HEMSWORTH TURNED HIP-HOP BY HAPPY ACCIDENT >>>
Since the Beatles set the blueprint 2 in the ’60s, musicians’ careers have been bolstered by reinvention. Miley Cyrus, for instance, found a new lease on life by transforming from countrypop star to hypersexualized party queen, while superstar DJS like Tiësto have deliberately moved through trance, electro, and house.
For feted Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth, however, the progression from Juno-winning electronic star to bona fide hip-hop producer was a happy accident.
“More than anything, I’m indecisive,” he tells the Straight on the line from his hometown of Toronto. “I’d say that scatterbrained-ness is basically my sound or quality as an artist. Whatever I start making when I wake up, I just go for it.”
Hemsworth has R&B artist Tinashe to thank for connecting him with the hip-hop world. Touring through the States with the singer, the producer took a break halfway through the dates. Finding himself in Atlanta, the epicentre of southern rap, Hemsworth took time out to hit the studio and create some new music. There, a stream of talented performers crossed his path every day.
“Up to that point, making music was all about collaborations through email,” he recalls. “A lot of rap started happening just because I was in the same place as so many people. The writing was able to go really quickly—much faster than emailing, where you send something to someone, and then you basically have to bug them every week or two for them to pass it back. We got results fast.”
Hemsworth is already building a name for himself in the scene. Last summer, he released his first high-profile hip-hop collaboration, “Hunnid”, a track that features Bay Area legend E-40 and Atlanta’s Yakki, and was later tapped to curate a guest mix for Drake’s OVO Sound Radio. Following that success with a fistful of further sessions, Hemsworth recorded a fulllength album, and plans to release the project, called Elsewhere, by the end of summer.
“It’s a challenge to jump into a new genre, because you’re opening yourself up to new worlds,” he says. “In the electronic community, I think people generally know my name, or I’ve toured so much you’ve probably caught me at some point. In the rap world, it’s humbling, because I’m unknown. It’s like starting fresh each time I work with someone different. I quite like that.”
The smoothness of Hemsworth’s transition relies largely on his attitude to production. Putting his collaborators first, the musician sees his role as that of a facilitator—someone who empowers the vocalists or contributors he works with. Able to shift his sound to accommodate all kinds of performers, Hemsworth is a selfless creator.
“When I work with people, I’m most comfortable when I sit back and create a platter for them to do their thing on,” he says. “Part of it is knowing who I’m going into a session with. I’m lucky to record with people that I’m actually a fan of, so I understand beforehand what their sound is like and what their strengths are. Everybody has different tastes for the production they like, and I try to approach each song by saying, ‘I know you like this kind of synth’ or ‘I know you like samples, or this kind of drums,’ so I’ll incorporate that into what I’m writing. At the same time, that approach lets me push someone a little further in a direction they might not go on their own.
“I’m really excited for the new record to come out,” he says. “It’s a bit all over the place, but in a good way. I think it finds that balance.” > KATE WILSON Ryan Hemsworth plays Fortune Sound Club next Thursday (May 10).
Sextet’s sound speaks to pianist Figarova’s soul
Like many others, Amina Figarova 2 found that her life changed radically following the events of September 11, 2001. On the day that hijacked airliners brought down the World Trade Center’s two towers, the Azerbaijani pianist was in New York City, playing the fabled Blue Note jazz club. But the true impact of the attack didn’t hit home until weeks later, once she’d returned to Rotterdam, where she was living at the time.
“When I came home after that, I saw this documentary on the BBC about a lady who’d lost her husband, and the interview was taking place on a boat going towards Manhattan,” Figarova says, speaking in lightly accented English from a tour stop in Boise, Idaho. “You still could see the smoke coming from Ground Zero, and she was telling a story about her husband. She was trying to hold back her tears because she was with her daughter, and her daughter was in total denial. She was like, ‘Uh, no. I will find my father. Miracles happen. There’s no Christmas without him.’ I started crying when I saw that, and then I went right away to the piano and I started writing about it. I found myself writing purely different music, something I was not writing before, because those emotions are heavy. They’re not pretty; they’re ugly, in a way. It was ugly, what happened, and I found myself expressing it in a very new way for me—describing raw emotions just the way they are.”
Not long after 9/11, Figarova’s father died, and the musician’s sorrow intensified. “I was looking for a way to describe pain, a way to describe despair and emptiness and numbness,” she says. “So that was probably a turning point for me. I was basically writing the process of mourning: all the chapters that we go through, from mourning to rage, and all the memories that go along with that.”
Figarova’s dark meditations formed the basis for 2005’s universally acclaimed September Suite. On the basis of her most recent release, Blue Whisper, those deep feelings are still there, but they’ve been leavened by the happy experience of almost 20 years with her gifted and unusual sextet, which adds a flute to the common jazz lineup of piano, bass, drums, trumpet, and tenor sax. It’s not entirely irrelevant that the flutist, Bart Platteau, is Figarova’s husband, but it’s the sound that this slightly bigger band makes that speaks to the pianist’s soul.
“When I was studying at the [Thelonious] Monk Institute, taking summer courses in 1998, I found myself playing with a big band of students,” she says. “And I love the big-band sound, but I was sitting there playing and thinking, ‘Oh my god, how do I create the same sound, but with more space for myself?’ Because, you know, the piano role in a big band is minimal. And I was also thinking, ‘How do I create a band where there’s space for everyone?’ So that’s how the idea came about.”
Setting Platteau’s flute on top of sax and trumpet allows for richer chord voicings, Figarova explains, while the sextet format retains the nimbleness of small-group jazz. The 53-year-old musician also notes that she’s recently discovered a new way of writing for her ensemble—and while she doesn’t want to give too much away about that, she promises that at her upcoming Vancouver engagement, she’ll offer some sonic hints as to where she’s going.
“To explain it simply,” she says, “there is one way that horns get played together, in harmony. But there are ways where you can layer each individual horn player in a different direction, and they play melodies not necessarily at the same time. It’s as if they’re coming from different points, on different roads; they meet each other, and they separate, and then they come back. So that’s been my latest exploration—an exploration of another side of the sextet.” > ALEXANDER VARTY The Amina Figarova Sextet plays Frankie’s Jazz Club on Saturday (May 5).
Weaves revives turn-ofthe-millennium rawk
If Weaves sounded willing to 2
embrace all manner of outlandish ideas on last year’s thrilling Wide Open, that wasn’t by accident. The only plan going into the recording of the Toronto quartet’s worldbeating sophomore album was to accept that great art is often created spontaneously, especially where rock ’n’ roll is concerned.
“We were fresh off the road and ready to make new music,” singer Jasmyn Burke says, speaking on her cellphone from a tour van headed to Bloomington, Indiana. “In some ways it was like turning on the water tap and then just catching what came out. Things were done sort of in real time—we’d write a song and then go record it. There wasn’t a lot of thinking because we’re not the kind of band that likes to think a lot about what we’re doing, mostly because no one would pay attention to each other.”
What Weaves ended up doing was creating one of the great albums of last year, with Wide Open playing out like a lost Williamsburg treasure from the great New York rawk revival of 2000. Over the course of 11 salvos, the band dabbles in everything from art-star antipop (“Walkaway”) to experimental noise assaults (“Motherfucker”). The greatness of the record is that it shows how rules are made to be broken, which explains Burke’s jazz-slurred vocals being set to spawn-of-pavement slacker guitars in “Gasoline”. Or “Scream” turning morphine-thud percussion, Metal Machine Music distortion, and a chanted mantra (“Get up on the table and scream your name”) into something hypnotically beautiful.
To listen to Wide Open is to be reminded how revolutionary the White Stripes, Strokes, and Yeah Yeahs sounded back in 2000—a time when, much like 2018, everyone had pretty much written rock off for dead.
“Wide Open was sort of reactionary, with lots of stuff improvised,” Burke says. “I kind of don’t like going in the studio, so the goal was very much to go in, have fun, and then quickly put it out. I find it weird and boring to get into this idea that you have to do multiple takes to capture your emotions. I understand that you have to record, but I’d rather be performing.”
That love of playing live goes back to when Weaves first came together at the beginning of the decade. Burke was doing solo shows, experimenting with loops and beats, when she was approached after a set by guitarist Morgan Waters. That collaboration eventually led to them hooking up with West Coasters Spencer Cole (drums) and Zach Bines (bass).
Since then, just as anything goes in the studio, it’s all about embracing the power of chaos on-stage. Weaves has consistently been picked as a don’t-miss act at festivals that most bands would give up their signing bonuses for an invite to. NME named the group a must-see the first time it played Glastonbury in 2015; Stereogum dubbed Burke and company “fucking wild” before their appearance at the 2016 edition of SXSW.
Such accolades, the singer suggests, can be traced back to being fixated on one thing above all others: having a good time.
“Our band is a lot of fun, and on-stage we really project that,” she says. “We’re not a superserious band, so the most important thing when we’re playing live is to connect with people and make them laugh, enjoy our music, and go through some real human emotions. Basically, just ride the wave.” > MIKE USINGER Weaves plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Saturday (May 5).
Producer Ryan Hemsworth puts his collaborators’ talents first.
Pianist Amina Figarova channelled post-9/11 sorrow and personal loss into darkly meditative jazz albums like September Suite and Blue Whisper.