After 25 minutes of wandering around the Cowgate area in Edinburgh and several profuse apologies, I finally found the very tall Ryan Hemsworth (see below). I greeted him with a hug and presented him with cupcakes to celebrate his 24th birthday, launching into a chat about his secluded hotel, as well as his journey to Scotland. Soft spoken and friendly, Ryan was a delight to speak with, with a down-to-earth charm and ease about him. We chatted about his latest European tour, being hungover, and finding your persona in the music business.
So tell me Ryan, how did you get into electronic music?
I’ve been making music for a long time, but more like, guitar, singing, drums, and stuff, but I was always recording myself on my laptop in my basement in my parents’ place. Eventually I started doing more and more of just relying on my laptop for everything, and that kind of just became… I’m a producer now I guess! And then once you’re a producer you’re apparently also a DJ so then you get booked as a DJ and you have to figure that out, so it’s kind of just going with whatever people have thought I am.
Goin’ with the flow.
Yeah! Basically, goin’ with the flow.
So, when you’re producing – I’m sure you’ve worked now in studios, since you’ve gotten to be a bigger presence – is it weird to switch from going to your laptop to different equipment?
Yeah, honestly I still do everything on my laptop. My album I did in this situation where I was on tour most of the time and just did it at airports and in bed. That was a productive time for whatever reason, but last few tours I’ve been pretty like… hungover every day and not as good at working on stuff that I should be, but that’s kind of the amazing thing about doing everything on your laptop. A lot of other artists can’t do anything on the road and have to go home to their studio and do things, so I can get things done when I put my mind to it.
Have you ever gotten starstruck around another producer?
Not really. The thing with producers is like… I grew up on bands and stuff, so I’m still in my mind, if I ran into Julian Casablancas or John Frusciante, I’d be starstruck, but to me, I think I also get that producers are nerds. So if I’m meeting, like Skrillex and Diplo, and I’ve met Tiesto, and Just Blaze, who was really cool… they’re all… normal. I mean, they’re not normal, but they’re easy to talk to and stuff and you’re kind of like, oh, I thought I would be sh*tting my pants if I met Just Blaze but it’s like… it isn’t weird at all.
I think there is a bit more approachability to producers. There are so many people who you have to jump through so many hoops to even just get to their management. I feel like sometimes it shouldn’t be about that. It should be more about… like I’m a fan of your music, and I want to talk to you about being you.
I think it’s the industry that everybody lives on their laptop and stuff as well, so we all kind of get together in a way. Whereas when you hear a pop star… I’ve dealt with pop stars and they have like teams of twelve people around them at all times, so obviously that’s going to affect them, and rappers are scary and stuff, and so it’s like every industry is different in their own way. It also comes down to the artist. I mean, I do know a lot of DJs who rely on people to do everything, and… everybody just works differently I guess. I’ve always done everything myself, so I’ve just gotten used to that. I have a manager, but it’s still kind of like I’ve taken care of my stuff.
So you do like working on your own, and handling your own stuff?
Yeah, for the most part. Everything that I’m capable of, and like… I’m friends with my manager so everything that goes through me goes through him as well, but basically just like… I’m trying to take care of my own business.
What is touring like in Europe as compare to the US?
It’s a lot of different languages, and a lot of… being lost. I don’t travel with anybody so it’s just relying on myself, and I’ve gotten pretty used to a lot of like the big cities in America and Canada and everything, but Europe is always a little confusing to me. I don’t know why but I always find London a little difficult, just because I think there’s so many different modes of getting places and, it’s like everyone knows how to do the Underground and get places but – so it makes sense to them – but then I’m like “Can I?”… like I ask them for directions and it’s the most confusing thing in the world… like “Oh take it to this stop, this stop, then get the Underground then take the bus and this and you’re there!” Like “Oh…” So, yeah, it’s just… it feels like a bit of a different world, but at the same time, shows are shows and people come out, and it’s always fun.
Do you cater to audiences? I know you wouldn’t play the same set everywhere, but do you feel certain sets work better in different cities? Like, in Europe compared to the US?
Yeah, totally, but like my sets are kind of like my mixes, where I just jump around. I try to play everything… I think that’s become a bit of my… thing? To go from J-Pop to rap to whatever remixes that I make and all that, so I think that’s worked to my advantage where I can just jump around a lot and be indecisive, and go with whatever works I guess. That is kind of a luxury that other DJs don’t have. I don’t really feel I need to cater at any point. It’s kind of like… if you don’t like what I’m playing right now, I’m probably going to be transitioning into something different in two minutes.
You’ve been to Scotland before. What is it like playing in Scotland compared to other European cities? Is it different, similar… do they all just kind of blend together eventually?
No! Not at all. I mean, I think I really like Scotland because of the accent, like that’s my favorite accent probably [laughs], so I automatically like everyone… Sneaky Pete’s I’ve played before and it was an amazing time, it’s just a really good intimate vibe, and like… I prefer house party kind of things, basement party vibes and stuff, and that’s what this one is. Tomorrow I’m doing Broadcast in Glasgow.
What’s been your favorite city to play in so far, in Europe?
I really like Dublin, and I really did have a great time here [Edinburgh] last time. Sneaky Pete’s is definitely one of those places that has a great vibe, and everybody kind of knows it as well. It’s got a great reputation. Paris has been great, Social Club was awesome. Those are like my top three.
I like that Sneaky Pete’s has been able to maintain such big names but they still keep that closeness.
Yeah, I think that it works perfectly for this city. Like, if it was in any other bigger city it would not work to have huge names like that, because there would be lines down the street all day. Somehow, it’s a good balance.
It’s hard though, it takes a lot of motivation – which I do not have – so I respect you. Do you have kind of a schedule? I don’t even know how you do it, bouncing around… I mean, I can’t even drink every night. I would just be… flattened.
Yeah, I think that’s probably the biggest challenge is balancing being responsible but also like… every show, people are like happy to be there, and they want to after party with you, or get you drinks, they want to party with you more, and I enjoy doing that as well. I get the most out of a city and a show and a group of people just by doing that… but you also need to survive if you’re on the road for a month straight or something, so, yeah… it’s always like, I have to be like… a responsible person, which is weird.
Okay, so you graduated from uni, and since then you started touring a lot?
Yeah, I basically didn’t go to graduation and went to Toronto to play a show with Shlohmo that weekend or whatever, and from that point… I had been playing shows already a bit, but during school it’s difficult, because I lived in Halifax and there’s nothing for me going on there. So, I had to go to Montreal or Toronto to do shows. From there it was just kind of breaking out of Canada a little bit and once I could go to New York or wherever, it became more sustainable.
So what are you doing this summer?
I’m trying to focus on Europe and the past year or so I was really hitting American festivals and everything like that, and I’ve just realized that you actually really need to focus on certain markets, which is still kind of weird to think of that as like an A&R person, but I would rather be spending my time doing European festivals because it’s new and exciting to me. I’ve been in Europe, I’ve done like three Europe tours before, but it’s been this kind of thing where I’m in clubs, and new cities, but nothing beyond 400 or whatever… it always feels like you need to grow, so I’m just figuring that out. It’s going to be like, once this is done, back to Canada, try to finish my next EP hopefully, and then I’ll just be back and forth here a few times each month.
Ryan’s set at Sneaky’s that night was interesting and unusual, with him fluidly switching genres and tempos and engaging the crowd the whole night. Everyone in the club was dancing non-stop, including myself! With a musical taste that ranges from poppy to ambient, Ryan has recently launched a new A&R project called “Secret Songs”, where he will post bi-weekly to promote music that he feels is excellent and share with fans of the page for free download. You can check it out here! Be sure to listen to Ryan’s music as well, including his “Cool DJ Mix”, which is up for grabs.
Words: Staley Sharples