Ryan Hemsworth on mixing things up in the music industry

Interview: Vancouver Weekly speaks with producer Ryan Hemsworth

Ryan Hemsworth is a Juno Award winning artist known throughout the industry as a master of collaboration and sound sampling. He played Vancouver’s Fortune Sound Club Thursday, May 10 in support of his newest album, Elsewhere, which was released earlier this year.

Elsewhere is the innovative third album from the Halifax native, coming out just over three years since his last effort Alone for the First Time.

Hemsworth is a highly revered producer who has made a name for himself reconceptualizing existing pieces of music.

“I really love taking rap vocals or stuff that people can recognize and just putting it under a video game sample or something that sounds really romantic or kichy … just changing the tone completely. I don’t know why, but I love the juxtaposition of sounds,” says Hemsworth.

Although the majority of the Toronto resident’s work is collaborative, prior Elsewhere, communication between Hemsworth and his fellow artists was typically via email.

“With this project, I’m just kind of recalibrating as a musician and kind of figuring out what makes sense for me and how I continue to grow and maybe surprise people in different ways with new music,” says Hemsworth.

For Elsewhere, Hemsworth collaborated personally with artists from around the globe, connecting with them one-on one in a process that pushed him out of his comfort zone.

“It’s a pretty personal process to work together on a song,” says Hemsworth. “A big part of that is just being able to feel comfortable and open up with each other. I think it always works better when you understand where you are both coming from.”

For Hemsworth, the motivation has always been passion for discovery and sharing. His formative years were spent on the computer listening to and downloading songs from around the world that he hadn’t heard before.

In 2014, he launched his own record label, Secret Songs, in order to give a platform to artists that showed promise and have talent. Elsewhere is essentially another avenue for Hemsworth to expand that concept.

Apart from a brand-new album, Hemsworth considers “that chemistry and that energy where you can bounce ideas off each other in the moment” as the biggest take away from the project.

“A lot of it was just learning to be as comfortable as possible and not force anything.”

After the studio sessions, Hemsworth would look forward to playing with the samples they had created and coming up with something new to share. That’s the aspect of his work that has always been the most comfortable to him and he compares the process with putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

“I guess there’s different modes of listening,” says Hemsworth. “I mean if you are actively listening, which I kind of have to be doing nothing else to do – then you’re focusing on each element that you can perceive in that moment.”

If he is listening to a rock song, then he is trying to pick up the guitar and drums and vocals and how they are all coming together, says Hemsworth.

“And if you’re passively listening to that [same piece], is that what affects how you’re perceiving that song and is it making you feel a different way?”

Hemsworth is both cautious and confident about his interpretation of the music he is making.

“There’s a lot more to mixing and production that emotionally affects you in music than I think people talk about or give respect to,” he says.

Elsewhere was more than two years in the making, and while Hemsworth recognizes that it is difficult nowadays to connect personally with other artists due to scheduling conflicts, he hopes to be able to keep a balance of real time collaborating in his work flow.

Hemsworth is a firm believer that artists of all types need to be constantly pushing themselves out of their comfort zones.

“I think that’s the most important and underrated thing in 2018. I think music is becoming kind of disposable in a way. In the same way, a lot of industries are… we just consume the cheapest, easiest thing and throw it away when we want to move on to the next thing.”

Hemsworth says this mentality is making its way into the music industry. That is why it’s so important for film directors and painters to really continue to push themselves further out of their comfort zones, says Hemsworth – to develop more, try new things and make mistakes. But people can be really afraid of doing something unexpected, he says.

“If you’re not taking that chance then you’re just being predictable and that’s actually worse over time.”