Two weeks ago, Jane and I met up with Melbourne rapper Ry, at The Little Mule bicycle café. Like any typical musician, he was 45 minutes late (despicable!) but was quickly forgiven because the 86 tram failed him and he ended up running back home to drive into the city. Good on ya! He was also flustered enough to send us a text intended for his girlfriend.
Ah, he’s only human! Apart from his ke-razy antics, he’s mostly known for his modern rap sound, experimentation with other genres, and innovative sampling. With EPs Wall Street and Amnesia under his belt, he was also the winner of the 2013 Triple J Unearthed x NIDA Video Competition. This year, Ry has released “Circles”, the leading single from his upcoming album. Check out the music video, which dropped today, and read our interview where we talk all things music, how retail is the pits, and how bird shit can’t even curb his café obsession.
AF: Why do you not brand yourself to a particular style or sound?
RY: I think it’s because I was raised on a wide variety of music. My dad’s a massive music collector and he would always have compilation tapes in the car when we were driving around. In the past few years when I decided to take the music thing seriously, I thought, “Let’s try to make good songs, not just good raps.” Once I had that mindset, that’s when it all came together. A lot of the producers I work with love different genres, and I don’t only work with hip-hop producers. For instance, they’ll send me a song and it will have the same tempo as a dance song, and we’ll try to channel that. But overall it’s hip-hop/rap, but it’s got a pop or other genre influence.
AF: When did you start rapping and how did you get into it?
RY: I was like any other teenager and I’d be rapping in my bedroom. This was around the time when Eminem was huge, and I guess I just related really well with him. That was also when Hilltop Hoods became big, so I thought, “Oh wow, Australians can actually do this for a living.” I just rapped in my bedroom, did some demos in my dad’s garage and I played with friends. Then high school ended, and I was like “Well this is stupid, let’s go get a job, and make money,” and I did that for four years. But I really wanted to do music again, so I told myself, “If you’re going to do it, do it seriously.” I quit my job, got a crappy part-time job in retail and Triple J ended up playing an early song of mine. There was obviously something there, and it just became a matter of work ethic. When “Ride For Me” came out, that’s when things got momentum.
AF: Where did you work during those four years?
RY: It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but it was IT. I had the proper corporate job—the suit and tie everyday—and it was just not me. I thought, “Oh you’ll get used to it,” but the more I’d listen to music, the more I didn’t want to be in that job. You know, you’re only young once.
AF What usually inspires your lyrics?
RY: I usually go with the feel of the song. It sounds weird. I hear a song and some things come to me, some don’t. Or I hear a beat and when one does click, that’s when I start humming away. In terms of lyrics, I just see what kind of mood it puts me in. Something I’ve been channelling a lot lately are those glory years from high school, and that unstoppable sort of feeling you had. Sometimes songs just work out. “The Breakdown” happened in 10 minutes. Other songs take a few days to figure out, like “Amnesia”. Sometimes I have specific things I want to talk about like in “Local Hero” or “Cigars”.
AF: In “Cigars”, there were lyrics about basketball, family, and struggling with money. Were they personal references?
RY: That was about my upbringing. I just had parents who worked a lot, and there was never really much. My sister got accepted into a really nice school, and I just got in because she was the smart one. Everyday I was surrounded by these really wealthy suburban kids and I was the one that had the shitty school shoes and the hand-me-down blazer. Now it kind of writes itself out, but at the time it was so frustrating. I was also playing a lot of basketball and I thought that was my ticket out. I wanted to make it to the NBA. I don’t know why—I think the people closest to me told me I could do it. The funny thing about “Cigars” is that when I got cut from that basketball team, that was the start of my rap dream. A blessing in disguise I guess.
AF: Of all your songs, which one is your favourite?
RY: “Amnesia”. It didn’t happen overnight and I remember the weekend I wrote it. “Amnesia” was just the perfect song that I could make at the time. I was in a bit of a recording slump and it just kind of happened. It was like the light at the end of the tunnel. Now when the producer, Hamley, and I listen to it, we’re just like “Oh man, this is exactly what we wanted.” It’s about frustration and believing in something that no one else believes in. It’s got a solid chorus and I like that modern rap sound it has. I was gutted when no one really loved it as much as I did. I thought that was the song that was going to take me to the moon but it ended up being “The Breakdown” instead. And that’s cool, that’s fine! But “Amnesia” was my baby. I should have done a video for it, I can’t believe I didn’t. We had an idea for it, which was really cool, but the guy who was going to do it was overseas, and it just didn’t work out. When “The Breakdown” took off, I had to get a video up for that. But I had a really cool idea for “Amnesia”. I might use it again sometime, so I don’t want to say it!
AF: Why did you name your debut EP Wall Street?
RY: It was just a metaphor for making it overseas. New York is the home of everything I love—rap, basketball, fashion, art—it’s the centre of the world. I think Wall Street written looks really cool aesthetically. And the movie is about a lower class kid trying to make it with the big dogs, and I’m kind of an underdog in the rap world. I don’t actually reference the stock market whatsoever! That threw people off a bit, but I was like “Fuck it, I like it, and that’s what I’m going to roll with.”
AF: Your music has received airplay on the USA College Radio Circuit. Do you have a big fan base over there?
RY: Nah, not really, I wish I did [laughs]! Years ago, I just emailed blogs and reached out to as many community college radio stations as I could. I think that’s something that no one in Australia has tried, and I think a lot of American college kids would like Australian music.
AF: You travelled to the USA in November to film the music video for “Good Morning”. How was that?
RY: To be honest, I was just in New York for a holiday, but I thought it would be stupid not to shoot a video. I got a message from these Australian guys saying “We’ve got our cameras here and we’d love to shoot a video with you.” We chose a day to shoot it, got up really early and filmed around Brooklyn and Coney Island. It was pretty testing, lugging all this stuff around, riding the subway with all this expensive equipment and I didn’t have insurance or anything. I edited the clip myself, and it took me a month to do it. As I was editing, I just kept on showing it to different people and refining it. I’m no video editor.
AF: Would you be able to give me a rundown of your tour history and what your future plans are?
RY: Last year I supported Spit Syndicate, Jackie Onassis, Allday and Joyride in Melbourne. This year, I’ve just decided that I want to record and release music until something bigger arises. I don’t want that to come off as snobby or anything, but I just released “Circles” and that’s going really well. I just want to watch how things happen organically. Once I did six shows in a month, and it was great because you get experience, but I’ve got that now, and I just want to see where my singles take me.
AF: Do you prefer writing and recording to live gigs?
RY: I do, but I think that’s mainly because of where I’m at now. If I was playing festivals in front of hundreds of people, I’d probably love playing shows, but right now, some shows are a bit of a gamble. I played a show one night, and there was this huge hip-hop act playing at another venue, on the same night.
AF: Which festivals would you love to play at?
AF: Where do you work part-time?
RY: I’m in IT still. I was in retail but I left because it was horrible. It’s the pits! You know what, I read a quote and it said, “You should always treat hospitality or retail workers with as much respect as possible, because it’s the closest thing you’ll get to being treated like a king.” It’s so true! You get the worst sorts. Once I served a really famous musician, and I said, “I’m a really big fan!” and he just didn’t care. You know, “Shut up and check my item out.” I was working at Apple, so I got to meet creative people and it was funny because we were all in the same struggle, but it just took its toll. You work every weekend and on public holidays. Now I have a part-time IT job at St Vincent’s Hospital, but every other minute is dedicated to music.
AF: Tell me about the clothing label you run with your girlfriend.
RY: I’m glad you asked! No one ever asks and I want to talk about it. Our label is called RYWS. Long story short, it started off as merch for my Wall Street EP. So that’s why it’s called RYWS—Ry Wall Street. My girlfriend’s a designer so we just decided to make it our own label. We just ran with it and it took off. Some well-known fashion blogs and Instagrams posted themselves wearing our tee. They loved that first tee we did in America, and it sold enough to get us going. We’ve done another tee since then, and it just keeps rolling. Instead of sitting at home and watching a movie, that’s when we’ll do it. It’s not something I do when I’m doing music or while she’s working, but it’s there and we enjoy it. She’s always yelling at me because I forget to do stuff though!
AF: Describe the RYWS look.
RY: We take premium fashion brands like Céline, Givenchy or Marc Jacobs and we mesh it up and put it on an affordable tee that still looks classy and expensive, but is just a little bit different. I see Australian rappers and the way they dress and I just don’t get it. I don’t mean that in an “I’m better than you” way, but if I had the budget that some of these guys have, I would have a stylist. Correct me if I’m wrong, but hip-hop superstars have always been fashion icons. I’m not just talking about Kanye. Even N.W.A—they changed the way people dressed, even in Australia. I feel like more rappers should do that. I’m not saying that to be mean, but that’s why I like running the label with my girlfriend. It’s a different creative outlet, and people can link back to my music. “An Australian rapper who makes ok clothes? That’s cool.”
AF: You’re planning on releasing an album later this year. How will it differ from your previous work?
RY: You’re going to be the first to hear this, because I’ve only been thinking about it recently. I want to have a story running throughout it. My first album is so sacred and as I was saying before, I channelled those high school glory days into the songs. I think that’s when I was most carefree. So I think my new album will be along those lines. So far it’s just me and the same producer, Hamley, who mixed “The Breakdown” and “Amnesia”. But we’ll reach out to other producers, and hopefully get a good body of work.
AF: Why did you make Wall Street and Amnesia available for free download on Bandcamp?
RY: I just wanted to get those EPs out there and let people absorb it up. “Circles” was the first song that I put out and asked people to buy. I’ll still be putting out free promo songs here and there on Soundcloud, but any single that I release now will be on iTunes. It’s not because I want to make money off of it though. I’ve just realised that the industry takes you a bit more seriously when they see you selling your songs. I’ve probably spent $10,000 on Amnesia, Wall Street, and all of the video clips combined. So they were my investment, and now it’s time to start getting a return. I remember there was a meme that said “You pay $3.50 for a coffee at Starbucks and an artist pays $1000 to master a song, and charges you $1 to buy the single. Don’t illegally download.” First of all, I always illegally download music. But secondly, that’s why we charge for it. It’s the most expensive form of art to produce. It’s crazy.
AF: Who are your musical influences?
RY: Kanye. That’s a given for anyone. In terms of crossover from rap to pop music, Drake because he’s the best at it. For rap, Jay Z because he’s the god and a culture icon. Him and Beyoncé are just murdering everyone right now. I was raised on The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen though, who I actually just saw live! It was amazing. He’s like 60 years old, and he played for three and a half hours with no interval and only a few drink breaks here and there. He just killed it. He is a straight up performer, there’s no denying it. I also love what Justin Timberlake is doing. If you look at him in ‘N SYNC, you’d think “There’s no way this guy is going to be the next big thing.” He’s pretty much the white Michael Jackson. And Pharrell is the last one. That’s a whole encyclopaedia of artists for you! Locally, how dope is Remi? I will go on the record for this, he is the best live performer in Australian rap. He is just super nice, comes from a breakdancing background, and he just works the crowd. He can move. Girls are just in a trance. He has that André 3000 thing about him. I opened with him last year, and I thought, “Fuck! I need to lift my game.”
AF: What’s your favourite Melbourne hangout?
RY: I’m a café person. I used to be against cafes but when I went overseas, I realised I couldn’t get a good coffee anywhere. And I work with coffee enthusiasts. I used to call them coffee wankers, but I call them coffee enthusiasts now. They’re next level. They educate me and now I understand it. Near my house there’s this café called Mina-no-ie, just off Smith Street. It has a gallery in it, it’s Japanese influenced, and they do coffee. That’s where I go with my girlfriend on the weekend, that’s our thing. There are heaps of places that I love for coffee, but I hate the crowds! I had the biggest nightmare last weekend. I wanted to try this new café and it was packed on a Monday morning. They told us it was going to be a 20-minute wait, and we said “Cool, we’ll wait out the front.” 15 minutes later, a bird shits directly on my head. I go back to the car and clean myself off, but that bird just nailed it. When I come back we still have to wait, and it ended up being half an hour. They finally seat us but it took an hour for the food to come out. It was a new café, and I really wanted it to work out, but I’ll let them go this time.
Hometown: Melbourne, Australia.
Latest single: “Circles”, released 28 March, 2014.
Sounds like: Allday, Hilltop Hoods, Remi.
Say what? “I can only reverse parallel park when there is no one else in the car. I can’t handle the pressure of other people observing me. If my girlfriend is in the car, there’s a 50% chance it will happen. Depending on what mood I’m in.”
Ciao ciao, Arianna