Macklemore talks fashion, Ben Bridwell, sobriety and haters

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It’s a big week for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Not only did they release their full-length debut, The Heist, they also  performed a secret show at Neumos Sunday night, hopped up on the rooftop of Easy Street Records in lower Queen Anne to play a quick set Tuesday night and tonight the duo will perform to a crowd of 7,500 at a sold-out WaMu Theater. Oh, I suppose it’s also worth noting that The Heist debuted at No. 1 on iTunes (beating out the likes of Jay-Z, Ellie Goulding and Mumford and Sons) and that it is expected to debut at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 with more than 65,000 records sold. And as if debut at No. 2 wasn’t enough, The Heist was released independently which makes it charting so high an even more impressive accomplishment.

Needless to say, all of those career highs are not only great for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis but they’re also great for the local music scene and independent musicians everywhere. I caught up with Macklemore over email and we chatted about fashion, sobriety, haters and The Heist.  Here’s what he had to say:

You’ve managed to reach a pretty high level of success as an independent artist and you rap about maintaining your independence. Do you think you’ll ever sign to a label or are you content with continuing to do things on your own?

I’m not 100 percent opposed to signing with a label. If it grows to the point where we can’t manage it on our own, I’m open to expanding. That could be joining with a major. But, I’m not willing to compromise our creative control, one-third of our merch or one-third or our touring. That doesn’t make sense, and that’s what a lot of majors are proposing.

Listen: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love”

What made you decided to record “Same Love?” Was the song a statement you wanted to make for a while?

Absolutely. I knew I wanted to write a song about gay rights and homophobia for over six years before I actually wrote Same Love. It took me a while to figure out what perspective to come from. What initially prompted it was reading about a 13-year-old who killed himself because kids in school were ridiculing him about his sexuality. I felt like I needed to say something, but it’s a delicate subject matter to address being a straight male. I had to tell my story, and not somebody else’s.

Macklemore at Neumos

Homosexuality isn’t something that’s viewed positively in hip-hop. Were you worried that you would be losing a lot of the momentum you’ve built up for your career by recording a song supporting marriage equality?

I thought about it. I was a little scared and apprehensive. But you put it on the scale of importance and weigh it out. Is this an issue I’m willing to loose fans and potential industry friends over? No question.

Five things learned at a Macklemore secret show

Some of your critics claim that your biggest strength – the sincerity of your lyrics – is also your biggest weakness. Is that something you consider while making music? And how do you balance keeping that sincerity with having the message of your music not sound cheesy?

I never sit down, pick a beat and think “I need to make this a sincere record.” It just so happens I’m passionate about the issues I rap about. I never want to comprise who I am to appease a small population of people, especially people that probably have already made their mind up about my art. I think that it was imperative that The Heist had a balance. That it showcased a full human being. Not just the “serious” side, but the humorous and clowning side as well.

You’ve made your battle with addiction very public through your music. How has it impacted your creative process?

When I’m using drugs and alcohol there is no creative process. When I’m sober I believe there’s no limit to my creativity. It’s very simple.

You collaborate with a lot of artists on “The Heist,” most notably Ben Bridwell. How did that collaboration for “Starting Over” come about?

The collaboration came about through the wonderful Megan Jasper of Sub Pop. We took a couple meetings with Sub Pop and they were awesome. Megan was super genuine, creative and just down to help in any way. She hollered at Ben and sent him some links to our music. He was receptive to it, trusted Megan and said he had time. We ended up sending him 3 songs. He immediately gravitated to Starting Over and literally sent back rough Garage Band demos that night, inspired by the late, great Nate Dogg. Band Of Horses was just wrappin’ their album in LA, so we went down and recorded with him for a couple days. He’s a beautiful and generous soul. No ego, down to just try ideas and completely positive the entire time. I was inspired just being around him. Looking at it now, it really helped re-shape my mentality going into the fourth quarter of recording our album. And it turned out to be one of my favorite songs on the album.

Ben Bridwell to guest on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ The Heist

Lastly, you have a very distinct fashion sense, which you sort of address on “Thrift Shop.” Where did it come from and what are some of your favorite finds from thrift shopping?

I’ve always cared about style, ever since I was a little kid. Costumes, music and the mirror were a central theme in my childhood. I like to get outside of the box in terms of what fashion can be. My favorite find is usually the last thing I bought.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.