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Ryan Hemsworth

Ryan Hemsworth

Interviewed by
Martyn Pepperell
Monday 19th August, 2013 9:47AM

Originally hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada, Ryan Hemsworth is one of the more compelling cult DJ/Producer figures to emerge out of North America over the last three years. Prolific in both the studio and nightclub DJ booths worldwide, aside from his own wonky electronic soundworlds, he's also spectacularly re-imagined songs by a diverse range of artists which includes Kanye West, Grimes, Cat Power, Lianne La Havas, Frank Ocean and our very own Chaos In The CBD.

This Thursday (22nd August), Hemsworth will play his first New Zealand show at Rakinos in Auckland. Over the weekend I entered into a dialogue with him to find out a bit more about his background, processes, attitude, affiliations and his connection to New Zealand....

Most times I log onto Facebook, it tells me Ryan Hemsworth is a person I may know. Turns out we have a bunch of mutual friends who are New Zealanders, and yet, am I correct in thinking that you haven't actually played here before?

Haha! Yeah, so I was supposed to play there last September, I did step foot on New Zealand soil, but I did not make it past the airport. Visa (or lack thereof) issues. I've had a lot of friends and supporters in New Zealand over the past couple years, and one of my dudes Keegan was the first to play me on the radio out there and put me on. He's the one who booked the Auckland gig. I'm really excited honestly, it weirdly feels like a long time coming. And I have a visa this time!

I've seen you tweet links to the music created by Lontalius/Race Banyon aka another New Zealander we both know. While we're discussing weird intersections, what are your thoughts on his stuff, speaking from an international standpoint?

I think it's awesome. I wish we were playing that show together, but hopefully we can at least meet. All his projects are really fresh, I just used his Yung Lean cover in a mix, haha! I think I like it because it has some lightness or a little sense of humour to it, which I always try to have as well.

Now, back to more normal stuff. You're originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia right? What was the musical culture like there when you were growing up? How did it develop and change as you were personally developing and becoming a musical figure?

My city was more nurturing towards indie rockers and stuff, really not a producer scene at all. So I just stayed in and worked on stuff at home usually. I'd only gone to a handful of shows in my entire life before starting to play my own. I had to leave my city to really get booked for shows and make things happen. The culture in Nova Scotia is just more acquainted to the old ways, but it's getting better I think. I went back and played my first headlining show there a few months ago and it got pretty wild.

I understand you started out in music as a singer and a guitarist? What events lead you in that direction? And how did you make the jump from there to more of an electronic space? What was the journey like, and what else was happening in your life at the time?

I started playing guitar when I was thirteen. Started recording myself playing covers and making my own crappy songs by fifteen or sixteen, and learned drums shabbily around that time. I just wanted to be able to record full songs by myself. I like working on my own, it's my happy place I guess? I went through a little phase for every style of music, so I just love everything and try to combine all the stuff I grew up on and care about into what I do now. I always just loved working on my computer, so eventually I figured out how to do everything I needed to on there.

From what I understand, you started releasing music in 2010, leading to a series of EPs and singles. What was happening in the groundswell that lead into this initial stage for you musically? Alongside this, when and how did you start DJing/performing as the Ryan Hemsworth we know now?

The first DJ night I ever held was an idea called Girls Night Out and literally like six of my friends showed up, but it was OK. I just played only R&B and rap by female artists and I brought some TVs that had episodes of Daria playing on them. I guess it wasn't the strongest concept. My first solo shows ever were me singing Alicia Keys songs with distorted electric guitar. It's been a lot of trial and error. A few years ago my friend taught me the basics of Ableton and I started using that for shows, and that opened up the ability to play as I do now, and make the mixes I have. Every show is just a learning process really, just to understand what works, the timing of things, the whole dynamic of a solid night.

You've done a lot of production and remix work for other people as well, how did you end up in this space, and was it always an aspiration?

I think the way I create music has always been conducive to remixing and bootlegging songs. I've been messing with acapellas for ages. Eventually you get some original vocals and then it becomes an "official remix" instead of a bootleg. I just try to have fun with it and not really follow a scheme. I've had lots of remixes rejected by labels, you can't take it too seriously though, A&Rs have their own ideas of what works and sometimes you bump heads and go separate ways. It's better to do that then give in and make a shitty song that you're not happy about and have your name attached to forever.

How did you connect with wedidit? What has it been like being associated with that camp, and what has that brought you?

Just through talking and sharing stuff back and forth online. Although they're all Los Angeles dudes and I'm up in Canada, the connection seemed to make sense. I was already being booked to play shows with RL Grime and Shlohmo before we'd even made the connection. Once I started working with them and having that association I noticed how much stronger my little fan base got. Wedidit just has this strong magnetic power. It's weird and stupid and cool. I like that combination.

You've fit a lot into the last three years, what have some of the key highlights been?

I guess I'm just most excited about being able to do this, meet and be friends with the artists I look up to, and meet people in different countries and continents. It's just the opportunity to take in so many experiences, cause when I grew up I was kind of pessimistic about music careers and all that, so I assumed I'd never be able to travel off of it or make music that people would care about. So being able to see my music video play on the MTV of Canada (Much Music) and sharing a drink with someone in Stockholm or Portland or Auckland; it's constantly mind-blowing.

How do you feel about where you are at as a music maker and an entertainer? Where do you see this all going?

I'm happy. I'm glad things have gone exactly as they have. I think a slow build for a musician or whatever is super healthy. Having a huge single which is the only thing fans care about would be scary. I just want to keep growing and putting out weirder stuff with each project and just keep figuring things out. I want to put my friends on more as well, I don't think the world needs another label or imprint, but I want to find a way to share more of the amazing stuff I get to find and hear. Playing shows and making mixes is a good start I guess?


Ryan Hemsworth plays Auckland this Thursday - see gig listing below for details.