Sucker for punishment

Though he’s soft-spoken and relatively shy in real life Ryan Hemsworth has a huge personality and just might represent the future of electronic music. The Halifax-based musician has amassed a worldwide following thanks to his genre-hopping productions and penchant for pop songwriting.

Following last year’s Juno Award-winning Guilt Trips (one of those rare recent Juno winners that’s actually genuinely great) the artist recently dove even deeper into his love of forward-thinking pop music with the new album Alone for the First Time. Outside of that he’s spotlighted a handful of new talents via his Secret Songs series a digital-only record label that releases material from previously unknown performers.

On the phone from a taxi in Chicago Hemsworth told us about his love of the album his friendship with almost everyone in Halifax and how up-and-coming producers need to chill out with the thirsty self-promo.

How is your Sucker for Punishment tour going so far?

It’s good. I never really travelled much before playing shows or anything like that so it’s pretty crazy to go all around the world and play music for everywhere.

Before you became a full-time musician you were a music journalist right?

I was attempting to be. I studied journalism in Halifax where I grew up and that was kind of my intention. The music writing stuff didn’t work out but the music has been good.

Some people say that music writers do so because they’re failed musicians but you’re sort of the opposite.

Well in a way I guess I probably technically am a failed music writer so….

When you create music do you have to ignore your past as a music critic? Does it get in the way?

I try to turn it off but I think just as a person who has grown up on computers it’s impossible to not look at all the stuff that’s written. But yeah I’ve learned to kind of ignore it a little bit and just do what I’m going to do. If a review is written it’s just one person’s opinion. I try to forget that but it’s hard to remember.

Are there set parameters for the music you make? What constitutes a Ryan Hemsworth track?

Sometimes when I start a song I’ll have some kind of sound or theme in mind but it usually ends up totally different from that. I don’t think I really throw it away because it doesn’t sound like a “me” track. It’s just if it’s bad basically. I’m just kind of always trying to do different stuff so if it turns out weird and not sounding like me that’s kind of good to me.

How did you first get involved in music production?

I started playing guitar and stuff when I was in middle school. I was just always recording myself and it slowly turned into producing stuff on my computer.

At what point did you know that it would be more than a hobby?

Probably once I was going through university and posting my stuff a lot online and trying to get in touch with writers to post it. To see it published somewhere it was like okay it’s not just me sharing it with my friends. Someone else is actually listening to this somewhere in the world. It was kind of crazy to realize.

Growing up in Halifax did you go to a lot of shows?

No not at all really. There wasn’t that much that I was interested in in the area. I kind of just listened to stuff on my computer and made stuff and talked to a lot of people and shared stuff. But I didn’t really go to shows or go to clubs or anything until I started to do my own shows basically.

That’s interesting because Halifax has always had such a fertile music scene. But you’re saying you sort of grew up outside of that?

I think so. I definitely have been a fan of a lot of stuff that’s come out of Halifax. But I think for the most part what Halifax did was push me to look outside of the city and see what I liked that was going on outside everywhere else in the world.

Do people find it weird that you’re from Halifax when you travel around the world?

Yeah definitely. People just know things like The Trailer Park Boys and stuff like that. I think people always enjoy that I’m from a little East Coast Canadian city.

Do you get a lot of people asking if you know their buddy John who also lives in Canada?

It’s funny… I just went back to Halifax for Pop Explosion a few weeks ago and I totally forgot what it was like and how everyone knew me. It’s like “Oh do you know this guy?” Yeah that’s my cousin’s girlfriend or something. You kind of forget how small the city is.

We live in an age where young producers can build a career from just having a Soundcloud but you’ve just released your second proper full-length as well as other releases. Do you still care about traditional music releases?

Yeah. I still definitely really care about full projects and experiencing music in that way. At the same time I think there’s roles for each type of project. So EPs I think are just as important in their own way and singles and remixes and all that. Remixes obviously are kind of the way I came up a little bit. I kind of always care about all these different forms of releasing music that’s what keeps it interesting.

What is it about the album that stands out to you?

I think it’s just the feeling of being able to put something on and not have to really think about a bunch of different things. You’re just experiencing someone’s story that they’re trying to tell whether it’s with lyrics or instrumental music. There’s always a story being told.

What advice do you have for young producers?

It’s really hard coming up because I know there’s always this pressure to promote yourself and push yourself as much as you can onto other people. But I think that’s what makes a lot of people their own worst enemy. I get a lot of emails from people that are like “can you repost this song” or “can you share it on Soundcloud?” I don’t think I’ve ever asked someone to do that. There’s just other ways of doing it you know? I love it when someone emails me a song and doesn’t really say much or sends me a picture with it or just says “enjoy.” Because I just feel like it’s good to not force yourself. Just put yourself out there in as normal and natural of a way as you can and eventually people will catch on if it’s good.

Who are some other up-and-coming producers you’re interested in?

It’s funny there’s not a producer but there’s this girl named Mitski from New York. She just put out an album the other day and I got it kind of early and I’ve been listening to it for the past month straight. It’s pretty much the only thing I’ve been listening to because I’ve been on planes staring out windows so it’s been the perfect kind of gloomy music. I think she’s really amazing. I’m trying to work more with artists in that realm and bands and stuff like that probably in the next year.

Now that you’ve released Alone for the First Time what do you plan to do next?

Just getting though this tour for the next month or so then I’m going to try and focus a lot more on Secret Songs in the new year. I already have a few EPs from different artists lined up and I’m going to try and do more showcases like full-on New York showcase where I can just book eight different artists and have a big show instead of the normal kind of two openers at a club.

Ryan Hemsworth performs on Thursday November 27 at the Hifi Club.