Taking the time to explore a sound whilst shaping a style, sticking to a path and usually a genre, often preludes success. For Canadian born producer Ryan Hemsworth, this hasn’t been something to conform to – his genre-spanning productions, unusual pop remixes and eclectic DJ sets have not only demonstrated versatility but also an endearing lack of clear direction that has positively influenced his music. Hemsworth grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a “place on the water that likes folk music and where people like to drink a lot” – traits that he thinks make it similar to parts of the UK. He studied Journalism at the University of Kings College and set himself up as a bedroom blogger and part-time musician, writing about his favourite artists as well as trying his hand at producing beats.
Since then, he’s released two successful studio albums, a string of EPs, become responsible for one of the most loved Frank Ocean remixes of all time and, intentionally or not, ended up being something of an “internet guy”. His second album, Alone for the First Time was released late last year and compared to 2013’s beat-heavy Guilt Trips, has a much more intimate sound – but he tells me that that was his intention. “When I was making it over the past two years, I was in between a lot of EDM festivals and tours so it was pretty hectic. Any down time I got was focused on making quieter music.’ In that time, he’s grown as an artist and become accustomed to approaching music with patience resulting in structuring his work more carefully. “Even when I play shows, I try not to be as spastic when I’m switching songs; the intention with the album was to let people digest it.” Spastic probably isn’t the word I would have chosen but there is something erratic about the way he approaches DJ sets, switching between songs like they appear to him right there and then.
His early collaborations with small time hip hop artists naturally set him on a path to mainstream rap production and r&b that erred on the side of pop today, when speaking to him, it’s quite obvious that moving away from the sounds of his earlier work is something he's working hard to achieve. Recently, he’s been experimenting with a new type of collaboration and one that hasn’t been completely explored within the mainstream electronic scene. “I’m trying to work with a lot of singers from bands – I think it can work just as well but the way producers create is typically by making a beat, sending it to a rapper, the rapper recording over it and putting it out – whereas bands will usually work on songs for weeks or months to make the structure perfect. I think that’s why the world of rock and electronic music doesn’t go together as much as rap and r&b does.” It’s hard to imagine the two worlds as one and when I do. I can’t help but think of the way that the Korn remix of ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ makes me feel, which is really fucking uncomfortable.
“Maybe it’s because of how open and present I am on the Internet. It doesn’t seem that weird to me because it’s the way I’ve grown up. Maybe we’re the first generation to fully spend our lives on the Internet so it seems pretty natural to me.”
Perhaps he’s onto something, though. His single ‘Too Long Here’, with Philly native and 2014’s favourite bedroom songwriter, Alex G puts forward a strong case for combining the opposing genres. “The song I originally sent him was actually a super guitar-driven track and he recorded over it really quickly and sent it back. I just couldn’t make it sound amazing mixing it together, so after he recorded his a capella, I just took it and made a whole new song around it the way I work with remixes.” His love of guitar music and his affinity with the bands of our awkward adolescence is refreshing, if not slightly surprising, and he tells me his dream bucket list of people to work with is “the singer from Mew or Jimmy Eat World” and seems quite confident when I ask if he thinks they'd be up for it. “Maybe, certain people are surprisingly open to those things. I started talking to the singer of Thursday and he's kind of keen on that."
As a product of our generation, the Internet is something that has played a huge part in Hemsworth’s career. His early remixes of Kanye, Grimes and Frank Ocean gained him a lot of attention online and started the buzz that would eventually lead to his full-time career in music. Subsequently, he’s gained a reputation that’s consistently linked him to the internet – perhaps it’s his love of 90’s video game samples or his prolific social media presence, but he tells me he thinks it’s kind of funny when I ask him how he feels about being seen as ‘the Internet guy’. “There are people who are a lot more than I am. Maybe it’s because of how open and present I am on the Internet. It doesn’t seem that weird to me because it’s the way I’ve grown up. Maybe we’re the first generation to fully spend our lives on the Internet so it seems pretty natural to me.” And he's right – today music is much more accessible, artists no longer have to be in the same room to write songs together and this has evidently helped him to discover and work with artists from all over the world. Never one to do things like everybody else, he's steered away from the over subscribed artist run label game and instead created 'Secret Songs', a platform to share his musical discoveries via Soundcloud to the rest of the world and in turn created a community of unknown producers with access to a large audience. “My favourite feeling besides creating is discovering a new artist and being able to share it. I think that's something to do with growing up with the Internet as well – being able to share things directly and instantly. That's definitely why I started Secret Songs – to keep that direct feeling of finding music and giving it to people.”
Whether you respect him for it or not, Ryan Hemsworth is anything but predictable. He's trying out things and working hard to refine his own sound, in the past year we've seen him really build on something and experiment with everything from Gameboy soundtracks to J-pop. He’s not afraid to drop a remix of Backstreet Boys in a club, and more importantly, doesn’t take himself too seriously, because we don’t either. He’s the poster boy for the new generation of Internet bedroom pop and he’s doing it all whilst maintaining a level of respect within the hardened world of electronic music.
Words by Chloe Spencer