You can catch Ryan Hemsworth spinning records behind the decks at the Ground Wednesday, November 14, but that doesn't mean he considers himself a DJ.
"I adapt to what's put in front of me," he says. "I don't say I'm a DJ. I'm a musician — I produce, I mix, I master. I help other people with their projects. I like the overarching ability to do whatever, and being just a DJ can be super-limiting."
The 28-year-old, originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a multifaceted artist who draws from musical traditions around the world. Hemsworth (no relation to Thor) says that's equally a product of his travels and being a fan of music, first and foremost.
"Anybody on my projects, anybody I produce for, I'm already listening to their albums a lot," he says. "I reach out to collaborate or just to be like, 'Hey, this is dope.' There are a lot of people I like, but there would be no way we could make a song together, really — it would just be weird. But everybody needs some positive reinforcement sometimes. I kind of approach it as being a fan and not trying to force anything if it doesn't feel right."
Hemsworth's new album, Elsewhere, features guest artists on all but one of its 12 tracks. And if he's learned one thing from the process of creating the record, it's that you can't make an artistic collaboration work through force of will.
"You need to take it slow, like with any relationship," he says. "You can't just dive in and make a track in five minutes. With the album, it's been a learning experience for me, learning to be more patient and take my time with things."
Whereas many EDM artists forgo albums and instead drop single after single, Hemsworth isn't interested in scoring the next big club hit. His music is subtler and more immersive; it's best enjoyed in headphones.
"I feel like albums tell full stories and draw you into sonic worlds," he says. "That's still ingrained in me. I kind of get how things are changing, how everything is more fast-paced and the way we digest things more quickly now. But I'm hoping there's still value in fuller projects and giving people a longer experience."
He didn't travel much outside of Nova Scotia before he became a touring musician, but he's always held a range of musical interests that expanded well beyond his hometown. He recalls spending countless hours on internet forums as a 13-year-old, looking up weird Japanese artists and getting into formerly obscure genres such as grime, which emerged in the United Kingdom in the early '00s.
Now he actually goes to faraway places and collaborates with artists he used to admire only through headphones.
Take, for example, "Special Girl," one of the singles from Elsewhere. Hemsworth coproduced the track with his friend, the Japanese producer Tomggg, during a tour stop in Tokyo, and then completed the track in London with vocalist SK.
"On this project, I kind of forced myself to be with people in person, in studios," he says. "I'm trying to make more of those real connections."
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Hemsworth attributes his chameleonic, genre-hopping nature to having varied interests as a listener. Even though he's become a globetrotting musician — not a DJ, mind you — discovering music gives him the same thrill it used to. He's forever enthralled by whatever is new and different, and his sound follows suit.
"I've always felt that pressure of 'What is my sound? What do I like? What do other people like?' That's definitely been an anxiety through the years, but I'm also getting through to the other end and realizing maybe that's what makes me a little different," he says. "I can do an R&B song; I can do a rap song; I can do an ambient track. That's what I feel has become my defining quality as a musician.
"It is weird to figure out exactly what your thing is," he adds. "That's just life in general. My thing is being all over the place."