'That’s the whole concept of the project. If there is one,
it’s that everything is up for interpretation'
From their Brooklyn AirBnB, we caught up with Toronto-based, broad strokes collaborative friends, Hudson Alexander and HUSH. The two were tired, kindly squeezing in our exchange between arriving in New York City and performing later that night. Stepping in and out of their flat for soundcheck and calming their nerves with Modelo, there was still somehow nothing but focus, depth, and honesty in their responses and conversation.
The chemistry that’s clear in their music shines equally bright in their underrated ability to discuss their work in-depth. Over the course of 90 minutes we dissected their brand-new album, YOU’RE JUST MISERABLE, and dove deep into its influences, inspirations, and creation.
Give it a listen below and be on the lookout for more from both artists as individuals while they, with the help of their talented friends, continue etching out their own unique corner of the burgeoning Toronto scene.
RNGLDR: Obviously, you’re both here as artists really representing the flourishing Toronto music scene, but you come from very different backgrounds. Can you explain how you ended up Toronto?
Hudson: I’m from Winnipeg. It’s the least interesting answer. Everyone moves from Winnipeg or they stay in Winnipeg and die. Every generation I’ve seen does some sort of migration. When I was young, it was to Montreal. You’d be surprised some of the cool people that are from Winnipeg, have moved away, and have just never talked about it again. Now, everyone is coming to Toronto because if you want to do anything, there’s no space for it back home.
HUSH: I’m originally from South America – Guyana and Brazil equally. After that, I got to Brooklyn and then went to Toronto with the intention of making music and getting into the scene. I looked up to how Toronto had such a different sound. It has a different, dark, eerie vibe to it that attracted me at the time. I started making music, met the right group of people, and have been creating and chilling since.
RNGLDR: That’s a lot of adversity, a lot of distance, and a lot of change.
HUSH: I’m used to being all over the place. I’m not the type of person to sit still unless I’m focused on something in particular, but I’ll probably be in Toronto for a while.
RNGLDR: Toronto has an international population that greatly influences its music scene – predominantly the Caribbean and the Middle East – but being South American seems particularly rare. What kind of influence have your Brazilian and Guyanese roots had on your music. And what kind of influence has Canada had that has merged your influences into what they are today?
HUSH: Oh man. The way I look at sounds has definitely been influenced by Guyana and Brazil because there are so many different sounds that you would probably never hear on this side of the world, that you encounter there. There are so many cultures and so many influences. When I was growing up, we would celebrate aboriginal holidays. We would dress up, listen to folklore, and listen to traditional music. It’s stuff like that that influenced me a lot. Whether it’s visual art or music, the things I’ve seen and heard there inspire me when I get really productive.
Hudson: I love how HUSH’s background makes him open to different textures. A lot of the house music I was into was made up of hand drums, mallet instruments, thumb pianos, and stuff like that. They’re tonal and percussive and you can use them in so many different ways that you can have lots of different rhythms going on. For example, there’s the beat on DOA which has a thumb piano, crazy hand drums, and a bizarre sample. I haven’t met a lot of rappers that would be down to go in on production like that, but HUSH’s background allows him to do it fluidly.
HUSH: Yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time around percussive instruments. Whether it be the local holidays or Hindu holidays, a lot of the songs they’d play in Guyana especially would be heavy on the vocals but heavier on the bongos, the hand drums, the flutes, and very different things like that you wouldn’t here elsewhere in the world.
RNGLDR: So, aside from how you ended up in Toronto, how did you end up making music?
HUSH: I’ve been all over the place with it. It’s been between a lot of things. I only got to Toronto late in 2016. I didn’t start making beats by myself until I was 16 or 17. Before that, I was in a metalcore band with some of my friends where I did scream vocals for them because I couldn’t sing for shit. After that split up, I got into production. I got a laptop and started messing around with different types of beats. I didn’t know what I wanted to make like most people when starting out, but eventually landed on trap and hip-hop and started producing. I did a vocal track a few months before I met Hudson because I wanted to get back to vocals and start rapping, and when I met Hudson, I kicked it off to a full-on vocal project, got more comfortable with my voice, and started working from there.
Hudson: I was in bands and stuff around the same time HUSH. I’ve been playing guitar and writing songs for most of my life. I started some alternative rock bands playing guitar and writing in high school. I would record demos on my computer but eventually joined a band that wasn’t as much my vibe. From there, I started to expand everything on my own. I made beats and more ambient music. When I met Teddy, I transitioned into making beats for rappers and singers. We clicked right away and sparked a lot of inspiration, just like with HUSH and me.
RNGLDR: What is the transition like from doing ambient electronic production on your own to producing with the intent of a lyricist or a vocalist overtop?
Hudson: A lot of music that I was doing recently did have some sort of vocals on it, whether it be samples or background vocals to fill up space. But, it was definitely a weird transition from making a beat that would work without organic vocals to making something that had enough space for someone to do their own thing. Having Teddy, HUSH, and all the artists I’ve been working with recently has been an awesome process learning what they do – finding out what works and what doesn’t. I definitely wouldn’t be able to do that for other artists I’m not close with, but because we’re friends, it felt pretty natural. It was really hands-on to find that sweet spot between something I make being too minimal or something being too much me and not enough space for anyone else.
HUSH: It’s definitely in the chemistry.
RNGLDR: Let’s Talk about the project, YOU’RE JUST MISERABLE. Are you excited? Nervous?
HUSH: I’m excited. Kind of nervous about the reception, but I try not to worry about that too much. I’m definitely excited about hearing what people think and seeing how it goes around.
Hudson: I’m really excited. It’s the first time I’ve done something I can call an album in legitimate capacity, so it’s nice to have that and be confident about it. But, releasing music is weird. It’s so much fun to listen to songs you love on your own before you know what people think of them. Once you put it out there… once you hear how people feel about something… you risk changing how you feel about the song. For the most part, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m proud us.
RNGLDR: We’ve heard it, and it is definitely an interesting project. Music like this wasn’t being made a decade, or even a half-decade ago. Hip-hop was a less-exact science back then and producers and lyricists were rarely so form-fitting of one another. Now, producers are electronic artists – composers – that don’t necessarily require the aid of a talented frontman to get the party going, and oftentimes frontmen are also talented producers themselves. If you have a guess or a theory, what changed between the DJ Khaled-produced, T-Pain on-the-hook, 9-feature mega-collaboration and the modern scene that sees a detail-oriented, musically-precise collaboration between skilled, transcendental, experimental producers and lyricists?
HUSH: People started realizing that a lot of good music came from something more than a money connection. And they realized that chemistry is very important between producer and rapper, and even with themselves. You have to have a good chemistry with yourself and an understanding of your own creative process or you can end up faltering and not going anywhere at all, losing trust with yourself in the process.
As far as what changed, a lot of people either sat back and accepted something super grand with all those big names – it sounded cool – but it wasn’t specific. But, you also had these really good songs, made by artists with excellent chemistry where you could see something more unique and specific coming out of it. Which one is more valuable? What sounds better to us?
Audiences and rappers started realizing that having that relationship with the producer over just paying them a big amount of cash to make a beat without listening to their opinions – without a connection and an exchange of information – resulted in something missing. You can just tell it wasn’t there and that it was a money play.
On top of it all, people started realizing that you can do this with just a single laptop. I know people that are recording on their iPhones and mixing that to professional standards. Cracking FL Studio and creating something that literally costs $0.
Hudson: Even us, YOU’RE JUST MISERABLE cost no money at all. We made it in my bedroom, used technology we already had, taught ourselves how to do everything, had a little luck, and made an album. It’s so doable to make anything you want if you have the energy to figure it out.
It all ties into how streaming, user-based sites like SoundCloud, and even Myspace infiltrated the industry and gave them a shot to the leg. When that happened, people started realizing that labels aren’t interested in building an artist without a fanbase. They want a full package and it costs a lot of money to do that with a team of people. So, artists harnessed the power of a SoundCloud track and an iPhone video having the ability to get millions of streams and views and started building everything themselves. It was a huge hit to the industry that shifted things from DJ Khaled or whoever making these generic beats to the way things are now with specific artists relying on chemistry to make something as unique as possible.
RNGLDR: Part of the shift in how hip-hop music has changed is definitely in the fact that genre is also just more difficult to define these days. Rappers produce, producers sing, and singers rap. Artists are more transcendental these days and as such, modern music is less fitting of old labels. The scene that you guys seem to find yourselves a part of – pretty much just everyone that Hudson producers for – have influences grounded in so many styles. Hudson, what are some of your influences that give us a good vision into the variety we hear in your music today? Hush?
Hudson: One of my biggest influences production-wise is Burial. He was one of the first electronic artists that I really got into. The way that he did everything – all the rumors and mythology behind the way he made his tracks – how they sounded in the end was so cool to me and opened me up to being more experimental.
Modest Mouse is my favorite band of all time. They influenced my guitar playing more than production, but they still have those snappy, dance rhythms along with their really complex rhythms with fluid basslines. It feels like a circle rolling down a hill. So much about them really inspires me and I’m always trying to capture the moods they had in their songs.
Like everyone else, I listened to a lot of emo and screamo stuff in high school, and that comes back when I’m making guitar-centered beats for artists these days. I think it feels more natural than bells and things like that.
HUSH: The two names that made me want to get into production were Sángo and Ta-ku. I heard Ta-ku’s Songs To Break Up To and instantly wanted to make music like that. The way he uses soundscapes inspired me a lot and made me approach music in a very different way. When I was producing, I wanted to use obscure instruments to make trap music. A lot of my beats are very spacey, very ambient with harder drums. I like throwing that together.
I love jazz and blues. They’re my favorite genres.
I grew up listening to a lot of Marvin Gaye, Coltrane, Sade, Brenda K. Starr.
When I branched out and started listening to my own music, it was The Word Alive, Of Mice and Men, the average screamo, metalcore lane. But even before that, my favorite band was and is Paramore. It’s generic, but acceptable.
For rap, it might be controversial, but Kanye West. Fuck the MAGA shit but the music is undeniable. But for this project, I listened to nothing but Uzi, Carti, and the weirdest mix of pop music for some reason, just to get a really good grip on what sounds I wanted.
RNGLDR: Hudson, the production in DOA is a personal favorite of ours. We really love the keys on it, CANDY COLOR and UNINVITED. Would you be willing to take us through the creative process of a beat like that one? You have one of the more interesting and distinctive sounds in production right now, and we’d love to get some insight.
Hudson: We actually made DOA really quickly and it turned out to be one of the more unique songs on the album for sure. I’ve always second-guessed myself a lot, so having an artist there with me while I’m making stuff to react to it and reassure me helps me keep from pulling back and instead, keep going. Had I been alone making that beat, I probably would have stepped away from it. That happens to me a lot. But a lot of my favorite tracks that I’ve ever made have been made with that other artist in the room to give me that reassurance and to push me to keep creating. It’s really about avoiding specificity and allowing whatever you’re inspired by come out. Find what inspires you and roll with it before you lose the spark. That’s where a lot of the best songs have come from.
RNGLDR: Hush, we particularly love your take on DND. For you, what is the writing process like? Every rapper and lyricist goes about things their own way, so what is your creative process there?
HUSH: Trust the first five words out of my mouth. If I hear a beat, start mumbling, and get five words, that’s going to be the chorus or at least be intertwined somehow. From those five words, I start building the song. It can be something personal or some kind of weird experience that I get off the top of my head. I don’t like taking too long and I appreciate that for what it is because it comes out rawer and more personal without being super specific.
RNGLDR: No matter how specific you try to be with something, people are always going to interpret it their own way – get their own meaning out of it – so allowing the listener more space to do that is smart by design.
Hudson: That’s the whole concept of the album. If there is one, it’s that everything is up for interpretation.
RNGLDR: Speaking of that burgeoning Toronto scene – the spectrum that is starting to define you all as a certain sub-sound and the beginnings of something we’ve ever heard before – a lot of the artists that we would also toss into your sphere feature on the album. With the MADtv single release, you guys recruited Brick. What does an artist like that bring into the studio in terms of his energy?
Hudson: He’s loud. I work with him a lot and met him through Teddy. His style is unique. Really melodic and at the same time really clever. He can rap his ass off, sing really well, have these sick punchlines, bars, and melodies all at the same time. He brings everything to the table, always. I can show him any beat and he immediately has an idea. Sessions with him are really fun. We made MADtv blackout drunk with 20 other people in my bedroom and managed to get it down in that state.
RNGLDR: Next up, our good friend Teddybear makes an appearance on the hyphy SHOP. Obviously, Teddy is a super talented artist, especially as a songwriter. Unsurprisingly, his lyricism drives the latter half of the track, but he is able to detach a little from that emotionally-evoking, sensitive kind of signature and find himself really laying down a hard verse. Hudson, when he showed up for the feature, did he approach it differently than when you’ve worked with him in the past? Did he maybe get a different level just based on the high-energy of the production?
Hudson: He’s in the next room. Let me grab him.
Teddy: I’ve been getting back into more of the rap stuff and having fun with that. Blending what I’m doing now with more hip-hop. We were hanging out one day, Hudson played that beat, and HUSH and I just had fun with it.
Hudson: It’s about letting him do what he wants. We’ve made enough amazing songs together that I can trust him with any style. That was just the vibe with SHOP. He went in on the bars and matched HUSH’s energy from the rest of the album with good wordplay and punchlines. It was the last song we made for the album and it was exactly what it needed to be.
RNGLDR: Who are some other artists in Toronto that we should be on the lookout for?
Hudson: Everyone that I work is someone that I really cosign. He’s not from Toronto – he’s from Edmonton – but there’s an artist named Curtis Waters that I produce for. He and his buddy, Harm Franklin are both super talented.
In Toronto, Uptown Boyband is a turn-up Korean rap group. All these cultures come together in Toronto and that’s why I love it.
The whole crew at Bedroomer which is the label that I work with. All the DJs there are crazy talented. I have so many friends who make music I love to the point that it’s impossible to name them all.
Long story short, if I’m making music with anyone, they have my full support and I cosign them 100%. Toronto is so notorious for artists going out of their way to not talk with one another because it’s so competitive that I am trying to connect people and change that.
RNGLDR: What’s next on the horizon?
HUSH: I’ve already started working on the next thing. I’m trying to make it very different from this one but at the same time, not stray too far from I love doing. I’m not so much focused on rapping and producing, but more focused on visual art. I’m working on two comics right now. Writing, character design, and collaborating with another artist.
Hudson: HUSH is so talented when it comes to all of those things. I love all the cover art that he does. He’s done pretty much all the art on my SoundCloud and that’s carried over to other artists that I work with too. He’s got the sickest eye for visual stuff.
For me, I’ve finally found something that I’m really comfortable doing so I’m going to continue pursuing that. I’m going after these collaborative albums and have more of those coming out soon. Also, we’re finishing up Teddy’s Bread & Butterflies album. Just trying to keep building, working, and doing what I do – making music while we can take advantage of what we’ve got going.