Ryan Hemsworth is one of those people that you feel you know before you’ve shook his hand for the first time. Such is the inclusive effect of social media these days, that his online presence – an explosion of Pokémon (specifically, Pikachu) and pictures of cute dogs – makes you feel like you’ve already been round his house to hang and watch stupid YouTube videos together.
But today he’s not in his hometown of Halifax, Canada, but in an East London hotel suite, having just hopped off a plane from Toronto and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
The DJ and producer, whose own output swings between thugged-out bangers and hazy emotive lullabies, has just launched a new venture titled ‘Secret Songs’. In essence, it’s a platform to showcase relatively unknown artists, without label involvement, blog premieres, or A&Rs. Clash takes a seat at Ryan’s hotel dining table to find out about this and his other goings-on.
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‘One For Me’ feat. Tinashe, from the album ‘Guilt Trips’
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You’ve played in London a few times now. What d’you like, or maybe dislike, about being in this city?
I like it – I have a lot of good friends here now. I feel like when I go to LA or something it’s just super chaotic and crazy, which is a lot more motivating than just being at home or certain cities: you can just party every day and not get anything done. But when I’m surrounded by so many producers out here [in London], it makes me scared and I think, ‘Okay, I need to get to work’. So yeah, I just find it fun and motivating to be in London at any time. I mean, the weather’s not great most of the time, but I’m kind of used to shitty weather growing up in Halifax, so I can’t really complain. I do get lost pretty much everywhere I go, though.
And when you’re on the road what are some of your tour essentials? What do you have to bring with you?
I feel pretty lucky because everything I need fits in a backpack. I see certain bands touring and I’m not jealous of that at all. All I need is my laptop and a controller for my sets and then, besides that, I just try and pack as tiny as possible: my stupid clothing, lots of sweatpants and sometimes some toys to make me feel at home and happy.
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‘Still Cold’ feat. Baths, from ‘Guilt Trips’
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Now that you’ve been performing for a while, do you feel completely comfortable on stage? What goes through your head when you’re up there?
I don’t feel physically scared, I’m not shaky or anything, but I’m definitely super conscious. In essence, you’re in the spotlight and people are staring at you and judging you and listening and critiquing sometimes, so it’s hard to get out of that mind frame and just focus on what you’re doing. The way I used to perform when I first started playing music was guitar, singing and stuff like that, which was terrifying to me because I had to actually rely on my voice and all that. As soon as I eliminated all those things from the equation I became much less nervous and much less self-conscious.
So yeah, it’s fun for me to have a lot of technology in the way I perform, because it’s the way I naturally live my day by day – I’m always on my computer. If I’m producing I’m just geeking out in that way, so it doesn’t feel like I’m out of my element – it’s just that a lot of people are watching me. I have to be entertaining in some way.
Back in April you DJed at an animal shelter. Did the dogs approve of your selections? Are dogs better to DJ to than humans?
Sort of. I played some Baha Men and stuff like that, that I thought they might be into. But it was the quietest set I’ve ever played, because when I turned it up a tiny bit they all started barking. The reception was better than some of the sets I’ve played to humans, so I can’t complain! It was cool though. It was sad to have to hang out to all those dogs for 10 minutes and then leave. But yeah, any time I can chill with some dogs, I’m down for that.
So are there plans for some future full-on animal sets?
Yeah for sure, if any shelters wanna hit me up and get a booking…?
What would the dream Ryan Hemsworth show look like? I’m giving you an unlimited budget here…
I just want it to look like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s live show. I wanna steal what some J-pop star is using. I’ve never actually seen them in real life, but just from videos I’ve watched, [Kyary] has people dressed up as stuffed toys, and her live show specifically is this huge oversized bed and she’s just dancing on it and stuff. And I think stuff like that, as silly as it is, creates a feeling of a sleepover. It’s more intimate, and that’s what I’ve been wanting to create with my shows lately.
I’m doing one in Toronto for a festival called North by Northeast, and I finally had the freedom to choose who I was playing with, and what we do with the live show. So I’m trying to make that feeling of a sleepover. I’m actually getting someone to do the crafts so there are papier-mâché clouds hanging from the ceiling, with weird and obscured lights. So just a dark, intimate show.
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Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – ‘PONPONPON’
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Your ‘Cool DJ Mix’ and mixtape for Sonar this year contained some tracks from the PC Music label. I was wondering what you thought about what those guys are doing?
Yeah, they’re by far my favourite producers right now. When I was saying about the London producers that I’m scared of – A.G. Cook and Sophie, all those people, I feel like they’re light-years ahead of other producers right now. They’re sweet and I’ve actually had the chance to hang out with them a bit, hopefully this week we’ll meet up and work on something… or I can look over A.G. Cook’s shoulder and steal what he does! But yeah, they’re definitely about to be huge. Hannah Diamond is definitely the weirdest, most interesting pop star character I’ve found in a while.
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Hannah Diamond – ‘Pink And Blue’
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I’ve found that they can be pretty divisive – people who grew up in the ‘90s seem to be especially into them and connect with what they’re doing, while other people just don’t get it at all.
I find them fascinating because I always show them to whoever I’m hanging out them and some people – when I show them Hannah Diamond – are just mad at it, like, ‘This is making me angry!’ To me it feels so right… I think the melodies and everything are super – everything is references to stuff we grew up on and Y2K pop and all that. But it’s also growing with that somehow, there’s those references but there’s something new. And I think that’s something I’m really attracted to with my own music.
I don’t even know what to call it! It’s a faux-label thing, but there’s no business model or anything. I just want to say these are a bunch of producers that I think are amazing and are not getting enough shine, so I’m just putting them on a pedestal as much as I can.
And how did you select the artists – Tennyson, Schwarz x 333 Boyz, Maxo x Jonathan – that you’ve showcased so far?
The first track was this dude Tennyson from Edmonton, and he’s someone that I’ve been following for a while, this super young kid who’s fully developed musically. He’s only 17 or something, and I keep finding myself attracted to producers for this project who are just way more developed than their following is or anything – they’ve already figured out exactly what they wanna do and put out all these amazing songs and people haven’t really caught up on them. I’m putting up another one today by this dude Maxo, who has like 10 albums and a shit load of EPs and only has 400 followers on Twitter. So it’ s just stuff like that, that doesn’t add up to me. I think that people should be obsessed with these artists like I am, so it’s just wanting to share that feeling.
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Tennyson – ‘You’re Cute’
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Is that a process of you trawling through producer’s pages, or is it that people reach out to you…?
A lot of people have been hitting me up about it, but for me I’m really trying to make it more or less my own discoveries. It’s all people that I’m fully aware of that I put out – it’s not like someone sends me an MP3 and I’m like, ‘Oh, sure, I’ll throw this up.’ It has to make sense to me, and some of the tracks aren’t as accessible or obvious as other ones and it’s not really about that. I want it to be someone who shows so much potential and doesn’t have enough eyes on them for whatever reason. Just trying to push them into the spotlight a little.
What do you think about labels themselves? Are they perhaps less necessary these days?
I mean, it’s really tough. For me, I started in the music industry four or five years ago, where the money side I saw came from shows and whatever, and there was no model for releasing music and getting money from that. And I think that’s a beautiful thing, honestly, because there’s no middleman in a lot of these situations. Like, with Secret Songs or a lot of the indie labels that I’m really into, like PC Music or WeDidIt, that I’m part of, there’s no real money involved. The artist can just do whatever they want, and I think that’s the purest form of music, releasing music, I guess, in 2014.
You just need a platform, which is what you’re providing for the smaller artists.
Basically, yeah. It was a super simple idea, there’s not much to it. It’s just the fact that I’ve realised that I’ve got 80,000 followers on SoundCloud, so I can share the love a little bit, I guess. And people have trusted my taste in my mixes and whatever, so just growing from there, I guess.
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RL Grime’s a pretty good hugger. He’s a big guy, so it’s a nice warm bear hug...
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You studied journalism at university and have done music writing and artist interviews (check out Ryan’s blog, A Half-Warmed Fish). So what do you think about some of the stuff that’s written about you? Do you pay much attention to it? Do you find it funny?
Yeah, yeah, it’s hard to avoid. Especially if you’re on Twitter 24/7. I try not to read into anything too much, but at the same time I think I’m pretty lucky. I haven’t seen too much hate, which is kind of amazing to me. I try to avoid it when I can, which is next to impossible, so I try not to think about it.
Is there anything you’ve read about yourself that you totally disagree with?
It’s just weird when full-on sites like EDMCanada.com say, ‘This is our favourite EDM star right now, Ryan Hemsworth!’ – the best trap producer! Just when it’s a super honed-in tag, or when it’s just like, ‘Instagram star Ryan Hemsworth!’ I understand why all these things are attached to me, but it’s a little scary when you’re just limited to that one little thing, the way that people perceive you. I just like being an overall general thing… hopefully that people can be entertained by and enjoy. I guess.
As a producer who does work with other artists a lot, this is something I’m sure you get asked non-stop, but: who’s on your bucket list for collaborations right now?
For a while it was thinking about rappers, but now I’m more interested in… Well, I’ve said for a while that Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab For Cutie) would be pretty amazing, or the singer of Jimmy Eat World (Jim Adkins), but that’s something that’s not happening for a reason – these producers aren’t really working with singers from that world. It’s a lot of ‘producer works with female R&B singer’, or ‘producer works with rapper’, but nobody’s really taking a step back to the white boy high-school bands, so I feel like that’s hopefully something I can take advantage of soon enough.
I started working with Jens Lekman on a couple of tracks, but it’s really hard because he writes ballads and I’m pretty stuck in the way that I write, so it’s making me think in a different way and pushing me. Hopefully I can get something done with it. We started talking last year, and he basically recorded him playing piano and lyrics that he wrote so he sent me those and was like if you can figure out something to do with it let’s do it! Really beautiful stuff, but it’s tough. A good challenge.
That’s cool. A question you recently tweeted to your followers was, ‘what was the best hug you had with a musician you love and tell me how it felt to u’, so I thought I’d pose that same question back to you…
That’s a good question, yeah! Maybe… I feel like RL Grime’s a pretty good hugger. He’s a big guy, so it’s a nice warm bear hug. We toured a bunch of times and you’re lonely on the road, so it’s good to have a nice big manly hug. That sounds horrible! Or this girl DJ from Australia, Alice in Wonderland, who’s like (gestures low) this tall. Good question, though.
You teamed up with Wave Racer recently, to release a joint 7” where you remixed each other. Where did you meet and how did that come about?
He’s great. I’ve been to Australia three times now, and gone back out again just for a festival. I love it out there. I’ve toured there before touring America or Canada. For some reason I just click there, and Wave Racer has been having a really awesome past six months. I met him last time I was out there and really liked him, and we started talking – it made sense. I had a track that I needed to put out as a single and he had the same situation so we were just like, ‘Let’s remix each other, do it together.’ It made sense, I think.
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Wave Racer – ‘Streamers’ (Ryan Hemsworth Remix)
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And I hear you’re planning to release an EP in autumn? What’s that going to sound like?
Yeah, I’m trying to finish up something right now. It’s gonna be six tracks and similar to what I was saying earlier about going back to guitar and high-school indie-rock vibes, stuff like that. I’m working with a few singers, this dude Alex G who’s on a label called Orchid Tapes, and a bunch of other people, but I’m really excited for that one because it’s gonna be a fairly different sound for me. But I wanna switch things up.
My final question concerns the fact that you expressed the desire to start some beef with Chad Kroeger, via Twitter. Could you give me some sort of disparaging quote to get the wheels in motion?
Yeah, Chad Kroeger’s hair looks like shitty cheap noodles. And you can quote me on that!
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Ryan Hemsworth’s Favourite Videos On The ‘Net Right Now
As a part-time curator of the weird, undiscovered crevices of YouTube, we asked Ryan to give us a few of his current favourites. Here’s what he came up with…
Gucci Mane – ‘NWA’ feat. Migos & Peewee Longway
“I think I produced this in my sleep and emailed it to Gucci's engineer, but I can't remember.”
Japanese funny senior high school girl, Reika Ozeki.
“Really into annoying stuff these days, for some reason.”
‘Californication’: original song in Major key
“Is this drugs?”
“This is my dad, his name is Rodney. He used to be in the Canadian Football League and he loves a good bowl of stew.”
Lil Shark – ‘Shark Boys 4Life’
“This is my son, his name is Shark.”
Especia「No1 Sweeper」 MV
“Jacques Greene showed me this and I don't know what's going on, but there's lots of vegetables and glitter so I feel refreshed upon listening.”
Jimmy Interviews Michael Jordan
“Kristen Wiig is the only perfect person.”
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Words: Felicity Martin
Ryan graces London again with his presence on 22nd August, performing at XOYO with Oneman, Cashmere Cat and Kutmah, and embarks on some European dates with RL Grime. ‘Guilt Trips’ is out now. Ryan Hemsworth online.