Macklemore & Ryan Lewis hit the streets of Dallas on Wednesday, November 30th when he came to town to perform at Trees. They also made some time to come visit RadioUTD at the studio for an interview. I could sit here and tell you a bit more about who they are but I will let the transcript do all the talking.
First of all, for those who don’t know Macklemore who is Macklemore?
Macklemore: Macklemore is me. Me is Ben Haggerty.
And what does he do?
Macklemore: Raps really hard. All the time.
And Ryan Lewis?
Ryan: Ryan Lewis is me. Me is Ryan Lewis.
And what does he do?
Ryan: I am a producer. I produce really hard beats all the time.
Macklemore: Everything that we do is hard.
I’ve always wondered why I see the name Macklemore and then I see the name Ryan Lewis under it but I never see the person Ryan Lewis. Who is Ryan Lewis. So how did you guys become “Macklemore & Ryan Lewis” because it seems like your names are synonymous now?
Macklemore: First of all, a very easy way to differentiate the two of us is that Ryan Lewis has a beard and the beard is very on point. Like shaved, groomed and like a lot of people have beards but it’s real spotty. And I remember we were talking about it around six, seven, or eight months ago and Ryan was like maybe I should grow a beard. He had a goatee for a long time and we didn’t know how it would look and now it’s one of the best beards in the rap game behind Freeway and Brother Ali. So we met on myspace about six years ago and he had a beat that I liked. So I hit him up about it or he hit me up about pictures or something, he was a photographer at the time and we connected. We became friends and years later we kept in touch the whole time as a friendship and then we eventually began working on an EP which was the VS. Ep which we put out a couple of years ago.
So to get all the basic questions out of the way, who were your role models growing regardless if they were an artist or not, who did you look up to?
Ryan: I grew up listening to, well of course you have your parent’s collection which is strongly influences what you listen to as a kid. You have no choice. You have to listen to whatever they’re bumpin. I grew up with what they listened to a lot. And a lot of rock and I loved heavy rock from a very very early age. Which kind of transformed into even heavier rock and metal when I was probably 12 to 15.
Ryan: Anyway, I think that when you’re younger that if you’re into music and music is your passion, you’re pretty devout to very specific things and everything else sucks for a period of time when you’re a teenager. And around that time, my interests opened up and I started listening to a wide variety of genres which is when I started producing.
What about now? As you’re selling out shows all over the country and even overseas, I would say you are successful, do you still look up to other artists even now as you did when you were kids?
Macklemore: Yea I still want to be Lil’ Wayne. For sure.
What about you as a producer?
Ryan: I’m heavily influenced by Kanye West in terms of hip hop. I listen to a lot of different music and I would not consider myself a hip-hop head so I don’t think I have that hip-hop icon that I’ve wanted to be forever. But in terms of hip-hop production, Kanye is probably the biggest influence.
Macklemore: You just look up to people that you respect, people that have influenced your music and the way that you have perceived art. I definitely have those people and Kanye is definitely one of them. Wayne is one of them. People that you look up to their talent and inspire you on a frequent basis.
How old were you when you started making beats?
Ryan: Well I started playing in a band when I was eleven or twelve and then I got into making beats when I was sixteen. Yeah and then I think you have that first amount of time where you’re telling everyone that you’re kind of messing around and then at some point you gotta be like no this is dope and I make beats. I’m a producer. You have to own the title and I was sixteen or seventeen when I decided I was a producer.
And you were around fourteen when you started rapping and you put out your first mixtape around sixteen or seventeen.
Macklemore: Yeah well it was as part of a group around probably at fifteen or sixteen and I put out my first solo record when I was seventeen.
Well fourteen, fifteen, sixteen is a young age to be a rapper and I imagine some people didn’t take you completely seriously. So how do you move up from being looked at as just some young dope kid rapper?
Macklemore: Well I wasn’t a dope rapper so that was very easy. I think it was a different time period. I started rapping right around when Eminem came out but Eminem wasn’t even a household name at all. So Eminem came out and seriously got on when I was about sixteen. So it was different. The fact that I was white rapping was not as accepted back then. Also this was when the internet started popping up and it was not in every house. So it was just a different time in general and the Seattle hip-hop scene where I grew up was small. It was only a couple of hundred people that were really creating art in the city. So it wasn’t what it is now and there wasn’t really a fan base in Seattle to win over in the first place. There were a lot of different elements that contributed to the scene back then.
Alright, well just by looking at y’all I can tell that you have sense of style. Right now you (Macklemore) have a leather jacket with fringes on and in your music video ‘And We Danced’ you wore a gold leotard and all of that craziness.
Macklemore: Whenever it’s acceptable I try to go naked and I just try to live this life to the fullest. And clothes bore me so I try to excite myself. I try to really have fun with how I dress and be as unconventional as possible. But then again you might see me in a suit… It’s navy. (laughs) So I’m all over the board and I don’t like to be predictable.
Ryan: I’m more predictable for sure. You can find me in a conventional jacket of some type with a hoody underneath.
(Macklemore proceeds to clown Ryan’s purple “Bieber” hoody. To be honest, I was thinking the same thing when I saw it. )
So what do you think about the sneaker game? Because ‘Wings’ was practically all about Jordans but are you a sneaker head?
Macklemore: I love sneakers. I am a sneaker head. But I also am somebody that likes to examine why I am doing what I am doing. I like to break it down. I like to scrutinize my own actions and I think that a lot of times when you get to the root of certain purchases, and particularly purchases of excess, like having a closet full of sneakers, there are a lot of ways in which you can perceive why you are doing what you are doing. Like who am I trying to appease? When did this start? And how does this give me an identity? And with ‘Wings’ those were kind of the issues. The perspective that I wanted to hit was really from childhood where this icon, this person, that was a huge role model for me and really sold me on these very expensive sneakers that completely made you either cool or wack on the playground depending on if you had them or not. So I try in the song “Wings’ to really break that down from the point of being seven years old up until the present and still being emerged in the culture and still really loving sneaker culture but also seeing opposite side of it.
One more style question, here at RadioUTD a couple of us are big David Bowie fans and you have that David Bowie jacket and I just wanted ask you what’s the story behind that? And you lost that a while back at a concert.
Macklemore: We got that back.
Ryan: We tracked it down in the middle of the night.
Macklemore: That was a sad moment for a couple of hours but we had faith that we were going to get that back. It was a small enough school that someone was bound to snitch. And somebody did. No snitching unless you’re snitching on the person that stole my jacket. Then street code is broken and it’s fine.
What’s the story behind the jacket?
Macklemore: It was the summertime. It was 2010 and it was a hot day in the middle of July during the world cup and I was bored. I believe I went to the store and bought some red velvet cake. They had these pre-mad red velvet cake slices at this store in Seattle called QFC and I went there and got this cake and I was upstairs in the crafts section and I saw some paint. I thought about my jacket that I had. It was just this canvas. This open canvas. This blank slate. And I thought what if I painted something on the back of that jacket? And then I thought, who could I paint? And a lot of people came up. Bryant Gumbel. Shout out to Bryant. Katie Couric definitely came up. Wilt Chamberlain. And Martha Stewart. And I ended up not going with any of those people. I ended up going with the legend. The man from ‘The Labyrinth’. David. Bowie. It took me about three days. I’m a big fan of fringe so I ended up taking some fringe from another jacket. Got some glue and pasted those on. I made the jacket and it’s been part of our show ever since. It’s a very personal piece to me.
Macklemore: I like to be as diverse as possible. I think the humorous side and the serious side are both elements of my personality. It’s what makes me who I am and if I was to neglect either one of those sides and just focus on one of them, it wouldn’t be the full spectrum of my personality. So I try to be as real as possible on record and be genuine and truthful to who I am. There are times where I want to put on a gold onesie and a mullet wig and go out and have hell of a time and dance and there are times where I want to really delve into who I am as a person and do some soul searching on a piece of paper and that gets put into a piece of music. There is a wide spectrum of records I have made in my life and a lot of them have been character records. The majority have been serious. Some have been in between and I think that’s what brings diversity and that’s what brings a wider range of topics. Because there is only so much you can rap about. If I was only rapping about super serious things all of the time then that would alienate a huge potential portion of the fan base. So this way, people that might get introduced to ‘And We Danced’ and that’s the first thing that they hear, then they might hear a song like ‘Wings’ or “Vipassana’ or ‘White Privilege’ and get hip to something that they might not have necessarily heard in the first place.
Well let’s talk about the explosion of your fan base. Obviously when you guys were less popular, you had a much smaller crowd at gigs.
Macklemore: Yeah that sucked.
Well that pretty much answered my question but some artists prefer that intimacy and feel like they could more with these smaller crowds rather than these big sold out shows.
Ryan: I think when you first start that you have a small show because not many people are aware of your music. Whereas now we will still hit spots where we’re playing smaller shows but you’ll have a room of a smaller amount of people that are still very aware of your content so it becomes intimate. There is such a wide variety of audiences that you can play for. You can play 1500 super drunk people that are there for ‘Irish Celebration’ and ‘And We Danced’ and they’re going to wild out but not be very attentive. Or you can play for a crowd that is able to be silent and then be able to be crazy five minutes later. I still enjoy playing smaller and more intimate shows. They are just a very different experience from a larger show. I think back when we first started, you are just working as hard as you can to throw the best show that you can when these shows are just a bit smaller.
Macklemore: For me, I grew up playing small shows for more than half of my career. It’s what makes somebody a good performer. If it wasn’t for me playing in front of crowds of 15, 20, or 30 people or opening for somebody where the fans are not there to see me, it wouldn’t have given me that experience. That’s where a lot of my greatest in-betweens and banter with the crowd come from, where nobody at the show is listening and you have to win over an audience. So if you learn that, and it took me a long time to learn that because it’s uncomfortable and it’s awkward and people aren’t necessarily there to hear you but it’s an artist’s greatest resource to be an in front of a crowd like that and taking that as the fan base grows. You will not only have an appreciation for the fans that you do have and have accumulated on the path but you also the wear in terms of dealing with the crowd. So when you get in front of 1,500 people or 5,000 people or 10,000 people, you can create a space that is hopefully as intimate as playing in front of a group of 50 people. It’s challenging to do but unless you actually have that experience, it’s almost impossible to recreate that energy.
For your fans, are you guys working on a new album?
Do you have an approximate time when that will come out?
Macklemore: We’re shooting to have it out in spring.
I have two questions from the fans.
First of all, what do you think about the World Series this year?
(At this point they start chuckling.)
I know in ‘My Oh My’ you were wearing the Mariners jersey the entire time so I assume that you watch baseball.
Ryan: I’m going to let Ben take this one.
Macklemore: The World Series this year was great.
The last question from the fans is, when starting out did you ever compromise your style when making creative decisions or decisions in general in order to do what you love?
Ryan: Absolutely not.
Macklemore: I think that you’re pushed in different directions a little bit. It’s up to you if you want to move and if you want to budge. People are always going to say this might sound good and there are outside perspectives that can shift your creative decisions. I think the best artists are those that are willing to push themselves but not be pushed because someone else tells them that is what they should be doing.
Ryan: When I hear a word like “compromise’, I think of you taking your creative process or you taking the art that you intended and changing that into something that you didn’t intend or didn’t want or something that you aren’t entirely proud of. I think that for us I would say “no” we absolutely haven’t compromised. As your team grows and you get bigger, more and more people get included, but I think that for us what we value and what has always been important is that each one of those people that ends up influencing the art that you make, the shows that you play, the direction that you go are people that are not compromising what you take pride in they’re people that are helping you shape something that can be the best it can be.
What are some musical suggestions you would like to give people from UTD in terms of underground sound?
Ryan: I don’t know.
Macklemore: Well thanks for having us to your awesome school, I like your vibe.
Thank you guys.
Macklemore & Ryan: Thank you, you’re awesome