Canadian beatmaker Ryan Hemsworth grew up like any kid in the suburbs with a penchant for music – as soon as he worked out how, he was recording himself singing and playing guitar in his bedroom-cum-DIY-studio. Soon enough he discovered sampling, and has never turned back: after six EPs, including latest release Still Awake, he’s attracted the attention of those in the know. Hemsworth has dropped unofficial remixes of Grimes, Frank Ocean and Danny Brown, and is fast becoming a triple j favourite. Over the upcoming European winter, Hemsworth is headed to the grimiest clubs in Berlin, Paris and London – but in the meantime, he’s dropping into Australia on a co-headline tour with compatriot Kaytranada. The BRAG’s Alasdair Duncan caught up with Hemsworth to talk about his quiet hometown, the touring lifestyle, and why he’s reluctant to drop his own tracks into club sets.
Your Still Awake EP has been out for a few months now – how has the response been so far?
Pretty awesome. It was a bit of an impulsive thing, I just wanted to share this new, different stuff I’d been working on. Less vocal samples and all that, just a lot more movie score-sounding. I wasn’t expecting many people to be into it but it’s been super positive, from the reviews to a few people just hitting me up saying it made them cry which is, like, too surreal to me.
This has been a very big year for you, especially in terms of all the touring – has it been a big adjustment for you personally?
Yeah, for sure. Being on the road constantly is just as tough as every artist has ever made it sound, and I was always like, “Oh, suck it up, you’re living the dream” – but it is rough some days! Of course, it really is a dream, I try to never lose sight of that. It takes adjusting to the fact that you get to meet amazing, beautiful, funny, awesome people every day and then have to say goodbye within 12 hours and move on to the next place. I can’t imagine how people like Diplo or someone must feel, just being on the road eternally.
Can you tell me how you first got into making electronic music, and what your first experiments with electronic gear were like?
I’ve been recording myself since I was like 15, but I was playing guitar and kind of making shitty rock at that time. But I was always tweaking things, editing pieces of my recordings. Until I started looping, and sampling myself, and throwing in samples from other songs, then I really got addicted to that type of songwriting. Structuring music like puzzle pieces. Now I do everything on my laptop, it’s fun; I’m already addicted to being on the computer so this is just adding fuel to the fire.
Halifax seems to be a pretty quiet place – is it a particularly nurturing environment for a young electronic musician?
Not so much, but it is a nice place no doubt. I had to move away and start doing shows in other cities to really gain anyone’s attention in Halifax. Kind of a small city mentality. All my family is still there though; it’s great whenever I can go back.
Who are some of the artists you really love, or who inspire you?
Cornelius, Kanye, Pharrell, Air, Mike Will, Darkchild.
When it comes to making tracks, how do you like to work? Do you start with rhythms or melodies, or let the gear lead the way?
I usually have just a spark of an idea, or nothing at all. It’s just trial and error, I guess. I try a synth, doesn’t sound good, try something else, make a mess and then cut it down and structure it, continue building. I use lots of samples so it’s a lot of just going through my iTunes and stuff while creating. Listening while creating.
A while back, you mentioned that your people were reaching out to Drake’s about a possible collaboration – are you keen to get into R&B production?
Yeah, for sure, working with singers is exciting. It’s such a crazy collaboration for someone like myself who has come from such a one-sided musical background, never letting anyone else in really. To work with a great singer is just super refreshing and keeps you on your toes.
The music you make is very reflective, and even a little sad – is it a challenge working that into a DJ set for a crowd who are there to party?
Yeah – that’s why I sometimes don’t want to even play a lot of my own music at shows because I feel like people might not be super pumped, you know, on a Friday night at the club or whatever. I try now to play the songs in different ways, that stay true to their original sound but have more rhythm or are more upbeat. Just ways of tricking people into dancing, if it works.
You’ll be playing a show at Chinese Laundry at the end of August – what can we expect from that?
My music and rap and weird noises and video game sounds and R&B and throwback pop jams and sweating, probably.
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN