When Halifax producer Ryan Hemsworth started out casually uploading carefully crafted re-edits, his own head-nodding beats, white-hot bootlegs and unofficial remixes of acts such as Grimez, Frank Ocean or Lana Del Ray on Soundcloud and Bandcamp, there were no real expectations. He just wanted to share the music he had been making on his laptop with a community of people who might be into it.
Fast-forward a few years and the soft-spoken East Coaster is nominated for a Juno for his critically acclaimed debut, Guilt Trips (Last Gang Records), and has a busy international tour schedule that will take him to Australia for three weeks and to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, along with dates around Europe and a gig in Winnipeg on Valentine's Day to wrap up CKUW 95.9 FM's annual fundrive.
"I think anyone in this position, as soon as you start getting a few more fans, you just feel the expectations. You want to keep people entertained and happy, but give them some unexpected stuff as well," explains Hemsworth over the phone from Ottawa, where he is visiting family and friends after a gig. "You don't want to keep just doing the same thing over and over. I guess it reached a point where I was doing a lot of remixes and stuff. This year I am trying to focus on original content and collaborating more. I want to keep making the music people like from me, but maybe approach it a bit differently."
As someone who thrives on and is inspired by today's fast-paced, web-driven culture, Hemsworth's music runs across the spectrum, from cerebral cloud-rap beats to moody, melancholy-laced electronic music. While his sound is obviously referential, it never gets bogged down in the details or too caught up in the moment. He has carved out his own identity in a relatively short span of time.
"I think in music right now, following trends is important for a lot of producers or DJs," says Hemsworth. "I think it has always been this way, but you just need to focus on what is inspiring to you, what you want to be hearing and have people dancing to. You really need to stay true to yourself."
That authenticity is something that runs through Hemsworth's productions and DJ sets, his Instagram and Twitter feeds and even his tour promo videos, which, for a recent East Coast swing, featured him playing around with his dog.
Hemsworth comes across like someone you would want to hang out with and talk about the latest Internet memes or YouTube videos.
The producer connected with another web phenom for a split single he is doing with Australia's Wave Racer. Seven-year-old rap portrait artist Yung Lenox, whose drawings have been getting him tons of attention on Instagram and even a recent profile in the Huffington Post, will be doing the cover art for the release. (Go to yunglenox.bigcartel.com to see examples of the prodigy's work.)
"My manager is a huge rap fan and he kind of knows Yung Lenox's dad, who is a rap blogger, and he reached out to him," says Hemsworth. "They were down to do it. I thought it would be amazing to have a seven-year-old do the art."
Along with a couple of singles that are already completed and ready to release, Hemsworth is already working on some new collaborations and looking at incorporating more live instruments in his own production, even going so far as describing the tracks he is working right now as having a "real shoegazer feel" to them.
Despite Guilt Trips making big waves for the producer last year, he was still surprised by the Juno nomination for Electronic Album of the Year.
"I wasn't really expecting it. They invited me to the press conference where they announce everything, but I kind of assumed they invited me because I lived around the corner," jokes Hemsworth. "That was a really nice surprise to be nominated.
"It nice as well, because I could call my mom and she knew what that meant. When I say I am going to do a tour with this awesome person that I look up to or something, she will be like, 'Oh, who is that? Are you making money? Are you OK?' Whereas with the Junos, she knew exactly what that was. It's got a level of legitimacy for some people that maybe you don't get from some of the other achievements you get online."