The scene starts on a warm Friday night on the Bund. After a tight squeeze in a rickety elevator, we arrive to the Captain Bar, a little rooftop overlooking the hustle and bustle of the streets below, with a spectacular view of Pudong. It’s 7pm, and the Shanghai night is just starting to come alive. Enter Ryan Hemsworth, the Canadian electronic musician who just stepped off a plane from Melbourne, and who tonight is all about. He politely sits as we wait for our beers, soaking in the florescence of the scene in front of him. He has a distinctly quiet way about him, and appears a little dazed until I compliment him on his deconstructed Simpsons character bomber jacket. We start to chat about new cartoon favorites (Rick and Morty) and Canadian thanksgiving (fall on the Sunday of this weekend). He may be quiet, but his quick wit and soft laugh make him immediately likeable as we delve into the task at hand, amid the din of the surrounding city.
While studying journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Hemsworth began making and posting beats online, not expecting the massive response that followed. Since then, he’s been on countless solo tours and has shared the studio with some of the biggest names in the industry. His musical style swings effortlessly between glitchy, thugged-out trap and fuzzy love songs, balancing electronic and acoustic between genres. It’s this versatility, his ear for detail, and his willingness to twist his sound that initially brought his work past the online smog of Internet hopefuls, and why his beat continues to be relevant today.
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What are 5 words that describe your exact state of being right now?
R: Umm, Sleepy, Inspired, Curious, Excited. Annnd.. um
Um’s a feeling a think, you can go with that. So tell me the story behind your favorite purchase of the last year.
R: Oh, that’s a tough one. I guess right now it’s my Simpsons jacket. It’s definitely my favorite thing to do in any new foreign city is just go to a vintage place where it’s actually shitty old stuff from the 80’s or something. We were walking around in Seoul and it was in this underground club turned into a fuckboy clothing store, with a lot of ripoff HBA. I was just walking around all afternoon and found it by chance, and immediately knew it had to be mine and I’m pretty pleased with it so far.
So this is your first time in China. Did you personally have any preconceptions of China before you arrived? What did you think; what did you expect?
R: I guess in my mind, if I thought of China it was smog, and smoking, and it’s definitely living up to those expectations. But, it’s also just overwhelming but in a nice way. It’s just so many people that I’ve even seen in the last five hours. It looks like everyone is just really hustling to survive and thrive, which is overwhelming but totally cool to me.
You’re pretty fresh off the boat, but have those impressions changed at all?
R: It’s hard to say right now, but I’m just soaking it all in and happy so far. I’m spongeing.
How long have you been on the road now?
R: It’s been just over two weeks now. I was in Australia first and was there for about a week and a half, and then Seoul, then here. After this Tokyo and Osaka then home.
Does this transient lifestyle ever get monotonous, or are you just as excited to come to a new city as when you first started touring?
R: No, this is the most exciting thing for me. I never travelled before playing shows or anything at all. Music has been my way of seeing all this stuff, eating all this food, meeting all these people and opening my world. If you don’t give yourself time in each place, that would suck because it’s like you’re not even travelling, you’re going from hotel to club to cab back to hotel. It depends on the tour and how your itinerary is played out. Sometimes when I play Europe it’s literally a show every night in different countries and you can’t see anything. It’s torturous because you can literally taste it and see it outside of your cab window. You can’t really complain because you’re still travelling and getting to do what you love.
By Canadian standards, Halifax isn’t a tiny town, but it’s not a big city either. How do you think the nature of where you grew up has contributed to your current career path and the way you look at the world?
R: It feels small to me. I know everyone and everything it has to offer. After travelling especially it feels small and slow and cute. I guess its added to me being more patient and open minded. It’s a really nice play to grow up. It’s really beautiful and everyone is really kind, it’s not a jarring place. I think it made me a happier person that way.
Its been said time and time again, “Ryan Hemsworth: Born on the Internet”. Do you think the quiet nature of where you grew up pushed you onto the Internet as an outlet?
R: Yeah it’s a beautiful town, but there were really no electronic shows to go to or rap nights. There was no outlet. There were bands and folk bands that would play but there were no film festivals or any real art community when I grew up. For kids who are interested in art, music, and film, it definitely drove me to be on my computer and use it to find that art and begin to make and release my own.
Now, after travelling, if you had to choose anywhere in the world to settle down right now where would it be?
R: Probably Prince Edward Island, and completely chill out and get a normal person job. I dunno, I think that’s a 10 or 15 years from now sort of thing. Right now, I’m still trying to do as much as I can. The world is a big place.
Big club, cocktail lounge, or kitchen party; how do you like to party when you’re not playing a show?
R: I like basements and kitchen parties. Small, intimate things. I don’t really like going to festivals much at all. Not really into that thing. I guess I’m a bit more shy and quiet, so I don’t feel as comfortable in those sorts of big and loud environments. Plus, the funniest shit happens when you’re in a kitchen with your friends at 2 am.
Definitely. So, outside of any sort of electronic music, what do you think is the biggest musical influence on a style?
R: I would say, for some reason I always go back to the music I was listening to in Grade 10. I don’t know why I keep going back to that and why I still listen to it all the time. John Frusciante’s solo stuff and Broken Social Scene and stuff like that. I played guitar first and then started playing drums and then started producing, so I feel like those acts combined acoustic and electronic world really well, which is something that comes across in my music a lot, and what I’m most interested.
Have you met any of your idols?
R: Idols, well I’ve met a lot of people, but I tend to try not to get my expectations up. Sometimes I’ve met people and it was a total bummer. It’s easier to let it be this amazing thing in your mind. I played a festival just outside of Vancouver, what’s it called?
Squamish Festival? Pemberton Festival?
R: Yeah, Pemberton. And the Weezer trailers were right next to mine, so I saw Rivers, walked up to him, and he’s definitely in the top 5 people to meet for me. I was like “H- hii” and just looked at him and had no idea what to say. He just looked at me and said hi, and turned away. I just sort of awkwardly walked away and was like telling myself “this is why you shouldn’t have high expectations”. They’re just people, and just because they make good art doesn’t mean that they want to talk to you or even that they would live up to this idea you have of them in your head. There’s certain people you can talk to, but others that are like, ‘you’re Godly to me”, they can’t live up to that in reality.
On a different note, and inspired by your Simpsons jacket, what cartoon character do you most wish you could hang out with?
R: Haha oh man. Probably Brak, from The Brak Show, and like Spaceghost. I don’t know what kind of creature he is, but he’s basically this cat-person. It’s an Adult Swim show, so he’s this ridiculous kid who’s dad is a 4-foot tall Mexican man and his mom is this 8-foot tall cat lady. His life is just like hanging out with his friends in the neighborhood but also saving the world. I feel like we would get along really well. He raps a lot; he just breaks out into freestyles and beat boxes, and that’s something I can definitely relate to. If you like Rick and Morty you’d definitely like it. I’d just like to live that cartoon hero life, where anything goes and imagination is what counts.
Interview by: Raine Lester