When Ryan Hemsworth was invited to the press conference for the 2014 Juno Awards nominations, he thought he was just going to a music industry meet-and-greet. The Halifax-born, Toronto-residing music producer went to the early February event with his manager and a representative from his record label.
"They got through choir album of the year and jazz album of the year and I was like 'OK, they're not going to call me at this point. They've gotten through the important stuff,'" Hemsworth says. But at the end of the conference, he got a surprise: They announced Hemsworth's album, Guilt Trips, was nominated for best electronic album.
Guilt Trips is the 23-year-old's first full-length album, but his friends and family say music is something he's worked on, quietly, for a long time. He started playing guitar at 13. "As parents we were surprised at how well he played," his mother, Donna, says. "He had no interest in taking lessons, he always liked to do his own thing."
In high school, he recorded songs at home and put them on MySpace, but he hadn't hit his stride. "He never really liked his voice, his singing voice, so he would distort it or often would throw in really odd sounds," says Matt Bustin, his high school friend.
Eventually, Hemsworth developed a taste for instrumental hip-hop and electronic music. He put down his guitar and started making music on his computer. "When I got a MacBook and [music software] was when I realized I could do everything I wanted within the laptop," Hemsworth says. He made beats and mashups on his computer to waste time instead of doing homework. Bustin remembers a rap group he and Hemsworth were a part of in high school. "We would make these stupid raps as a joke, just trying to be ridiculous as possible, and Ryan would prepare the beats for us," Bustin says. "He got really good at it."
As Hemsworth began to study journalism at King's in 2008, music production moved from pastime to passion. "It's been a learning curve for us to understand what he was actually doing with the music," says his mother. "He kept to himself and did what he wanted to do."
Hemsworth started collaborating with San Francisco Bay-area rappers. He would email them a beat, they would send back their vocals, and he would mix them together. "My mom probably never noticed. I wouldn't show it off or anything, I would just be at home on my laptop making music," he says.
These collaborations, in addition to his own productions, garnered him an online following, which has continued to grow with every release. Hemsworth says his next project will feature more guitar and live drums, a departure from Guilt Trips' video game-inspired sounds.
Hemsworth moved to Toronto as his career took off. He's no longer a journalism student---or Coast contributor---but his newfound success and mainstream attention hasn't gone to his head. And that's not likely to change even if he wins a Juno at the March 30 ceremony in Winnipeg.
"He's still himself, he's still ridiculous. We'll still wrestle, we had a real Nerf war over Christmas break," Bustin says. "He's still a kid at heart."
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