HEMSWORTH TURNED HIP-HOP BY HAPPY AC­CI­DENT >>>

The Georgia Straight - - Music -

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.

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