Rustie: Speaking Directly to Your Emotions
Mass Appeal sits down with the Scottish producer.
Hip hop, grime, prog rock, jazz, and even video games inform Rustie— all part of the fabric of his sound, which is easily some of the most forward-thinking and original dance music today. Born Russell Whyte in Glasgow, Scotland, it’s clear the 31-year-old producer has influences that run deeper than most. Though his music is critically acclaimed for being massively visceral and poignant, he’s soft-spoken and modest in person. As the follow up to 2012’s Mercury Prize winning album Glass Swords, Green Language demonstrates maturity and progression. From the gorgeous, maximalist, synthetic glory that was Glass Swords to the more natural aesthetic of Green Language, there has always been an incredible amount of emotion behind the music.
Read our conversation with Rustie below to learn about the influences behind his inimitable sound, his massive archive of unreleased music, and which artists he would like to collaborate with in the near future.
Mass Appeal: I listened to the album last night, and it was stunning. Where was the majority of this album written?
Rustie: I think most of it was written in my hometown, Glasgow.
MA: I know the last one was half-written in Glasgow and half in London.
R: Yeah, pretty much. I moved back to Glasglow like two years ago. So yeah, most of this written over the past couple of years.
MA: Why’d you decide to do it in Glasglow?
R: Just kind of moved back for personal reasons and stuff, just to kind of be around old friends and family. Not really for any sort of artistic reasons or anything.
MA: I know the creative process for Glass Swords you wrote 100 demos, going back and forth with Warp to figure out which records to put on. What was the creative process with Green Language?
R: For this I pretty much had like free reign to do whatever I wanted. I didn’t really have to send them back anything.
MA: So you have a few more vocalists on your album this time around. I know you did three tracks on Danny Brown’s album Old, and you have a track on this album, “Attak.” How did that collaboration come about?
R: Basically a couple years ago Danny started to follow me on Twitter, so I just DM’d him and said I like yeah, big fan of XXX and stuff. I just reached out to him and started sending him beats while he was working on his new album, and he ended up using three of the tracks. After my album started to progress and I started to get an idea of what I wanted to do with it, I just hit him up again and asked if he wanted to feature on one of the tracks.
MA: What is the favorite out of the four you have released?
R: I think my favorite out of the four, I don’t know, I think “Dope Song” probably.
MA: Do you have plans to work with any other rappers?
R: Not really any plans, just kind of get my management to put out feelers, just see who’s available to work. Yeah, it’s quite hard a world to get into unless you’re super involved in it, that’s why I’m so happy Danny gave me a chance to sort of get my foot in the door a little bit.
MA: Rappers are going to come running for beats after they hear those tracks!
R: I hope so.
MA: So I was listening to that Triple J mix you put out earlier this year, which was quite different than anything else you put out. What was your thinking behind that mix?
R: Yeah, I just wanted to show a different side to my taste, and also show people that I’m doing stuff a little bit different. Almost like a warning on the changing direction for the new album sort of thing as well. Show some different influences and stuff.
MA: I heard a little bit of influence from the mix on that “Paradise Stone” track, is there any connection there?
R: Yeah, there’s some post-classical or modern classical stuff that I’ve been listening to that influenced the album. Like here and there, didn’t want to do a completely like sort of ambient classical album or anything, because I still want to have bangers on there.
MA: Would you ever be interested in putting out an ambient album?
R: Yeah I think so, just something you can just sit and relax and listen to. Guess sometimes it can get a bit stressful if you listen to banging stuff all the time. Some shit to chill out to would be cool at some point.
MA: For the last album cover, Warp hooked you up with a designer (Jonathan Zawada), so what was the creative process behind this one?
R: Well, I had the idea for the album title Green Language, which means the language of the birds so I was looking for related artists and artwork. One of the guys from Warp who found this guy who did sort of paintings, sort of half-painted half-photography with like four different options. I went for this one, because I liked how it kind of looks similar to the Glass Swords with the intertwined sort of thing. Like two crystals and two birds, kind of going from Glass Swords being really cartoon-y sounding with a lot of really synthetic sounds, to going for more, not like natural acoustic sounds, but just a bit more of a natural aesthetic on the album.
R: That was just an designer one of the in house designers for Numbers came up with, he just kind of looking for references and stuff to the lotus, which is one of the symbol of the Triads so yeah, he just did that sort of similar to the Glass Swords album.
MA: What were you listening to while you were making Green Language?
R: I was just like looking for new music to play while I was making the album, because I was still DJing a lot. You know it’s just looking for new hip-hop and producers and stuff, looking at HotNewHipHop, looking for new tracks. And I guess at home just relaxing listening to jazz and to classical stuff. Yeah, kind of listening to a mixture between the kind of stuff I play out, and stuff that I listen to to relax.
MA: Are there any new artists or records that came out this year that you’re excited about? Or some standout records you really enjoy?
R: I’m liking a lot of what Evian Christ’s doing. Listening to stuff like that A$AP Ferg record. Just looking for new producers and stuff, like what Young Chop’s doing and 808 Mafia and stuff. Kind of just listen to a lot of older stuff as well.
MA: What’s are some of your personal all-time favorite records?
R: My all time favorite I guess would be Allan Holdsworth’s Jazz Fusion stuff. It’s like some of my favorite music to listen to. And just like classic r&b and soul music.
MA: Are you ever going to drop all those demos from the Essential mix?
R: Kind of lost a lot of that shit.
MA: Oh no!
R: One of my archives kind of fucked up, so I lost…I still got like some of the mp3s and some of the parts here and there, so kind of fucked up and lost a lot of that shit. Um, I might just give away some of the unfinished mp3 versions or whatever, but kind of bad quality so dunno. I may try and remake some of them.
MA: I really like Beat 3056 / Beat 2402 from the Jackmaster mix under your alias Smitty, and I really enjoyed the Legend of Zelda samples. Are you big into video games and stuff?
R: I guess not super into video games, but I kind of grew up around that stuff. My brother’s more of a gamer than me. I grew up in the 80s and had like Sega, Nintendo, and I was just kind of influenced by hearing all that stuff just around the house constantly because my brother’s always playing games. Yeah, I still play games now and again when I get free time, but not really that much time to do that.
MA: What are some of your favorite games?
R: Obviously Zelda Ocarina of time is my favorite game, and N64 games like Goldeneye and Mario Kart 64 as well.
MA: I think my favorite track name of all time is “Inside Pikachu’s Cunt.” You ever play Pokemon games or things like that?
R: Nah [laughs], I kind of played a couple on the Game Boy. Yeah, didn’t really play much of those games.
MA: How long have you been playing Guitar for?
R: I think since I was 10 years old. I stopped playing when I was 15 when I got more into dance music and DJing and stuff, but stopped for maybe like 5 or 6 years, and then got back into it again. Never really got lessons or got super good at it or practiced enough, just kind of self-taught.
MA: Do you play any other instruments?.
R: Not well, I mean I can play like efficient enough on the keyboard, a little bit of drums, but again not well enough to play live or play in a band. Just enough to get ideas out and stuff.
MA: How did you get into DJing when you were 15?
R: I think it’s when I first saw Mix Master Mike DJing with the Beastie Boys and it blew my mind. I really wanted to learn how to do that. So I bought turntables, saved up for like super shitty belt-drive Gemini’s, cost like 200 bucks for the full setup. I tried to learn how to scratch and stuff.
MA: What was the first record you bought?
R: I think it might have been A Tribe Called Quest, “Find My Way.” That was the first record I bought to practice scratching with. Bought two copies.
MA: Who’s the female vocalist on “Dream On?”
R: Muhsinah. She’s credited, but she’s not featured. She’s got like a writers credit and stuff; don’t know why she didn’t end up being featured.
MA: How’d you link up with her?
R: Just a singer I heard about for a while, and was a fan of her work. So pretty much just got my management to hit her up, see if she’s available to work so yeah.
MA: How’d you link up with Gorgeous Children, and Face Vega?
R: Once again, it’s through management. Jacques Greene put out a mixtape on Vase, and I just really liked it. Me and Jacques Greene have the same manager, so it was an easy thing to hook up and put together.
MA: Do you and Nightwave ever work on stuff together?
R: Um, kind of not really so much anymore, I kind of just let her do her own thing. We have too much conflicting ideas and just end up and arguing and stuff like that.
MA: I was listening to one of her mixes, and she said she had to beg you for that Triadzz VIP, are you ever going to release that stuff?
R: I might just try and like give away or whatever, if Warp wouldn’t get too annoyed with me for doing that. But kind of just got like so much material, and Warp has such a busy schedule, so it’s kind of hard to release everything I want to release.
MA: Where’s your favorite place to play in New York?
R: I think I’ve only played Output and Webster Hall. Not sure I’ve played anywhere else. Yeah, Webster Hall is great, it’s crazy to play.
MA: Are you and Hudson Mohawke ever going to work on something?
R: I don’t know, like we’ve kind of done stuff before and just kind of end up arguing and stuff. I’m not very good at working with other producers or anything. I want to have my own way or yeah, not very sympathetic working with another producer really. Maybe. Won’t say definitely not, but…
MA: Any other vocalists you really want to work with? I know that D Double E record was a dream of yours to do.
R: I really like Travi$ Scott, really good. I would like to work with A$AP Rocky or Ferg or what else…Meek Mill or yeah a bunch…
MA: A lot of American rappers, huh?
R: I’d like really like to work with Dizzee Rascal, and get him to do something good.
MA: He’s been out of it for a while…
R: He’s not really done anything good for years.
MA: I think he just put out a single recently, but it wasn’t anything special.
R: He needs to get back into some of the grimier stuff..
MA: Grime’s making kind of a comeback right now, isn’t it?
R: There’s definitely a comeback as far as producers are concerned.
MA: Are there any producers you’re excited about?
R: Like Darq E Freaker, really like Preditah. What else…some guys from Glasgow are making some pretty good stuff. Inkke and Milktray.
MA: What’s your favorite city to play in America?
R: Depends really, depends what kind of party it is. Had some great gigs here in New York. And Denver, had some good shows there, and what else…just kind of depends on the night really, and who else is playing and what kind of crowd’s there.
MA: What was that thing you did recently with World’s Fair? Are you putting something out soon?
R: Yeah, I think so. Done a few tracks for them, so some stuff will be on their upcoming album.
MA: What kind of stuff are you planning to play on this leg of the tour?
R: Mostly my own stuff, stuff from Glass Swords and stuff from the new album. Some of my friends’ stuff and some other stuff. I guess I’ll play 60-70% me, probably play some S-Type as well, and play some HudMo stuff. Yeah, and some rap stuff I’m feeling.
MA: What are some of the rap tracks you’re feeling?
R: I’m liking 808 Mafia and Metro Boomin, they’re killing it.
MA: Are you a Young Thug fan?
R: Yeah, I’m not a super fan, but he definitely works and he brings kind of a crazy energy to what he does. I would say yeah, I’m a fan; I like some of his stuff.
MA: Any plans for projects after Green Language comes out?
R: I kind of took a bit of a break after I finished the album, because it’s just been like intense to finish it with deadlines and stuff. I was working like 18 hours a day on this trying to finish it, so I took a little month off. Starting to get back into it now, not with any idea of what I’m working on, but just making tracks for fun and stuff, just to see what happens.
Green Language is out today, August 25 via Warp Records.
Nelson is on Twitter.