In 2013, Canadian good guy Ryan Hemsworth struck a chord both in the studio and the club, becoming an unstoppable force wherever walls of synth and waves of party people were to be found. Here’s a guy whose signature sound–imagine ghostly flickers of R&B, brooding cloud-rap, wacky pop and bass-heavy house–is suitable for both dance floor delirium and headphone contemplation. Guilt Trips, Hemsworth’s solid debut LP on Canuck label Last Gang Records (Purity Ring, Chromeo, Crystal Castles), confirmed the Great White North now had a crown prince of thumping beats in its ranks. Hemsworth’s rabid social media admirers anointed him “The Internet Zack Morris” and “The Remix Ryan Gosling” for his zeitgeist-y retoolings of songs by Grimes, Frank Ocean, Mikky Ekko and Lana Del Rey to name a few.
When I met Hemsworth last October in Montreal, in the midst of a joint North American tour with Cyril Hahn, the soft-spoken producer was in his hotel room, firing away e-mails, texts, tweets and posts full of his trademark humor, rife with geeky references to video games, rap, 808s and dogs getting struck by Frisbees. But the musical funnyman happily obliged to step away from his laptop for an earnest chat about the changing nature of remix work, his online twerking shenanigans and his high praise for a fellow producer Diplo.
When it came to recording Guilt Trips, the only indication you gave to participating vocalists was to draw on memories of heartache and sorrow. Why the wistful cue?
I asked them to think of a breakup or being lovesick. That was the mood of the whole album when I was working on the instrumentals, because I’ve been traveling over the past year, with lots of different relationships, missing people and friends. To me, the concept is just a lot of longing. But it’s still light at the same time, because I don’t take things too seriously.
Your track titles reveal little clues about your influences (‘80s manga on “Yaeko Mitamura Is Lonely,” Harajuku Pop on your Mr. MFN eXquire “Pamyu Pamyu” remix) but also your self-deprecating tendencies (“Ryan Must Be Destroyed”). How much thought goes into these?
It’s funny because these little songs are almost memories of places or certain people. I think all the time, so I’m stuck thinking about experiences in the past. It comes from traveling a lot, because you’re just sitting there, reflecting. So a lot of that goes into my music, probably in the same way that it does in Drake’s, which is why I really gravitate towards his music. There’s a lot of nostalgia and thinking about memories.
Your prolific remix work is what put you on the map. As someone who came of age listening to Girl Talk, what do you make of how remix culture has evolved?
When [Girl Talk] started blowing up with his mash-ups, I was doing a shitload of them. It’s such a good way to get your foot in the door nowadays, especially for people like me. That’s how we got established, and now we’re putting out original stuff. But it’s also really easy to get stuck in a pattern of doing them, and at some point, people expect you to remix every hot new song. My inbox is just flooded with remix inquiries of people I’ve met once. “I got this song, I was hoping you would remix it.” Here I was thinking we were going to be friends, but you actually just want me to do a remix so you can get on Fader or Pitchfork.
Some of your remixes are commissions, others you take on for the pure thrill of it. Is it customary to receive feedback from the artists?
No, that’s the funny thing. The big ones I’m commissioned to do are entirely through A&R departments, so I never know if the artist has even heard my stuff. Grimes is probably the only one. I did my remix of “Genesis,” Deniro Farrar did a verse over it and that came out on Valentine’s Day. I remember her tweeting, “This is the best Valentine’s Day gift ever!” And she very briefly followed me on Twitter, it was a nice feeling. And then unfollowed me soon thereafter.
The clip of you twerking to your own Backstreet Boys remix is great. While many EDM producers carefully monitor their every “social media intervention,” you’ve rather chosen to let your freak flag fly.
Yeah, that’s the reason why I post stupid videos and pictures, because I do this on my own, so might as well show people that I’m stupid. So many producers’ interactions with fans are limited to posting cool photos of themselves at raves with thousands of people fist-bumping. When I was growing up, I was into stuff like Blink-182 DVDs, seeing them backstage being really goofy. It’s what made me love these people and really get into them, seeing their human side.
Your “Alone In A Hotel” Facebook photo series takes a playful look at how life on the road can be pretty lonely and lead to a virulent, DJ-specific strain of cabin fever. What prompted the series?
It’s definitely just a thing to retain my sanity. I started doing it because I have this girl DJ on my Facebook who does the same thing, but wearing different designer clothes or just wearing a bra in different hotel rooms. So it’s like: “Ibiza / Givenchy / Hotel #354.” I just wanted to make it the opposite of that, and make it the saddest thing ever, because it’s a cool concept but so cheesy to me. It’s like, [Hemsworth adopts braggadocious tone] “I’m a DJ, I’m being paid so much money to be in Berlin right now or whatever and I’m going to flaunt it.”
While we’re on the topic of producers known to broadcast their unfiltered rock star lives, Diplo has called you “one of the baddest selectors and DJs in the game right now.” Is he someone you look up to, career-wise?
I think he’s a good career role model, because he’s been around for a while. The type of shit he does, people don’t usually last very long. He has a vision, and there are obviously some scandals with his productions, but it’s almost like a Kanye thing, where sometimes he doesn’t even have much involvement with the hands-on production. He has an idea and he has his people. That can be just as powerful as being the most hands-on person. I really like this notion of curating a mix or putting people on to artists, and I think deep down, he just really loves doing that. Sometimes, that might get expressed the wrong way or be misinterpreted, but it’s really something I can get behind.