Bennett and he is anything but imposing.

Like his singing voice, Bennett’s speaks with a rhythmic lilt. He uses it quietly and sparingly. He is arguably one of the most well-known artists on Wheaton’s campus, but you would not guess it from the amiable way he presents himself and the humility with which he talks about himself and his music. Ironically, he also doesn’t wear Vans, and the white Toms he does have are relatively clean.

Bennett is the first to admit that his musical success was fairly accidental. He is a business economics major with no ties to the Conservatory. He plays on Wheaton’s men’s basketball team. “I don’t really have any musical background … I’ve never had any music lessons,” he admits, though his lack of formal training has never deterred him.

Bennett, who grew up in Wheaton, started teaching himself music production in sixth grade simply by listening to music “in detail, picking apart every sound in a song and then trying to replicate it.” He taught himself guitar and piano during his junior year of high school when, on the way home from church one day, his mom pointed out that he had a nice singing voice. As if being entirely self-taught was not impressive enough, Bennett also records, produces, mixes and masters all of his own music with equipment now occupies his dorm room. It is fair to say that Bennett’s journey has been anything but ordinary.

“I honestly didn’t think it would become what it has, as small as it is still,” Bennett told the Record. He describes the positive response he has received thus far as “exciting … fun, but nerve-wracking.” There’s a level of vulnerability that comes with releasing music. “Now, a lot more people have heard my music, so there’s more association of it with me.”

Even so, Bennett does not let the reception of his music carry much weight. “I don’t care if people don’t like my music,” he said. “If they like it and they want to share that they like it, then I appreciate that. I don’t want people to fake it.”

It is difficult to fake it with Bennett’s music given the deliberately honest approach he takes with his lyrics.“I want my music to be real to what I’m thinking and how I feel,” Bennett said, describing his writing process. He expressed his desire to remain authentic when creating. “I do it out of enjoyment and it’s not to satisfy what other people want to hear.”

Enjoyment might be the only rule that Bennett applies to his creative process. Given his nontraditional entrance to the music world, Bennett believes the best process is no process at all. He explained it as something that “just kind of happens” and that often even he is not sure what the final product will end up being.

As a result of his stylized yet scattered method, even going about describing his own sound proves slightly challenging for Bennett. He dubs it “a combination of rap, pop and indie-electronica,” the last of which is heavily inspired by Jeremy Zucker, Bennet’s favorite artist. He also said it’s “a little bit of alternative.” In the end, Bennett admitted, “it’s all over the place, to be honest.” But he (and his listeners) seem to be just fine with that. “I literally just create what I want to. I’ll get on a certain trend for a couple months and then completely switch,” Bennett told the Record. Yet while he does not count on or expect any particular reaction from people that hear his music, he is certain of what he would like people to experience.

Above all, Bennett wants people to feel “connected” and understood. All of Bennett’s lyrics are inspired by his own experiences and relationships, but he intentionally keeps them open-ended in an attempt to cultivate universality. With this approach, he hopes to “put into words some emotions that [listeners] might not understand how to put into words [for themselves].” But once again, Bennett wants to avoid putting himself or anyone else in a box, saying, “I’ve always wanted people to just connect with it in some way, whatever way that is.”

Bennet’s inclination toward ambiguity is enhanced by his wish to create a musical experience that can be enjoyed by all, not just Christians. “A lot of people that would listen to my music that don’t know me wouldn’t know that I’m a Christian,” Bennett told the Record, explaining that this was, and has been, a conscious decision in order to reach both Christians and non-Christians as well as an effort to avoid ostracizing either population.

About the intersection of his music and his faith, Bennett expressed an authentic ambivalence. “I don’t really know how I want to approach it yet,” he said. Nonetheless, this willingness to embrace the unknown puts Bennet’s listeners at ease. To anyone looking to do what he has done, Bennet says, “Don’t force it. Don’t try too hard.” He speaks in earnest, but makes it clear that he does not think of himself as the prototype of a successful musician. “Have fun and don’t think you’re gonna blow up,” he said, adding, “I’m tiny. That’s fun, and that’s where I wanna be.”

While his streaming statistics and on-campus popularity may communicate otherwise, it is obvious that those are not the reasons Bennett does what he does. When asked if he plans to pursue music post-graduation, he shrugged and confessed that he did not really have any set plans for the future except one: “I do it because I love it … I’ll stop making music when I stop loving it.”  

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