Three years ago, the Scottish producer Rustie dropped Glass Swords, one of the most thrilling electronic albums of the decade. Defined by its visceral, explosive joy and a broad spectrum of synth sounds that blow raspberries on trap beats, it established Rustie as a global creative force and propelled him on a virtually non-stop tour schedule that still shows no signs of ceasing.
With Rustie’s latest album, Green Language, the producer has flipped the roygbiv maximalism of Glass Swords on its head, delving deeper into his broad synth trick-bag, kicking up new dance-floor dust and adding a host of vocalists (including Detroit bruiser Danny Brown, grime icon D Double E, and DC soul singer Muhsinah). Perhaps most interesting is his shift into textural ambient music, a dicey prospect for lesser producers with an eye towards Eno but layered and surprising from Rustie, the man who has made an art form out of producing songs that sound like your heart leaping from your chest. In advance of his next tour, which starts tonight in London and will include Green Language performed live with visuals, we spoke with Rustie about songwriting, airplanes and the alchemy of bird-talk.
Last time we spoke, you lived right next to Heathrow Airport, and you were influenced by the plane sounds. Do you still live there?
No, I’m back in Glasgow. It’s good to be back here, with like, being close to my family and stuff and all my friends are here as well.
It’s interesting, because Green Language even feels like it’s from a different place than Glass Swords. What was your approach in making it?
While I was making most of the songs, I wasn’t really thinking about the finished product, or the whole. I was just making songs. It wasn’t the album started coming together that I started kind of thinking about how it’s progressed or how different it is. Or is it too different, or is it not different enough? All of those sorts of things, compared to Glass Swords.
Is that a concern when you’re making songs, that they’re going to be too different from your style?
I never really kind of set out to make a certain type of music. I kind of just let the music sort of lay itself, and be where the ideas feel naturally where they want to go, let that happen naturally.
Some of the songs are toned down. There’s a shift in mood. What was your mood while you were making them? Were you doing transcendental meditation?
[Laughs] No, it’s pretty hard to meditate and make music at the same time! For Glass Swords, I initially had a lot weirder and more ambient stuff on there, but [the label] didn’t really want that. For this album they were kind of just more confident in me. They were like, “Do whatever you want.” So I’m getting into it now that I’ve proved myself.
Most of it was written on the road, or in hotels, or on a plane or whatever, and then finishing it whenever I get sounds. But if you’re on a plane anyway there’s nothing really much else to do. I’ve got pretty good time to make music, apart from the loud noises, the plane engine. There’s really not much else to do if you’re on a long flight somewhere.
You’ve worked with rappers and vocalists before, but there are a lot of features on this album. “Attak,” featuring Danny Brown, was the first single from Green Language. Was there an idea of how you would work together?
It was just an e-mail thing, really. We didn’t really talk about music or anything. I’d just send him beats and he just did his thing. That’s pretty much how it worked with everyone. Everyone’s kind of really busy so it’s good that you can just e-mail someone a track and they can just work on it whenever they’ve got the time to. I’d just send out a bunch of things to a bunch of people and see what came back. Obviously Danny, and he’s one of the first people I got vocals from. And D Double E, I’ve loved his shit since day one. I was delighted that he came back so quickly. He’s amazing live as well.
You always have really distinct cover art that seems to be reflective of your music. So what’s with the flamingos?
I just started looking for a bunch of nature photography. That was the one that I liked the best, and it kind of looked similar, sort of, to the Glass Swords cover. It’s like two birds instead of two crystals.
Where did the title and concept of Green Language come from?
Green language is actually a sort of esoteric, kind of mystical language that birds and animals speak to each other – a language that came before humans, if you know what I mean. I just kind of liked the name and the idea.
Wait, green language is an actual thing? Like, dolphins speaking to each other?
Yeah, it’s a real thing. It’s been used in a lot of different fields: mystical traditions, alchemy, hermetic prophecy, Egyptian philosophy and everything. I started reading about it like four years ago and thought it was cool and have kept it in my mind the past few years.
Do you have synesthesia? Every musician always says they have it, but to me, your music actually sounds like you have it.
No. But, I think I’ve had it before like when I was taking acid or magic mushrooms or whatever. That gave me kind of a feeling of what that’s like, but I don’t have that every day of my life.