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Ryan Hemsworth jokingly calls himself the “CANADIAN PRINCE,” in his Twitter bio.
Though he might be in competition with other Canadian artists like Sijnin Hawke and The Weeknd for the title, he and his music stand alone otherwise.
The blips and unique style of his sound pay homage to the video games he grew up playing and now samples in his music, but are a far cry from video game-based chiptune music. Hemsworth’s music in general carries a nostalgic weight to it, characteristics he admits to having outside of his art. His newest album, Alone for the First Time, is marked by a wistful kind of refined depression. The kind that helps giving you clarity — not the variety that chains to your bed and resigns you to watching Netflix while you stress eat. He originally put out dancier, more club-friendly tracks, that Danny Brown’s DJ and producer SKYWLKR once described as, “just too f*cking hard.” Even those songs carried a subtle strangeness that has become a larger element of his music. His trap remix of Kalluri Vaanil (also known as Benny Lava) from the Indian-Tamil movie Pennin Manathai Thottu is indicative of this.
Hemsworth has been described as shy, but was forward and forthcoming in our conversation during his ongoing tour. He seemed open and at peace with his insecurities. He admitted to playing up certain parts of his personality for the sake of social media jokes. Despite his Facebook posts, he never went through a Slipknot phase and is, “not as crazy about [anime] as I make myself seem.” In line with the seeming sincerity of his music, his jokes aren’t too far from the truth. He still listens to other nu-metal and appreciates Pokémon. Humor aside, Hemsworth seems most happy and most concerned with making music.
You’re from Halifax. It’s a remote city as far as cities go. It’s cold, it’s got interesting geography. Do you feel like being from there has informed your art as opposed to being from a place like LA or Brooklyn?
A little bit. It’s kind of inevitable with wherever you’re from. I wouldn’t really say that Halifax music has anything that really directly inspired my own, but definitely growing up there has had an impact [on me]. It’s mainly a scene for folk music and rock music and stuff like that. I guess that probably informed me wanting to play guitar. That was my first instrument. In high school, I had a band and stuff like that. I think it’s kind of inevitable if you’re getting into music in that kind of area.
You studied journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax. One thing that I’ve noticed is that artists with degrees are sort of influenced by their degrees in their music. Do you feel like journalism has sort of leaked into your music?
Maybe just in the way that I approach music, behind the scenes. Like reaching out to people to collaborate with or just through communicating. Reaching out to people was the biggest learning curve for me in journalism. [So was] learning how to not scare people away when you want to do something together. That’s a huge part of what I do now when I want to work with vocalists and other producers.
How do you not scare them away?
I’m definitely still learning that. I haven’t mastered that completely. It’s just sort of having a perspective as well when you approach people. A majority of people just want to be talked to like they’re normal even if you see them in a different way. For a lot of times for me, it’s just reaching out to people via Twitter or whatever and just seeing if we’re able to connect in some way whether it’s just talking about music or whatever and just kind of going from there.
Is journalism something you would be doing if your music wasn’t popping off on the blogs right when you were graduating from college?
I would have tried to pursue that for sure. I still really enjoy writing. Every once in a while I want to write more and more. Yeah, I don’t know. I think I would inevitably be making music in whatever way, even if nobody was listening. I would still probably embrace writing and creating too.
Would it be possible for us to a Ryan Hemsworth memoir or like some sort of analysis on electronic music sub-cultures?
Yeah, I’ve been imagining some sort of short book for awhile. I haven’t figured out what that would be. I feel like I almost want to make a long form zine of just like stupid little drawings and stuff. I’ll probably make some digital book someday and release it for free.
You’ve talked about if you were supremely confident like the Based God, you would have crazier interactions with your fans and maybe even cultivate a different image. Could you speak a little more to what you’d to be like if you were that confident without any insecurities?
(Laughs) Now that I’m thinking about it, if I was different in that way, I probably wouldn’t be as interesting to people as they may find me. I think the attraction to my music or whatever my image is, is that I’m like fairly normal and definitely admit that I’m insecure with performing and being a public person in whatever way. I think that’s something that works for people like Based God where they admit they’re entirely human and flawed. I think that’s something people really appreciate in 2015.
On Facebook, you posted a joke about a Slipknot phase that you went through as a kid. Did you actually go through a Slipknot/nu-metal phase growing up?
Um, nu-metal, a little bit, yeah. It’s one of those things. I remember actually being 12 or 13, and I was super into Linkin Park and all that, and then I remember my older cousin that I really looked up to being like, “that shit’s so lame.” After that, I was like, “I can’t like this stuff anymore.” I think when you’re young, someone can tell you something is not cool, then your taste immediately changes drastically. That was a shortly lived phase, but I’m kind of going back to it now, like of like in a repressed way.
I feel that. I still listen to Korn.
Korn is super dope. I never really got into Slipknot but actually a couple months ago, I watched a Korn documentary when they were making, I forget the name of the album, but the big one. I don’t know. I’m just definitely into those bands that worse their emotions on their sleeves. They were pretty cheesy looking back on it.
There’s a picture of one of your tweets about a time Lil B shouted you, on one of those truck billboards. Is that real or photoshopped?
(Laughs) That was photoshopped. When I was in Miami for Ultra [Music Festival], there was a bunch of those cars driving around and it was that image of DJ Carnage with just super-lame quotes where he was like professing to be the best EDM DJ and shit. I took a picture of that and someone turned it into my version, which I think would work pretty well looking at it.
I would love to see that.
If I had that Chipotle money to throw around like he does (laughs).
DJ Carnage has like a huge Chipotle sponsorship. He has to like tweet about them everyday (laughs). It’s like definitely not cool at all, but I really like Chipotle so…
I bet Qdoba needs an EDM guy. You could fill that void.
(Laughs) I want to find the bubble tea version of that or something.
You’ve also talked about how you doubt that you can vibe well in the studios. You’re not used to the equipment in the way that you are with your laptop. Could you talk a little bit more about that?
It’s just a big learning curve to go from doing everything on your laptop and getting super used to that and then actually stepping into this studio where there’s three engineers sitting there and they know how to use everything, and [I’m] basically like, “Do you have an aux[illary] cord to plug into my laptop so I could sit in the corner and play off that instead of using the $20,000 equipment.” At the end of the day, after the more and more I’ve been in studios, it doesn’t really matter and I think everyone is fully realizing that that’s how 90% of producers work anyways. It’s more about just having like-minded people there at the same time to just create some kind of vibe and be able to produce something that doesn’t feel like you were stuck in a studio together and forcing something out.
Has anyone ever been really awkward about it?
Umm, no, not really. If I’ve been in a studio, it’s been with Liz from Mad Decent or Tinashe or people where we wanted to go into a studio together beforehand. Actually yeah, I’ve been in a couple label blind date pairing kind of things where you’re just stuck in a room with you’ve never met before. That is definitely not something I enjoy. I’d rather have met someone beforehand because I don’t really think you can create good music with someone when you’re complete strangers.
Is there anyone you’re looking to do collaborations with or are there any ideal collaborations you want to do?
Yeah, definitely. I’m starting to think about that a lot more for my next project. I want to do a really solid album for next year. I want to rely more on the stuff I grew up on and more on the indie rock world, I guess. Right now I’m working with Girlpool and Mitski and a few other people. Bucket list stuff would be working with minds like Emily Haines, Feist, and Ben Gibbard. People like that I think would be really cool for a producer now days to work with. I believe they would work really well with the sounds as well.
Would you be interested in doing what like Cashmere Cat is doing where he’s producing a lot of pop songs for other artists.
I’m definitely interested in that, but I’m not going out of my way to do it. I’ve been lucky that if I’m collaborating, it can be for my own projects and create this full thing where I work with all these different types of artists and ring them together. It works because it’s my sound overtop everything. In a situation where you’re that kind of a producer [for pop artists] you have to send like 20 beats to someone, and maybe you like one of them and you’re never gonna know if it’s going to be used until like two years later when it’s on album. It’s a little bit less personal and you feel less involved. I prefer working the way I do.
Just like collaborating with people through email?
Yeah, yeah. For the last couple projects [email] has pretty much been the way that I’ve done it, mainly just because I’m on the road and people are on the road. Everyone has their own way of recording. I’ll just send a demo to someone and then we’ll go back and forth getting the structure and then I put it all together in post-production.
You’ve talked about how you have a template of sounds like a lot of artists that make your music fairly signature distinguishable. Could you talk more about your specific template?
I think for instruments, what my ears really like are music boxes, glockenspiels, and acoustic guitars and stuff. I don’t know. There’s definitely an aesthetic now that is part of a lot of producers, where there’s a japanese influence with a lot of cuter and nicer sounds basically. I think that’s been influenced through video game soundtracks and pop-music that has come from Japan and all that. There’s that and I definitely listen to a lot of rap. It’s a lot of heavy, hard-hitting kick drums and stuff like that. It’s a huge part of my sound I guess.
What did you think of those Team Teamwork tapes that sampled video game soundtracks?
Oh, like Ocarina of Rhyme? I think I found Ocarina of Rhyme when I was like grade 12 or something like that. I was super into it. I was definitely into everything that was going on with the mashup phase. Girl Talk was a huge thing that I enjoyed. I’ve always just appreciated sampling in every way and that was just one part of music’s history for using samples.
Is there anything you lean towards, or an approach that you have when you find samples?
For me. I basically have my little categories on iTunes. I have shit for rock drums or pretty sounds or whatever. I’m basically just getting albums and albums and through everything. If there’s one little second that jumps out, I’ll throw it in one of the little categories and mess with it later on. It’s not really informed by genres or whatever, it’s just purely by sound design. I’ll take a part from an ’80s song and in the end it when it’s used, it won’t sound like the original at all.
One thing I’ve noticed on your albums is there’s like a piercing motif of sentimentality. Are you a sentimental person or is this a narrative or theme that’s not necessarily a part of you, that you’ve just constructed or something else entirely?
Yeah, I’m definitely that kind of person. I feel like with music, even when I’m not using my own voice or anything. I feel like it’s a pretty personal thing, even if it’s just instrumentals. I think that’s why with the certain vocalists that I use, even though there’s people from R&B and people from the indie rock world or whatever. They all work well, because they share that kind of melancholy in their voice or whatever it is.
If you could kill another electronic artist and then wear their skin as a jacket, who would it be?
(Laughs) So look like them physically, or…?
It’d just be like something you’d wear to shows where your head would still be out and you can put the hood. Or you could look like them. It’s up to you. You could have a tailor deal with the specifications.
It’s scary how the DJing world depends on how you look and how you carry yourself nowadays. I guess like Diplo or something. If I could carry that presence and still be me. That would be a pretty winning combination.
You could have women upside down with Gameboys in their back-pockets, twerking but also like chill people who are vibing out.
Girls upside down, twerking, but they’re definitely sad and you can see that they’re thinking about their childhood. I don’t think that will ever work as an aesthetic.
Maybe. If vaporwave and this weird stuff happened, you never know. You definitely have a sartorial aesthetic that you cultivate. Have you ever been approached or thought about doing a clothing collaboration or doing a line besides your merch?
Yeah, I’m definitely interested in that. For me, I’ve always just been interested in creating in whatever way. I think mostly just take advantage of music because it feels most natural to me. As long as it’s kind of a brand that would let me do it on my own terms. That would be really awesome. I’m also a bit all over the place with my tastes, so that’s probably not appealing to a brand that has really nice clothing. Brands like Lazy Oaf, I feel like I’m pretty close to. I kind of know them. That’s something I would definitely be interested in.
Are there any other designers you particularly like?
What I wear is just shit that I find when I walk around Toronto. I guess I rely on a lot of vintage stuff like F As In Frank in Toronto. There’s a kid in New York. He just has his own brand called Kid Super, that one’s really great. Dertbag is another one from New York.
You seem to be really interested in video games. Is producing the soundtrack to a game something that you would be interested in doing?
Absolutely. That’s definitely something I’ve been interested in. It hasn’t really been confirmed yet, but I’ve been trying to work with Ubisoft for my next video to create something with their engine and their environments. So basically just immerse myself in like world of Assassin’s Creed. I definitely want to collaborate a lot more with developers in that way.
You spend a lot of time on your computer, making music and interacting with people through it for a lot of your collaborations. Does the idea of singularity bother you at all?
That is a really hot topic right now. With all the movies coming out — I think everyone is getting a little scared of that thought in the back of their heads. I think it’s just sort of this inevitable thing. I think that probably in our lifetime, we’re going to be dealing with robots in some shape or form of our everyday life. It’s sort of scary, but I think it’s going to be the next part of human history that we’re evolving into whether we like it or not.