We first heard Halifax-born producer, Ryan Hemsworth, back in 2012, when he dominated music blogs with his impressive remixes of Grimes, Lana Del Ray, Cat Power and Frank Ocean (the last of which has garnered over 9 million YouTube views). His latest album, Alone for the First Time, led Hemsworth on an extensive North American tour, “Sucker for Punishment,” supported by Edmonton-based electronic musicians, Tennyson. Recently, we sat in on a conversation between Luke — one half of the Tennyson duo — and Hemsworth, getting an insider’s perspective on the modern phenomenon of today’s ‘bedroom’ musicians.
Luke Tennyson—I creeped all your old Facebook photos. Back to about 2006.
Ryan Hemsworth—That’s good to know. [laughs]
L—There are pictures of you with folded baseball caps and an acoustic guitar.
R—I started out playing guitar. It was my first instrument when I was 12 or 13. My cousin was in a band and I thought he looked cool. I never took lessons and I can’t read music. I understand chords and can read tabs though.
L—Was that the basis of your music theory then?
R—I taught myself as much as I could through that, recording myself and messing around with different production programs. My first audio program was called Goldwave — on a PC — and it’s pretty much a shitty Audacity.
L—How old were you?
R—I started doing that in junior high, so 13 or 14. Then I got GarageBand in grade 11 and that’s when I tried to record songs. I started recording myself making covers.
L—That’s how it started for me. A friend showed me Aphex Twin and at first I thought… I can totally do that. But when I tried it wasn’t as easy as I thought.
R—So you started with piano then?
R—I’m interested because there’s definitely a blend in your music. You have pop sensibility but it’s also super jazzy and at the same time very electronic. Where does the jazz come from? Would you say that’s a big part of your music?
L—Mostly recently, same with the pop thing. After we started getting plays on SoundCloud I wanted to focus on what people want to hear. Maybe that is the death of art.
R—When was that?
R—So in 2013 you stopped making music that you liked to become a sell-out?
L—[Laughs] That’s when I found I could do both.
shirt – Hugo Boss (Holt Renfrew)
It’s a good time to be eclectic because everything seems to be dividing off into super sub-sub genres now. An amalgamation of different sounds is good.
R—You’ve got an interesting middle ground right now between all the sounds. It’s a good time to be eclectic because everything seems to be dividing off into super sub-sub genres now. An amalgamation of different sounds is good.
Let’s talk about the tour. I think I’m probably learning more from seeing you guys play than you watching me.
L—No, I’ve been in the dark for a while when it comes to newer music so it’s nice being immersed in it. You’ll play a rap song and everyone will know it and scream the lyrics out. It’s usually something I don’t know.
R—I’m in an in-between place where I make a lot of my own music, but I like to play others, like a DJ-live hybrid set. Trying to establish yourself that way is difficult, though, because that’s what 90 percent of DJ producers starting out are doing now.
I think you guys have a foot in the door more than most because you can play all your own stuff. You have a live presence and people can see what you’re doing on stage. It’s harder to be a producer just starting out on a laptop and not performing.
L—It’s the opposite for me. I kind of wish I had the ability to just drop some rap song and watch the crowd get into it.
R—It’s exciting to play something that surprises people that they may not know — it gives them the chance to appreciate it for being new. It can be a bit scary to play your own music but eventually you gain fans that start knowing your songs.
L—At this point just a few people in the front know our songs.
R—This is your first tour, so that’s already exciting. My first tour I was the first of three DJs opening and there’s no way to make yourself stand out.
L—What is the process like for writing a vocal song? Do you write the melody and then do the production afterwards?
R—It’s different each time. For my album I made demos and sent them to certain people. We didn’t have studio time together. I emailed back and forth. It’s so easy now with Dropbox. They would record a verse and I would add to the production, make something for a chorus and then they would add their part. The vocalists that I work with would make the melodies and lyrics and we would figure out the concept beforehand.
L—Just the thing I really want to do.
R—I’m not a studio person. It’s fun to just make something, to have someone in mind for it, figure out the concept and let them do their thing — and then get that back and play with it until it sounds good. I like working with introverted singers who can record their part at home. In a way we’re the same kind of artists just performing in different ways.
dress shirt – Comme des Garcons (Holt Renfrew), dress -Helmut Lang (Holt Renfrew)
I’ve been asked if I want to try moving out of my bedroom and see if I can write in a studio setting. I would give that a try but I have everything that I need in my bedroom right now.
L—I’ve been asked if I want to try moving out of my bedroom and see if I can write in a studio setting. I would give that a try but I have everything that I need in my bedroom right now.
R—I think the transition into a studio is probably easier for someone like you. You can play your full song on a piano and compose traditionally whereas I’m composing on my computer. Do you initially approach a track by making melodies on a piano?
L—For the longest time, a chord regression would work and then I would turn into a song. But recently, I need more than that. I need a melody or an idea.
R—Do you always start with the same thing or sometimes do you start with a progression or a sample?
L—I’ll have an idea on the piano and then I’ll try and find one sound to play it on. And it will probably be a guitar note but in the middle of some sampler. And then that will turn into something totally different.
R—I’m similar. I start with one thing and then it becomes something completely different.
L—Yeah, or I’ll build up as many tracks as I can and, once it’s too much, slide it over, work on an intro and then by the time you get back to it, it’s totally different. Some people can start with just a drumbeat but I can’t.
R—I don’t think there’s a set way. I don’t know how people just start with the same thing every time. For me, making music is a completely random thing. It’s different every day.
Duckwrth cannot be pinned down. The 28-year-old rapper, born Jared Lee in South Central, landed like a splash of mixed paints with his debut full-length I’m Uugly in fall 2016. Its 10 elastic tracks stretch across hip hop, chill wave, funk, and punk, all shrouded in a soft-focused haze. He aptly calls this impressionistic concoction “psych rap.” Early last November, Duckwrth released An Xtra Uugly Mixtape. Whereas I’m Uugly exalted the beauty that lives within the harshness and griminess of everyday life – from the physical to the political to the socioeconomic – An Xtra Uugly Mixtape encourages being unapologetically you. It is, as Duckwrth writes on his Soundcloud page, “the anthem for your rebellion.” Fittingly, the tape is higher in energy; the guitar sounds are cranked. An Xtra Uugly Mixtape is his attempt to put hip hop and rock on equal footing within the same piece of music. An Xtra Ugly Mixtape is also a gradual step towards fulfilling his stadium rock ambitions. Duckwrth had one of his most formative musical experiences at a stadium show. “I used to do the whole protest [thing] and be more politically driven,” he says. “But then there was a time when
Over the past four years, Halifax pop artist Ria Mae has accomplished dreams she has openly spoken about: being produced by fellow Nova Scotia success story Classified and touring with Tegan and Sara and Coleman Hell. Since creating her self-released demo of “Clothes Off” in 2013, she has signed with Sony Music and Nettwerk Management. The former has helped develop the careers of Avril Lavigne, Barenaked Ladies, Coldplay, Dido, Sarah McLachlan, and many more. The finished version of the song – her major label debut – earned Mae her first Juno nomination, for “Single of the Year” in 2016, which put her in direct competition against Drake, The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber. From Mae’s new home in Toronto, only two days removed from a cross-Canada tour with Scott Helman, she spoke with Georgie about her sudden rise, working with Classified, stepping up as a voice for LGBTQ groups, and more. G—As you’ve discovered, you can make a lot of unexpected connections in a small town. But that can be a good thing because working with people who differ from you in their approach forces you to create from new perspectives. Do you ever have reservations about working with people who
Three years after the release of his first EP, Augusta, Canadian singer-songwriter Scott Helman has unleashed his debut full-length LP, Hôtel de Ville, a collection of 12 alt-pop coming-of-age tracks. The 22-year-old Toronto native who successfully broke into the music industry in his mid-teens earned himself two Juno Award nominations, certified gold status for his hit, Bungalow, and began quickly fielding comparisons to the likes of Vance Joy and Jeff Buckley. With a new level of acclaim awaiting him, Helman has recently finished his cross-Canada Scott vs. Ria tour with fellow Juno nominee Ria Mae. We thought it would be the right time to ask him about his momentous musical journey. G—You got your first guitar when you were ten. Was this what led you to become a musician? Scott Helman—I used to mess around on my friend’s guitar, and really wanted to learn how to play. So, I asked my parents for a guitar for Christmas. I remember coming down the stairs and seeing it, and knowing instantly what it was because of its shape. I never put it down after that. G—What kind of music did you listen to growing up? SH—My parents are British immigrants, so