You're never able to squeeze all the info you receive from your sources into a story. That's why the more ambitious among us scribblers expand articles into books. There's not nearly enough leftover from my piece this week on Seattle MC Macklemore and his producer Ryan Lewis for that. But there was nevertheless some interesting stuff stored in my hard drive that didn't make it into print worth passing along.
Macklemore (left) and Ryan Lewis' EP, VS., comes out Nov. 27.
For example, I asked Macklemore what he was listening to this past year while he and Lewis were working on their new EP, VS., which relies heavily on rock samples. Macklemore replied: "I listened to KEXP and tried to not listen to what I normally listen to, which is primarily hip-hop." He added of how it affected the EP: "It really just changed my inspiration. I wanted to make something that challenged me. I wasn't inspired by the typical hip-hop beats. Listening to KEXP--it's shown me it's OK to do different things."
Due to a scheduling conflict, I had to interview Lewis via email. I've posted an edited version of our exchange after the jump. It's well worth the read--Lewis is serious, and seriously insightful, about his music.
Q&A with producer Ryan Lewis:
Describe your professional background, and how you came to be making music, including with Macklemore.
I have been producing audio/music for about six years. Professionally, I also work as a photographer and designer with RyanLewisProductions.com. This was one of the main reasons I first came in contact with [Macklemore]. Beginning in 2006, I became very involved with artist advertising in the northwest hip-hop scene. [Macklemore] was one of the people I shot pictures and did some design work for. I also gave him some instrumentals, and we became very good friends.
I've definitely gone through a lot of phases with my music. I began playing guitar when I was 9 or 10 years old, and was very devoted to heavy rock in my mid-teens. Though I've had a substantial hip-hop influence throughout the time I've been producing, I wouldn't really call myself an exclusively hip-hop producer. I listen to just about everything and definitely aspire to be producing a variety of genres. Maybe that's reflected in the VS. EP.
I think the fact that I didn't just meet [Macklemore] a few months ago, randomly linking up to make an album, was very important. Having known him for a few years, I've observed how his life and career in Seattle hip-hop has taken some dramatic shifts. For us, making an album meant lots of conversations on the porch, lots of coffee, and lots of ups and downs. Eventually, it meant us sharing a recording studio together. I know that his music is more honest now than it's ever been. It's been a long time since he released The Language of My World and I think it was important for him to be working with someone who's known him since then. I'm happy I ended up being that person.
Why did you decide to push the production in a more rock-centric, sample-heavy direction?
I think the whole idea of this album was to sample contemporary indie-rock groups. The VS. EP was meant to be a concept album of sorts. We tried to find a balance between the very rock-oriented Killers, RHCP, and Arcade Fire with other artists like Beirut or Antony and the Johnsons.
All of these songs we choose are ones that I've definitely been a fan of at a point in my life, some more recently than others. We also made the album under unusual circumstances, working for three months in the fall of 2008, and then finishing it in the early summer of 2009 after I took a half-year of travel. Coming back to the album, I definitely had new artists in mind I wanted to incorporate and my tastes had migrated as many people's do in six months.
Macklemore credits you with helping him to expand his musical tastes. Talk about that. How did you approach helping him grow in this way?
That makes sense. Between his girlfriend Tricia and I, [Macklemore] gets a heavy dose of random music thrown at him regularly. I think his heart will always reside in the world of hip-hop, but his openness to try new things allowed me to be myself. Having a willingness to experiment I think egged on some of the best tracks we came up with.
There are long sequences of only instrumentation. Why did you decide to do this? What effect were you going for?
Over-doing the instrumentals is just my instinct for better or worse. Sometimes, a listener might want to hear a song keep going or appreciate a well thought-out intro, sometimes they won't. I'm working on simplifying my end of things when I work with vocalists as I tend to over-produce, but that's just the way I am. Sometimes I have too many ideas to be going on at once, so you need to put them at the end.
How do you think your aesthetic choices changed the way Macklemore writes lyrics?
That's a tough one to answer. A lot of these tracks [Macklemore] recorded when they were bare bones and I added pieces after I had an idea of what his verses were looking like. I think the core sample choices were able to pull a lot of out of him and that's ultimately what made this project interesting. You have classic RHCP with [Macklemore] story of addiction. You have Antony and the Johnson's "Another World" driving a metaphorical song about [Macklemore's] experience with music. I think [Macklemore] had a lot of serious things he wanted to say, and that could be the reason why the instrumentals we choose are emotional.
Describe your working process. How does a song get made?
I think one's creative process always changes depending on whom you're working with. My first album I put out (Symmetry and Ryan Lewis, which you can stream at Myspace.com/RyanLewisMusic) was an entirely different process than this one. I think you grow a ton having to blend your creative process with someone else's. It requires a lot of patience and good communication.