Ryan Hemsworth is trendy, but it's not on purpose. Through his mission to stay ahead of the most popular formulas in music, he goes deep into the left-field, composing sounds with sampler synths made from stretching out one specific vocal clip or sampling the noise that Facebook makes when you have a new message. But when whatever music Hemsworth ends up experimenting with eventually becomes the acceptable sound of the moment, he's forced to seek out a new, more experimental sound at the risk of over-saturating the market and becoming forgotten. The best way to describe Hemsworth's music as he grows from being labeled everything from “EDM” to “cloud” to “trap” isn’t by trying to define the sound, but the feeling behind it.
Hemsworth's music has always sounded like it’s rooted in sadness. It's slow and creeping, and it conjures a mood of melancholy that continues to permeate his work, as evident in his newest record, Alone for the First Time. Part of the album’s rollout involved Hemsworth releasing two music videos. The first, “One For Me” has him riding around in a luxury car and enjoying his life in what is ultimately solitary. The second video for “Snow in Newark” stands in direct opposition to the luxury in his first, with Hemsworth traveling to shave his head and adopt what appears to be a monastic lifestyle. “I think the two videos are important together, the first part is kind of my day-to-day life, minus the Lamborghini and the helicopter,” he tells me. “It’s what most people in my position experience, but it’s never been really shown. The second part is kind of asking ‘Is that exactly what everyone wants?’ or even ‘Am I happy with exactly what that is?’ So, the second part is just like the reflection and my sort of imaginary retirement."
He sits in front of me at his record label’s office, shorn hair partly grown back, sitting cross-legged in front of a glass table as he signs copies for fans who preordered the album. Talking to him, it’s impossible to tell Ryan’s mood. He answers most of my questions in the same pose as the one he adopts for the album cover, with his fingers forming jail bars in front of his mouth. When I ask him about the legacy he wants to leave behind after everything is said and done, he pauses to think. “To be remembered as someone who put out the music they wanted and did what they wanted with it.” He’s proud of the fact that he’s never sold out, saying “I’ve had the opportunities, but I think it’s more fun to let shit happen naturally and help people out once you’re successful.”
It’s said that charity brings happiness, which might explain why Ryan is trying to spread the wealth by introducing his audience to new and obscure artists like Kotomi and The GTW on Alone for the First Time, and posting music from “hermit” producers through his Secret Songs label and Soundcloud. Those who have followed Hemsworth’s work in the last year knew about acts like Tinashe and ILoveMakonnen long before the Drake co-sign boosted their respective careers. When I asked if he thinks he deserves more credit as being someone who finds new talent, he shakes his head. “I don’t think deserve any more shine that I get, it’s kind of just nice to put on people and see them flourish. I like working with people and knowing that they’re capable of doing crazy shit. It’s exciting when you see something in someone and it happens for them.”
It’s hard to say where the 24 year old would be now if he followed through on his journalism degree from Halifax’s University of King’s College, but it’s even harder for Ryan to say what he’ll be doing five years from right now. There’s talk of scoring movies, a job that would befit Ryan’s talent for crafting ambiance. “The music in a movie is so important to emotion and get you involved with a certain scene or whatever and it really has a purpose emotionally.” When asked what genre Ryan would prefer to work on, the choice is clear. “I mean, I love horror movies. I would probably like to try and do that.”
Noisey: What did you set out to accomplish with this album?
Ryan Hemsworth: I think it just allowed me to work with the exact kind of artists that I want to. I mean, it sounds basic, but I’m getting to make the music that I want to. I see a formula with a lot of club music and the stuff you find on Soundcloud that people go crazy about, and it’s becoming really easy to know what works where. A lot of music is just super formulaic right now because everyone uses the same technology and same programs and we all have access to the same stuff, so you have to kind of be a bit more creative and a bit weirder with the music that you make.
How do you continue staying creative and weird when people seem to adapt so quickly?
I think just not doing what’s right in front of you and instead using samples in a way that you don’t see everyone using, or just using different types of cymbals or different types of synths. I use a lot of sampler synths that I just made from accapella vocals that I got my friends to sing and then stretched them out to sound like a keyboard. Like on “Blemish” I use a lot of weird different sound effects and samples that just sound weird to some people. But everything sort of has a meaning to me, in one way or another.
What's your favorite sample sound right now?
Right now, I think it’s the pick-scratch noise with the guitar that’s on one of my tracks. People keep thinking it’s a burp. I've been posting album stuff and people are like, ‘is that you burping on “Blemish”’ It’s not, but it's awesome that it sounds like that to you. Something that sounds serious to me sounds like a joke to someone else. That’s kind of the fun part of actually doing sound design and messing with production. People hear different things and in the end find their own story in a few tracks.
Is there any kind of music that you dislike?
Just like, really macho country or macho dance music. I like house, but I also never really ever understood why people want to listen to it. I like elements of house, but I don't like music that’s mainly percussive and has no melody and no emotion. I get if you're on a lot of drugs it sounds great, but to me it has to have something that is making you feel something or else or I don't really understand the point of it.
When someone sends you songs for Secret Songs what is the most interesting thing that you can hear in their music?
I think what catches me is just a combination of attention to sound design and quality of production, but also the actual composition a bit. I like melodies and structure that’s just different from the norm. The thing is I’m dealing with people who are all only existing on Soundcloud conceptually, and anybody can upload songs to Soundcloud, which is diluting it completely. So you’re used to hearing beat-makers or whatever who are already popular, but you don’t hear all these people who make awesome music and that’s their only outlet to have people hear it, so I’m trying to sift through and find people who can actually compose something. I think Tennyson is the perfect example, and I’m glad that’s the first one I put out because he’s like a real composer. That’s a talent that’s sometimes lost because all we have is a few outlets for people to hear us through, and if nobody gets a co-sign then they’re seen as every other struggling producer.
So, whats next for you after this album?
Tour for a month and a half and then hibernate through the winter and create a rock band and take over the world. I don't know, just keep changing and evolving. In the new year I’m probably going to have a totally different live show. it’s all about doing something new.
Ryan Hemsworth is currently on tour and selling these wicked cool uber faux vintage t-shirts.
Slava Pastuk dreams of life as a laptop producer. Follow Slava Pastuk on Twitter.