It’s an unnaturally wet summer evening in London (read; hammering it down) and I’m in the Ace hotel lobby waiting for Ryan Hemsworth to come down and meet me. He appears and a chance break in the weather gives us the opportunity to go shoot some photos over the road before the heavens open again. Ryan is unfazed, natural even, with my camera in his face and we get along easily and without awkwardness. The light dims and I’m out of my photography depth in the low light so we take what we have and go up to his room to conduct the interview.
For those unfamiliar, Ryan is a Canadian producer who rose to prominence with blog-era remixes, notably Frank Oceans ‘Thinkin Bout You’, and Tinashe’s ‘Boss’, building a penchant for remixes of the same ilk that pushed his career trajectory upwards via widespread internet acclaim and in 2013 released his debut album ‘Guilt Trips’ to much critical fanfare.
He’s on tour in Europe then North America, a post-festival season show of force to promote his label and upcoming sophomore album ‘Alone For the First Time’, out in November on Canada’s Last Gang records. Ryan notes that he’s rarely ever not on tour, never spending more than two consecutive weeks at home in Toronto, with most of his collaborations done over the internet and via Dropbox than in a shared studio. A relatively unorthodox method that he says he prefers.
We settle into the interview and I have to push my iPhone closer to him and as he muses, softly, around his career so far, his upcoming album and his quest to highlight emerging talent that he scours the internet for via his ‘Secret Song’s label.
Are in London or Europe often?
Yeah a fair amount, London is I guess, a pretty regular place for me to come by, whether I’m collaborating with people or doing press or shows it seems like I’m always ending up back here every couple months.
What do you like about London and if you have a day off, where do you go?
I find it hard to not spend all my money shopping, I find it pretty charming here and maybe it’s from a North American perspective, just to walk down the street and see a pub with cute old people in there getting drunk at 1pm. To me that’s really charming, but maybe it’s not to you guys [Laughs]. But also there’s amazing food everywhere, which is kinda all I care about these days. I like food a lot.
Have you partied anywhere else in the UK besides London?
I’ve played Manchester, which is actually pretty scary to me. There are some places that I gel with people and other places that I’m like, ‘woah this is intense’. I like to drink and party and shit, but some people in like, Manchester and around Scotland are pretty wild.
What was it like growing up in Halifax (Canada) and how did that influence your music, if at all?
I think the thing is that there wasn’t much of a scene at all which I came up in and as a city it didn’t really offer me much musically, so I turned to the internet to find anything that really was different or interesting to me. Through that it pushed me to find out what was going on in other cities, if I could get booked there, just kind of trying grow as fast as I could to do the things I wanted to do.
So the Internet was a giant part of that?
The way I came up was really just through reaching out to bloggers and other artists that I could talk to through emailing or AIM or whatever, and then just kind of evolving in that way.
I feel like you of all you peers really understand the internet and how it relates to that? And that kind of informs what you’re doing with secret songs, right?
Secret songs kinda goes back to that feeling of reaching out to people for the first time and sharing songs back and forth that people haven’t heard yet – that excitement of ‘oh shit this is crazy, and its not coming out for a few weeks’, kind of harnessing that and putting it out myself.
What made you decide to do it and can you tell us a little bit more about Secret Songs?
It was a lot of friends whose songs I really like. I was putting a lot of these artists on mixes already and people would always be asking who so-and-so was. Everyone puts their music out on SoundCloud now and you don’t really know who any of these people are or their stories or what they’re doing. So I thought it’d be a nice way to channel that into my own SoundCloud, which I could ‘curate’. People trust my taste, I’ve noticed through my mixes, so it just seemed like a nice way of helping people out and showcasing some cool shit I find.
So how come you took this route instead of the ‘traditional’ label route of putting songs out?
Just wanted to be free and for there to be no middleman. It got to the point where everything I did had to have a blog premiere, and it was starting to feel like I was relying on blogs and stuff to do this shit, whereas I have a 100,000 followers on SoundCloud and they fuck with what I like, so why don’t I put it out myself?
In a way you’ve gone from an unknown bedroom producer with access to the Internet and growing, then in turn almost becoming an ambassador for more unknown bedroom producers.
Yeah, like a pay it forward kinda thing. I’m actually playing a lot of festivals right now and that’s fun but my favourite is the hundred cap rooms and the basements of venues and it’s another way of going back to that where I can start doing showcases and things for these smaller artists.
I read somewhere that you’re still’ getting better at festivals’ and ‘trying to enjoy’ festivals. What is it about playing to a much bigger capacity that is unenjoyable or difficult?
It’s just like any kind of learning experience for someone in my position, a producer, who does everything on their laptop entirely. It’s pretty solitary 99% of your life then you’re in front of 5,000 people and you’re supposed to make that feel big and exciting, so it’s just a learning experience.
A lot of DJs talk about having festival bangers and tunes that can ‘save a set’, do you have those tunes that you know you can drop and get a reaction?
Yeah for sure, I always throw in Danny Brown and recently like Makonnen, this kid form Atlanta, and all that stuff but I don’t really worry too much about having bangers and stuff cos that’s what everyone is expected to do at this point so its kinda nice to not. It might be a little anti climatic for some festival kids who are just going there to go crazy but it’s worth not doing that sometimes.
The latest release on Secret Songs was the Japanese producer, Qrion, how do you pronounce her name, did I get it right?
Actually I do a lot of work with producers around the world and I don’t know how to pronounce their names. I did a track with her, she’s 19 years old from Sapporo.
How did you meet her?
We never met in person yet; I’m going to Japan soon. I just found her Instagram or something and it was pretty hilarious, I went through her Twitter, just the standard lurking process really [Laughs], but I did it to reach out and see if she wanted to work on music.
There’s definitely an accepted degree of lurk nowadays in 2014.
Yeah exactly, I mean, that’s what I’m doing with Secret Songs and that’s what A-Trak is doing with Fools Gold, lurking on peoples SoundCloud and seeing who people like and following it down the rabbit hole. It can be pretty creepy [Laughs].
It used to be creepy to meet someone for the first time and already be able to reference what they’d done last weekend as you’d already seen it on social media, but I feel like that isn’t a taboo anymore.
Exactly, and that’s how I recognise people when I’m supposed to meet them, through social media. Its just normal to us now, but it is pretty creepy when you stop and think about it.
What is it about J-Pop that is so intriguing to you?
I’ve always been really interested in parts of Japanese culture, since I was 12 or 13, really since I started being on the internet every day and finding weird movies and artists and it sounded so different to what I was used to. I think that really hooked me in. I dunno, I’ve just always been really interested in Japanese culture. J-Pop is just crazy, pop music now is just reflecting every part of the world, Americans want to be Japanese and Japanese people want to be Americans in pop music it’s really strange.
That’s actually an interesting point, how pop music is these days. You only need to look at Bok Bok and what he’s done with ‘Melba’s Call’ and then SOPHIE and his stuff.
It’s crazy to me, I don’t even know what is pop and what isn’t accepted as pop anymore. Things like SOPHIE and PC Music, they’re interacting with Diplo and all these people that want to work with them, they’re doing their own form of pop but now the pop people are paying attention to them and that’s going to morph into their sound, so it’s all fucked up. I’m happy though, it’s the best thin that could be happening.
It’s widely known that you are interested and care about a broad spread of music, what is getting you excited these days?
Secret Songs for sure, I’m going to start doing compilations and gathering songs up and instead of doing one track every two weeks, and going to start doing that. The next one is next month and it’s going to be all female producers and have some people from London, a girl from Australia, Qrion, etc so kinda reaching all around the world and trying to focus on different themes for each compilation.
Your upcoming North American tour is called ‘Sucker for punishment’, are you a closet machoist?
[Laughs] Nah, it was my manager. He kept saying that to me because I get myself into positions where I can’t say no. I’ll just stay at every show until the very end and wait until everyone leaves, which is cool to me, but a lot of artists hate that I guess? I always play my show and someone is like “hey come to the afterparty” I’m always going to go, and then have to get up at 6am and go to the airport, so I’m constantly in pain. I enjoy it, but I’m kinda slowly destroying myself. What better way to do it though?
Initially how difficult was it to translate your music to a club setting? People it’s more downbeat and a bit sadder.
It can be discouraging sometimes as I’ll play exactly how I want to play in a certain venue or festival and it doesn’t quite work or people don’t seem quite into it and I’ll do the exact same thing elsewhere and people will be like ‘this is the best show ever’. Maybe you need to know me a little more…
To understand why?
Yeah because I do like to jump around and I like a bit of everything and I don’t want to just play the same BPM or the same sound for an hour straight as I find that boring.
So do you think it’s more like a concert in a way, they need to come to your shows with a sense of context?
If people are open minded then it works generally, if people are down to hear stuff that they may not know then they’ll hopefully be into it. I’m going to have point in my sets where there isn’t anything crazy going on, I like to have moments of ambience and moments of ‘houseyness’ and downbeat and upbeat. I want to be feeling different things instead of the same techno beat the whole time.
You just put out a track with… UV Boi? Who is UV Boi?
He’s a Sudanese kid from Australia. I’ve been to Australia about four times for tours and I really like it there and have made a lot of friends. I think I found him through Nina Las Vegas, who’s a DJ over there. It’s just a kid who …. you definitely have certain sounds for producers and when you’re scrolling through SoundCloud you’re noticing the Yung Lean kinda production and he definitely has his influence from that but I think he’s a bit of a higher caliber.
It was the same kind of thing with the Qrion track, we just kind of sent things back and forth via Dropbox and sent stupid selfies and communicated in any way that made it feel like we were in the studio together.
It’s amazing you can do that now, be anywhere in the world and still get the same stuff done.
I really like doing that now, just been doing it more and more. With some people it doesn’t work, I have unfinished tracks with people like Skrillex in that form, but you just have to be on your computer all the time and talking and willing to just send shit back and forth constantly.
Was Skrillex not willing to do that?
We actually started a cool track, so we’ll see if something happens. I have so many ‘in the works’ tracks but you never know what’s going to happen.
I’ve heard you’re contributing to Oneman’s Solitaire 3?
I worked with Trim on a track…
… what’s it like working with him? He’s a really highly revered UK MC
He’s really cool to work with, we went to the Red Bull Studio here and honestly, when I’m collaborating, I try to have a bunch of things prepared in advance as I’m more comfortable making shit at home, headphones on and stuff, and that doesn’t really work in the studio. I had grimy stuff ready for him, and he was into every track, and it felt like he wasn’t that happy in all, so I played some thing that I was going to give to a female vocalist, a quite pretty track, and he was like ‘that’s the one’. Which I wasn’t expecting.
I fully respected that, as he was like, ‘everyone wants me to make a Grime track’ with you, so lets not do that. I’m really into that.
How did you end up linking with Trim, do you listen to a lot of grime?
A little bit, I’m definitely not huge up on it but I’ve been a fan of Wiley and Dizzee for years. Those are the main ones that cross over into America. Trim I find out about when he was doing stuff with James Blake, then I started digging more, he’s a crazy MC.
Are you working on anything other than those collaborations?
Yeah I’m literally just finishing my next ‘album’? It’s 7 tracks, it started as less and I kept building it and building it. That’s going to be an October release so I’m going to be touring round that, North America and then back out in Europe again. For the release its going to be a Secret Songs collaboration with a Canadian label called Last Gang.
What can we expect from the album that’s different from the previous material you put out?
I’ve always put out what I’ve wanted to put out, but this feels exactly like where I want to be at, it’s a lot more guitar and live drums. In the past year or so I’ve re-begun caring about Emo music and shit, so I’m taking a lot more from that world and applying it here. It’s a big of a reaction too to playing huge EDM festivals and getting a bit burnt out on that.
When you say Emo are we talking Fugazi or Dashboard Confessional or Jimmy Eat World or what?
Jimmy Eat World for sure, I’ve sampled a lot of drums from those sorts of artists, although I don’t want to say who just in case [Laughs]. Around the time of when I was really working on this, the past few months it was definitely, honestly like Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab For Cutie and Postal Service and all that shit.
Ryan’s Sophomore album ‘Alone for the first time’ is out November 3rd on Last Gang/Secret Songs and you can pre-order it and watch the video for ‘Snow In Newark’ featuring Dawn Golden here: http://www.aloneforthefirsttime.com/
You can listen to the Secret Songs releases on Ryan’s Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/ryanhemsworth
Oneman’s Solitaire Vol. 3 featuring Ryan Hemsworth & Trim is out now via http://djoneman.net