Interview with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis


On the last day of the Sasquatch! Music Festival, I had to opportunity to sit down with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, a hip-hop duo originating from Seattle. The following is an excerpt form our conversation.

Neil: So a lot of what you guys do is really centralized on the Northwest. Could you just speak a little bit about what it’s been like cultivating a fan base really strongly in the Northwest?

Macklemore: Um, I mean, for me, I grew up here. Here being Seattle, Washington. I’m extremely proud of our community and our city, and I watched a lot of people for a long time make records and look at different regions, like “Oh man, if we were just in Atlanta, or New York, or L.A. we’d be on, or whatever.” And I watched what the Blue Scholars did in Seattle, and what, you know, cultivating a fan base here, because they made music about here, and i watched that, and i was always doing that myself, but I watched that be successful, so I think that, I wanna put on for our city, and expose the world to how dope the music is, and how dope the scene is, and the best way to do that is to be honest and speak the truth about where we’re from, and thats why I make songs about Seattle.

Neil: So, Ryan, you haven’t always worked with Macklemore, right?

Ryan Lewis: Yeah, I haven’t..

Macklemore: Yeah, that’s fucked up (laughter)

Ryan: No, I would say, we met probably about five years ago, and the beginning of our relationship was based a lot around photography, I was doing a lot of Seattle hip-hop photography, and a little of beats, I think we first met initially from a beat, um, but yeah i worked with an artist out of Rhode Island called Symmetry

Macklemore: What up Sym!

Ryan Lewis: And then I worked with Budo…but I think that finding the right collaboration is a challenge. It’s so much bigger than making a good record. If you’re really doing this, you’re going to festivals, you’re playing shows, you know, its a day to day job. There’s just way more variables than just getting in the booth. So to find that partnership, that clicks and you guys have a similar vision, and value similar things like community.

Neil: Alright, so the hip-hop industry has exploded in the last ten or twenty years. It seems like a lot of people are making music, and there’s MC’s out there doing there own thing, and then there’s people like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the Blue Scholars with Sabzi and Geo, Curren$y just did a thing with The Alchemist. Do you guys find it a little more powerful, or… how is it different being an MC on your own versus having a dedicated producer for a record, or for an extended period of time.

Macklemore: Yeah, I’ve done both, and to have somebody who is really your creative partner that you can share ideas with, and concepts, and think about how the graphics will look, and what this font is…you know, we really do all of it together, in terms of what you see, and what the finished product is, so to me I’ve always respected Ryan, not only his music, but his eye as well, in terms of what he, you know…he has a certain standard that he holds his art at, and I think that I have a similar standard, and I don’t work on a level of like “yo, let’s make a mixture this weekend” you know, I want to make music that’s going to last forever, and I think that Ryan is the same, and we’re both perfectionists, we’re probably perfectionists to a fault, but I think that in the end, it contributes to music that will hopefully last forever.

Neil: So do you guys have plans together specifically for the future?

Macklemore: Yeah, we’re gonna do a full length record, we’re working on that now. This is the last festival for a little while, and we’re going into the studio, um..

Ryan: Which I’m just excited for, like the Versus EP is the really the only the packaged music piece that we put out, and it was based around a concept you know, sampling relatively newer independent music, and now the door is wide open to do whatever we want with the full length record, and we really haven’t had that opportunity in the past. Yeah, it’s gonna be good

Neil: You guys are technically unsigned right now, right?

Macklemore: Sony doesn’t want us to talk, but we just signed a million dollar deal-

Ryan: Three mil!

Macklemore: in conjunction with Kreayshawn. Nah just kidding, just kidding. We’re completely independent, we do it all ourselves, and

Ryan: We have a team though, there’s no question. This man right here (points to manager Zach Quillen) does pretty much booking, management juggling, wears awesome hats…

Macklemore: Yeah, we have a team of great people

Neil: Real quickly, before we end, it seems like the music industry has taken a drastic shift from being almost completely owned by record labels to being almost completely owned by music blogs. Do you think its easier now for artists that may have not had the chance in the past, to succeed now?

Ryan: Yes and no. I think that there’s an open door to market yourself, and the the resources, and the social networking, and I think that everybody is doing that, and so now its an over saturated pool to jump into. So its a much more do-it-yourself formula, and you can access people easier, but you’re also competing with way more people, as opposed to thirty years ago when there were like, twenty artists on one label and they were all getting the maximum shine

Neil: So how do you succeed?

Macklemore: Make good music. Make good music, and…and…give it to the gods. And hope that the gods give it to the people. But giving it to the gods is difficult. Getting it to the internet and getting the right people to blog it, and getting the right people to follow you and everything is tough. and It takes time. Its taken us…we really started trying to market our music a year and a half ago, and it took a good six months, and then nine months, and you see different waves of people catching onto it, so it started in Seattle, in the Northwest, and then it moved down the coast, and now we’re doing markets like New York, and Boston, and all over the country and having great turnouts, but it took a while. We were talking about it today actually, like a year ago, we were in a very different place, and we have a great team of people behind us, a great booking agent, and we work really hard

Neil: So far artists in the Northwest, or maybe everywhere, what would you say to people that are trying to do the same thing, strike out on their own?

Ryan: I think that what you said earlier in terms of the transformation of the record industry, I think that that is very very understood by artists everywhere, and they’re trying to push themselves, and the mistake is to focus on marketing yourself more than focusing on making good music. And I think that…just focus on making excellent music. And then people will find it. Thats the difference too, is your ability as a listener to find some shit that is completely different.

Dedicated to the hip hop music coming out of Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, Vancouver, and everywhere else in the upper left.