Canadian producer and DJ, Ryan Hemsworth, is in high demand. At only 25 years old, the Nova Scotia native boasts a diehard fan base, an incredibly thick resume, and a passport full of stamps. With a lifestyle as crazy as his, Ryan remains surprisingly chill. We caught up with him before his set at Melbourne’s Listen Out to chat about his latest EP, how he juggles genres, and his thoughts on Drake and this massive Canadian moment.
Hi Ryan! Welcome back to Australia. How are you?
I’m good. It’s good to be back in Australia, I think this is my fifth time here. It’s nice.
When you’re away touring, what do you miss most about home?
I miss my couch. My bed. My bath. The simple amenities.
I’m sure you get this all the time, but musically you’re insanely diverse. Would you agree with that statement? How do you juggle all of it?
Yeah absolutely. I guess when I’m making stuff, it makes sense. But once I have to translate it into a live thing, it can be difficult. But that’s actually something I’m learning to just embrace. It can be awkward but I think it’s a good thing. It’s a challenge. It’s also weird to gauge what people’s expectations are coming into shows. Some people might wanna hear my Blink 182 remix, and other people might wanna hear my original stuff, so I just kind of go with it. Mash it all together. People have said that they see pockets of reactions to different songs throughout shows, so that’s kinda nice. In a way, maybe throughout the show I can please almost everyone?
When you’re creating music, is there a different way you approach the various sounds? Like do you say, ‘Okay I’m going into this track with a hip-hop perspective’ versus an electronic or rock perspective?
Honestly, I usually have some kind of idea and I start working on something and it becomes something completely the opposite. I think I’m just indecisive, and have a lot of things going on in my head. Usually I’ll decide, ‘Yeah I’m gonna make this beat for a rapper’, and it turns out to be this sad, ambient track or something. So I’m like, okay this is cool too. I’ll use it for something else, haha. I guess, it’s more about opening up and allowing myself to make whatever it is that comes out.
Just sit there and let it happen. Be the vessel.
Yeah for sure. I just make my beats on a laptop wherever I am. That’s why I find it hard when I go into an actual studio with a purpose. I feel like I’m setting myself up for failure, haha. It’s better when I’m just at the airport with 50 minutes to spare or something. I work better on the go.
Let’s talk about your latest stuff. How would you describe the sound?
Lately I’ve been going a lot more into the direction of live recording instruments. Guitar, drums and stuff. That’s more like the music I grew up on. The further I’ve gotten into producing and playing shows, the more I’ve realised that’s what I love. Back in high school, I was playing guitar every day and yeah, I guess I’m gravitating back to that kind of post-rock, emo sound, just translated through electronic music.
For your upcoming EP, is there a particular situation or setting in which you envision people listening to it? Do you create with that in mind?
When I’m making it, I’m really just thinking about the track. But afterwards, I do wonder how it will translate. I guess for my latest EP, it feels very much like headphone music. You know? Like, playing it in your headphones when you’re on the bus or something. I can’t really imagine anyone playing it in clubs except for me. I wouldn’t want anyone else to alienate people like that, haha. I guess just because I travel a lot, I picture it in those situations. On a plane, at the airport. Those situations are what I’m trying to capture.
You mentioned before that you grew up on a lot of rock, and post-rock. Anything specific? What were your parents listening to?
My family isn’t all that musical. I had a cousin who was in a band and he definitely introduced me to a lot of stuff. He let me borrow his Smashing Pumpkins album when I was in elementary school. Nirvana, all that stuff. So that was a good way to get into it. I started playing guitar when I was 13 and really got into John Frusciante’s older stuff. Weezer. Then in high school I got more into emo. Bands like The Wrens, Broken Social Scene. I was getting into a lot of rap at the same time. Atlanta rap, Texas rap. So yeah. I feel like even when I’m producing for rappers, I’m still channelling that more melodic side.
Are you still listening to a lot of rap? What do you think of the rap that’s coming out right now?
Definitely. To me, Atlanta is still the most important place for rap. Johnny Cinco, Future. There’s a lot of good people coming from there. I’m just trying to get mixtapes from DatPiff every day, haha. I try to keep up to date but there’s like 100 new tapes on the front page at all times.
Canada is also having a massive moment right now, musically. What do you think about the R&B movement? Drake, PND, Weeknd, Roy Wood$ etc.
Yeah, Toronto is doing really well. It’s good! I feel like when an artist really puts on for a city, someone like Drake for Toronto, obviously there’s going to be this huge harnessing of the sound, you know? There’s still a lot of kids there making it, and making it original. There’s a kid named Safe from there, he’s super young. I was trying to get him to come to do some songs at a show when I played in Toronto but he couldn’t even get into the club. It’s nice to be in a city where there’s a lot of stuff going on.
And what do you think about people like Kaytranada and that scene?
He’s great. I’ve known Kay and Tommy Kruise and those guys for a long time and it’s good to see them all taking off. Montreal is such a great place. I feel like it’s 50% just artists making amazing music, and art in general. There’s a lot of competition I think. But the people doing it, are doing it really well.
Do you feel any sense of competition for yourself within the industry? Or do you try not to buy into that?
No, not me personally. For me, I’ve reached a point way beyond what I ever expected so I try to just support everyone. In Canada at least, I think we’re all really supportive of each other. Generally people are just happy to see everyone succeed.
You actually studied journalism at university. How did you get from that to this?
I always enjoyed writing and I always loved music. So it was going to be one of the two. Then when university came around, I didn’t want to study music because I felt like studying music would make it boring for me. I wanted to keep it as this thing separate from what I have to do.
Are there any musicians on the Listen Out line up you are hoping to catch?
I didn’t catch him today, but I’m hoping to see Basenji. I’ve known him for a while, like before he even started releasing tracks, so I’m really excited to see him blow up. I definitely wanna see Alison Wonderland. Makonnen.
You play a lot of different kinds of venues and shows, what’s your preference?
I prefer basement, low ceiling, 200-capacity type shows. I’ve grown to try to make everything work, but I definitely feel best when it’s like, an after party vibe. I like being closer to the people. When it’s an EDM festival and you’re literally on a pedestal, I feel like it’s so isolated.
Do you still get nervous before shows?
Yeah, for sure. You can never tell how it’s going to play out. I try not to imagine because that’s potentially setting myself up for disappointment. I try to go in with no expectations. I just hope people have fun at the show. My goal is to have people walk away not angry. Haha.
Do you have a favourite song to drop in your set?
At the moment, it’s usually a Future or Drake remix, haha. I think it’s probably a bit self-indulgent. But yeah, anything off Dirty Sprite 2.
What’s your favourite track on DS2?
That’s hard. Maybe, ‘Rich $ex’. It’s such a weird tape. Like in a way, it’s all really just one tone throughout, but somehow it doesn’t get boring. I like it.
DS2 rules. Thanks so much for the chat! Any last words for your Aussie fans?
My EP Taking Flight is dropping on October 9th. It’s a six-track EP and it’s going to be on the label I started, Secret Songs. But yeah, don’t be a dickhead. Be a sick cunt as much as you can.
Words by Dove Schwencke
Photography by Anna Warr / Listen Out