Interview: Ryan Hemsworth

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Ryan Hemsworth: I just came from Australia. It was awesome. I was out there for about twelve days and I just got back, and now I’m here and for the rest of the month I’m back in Ottawa, which is where I’m living right now.

Alex Leung: What cities did you visit?

Ryan Hemsworth: I went to Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney.

Alexander Leung: How was Australia?

RH: Pretty surreal. I’ve only played Canada shows up to this point, so it’s not typical for someone to do a few shows and then jump to Australia but… yeah.

AL: I’ve seen the way you Facebook, Twitter and use social media. A lot of artists have not really caught on or use social media the way that you do in terms of attracting professional visibility. Do you have any comments about how or why you’ve been so involved in an online presence?

RH: Um, I’m sure part of it comes with no having a full-time job, haha, also, I watch a lot of people who are on Twitter trying to promote their music and I’ve noticed a lot of people are overwhelming with it. The toughest part is knowing where to draw the line and not forcing your music on people. At the same time you want everyone to hear everything you’re doing. Sending out one tweet every week isn’t enough, so it’s hard to find that middle ground. Also, it’s important that you have a sense of humour about it. People, in a way, just want to see a friend through your work.

AL: It’s all about building that connection.

RH: Exactly. People don’t want to just see, “look, show here, EP here.” That’s your status update? People want something they can hold on to.

AL: I want to talk about Halifax for a moment, because that’s where we first met. As we both know, the scene there in terms of hip-hop, besides a few people doing some really cool things, work as a hip-hop artist is sometimes difficult. How did you deal with the lack of artistic outlet there?

RH: I mean, I was thinking the fact that there is not as much offered to me in Halifax in terms of the type of music I want to make and the people I want to work, in a sense, made me reach out towards people on the Internet. It hasn’t hurt me in that sense – it’s geared me towards knowing exactly what I do want from know what I don’t want. Sometimes stuff in Halifax can be a bit cheesy, and that’s just the way it is. Everything has helped me gain better roots. The hardest part is finding people you have chemistry with when you’re in person and recording. Up to this point… I only finally met Main Attrakionz last month and I’ve been working with them for over a year and a half. It’s funny to finally meet these people in real life as opposed to 10 years ago, you would have to know these people in real life.

AL: I’ve heard some of your stuff from way back in the classroom days, and was just listening through your albums to get a sense of your progression. I’ve noticed that you’re starting to understand the musical landscape a lot better, the sounds are cleaner, everything is much cleaner…can you give me some thoughts on how you feel your music has progressed in the last couple years?

RH: When you’re producing stuff, and not a typical band – I’m not using my voice or anything – I’m relying on what I can make off a laptop so it’s very easy to start piling things on top of each other, and make very overwhelming tracks. It’s very exciting when you can have some restraint and take stuff away from songs, and that’s what I did a lot with my recent ones. Like the Charly Wingate track, it definitely encompasses that. There are a lot of samples on top of each other but I still found its “breathing room.”

AL: It sounded like everything found its place and was not overwhelming.

RH: The funny thing is that the whole thing I mixed and mastered on headphones, and I didn’t actually get to hear it on a set of speakers until I started playing shows. It’s exciting to hear it work on in so many different environments now.

AL: Speaking of environments, you’ve done Katy Perry covers, and then you’re working with some hardcore rappers from Oakland… how do these people feel when they approach you? What do they say about your sound that makes them relate? How do you relate to so many different people?

RH: I don’t know. It’s kind of worked out naturally for me. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense – as you say I did pop covers for a while. People ask for remixes, and when I give it to them they’re either super happy with it or they say, “this is exactly the opposite of what I was expecting.” When I approach a song, I don’t have too much in mind when I go about it. It might turn out to be a juke track , or a rap song, or it might turn out very pretty with no drums on it.

AL: You just enjoy the creative process.

RH: Yeah, definitely. A lot of people have their sound. I don’t know, maybe my sound at this point is from a lot of the samples I use, but a lot of it might be that I jump around with BPM, rhythms, I don’t really stick to too much.

AL: I really liked Good Things Can Never Last (From No Plans, released May 2011) where it was just using the laptop to transpose the progression. I thought that was cool, and definitely something I picked up from you.

RH: Yeah, I made that one super quick, but it was the one song that people liked up until this year when people got more into my stuff. That was the one a lot of people held on to, even though I did very little to it. I just wanted to change the vibe of it, and create a certain mood from that one sample.

AL: You’ve played Montreal, Toronto, and now you’re playing Vancouver, and I’m sure a bunch of smaller cities in between. Have you noticed anything from playing these bigger cities? In terms of production and rap, do you see any differences in these areas and where, in terms of the relation to your music, where this is all going?

RH: Yeah, I’m always surprised by the fact that people react to stuff I never expected them to. Like David Banner tracks that I play, dirty rap, and new songs that nobody’s heard… people react the best to that. That’s the most exciting part for me just to play shows to watch what people are taking in and what makes people stop moving and go get a drink. It’s funny though, every city has treated me very well. Montreal is probably my favourite city I’ve played so far just because people are…

AL: They’re so open there.

RH: Yeah. And maybe it’s because they’re always on drugs or something…it’s a good combination of things.

AL: What are you listening to right now? New artists? Anything you want people to keep their eyes on?

RH: I’m listening to a lot of mainstream rap stuff. My friends, one dude from Montreal, Munno. He played his first show with me last month and he killed it. He put out an EP of Lil’ B remixes. He took the pretty  “positive” elements of  Lil’ B songs, and amplified it, and he has a very specific sound already so I admire him for that. Tommy Kruise is another guy I’m friends with. He’s more of a DJ but he always has an amazing selection whenever he plays… he always plays my favourite Three 6 Mafia songs.

AL: How has your production style changed in the past couple years maybe when you started the first album, has the process changed?

RH: I have an iTunes “Samples” category.  So whatever mood I’m in this week, this month, six months… with this EP that I just dropped, it’s a lot of stuff I listened to in high school for whatever reason. I love like indie rock [and] movie samples. I don’t really know why I chose that – I might have been feeling nostalgic. I just had memories of grade ten…that was definitely building off grade twelve, grade twelve memories.. The last LP I did was a lot of video game samples and stuff, nerdier. The process has always been build the music up from whatever I’m listening to and what drum samples I find, but dictated by the mood I’m in and whatever I’ve been listening to at that moment.

AL: Where do you see your music progressing to in the future? What are you currently working on?

RH: Right now for me, it’s about making the right decisions. Once you get a few remixes people have heard – I’ve got a lot of e-mails for, “Hey do you want to put out an LP for my label?” I just need to figure out what I need to do. I think I want to put out a full mixtape of bootlegs of popular songs I’ve been playing live and combining with video game samples and have not released in any form. I think also maybe an EP or something that features a different MC of each song. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for awhile. It just takes a lot of patience because you have to wait until you can actually approach these people and they’re actually going to respond to you. Just jumping out of the gates no one’s going to be like, “Oh yeah, I’ll be on this song.” Now I’ve got the balls to reach out and ask. Maybe Danny Brown, “do you want to on this track?” Hopefully I can do something like that. An EP and then I’m hoping after that an LP that’s a full release, out into the world.

This is an abridged interview done in Vancouver at the Waldorf Hotel for Van Music. See the original interview, here.

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