Macklemore and Ryan Lewis interview

We talk to (one-half-of) world-conquering rap duo ahead of Abu Dhabi gig

Interview

Put your hands up for the world’s hottest hip hop duo... Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are in town, and they’re set to bring their infectious energy and Grammy-grabbing talent to Du Arena later this month. Caitlyn Davey catches up with behind-the-scenes mastermind Ryan Lewis.

Only got 20 dollars in your pocket? Then you’d better find some more cash immediately, because you’ll be needing tickets to see Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on April 25 at Yas Island’s Du Arena.

The hip hop sensations have just finished one of 2013’s biggest world tours and, not ready to settle with the four Grammys they won in January, they are now back in the recording studio before they come to visit Abu Dhabi.

The duo met in 2006, when Ryan sent Macklemore (aka Ben Haggerty) a mix via MySpace. Three years in the making, their record-breaking album The Heist is still ruling the charts worldwide following its release in 2012.

Widely acknowledged for their alternative hip hop messages, the duo gained particular recognition for their music about equality. Following the success of singles Can’t Hold Us (released August 16, 2011) and Same Love (released July 18, 2012), on October 9, 2012, The Heist went to number one on iTunes within hours of being released, making it one of the most successful independently produced albums of all time.

Despite turning only 26 last month, Ryan has many strings to his bow: producing (both music and video), DJing and, recently, modelling. TOAD talked to him about life as an international star and his upcoming trip to Abu Dhabi.

You’ve completed your 2013 sell-out tour, and your 2014 dates have been announced. What are you doing in the interim?
We have some downtime, so we are in the studio up until we come to Abu Dhabi. We just finished the Australian-Asian tour and we are enjoying being home now for a little bit.

Your break isn’t very long. Are you tired of all the touring yet?
I guess a little bit. I don’t get sick of playing shows and I absolutely don’t get sick of visiting new locations or places that I already know and love; but it is exhausting... I mean, there’s just no two ways about that. Since the album came out, we have played well over 300 shows, and that routine of playing a show every single day can get really intense – as producer, that affects me.

So, have you been to the UAE before?
I have never been, no – and I am so excited. I have no idea what to expect but I have heard you can do pretty much anything, from indoor snowboarding to test-driving Ferrari and Lamborghini race cars, so I am excited about that. I’ve heard it’s a bit nuts – in a good way! I want to do everything. I am ready to do crazy stuff, whatever’s going.

You are a man of many talents: you’re a music producer, a DJ, a music video director, and now a model for Buffalo Jeans. What’s your favourite role?
[Laughs] I definitely wouldn’t call myself a model. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be producing, for sure – a toss-up between making records and directing music videos.

You produced The Heist, directed Thrift Shop, Same Love and Can’t Hold Us, you design promotional graphics, and you do audio engineering. It sounds like you prefer working behind the scenes rather than taking centre stage...

I think I am better at working behind the scenes than I am at being the frontman. That’s the best thing – because I think Ben is one of the best frontmen around right now. He’s a phenomenal performer
and has an enormous stage presence, so I let him be him. I am most useful when I’m putting all the little pieces together in the background. It works well like that.

Do you think Macklemore gets an unfair share of the attention because he’s the frontman?
Not really, no. I mean, if people are going to ask about the songs, then a lot of the songs are about his life, so, you know… He’s like my brother – I see him every single day and I am used to talking about him.

You write the music together and The Heist took three years to complete. Do you have a set routine for making music together or does it just depend on the song you’re working on?
It varies, for sure. Take The Heist – I think around half of the tracks were beats Ben composed and then wrote lyrics to; the other half are lyrics he came up with and that I made the music to, so it went both ways for that album, and still does.

You’re back in the studio recording again, so what does the future hold for you?
Good question – one of the great decisions we made with the last album was to take our time. We spent a total of three years on it – and again, with this next one, we’ll take as long as we need to, and work really hard to get it right. But right now we are just trying to ease our way back into the routine. When you’re out of the studio for a year and a half, you have to readjust and get back into it slowly.

In 2012, you said you hadn’t had that ‘I’ve made it’ feeling or a career-defining moment. Two years on, how do you feel about that?
Yes I have had it now, probably a few times last year. Sometimes, when you’re constantly moving, it’s hard to stop and acknowledge how crazy things really are. I have had the ‘We made it’ feeling, or whatever that feeling is exactly, multiple times, and it’s always been when we have had the time to stop and process what’s really happening.
See Ryan Lewis and Macklemore play their biggest hits, including tracks from The Heist, on April 25. Tickets on sale now – visit www.ticketmaster.ae.

The Macklemore & Ryan Lewis hardware collection

• Nominated for seven Grammys in 2014, and won four – including best rap album, best new artist, best rap performance and best rap song

• The Heist went platinum six times in Australia

• Can’t Hold Us was the most streamed song on Spotify in 2013

• Thrift Shop was the first song since 1994 to go to Billboard number one without the support of a major record label

• Won best new act at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2013

• Thrift Shop won the largest music poll in the world, Australian Hottest 100 Triple J Music award in 2012

• The Thrift Shop video has clocked over 500 million views on YouTube

TOAD: If you were a superhero, who would you be?
Ryan Lewis: Batman. He’s the best superhero – it’s undeniable. From the Batmobile and the Batcave to the outfit, the Bruce Wayne persona and all the cool toys... Yeah, I would be Batman.

@RyanLewis tweeted:
I appreciate all the birthday wishes! Feels amazing to be home after one of the best tours we’ve had these past few years. Many places that I want to go back to. For now, it’s time to make this next album :) Love y’all.

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