Ryan Hemsworth is still awake

Dayna Evans

hemsworthandcat

We at Impose have long been fans of Canadian remixer/DJ/producer Ryan Hemsworth, and despite his white-bread name, his contributions are always intellectual, striking standouts. His touch on Grimes' “Genesis” served as his breakout mark on remixing culture, and since that release, we've seen him work his melancholic wiles on everybody from Cat Power to Frank Ocean to Rhye to Future, the last of whom he hopes to some day produce. But even with his enduring remixes, Hemsworth doesn't stop—his own original music hybridizes electronic sounds with live instrumentation, and as each week in the calendar passes, a new curated mix seems to pop up on the web from the inimitable DJ—some of his most notable and mesmerizing have come through Mixmag, FACT Mag, and BBC's Diplo and Friends. The only explanation for Hemsworth's remarkable output is that the only Nova Scotian producer in the game simply doesn't sleep.

We had a chance to catch up with Hemsworth on the phone the weekend of his set at NXNE in Toronto, where we spoke on his recently released EP, his upcoming album, being a producer-personality, and what it's like to feel weird about life. Accompanying our interview is a series of selfies Hemsworth took over the past year in different houses, different beds, and with varying animals—and as a self-identifying introvert, they are a rare glimpse of a shy DJ creature in his natural habitat. Hemsworth is embarking on a short tour today with Baauer, RL Grime, and Jim-E Stack, with a stop in New York for MoMA PS1's Warmup and then a set at Pitchfork Festival in Chicago.

So you just got back from Europe. I remember when you were there last time, you came back and posted that mix for The FADER that came from a lot of post-Paris malaise and sadness. Have you felt the same thing this time?

I mean it’s a little different this time for a lot of reasons. It was shorter this time. It felt more . . . (Right at this moment, our phones start scrambling and making frightening, high-pitched garbled squeals and I have no idea what Ryan is saying. I hang up and call him back.)

Hey, sorry, I don’t know what happened. Your voice started scrambling and then it hung up.

Yeah, it was terrifying.

It was the strangest thing! That’s never happened to me in a million years.

Yeah it sounded like [makes weird vacuum sounds].

It was like you were trying to murder me through the phone. Hopefully that doesn’t happen again. Do you want to start by pretending like I just asked the same question?

Yeah. So I mean it felt like a different thing. It was shorter a run, but it felt more more chaotic and stressful this time, for whatever reason. Prior to the tour, I was running around a lot, and I hadn’t been home for a month anyway. I went to Europe and I don’t have a tour manager and it’s a lot of running from airport to airport and waking myself up and making sure I’m not hungover and just trying to be a responsible adult, which I’m not, so just a lot of that stuff. But at the same time, it was obviously super fun. And yeah, being in Paris is hard because there are so many cool people there and there’s just stuff to do. It’s fun and awesome and stressful and causes a lot of anxiety. But it’s good.

Do you think you’d ever want to live in Paris?

I mean, that’d be amazing, but it just feels like a weird thing to think about because Canada feels so comfortable and easy. Everyone’s—I dunno—my friends are all lazy and normal. Anywhere else is just kind of a different way of living, which is probably fine, but it’s like everywhere else is so expensive. I mean with the currency conversion, it’s like I have no idea how much money I’m spending over there. I’m sure I could get used to that, though.

It’s interesting, though, because you do such a metropolitan thing by being a DJ, do you know what I mean? It’s weird to think of you coming back to Canada, where there is seemingly not that much going on, you know?

For sure. Especially since I’m just moving to Toronto tomorrow actually. I’ve been living in Ottawa and I grew up in Halifax and have always lived in all these sort of boring places. I’ve naturally been drawn to or lived in sort of boring places. All of the fun and exciting stuff that I do happens outside of where I’m from.

When you come back—I mean, you’re in Canada now—do you feel like you get a bigger response these days? Are you growing there now?

It feels like it, yeah. I just did my first Halifax show for the first time in a while. It’s probably the first show where people actually came out with my name as the headliner, with people just being there to hear me. Not to give my city a bad name or anything, but a lot of the time, people know that you have to go away for anyone to care about what you’re doing. Then they’ll ask you to come back to play a show when you’re big, you know. And they’ll say “Oh, I knew you from the start!” or whatever.

Is there a scene where you’re from?

Sort of. It’s more focused on indie rock and folk rock. There’s just not really that much focus on electronic music or rap, which are all the things I’m mainly interested in. It kind of clashed that way when I was growing up, which is naturally why I started finding stuff online and talking to people from other cities and stuff like that, naturally moving outward.

That brings up something I wanted to ask. You just put out this Still Awake EP and I noticed that you did some of the instrumentation on it, like you’ve been playing less with the DJ/electronic stuff and you’ve been going back to your musical roots. Do you think you’d ever go back in that direction? You used to sing and play guitar, right?

Yeah. I’m pretty much done an album right now, and I sort of sing on there, and I play guitar on it, but not in a straight up rock way; I sample myself and I mess around with it. I don’t think I’m the most amazing singer or musician or anything like that, which is why I like to use a computer because then you can have this access to make sure everything—it’s kind of the control freak in me—sounds as perfect or as messy as you want, as opposed to doing everything live and that’s what you’re stuck with. I’m having more fun, though, balancing those two things. Live and organic versus electronic. It’s fun, I’m really happy with that. I’m liking this EP—it’s the direction I’ve been wanting to go to—a lot of influence from the stuff I grew up on, like indie bands and whatnot. It has a club element to it, obviously, because when I play the songs live or in the club or whatever, it still works pretty well.

This EP literally just came out, too, so knowing that Pitchfork reviewed it, does that feel weird or normal or like you’ve “arrived”?

Yeah, no, it’s pretty cool. The same guy reviewed my last EP as well, which was really nice. It’s great with this one because it was just a free EP that I put up on my site; I didn’t really want to make a huge fuss about it. I just wanted to have something new and original out because I’ve been doing so many remixes lately. I didn’t want people to forget that I did original stuff as well. I wanted to make kind of a well-formed project to throw up on the Internet randomly. To have a review like that and to have people posting about it and supporting about it gives it legs. It’s nice to see that happening with a free EP.

Why did you decide to give it up for free?

When you charge for stuff, on one side of it there’s this process, which makes everything take so much longer to just put it out. There’s also just the idea that I don’t pay for that much music myself, so I don’t expect people to. With the album that I’m putting out, I’m trying to do that, and I’ll have it out on iTunes, but with stuff like this, I want to just give it to people straight up, you know.

With your album, do you have a label for it yet?

It’s such a slow process, really. It’s sort of what I was referring to with the EP. The label stuff slows all of this down so much. It’s been more or less finished in my mind for a while. I’ve been in conversation with one label for months and they’re down-super-down, and they seemed really keen on putting it out and then they’re M.I.A. and hard to talk to or whatever. It’s almost like a back and forth, almost like a flirting thing. It’s like are they really willing to take the punch for you?

Is there even a date or any information about it?

Right now just for this album, it’s pretty much in limbo. In my mind, it’s more or less done, even the artwork and everything is done and it’s beautiful. And I’m happy with everything, but I just want to make sure it’s not in the hands of somebody who doesn’t really care about it. I think we’re getting closer and closer to that, so eventually it’ll be ready to really talk about. I’m not really stressed about it; it’s good to have something in the tank ready to go. We’ve got that and we’re already working on other stuff. I’m comfortable now, and once we figure the [label stuff] out, it’ll be good to have that ready to release.

Is it similar tonally to Still Awake? Does it have a lot more samples or remixes or what kinds of things are on it?

It’s half features and half instrumental stuff. It’s slower and sadder. But still I wanted to make something more upbeat and step away from “trap” or whatever it was people were calling me, and stop associating with those labels. The album is overall more just stuff that I like, with a professional tracking. I have this singer Baths from LA on the mix, and other tracks with me singing, and there are other tracks that work in the club and have been doing okay when I play them. Actually, everything really, that’s the point that I wanted to get across—it’s similar to how I do the mixes as well—this is all music and stuff that I like and I hope that you guys like it.

I find your rise very interesting because it feels like you’ve been able to span a wide spectrum of listeners. Do you think there’s any reason for that? People do associate you initially with trap, but when you put out that FADER mix, it was like “Wow, this so different,” but listeners were still with you. Do you think there’s any reason for that?

Since the beginning, I’ve never stuck to one exact specific sound or anything like that. I think when you stick to your guns, like “Okay, I like this thing or I like this thing,” you become much more of a curator. Even though Diplo is kind of a weird dude, I kind of look up to him in the way that he’s able to create this soundscape. If his name is on it—even if you don’t like him—you’re going to like whatever he has coming out or who he’s working with. That’s something that I’m trying to do. He’s making himself more of a curator of all these sounds.

So you see yourself as somebody who is trying to do that? Curating?

I think so. That’s the crazy thing to me, the fact that people stick with it when I put things out. Mixes for me are just experiments with “Are people gonna still like this one?” I’m trying to put as much stuff that I really love into it. Mixes are a lot of times things that I want to put my friends on, and share stuff that is really making me excited about music, so the fact that people can respond to that and get into it is really a lucky thing.

I’m sure this is an annoying question, so please pass on it if you feel that way, but do you ever feel that you might be an outsider? Do you ever come across that feeling in your music?

Yeah, totally. I’ve definitely felt that way more than enough in music. I get along with everybody and I like everybody, unless they’re horrible people. At the same time, I’ve always been quieter or whatever, so there’s always that feeling. Even with music, maybe again because I jump around a lot. I’ve got friends who make dubstep and I’ve got friends who make rock and I make a bit from every different circle. I can jump around and hang out with anybody. But I’m always happiest when I can sit at home and be alone. I guess in that way, yeah, I’ve always been a little bit of an outsider.

It’s a strange thing to see in this genre. It’s very communal when you go to see DJs perform, but there’s only ever one person who is in charge of that experience. It’s not a full band thing. In its own nature, it’s very singular and very lonesome.

That’s definitely a huge part of it. That’s what always interested me about DJing. DJs show up and they’re by themselves with a backpack and they’re playing for 2,000 people, and though they’re super excited to see you and they want to party and stuff, in the end, you’re just one person or maybe two people. You’re someone who spends most of your life making music on your computer. There’s definitely weird clashes. You have to be alone a lot of times but you also have to spend a lot of your time around hundreds or thousands of people. At the same time, though, I’ve only met a couple of DJs or producers who I don’t like. They’re generally very quiet or sweet people.

Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask you—how do you seek out a community in such a singular profession? It seems like you’re very tight with your WEDIDIT crew. You guys all seem to connect really well. We actually met a while ago at the WEDIDIT End of the World party in LA, and I remember seeing that and thinking everyone was having such a good time, both DJs and the crowd.

Yeah, totally. I mean that show was also awesome because I’d hung out with a couple of them before (Shlomo and R.L. Grime) but that was the first time that all of us had really hung out together in LA and that was exciting for sure. That’s the thing, I guess you grow up and you look up to musicians and you see Kurt Cobain being who he was (not to make myself sound like Kurt Cobain or anything). But [these musicians] become your friends because you play shows with them and you live in the same world and you see the bullshit you have to deal with and the good stuff, too. It creates this huge bond with them. You all sort of grow up together. You know whether you’re going to get along with someone very quickly.

Yeah, definitely. Do you feel like because of that you’ve become distant from your old life? Do you feel like a different person at all?

Yeah, well, I mean I feel like the same person more or less. My friends still try to shit on me and punk me or whatever, to keep me level-headed. I’m never going to be some dickhead DJ or something, I don’t think. I’m always the same. I’ve always felt weird.

That’s such a funny thing to say, “I’ve always felt weird.” What a quote.

[Laughs] Yeah, “I’ve always felt weird about life.” No, I mean, I’ve always felt normal. At the same time, yeah, I’m not home a lot, and I don’t talk to my parents for a long time, so certain normal life things change around you, and you have to figure out how to cope with them. It’s more of forcing yourself to sustain a normal life. You adapt by forcing yourself to do things to be more normal like calling your parents or calling your brother. Even if you’re hungover and it’s 8am and you have to fly somewhere, you still have to call to see if your grandmother is okay. Normally you would just naturally see these people. At the same time, it’s amazing to fly places and do cool stuff.

For someone who is such a self-proclaimed indoor person, do you find it hard to adapt to the party lifestyle?

Yeah, I guess everybody has different sides to them. You act a certain way around your parents and a certain way around your friends. I’m a pretty quiet person, but I love to go out and hang out with friends and stay up till 6am, so I try to keep a balance. Staying home and going out, too.

That makes sense. Can you tell me a little bit about what your relationship with Diplo is like? It’s been funny seeing you two interact with each other—it’s like these two different worlds.

I haven’t really talked to him recently, but it was sort of random. I noticed he was following me on Twitter and so I DM’ed him and was like “Hi” and he was like, “You need to change your name, it’s pretty bad.”

[Laughs] That’s so Diplo.

[Laughs] I know. I was like thank you? He said, “You need to change it to, like, Dragon Slayer.” And then he asked if I wanted to do a mix for his BBC show.

What were your thoughts during all of this? I’m assuming you looked up to Diplo in a bunch of ways before.

He is just this weird personality and obviously he’s a different person than I am. I’ve met him a few times and talked to him in person and I’m not sure how [our personalities] interact. One time we were playing a festival and I came back after the show with doughnuts and coffee and he was leaving the hotel as I was coming back, ready to go to bed, and he was like, “Yo, we’re going to the strip club, let’s go!” and he was getting into this limo with three girls, just classic Diplo. And I was like “Oh yeah, I’m going to meet you there!” and he was like “Yeah, okay, I’ll see you later . . .”

That is perfect.

That’s exactly the physical clash of our two worlds. I don’t know if I’ll ever be that kind of person. More power to him, he’s gotten a lot of success out of it. But hopefully I can find my own kind of modest success.

I can’t even imagine you two in the same room. It just feels like polar opposites in a lot of ways.

It was so weird because I was going in and I swear one of the girls came out of nowhere and just walked right in the car. I was like, “Was this staged?”

That’s just unreal. Do you have anything planned with him to be working together?

Nothing specific planned, no. I’ve talking with Benny Blanco and a bunch of other people who are producers killing it. He produced the “Diamonds” track for Rihanna and he’s done some stuff for Katy Perry, but he’s just like a normal dude who has been doing electronic music in his own lane for a while. He’s done a similar thing where he just brings in other producers, like he’s been working with Cashmere Cat recently. He’s someone who I’ve been wanting to work with and I only met recently. He’s in New York. But yeah, with Diplo, he’s not someone I’d be like “Bro, let’s get in the studio.” It either happens or it doesn’t, you know?

Do you think you guys would work well together? It’s hard for me to imagine anyone doing anything with Diplo. It seems like it’d always be a singular event.

Yeah, I don’t even know what happens. It’s probably more of like, you are physically in the studio with Diplo, but you just make everything and he just looks really cool and Instagrams it or something. No, I don’t know, I’m just still getting used to actually being in the studio with people, it’s still fairly new to me learning how to collaborate that way. Everything I’ve done has always been so back and forth with people over email and whatnot.

Speaking of Diplo, as a producer/DJ/personality, do you think that you’re becoming that in some ways? Even though it’s obviously very different, do you think people define Ryan Hemsworth by a personality that you put out?

Yeah, I mean I think that’s definitely starting to happen. I think I just like to have a face to my stuff, have a voice to my stuff. It makes you a bit more memorable and a bit more approachable maybe. As opposed to being another SoundCloud producer who doesn’t have his picture anywhere and is hard to really connect with, it’s kind of stronger for your—it’s shitty to say—but for your brand or whatever. It makes you this person. I wanna be a person. It would be cool to be a rockstar in a classic way, with kids having your poster on their walls. I still think that’s a really cool thing, that’s what I grew up with, so I hope that’s something that our kids grow up with.

I mean, the alternative to someone like Diplo is the DJ/producer who you don’t even know what they look like, like Jai Paul or whoever. People who just exist to output. Do you not agree with that?

Both of those examples are of people who are doing their own thing. I like Jai Paul, it’s just people who have no face or name or voice or anything. That works in its own way. I don’t think that’s how I work. If someone writes on my wall, I like to respond or say something stupid. Communicating with people and being more approachable and being a more normal person is kind of where I am, it’s kind of who I am.

How do you keep up with it all, though? That’s what blows my mind.

Umm, well I got a Boingo Hotspot and that helps.

That works for you to keep up?

I was really desperate! Whenever you have layovers it’s either in Detroit or Newark and they don’t have wifi there, so one day I was like, “Fuck it, I’m just getting a Boingo account.”

Honestly, whenever that comes up on my phone, I’m always like, “I don’t know what the fuck this is!” and I close it.

I know! For so long, I was like, “What the fuck is Boingo? Why would anyone pay for this?” and then five minutes later I’m like, “Yeahhhh.”

“I need this.” So is it like Ryan Hemsworth won’t sign off on any project unless there is wifi?

[Laughs] Yeah, Basically. That’s on my show rider. “Must have wifi.”

Let’s see, why don’t I ask a few sort of goofy, silly questions to wrap things up?

Sure!

I’ve noticed that you’re getting really into dancing. Who taught you how to dance?

Twerk Team videos on YouTube. Yeah I dunno, nobody taught me, which is why I’m not actually good. I’m just passionate.

Do you want to eventually have a YouTube channel of Ryan Hemsworth dancing?

[Laughs] I probably shouldn’t. I just like to dance and I’m comfortable showing myself dancing. I think it’s funny. I don’t know how many producers put up videos of themselves dancing. I just don’t want to be boring, you know, on Twitter, “Hey, listen to my new thing, my new EP.” It’s hard to compete with these other people.

It definitely draws people in since the dancing you do is very, very white.

I’m trying!

I know you’re really into Aubrey Plaza. If you had to choose between Aubrey Plaza and cats, which would you choose?

Aubrey.

Aubrey? Over cats?

Yeah, any day.

Okay, okay. What about choosing between the Dress Up! Drake app or Drake music?

[Laughs] Definitely Drake music. I opened the Dress Up! Drake app for like two seconds and I was like, “What the fuck?”

It’s the greatest!

I just wonder if he’s making any money off of it, though.

Oh, there’s no way. He probably has no idea it even exists.

Yeah, but it’s like, you can have the default clothing, and if you want the cool clothes, you have to pay $2 for them. Like are people actually potentially buying these clothes?

I doubt that money is being PayPal-ed directly to Drake. There is no way. Okay, next one. How about Savage Garden or The Secret Garden? Did you read that when you were a kid?

I saw the movie. Probably Savage Garden.

Seems like you’re really into them.

I mean, they’re really good. The Secret Garden is really cool. I can’t remember what happened in the movie, but since I saw it, I’ve had this image of the secret garden in my mind.

I feel like The Secret Garden might really appeal to you. You could just go there and not talk to anyone, as long as they have wifi.

Well the goal is to get my own secret garden and listen to Savage Garden in it.

That sounds about right. Selfies or sexts? Which is better?

Do I have options?

Here are the options: you either have to post a selfie publicly or you have to send a sext message privately.

I mean selfies are very comfortable.

Do you think that your Internet persona is any different from your real-life persona?

Yeah, totally. I feel like I’m always disappointing people when I meet them in person.

That’s so sad!

I dunno, maybe it’s not true, but I feel like when I’m online or on Twitter versus immediate direct connection to my stupid brain when I'm talking in person, I get all like, “Ehhh, are these people going to like me?”

That’s called human interaction, I think.

I think I just prefer any other interaction over human interaction, really.

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