Ryan Hemsworth’s New Aaliyah and Garth Brooks-Inspired Merch Is Sublime

We grilled the sugar-sweet producer about what he’s got coming next.

We've had a crush on Ryan Hemsworth's reliably playful aesthetic for a long time now, so we were super stoked when we saw the new merch for his current tour with Tennyson. The T-shirt is a black canvassed bubbly collage that features two (2!) images of Hemsworth as well as one of his tourmates. Hemsworth tells us the shirt was inspired by bootleg Aaliyah merch but it makes us nostalgic for everything from early Garth Brooks to Layin Da Smack Down. We hit up Hemsworth to talk to about the production of the tee, his dream merch, and what he's got coming out next.

What was the inspiration behind the shirt? Were you basing it specifically off that general '90s R&B aesthetic? I wanted to sell the type of shirt you'd buy off some bootlegger outside a concert. The intention was the '90s Aaliyah aesthetic but it's been amazing to hear what people compare it to. So far it's been everything from Garth Brooks to Backstreet Boys to WWF. It's a fan-made style—that's why I love it.

What was the process for designing the shirt and getting it made? A friend from Toronto, Vladimir Kato, came through with the design. It took a little time to get that exact font, which in the end is basically the font used on every Project Pat album and shit. The company that printed them pretty much only do cool band tees on thin American Apparel shirts and stuff so they were confused when we wanted basically everything they've been told is not a good look in 2014.

What is your most treasured piece of merch from another artist? Lately, probably this Kyary Pamyu Pamyu sweater a friend in Japan gave me. I love artist merchandising because when the artist is involved in the process, you're actually buying something that's like what that artist would wear. It's the highest form of fandom. My buddy Meth Dad tie dyes and sells shirts with appropriated logos and Aerosmith lyrics all over them—and it just looks so much like a shirt that would obviously exist in his own closet.

Who has the best merch game today? I think Antwon has figured out the merch game pretty well. I feel like he has new stuff every month or two. I'm biased but I think WeDidIt Collective has always killed it as well with merchandising and just being this dope brand that doesn't feel derivative or pretentious or forced.

If you could make Ryan Hemsworth Gear with zero financial or real life restrictions what would you make? I think just like a region-free walkie talkie, which you could turn on and we could talk whenever. Or I guess that's basically just having my phone number. That or a nice RH electric blanket.

Do you have plans to make more merch? I've just commissioned four different artists to illustrate and design their own versions of me or whatever they see with my music. One tee is going to be a long sleeve by Vaso Michailidou with an image on the chest of me performing to a group of adoring dogs, and the sleeves being lined with different types of sushi.

Why do you think nostalgia is such a potent unifier for you and your fans? For me as a person and a musician, it comes down to references I guess. I love taking something that everyone knows and has a really nice memory of already and messing with it and making it new and refreshing again. Samples, references—they're all tools that can be used powerfully in any art form.

Ryan Hemsworth’s New Aaliyah and Garth Brooks-Inspired Merch Is Sublime