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Ryan Hemsworth Tennyson

Mar 12/2015
PHOTOGRAPHY Pedersen (Ryan Hemsworth) Sean Trayner (Tennyson) STYLING ‎Raelene Ann Marie

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.

t6-3

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?

L—Yes.

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?

L—2013.

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.

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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.

Tennyson

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.

L—Yeah.

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