Ryan Hemsworth interview

Ahead of his set at Good Vibes Festival, we chat with the Canadian producer about his not-label label Secret Songs, the necessity of labels in the age of the internet, and durian
Ryan Hemsworth

Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth – formerly Twitter’s ‘Canadian prince aka Mr Steal Your Wifi’ – has worked his slick, sunny beats on everyone from Lorde and Lianne La Havas to Frank Ocean and Future, plus released three full-length records of his own; think electronic, twinkly pop with experimental tendrils by way of 8-bit soundtracks to ’80s and ’90s video games. We speak via email (because the internet) ahead of his show in the chilly highlands this weekend.

'Art is just creating, failing, trying again, sometimes you make something good accidentally'

How did it all begin? When was the first time you picked a line out of a rap song and started working it into your music?
When I started producing in high school I was just using whatever samples and acapellas I could find. What was easily accessible was like, 2pac acapellas, but I was sampling myself playing guitar, or taking pieces from weird music I was finding online and combining it all. Just trying to make something different from what was going on around me, in my city and stuff.

In a 2013 Pitchfork interview, you said: ‘I just love having little vocal snippets like laughs and coughs, not necessarily stuff that has huge significance, just little human qualities.’ One of your latest tracks ‘Burying the Sun’ too has a short burst of some human laughter. Would you say that’s your signature sound – that ‘little vocal snippets’?Do you think that’s important, especially in electronic music? Do you think those ‘little human qualities’ wake up an electronic track?
Maybe it is. It’s easy to produce a song nowadays, so how are you going to make it your own song? For me it’s the voices, squeaks, little sounds that I can work into the music.

It’s been said that Secret Songs is ‘a label untethered by the constraints of actually being a label’ – in that it’s curated single-handed by you, and has no responsibility beyond putting out more than a single track by any artist.
Yeah, it’s something I always have trouble describing. Essentially it’s a label but it’s just me running it: I’m making my own rules, releasing what I want, how I want. I think if I start following the normal rules of a label it won’t be fun anymore. Now I can release EPs, albums, throw parties, make clothes, help friends. It’s great.


What are your thoughts on labels; are they less necessary these days?
Labels – and collectives – will always be fundamental for music and new movements. I just think the definition of these things is changing a lot lately. Major labels are lost; there’s so much freedom now as long as you have a strong team that believes in you and your vision.

You studied journalism. Your early writing work – as a bedroom blogger – includes interviews with artists such as Girl Talk and Nosaj Thing. How would you describe your own music, especially as a writer?
I guess it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes it’s electronic, sometimes it’s indie, sometimes it’s rap. It’s based on my mood, and mood is the most important part of music to me.

In an interview with Dummymag two years ago (and in fact, in many other interviews), you said: ‘I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to fully create one single, consistent sound… which I hope is a good thing.’ You don’t want to be associated with one sound too long, ‘or wrongly’. Do you still feel that way, that you have to and want to constantly change your sounds because there’s ‘a short shelf life for a lot of sounds’?
I just can’t decide sometimes, but I’ve learned to embrace that. One day I want to produce for a rapper, the next I want to work with a singer from a band, it’s all possible now so why not just try? Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Art is just creating, failing, trying again, sometimes you make something good accidentally.

A question you recently tweeted out to your followers was: 'On a constant hunt for the fartiest smelling food so far it's been durian – but is there fartier?’ We thought we’d let you know it’s durian season in Malaysia right now!
Haha, when I was in Vietnam I kept seeing durian but the smell was too intense for me to try it :(

What can we expect from your KL show?
Kind of like a Kiss concert but with more pyrotechnics.

For more info, visit ryanhemsworth.com.