Playing for Ws: Ryan Lewis and Macklemore

Catching Ryan Lewis to chat about his busy schedule isn't easy given his...well, busy schedule. After 130 shows last year alone, the DJ–producer who's one-half of the Macklemore madness (just don't call him a rapper, Wikipedia) is well versed in the art of travel. Last week, he was a surprise guest at the Sasquatch! launch party in Seattle; this week, he's doing shows up and down the east coast of Australia. All the while, he's making the music behind Macklemore's raps, plus mixing, creating music videos/show posters/album art, and even driving all night in between shows.

We tracked down Lewis last month, before The Heist tour left for Australia, to talk about their touring days, from time spent in hostels and haunted hotels to playing no. 1 singles for Ellen DeGeneres.

Are you happy with the tour experience, or is it kind of grueling?

That was our third or fourth U.S. tour—and obviously we have international dates, too—but before that, our first few tours started off in a car. Then went to a 15-passenger van, and then went to what's called a sprinter, which is sort of like a bigger blown-up size of a 15-passenger van that you can stand in and shit. This was the first tour that we actually had a tour bus, so that made a world of difference just being able to be on a normal sleep schedule. When you're driving your own shit, or trying to sleep in cars, oftentimes you'll play the show and then you'll drive anywhere from two to three to four hours to 14 hours the next day or throughout the night. And you're the person driving. So to be in a tour bus where you can play a show, get in your bunk, go to sleep, wake up, you're in the next city, is a luxury. 

How much do you travel between shows now?

You fly in the day of the show, you play it, you fly out the next morning. Or you have three college shows back to back and you leave on a Thursday and get back on a Sunday, so it's a lot of just bouncing around on airplanes. I think being independent, and financing our own shit—it's all of our own business. I think we've chosen to do all of that flying as affordably as possible. I think oftentimes artists get signed and they get an advance, which is essentially a loan, and then they might invest more in having super comfortable travel, and essentially just put themselves in debt. They're getting to New York City and getting into one of the Cadillac SUVs versus taking a cab, that sort of thing.

Are there any places you're especially excited for?

We're going to Australia and New Zealand, which is kind of crazy for a whole bunch of reasons. I've never been—most of us, I think, have never been to Australia or New Zealand, and it's an incredible place. It's summertime there. We're going to be there for three weeks. And we're bigger there than we are in the U.S. "Thrift Shop" went four times platinum in Australia; it was no. 1 for eight weeks. And crazy enough, it just got replaced by "Same Love" as the no. 1 record in Australia. It's been the same thing in New Zealand—it actually started in New Zealand before it started in Australia and went no. 1 in New Zealand, I think, for over 10 weeks. That was just a mind-fuck in general because we've never been there at all.

Dublin is like a second home … A show in Dublin always ends up being the highlight of a tour. They're some of the craziest shows I've ever played. If you've ever been to Dublin, it has a lot of similarities to Seattle … in terms of size, the environment and the culture. It's different, obviously—it's fucking Ireland—but at the same time I think it's a pretty special place for all of us. I'm pumped for that. I'm excited to do an actual full tour in Canada and to start hitting places that we've never played in Europe toward the fall.

I saw your bit on Ellen, which was awesome. Where did you get that jean jacket you gave her?

It was made by Derek Erdman, who is pretty well known in Seattle. He's done a whole bunch of art for The Stranger and he did art for us. ... He's just super good at the cartoon people type of thing. Ben [Haggerty, aka Macklemore] hit him up and wanted to make a jacket for Ellen's birthday. That's kind of been a thing, for Ben to paint the back of jean jackets. Usually he does them himself, but he had Derek do this one because I don't think we had any time and Derek killed it, which was dope.

Hotel-wise, have you guys had any awful or memorable experiences over the years?

In the beginning we were staying on people's couches. One that comes to mind is we stayed at the Congress Hotel in Chicago. It's a big-ass hotel in Chicago and it's kind of downtown and it's old and it was owned for years by Al Capone. It's legendarily haunted and when we went there we showed up super late at night and got our keys. It has two different towers, and one of the towers, a big portion of it wasn't in operation. We went to the elevators to the wrong tower; we kind of knew it was a haunted hotel, and we went up to what was supposed to be our floor, and all the lights were out. Everything was out. We somehow got separated and people were walking around and Ben got super freaked out and claimed to be seeing a ghost and all this shit. It was fucking hilarious.

Then you have the classic staying-in-more-hostel-ish hotels when we were in Europe. I think the first time  we went to do the U.K., we were all pretty much sleeping in a room together. Then you have the Super 8s and Motel 6s that you're checking for bed bugs in small towns. We've slept in the van. We've done a lot of shows, so it's been a wide variety of experiences.

Do you guys still consider Seattle your home base, then?

Yeah, absolutely.