It’s been two years since Macklemore and Ryan Lewis‘ last album, their multi-platinum project The Heist. In that time the duo have won multiple awards, toured the globe performing for thousands and – most importantly – starting respective families and tending to their personal lives. All of that is now on display on the latest issue of Complex’ upcoming August/September 2015 album.
In the piece Mack gets rather personal, detailing how the trappings of fame and success led to his relapse throughout 2013 and 2014 (he’s since remained sober) and how the impending birth of he and his fiancé’s first child made him change his ways, while Ryan discusses the methods he used while crafting the follow-up to their Grammy-winning debut (which they’ve likened to Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp A Butterfly), and more.
Some choice quotes:
And after the success of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ The Heist—the debut at No. 2 on Billboard’s album chart, the two number-one hits in “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us,” the four Grammy wins, and the true people’s choice award as the most streamed artist on Spotify in 2013—Ben relapsed into taking pills and smoking marijuana. “I held it together for a while,” he says. “But, eventually, I stopped going to my 12-step meetings.” “I was burnt out,” he continues. “I was super-stressed. We weren’t sleeping—doing a show every day, zigzagging all over the country. In terms of the media I was getting put into a box that I never saw for myself. The pressure and the fame—everything. All the clichés, man—like not being able to walk around, having no privacy, and from this TV appearance to this TV appearance, and the criticism, and the lack of connection, and the lack of meetings—all of that put into one pie was just…I just wanted to escape.”
Crafting a follow-up has been a slow, laborious endeavor, mostly due to the group’s creative process. Ryan, who spent time between albums doing a “deep dive” on the textures and methods of classic works from the late ’60s and early ’70s (Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, The Beatles), is a producer in the old-fashioned sense: he plays instruments, calls in session musicians, fusses over arrangement and transitions. “A fundamental difference between this time and the last time is, when you have more resources, there’s less bounds to trying all the ideas that you have,” he admits. “It allows you to sonically and stylistically actualize what’s in your head to a much more specific degree. But at the same time, there’s value to being stuck with your computer and a super-small budget like we had last time. You’re going to make do with what you have. But when you don’t have a huge limit to your creativity, you also end up with mountains and mountains of material that you’re going through.” To a large degree, the duo treats each song as its own project, sometimes spending weeks and months on one number. They’re almost Darwinian in their approach to their own ideas. “Is this idea you’re writing about, or is this first six bars, enough of an entry point to rally around and push hard, hard, hard to make that [song] come about?” asks Ryan. “Or, conversely, is there something to this beat or this piece of music—even if it’s just the drums, or a guitar, or something—that’s dope enough that it’s worth rallying around? If there’s enough there, we dig into a song—trying as hard as we possibly can to make it what it was intended to be. It’s exhausting. If you’re just making a whole bunch of songs—some people make 35 songs and then they’re like, We’re gonna choose 12—you’re just kind of making decisions. For us, if we’re working on something, it really has to be that.” Ryan estimates that, in the seven or so years that they’ve made music together, only about a half-dozen finished songs have not seen the light of day and that “we have a song right now that I’m a year-and-a-half deep into for this album.”
You can read the entire piece here. In the meanwhile, you can watch as Bison Murdoch (Ryan Lewis) and Rod (Macklemore) try to give people love advice…