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“I think that’s why I’m so into music. I’m not really that into communicating in other ways. It’s sort of my way of communicating, what I’m best at.” Russell Whyte – better known as electronic music producer Rustie – sounds far away, as if the soft Glaswegian burr of voice is traveling along telephone wires buried deep beneath many oceans but in fact he’s just a couple of miles away in Warp’s Kentish Town office. We’re talking about the promotional rigmarole that comes with releasing music, and his aversion to it. Or rather I’m talking, overcompensating a little for his compact answers. That’s not to say it’s a difficult interview, far from it – he’s shyly warm and friendly but nevertheless his discomfort at the situation fizzes down the phone. “I’d rather just be in the background doing music and not much else,” he says.
Rustie doesn’t want to – no, can’t – explain his music, and why should he? His debut album, ‘Glass Swords’ out on Warp on October 10th, more than speaks for itself. It’s a phenomenally lucid album, effusive even, and emotionally instant in a way that pop producers dream about. Rustie’s skill lies in his intuitive understanding of sound, his delicate handling of it. Even when he’s crafting massive club tunes like Ultra Thizz and Flash Back, the precision with which he coils and winds each individual sound is akin to that of clockmaker: his instinct and timing are flawless. There’s a simplicity there too. That’s not to say his music isn’t complex – but the feel of it is instant; his is a visceral touch.
What drives you as a person?
Rustie: I guess just being alive.
Is there something that keeps pushing you to keep making music?
Rustie: I think just the fact that I’m alive and that’s what makes me feel good so I’ll do that. It must be right.
An instinctive sharpness and keenness are Rustie trademarks. The first time I heard his track Inside Pikachu’s Cunt on his MySpace in the summer of 2009 (it’s since been released on a Warp compilation last year), it tickled me immediately. Yeah, there was that cartoon-gasp name too but it was the bubbling, winking, cheek-popping nerve of the track that struck. Contrast that with the murky, scissor-kicking, electrocuted grime of Bad Science (Wireblock, 2009) and it’s not hard to see what made Warp sign him up for an album deal a couple years ago. He released the ‘Sunburst’ EP in 2010, which contained hints of what was to come – the crunching, juggernaut heft of Dragonfly in particular – but what he’s achieved with ‘Glass Swords’ is in another league altogether.
From the clenched fist, 3am desperation of Cry Flames to the crystalline dreams of After Light, ‘Glass Swords’ is a perfect rendering of a dream world that Rustie could only realise through sound. Just listen to the album: feel your way. Yeah, it leaked but as Rustie pointed out on his Twitter: “Glad to hear lots of u enjoying my leaked album!! If u like it & want me to do more music & not get a real job, pls buyy too <3.” Listen to the man, he speaks truth.
So you’ve got a big press day today?
Rustie: Yeah, I’m here all day at the Warp offices…
“I was just making tracks and not really thinking too much of it as being an album.” Rustie
Not your favourite thing to do?
Rustie: Nah [laughs].
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.
Rustie: No worries.
The album is amazing. I’ve been looking forward to hearing it for ages because I listened in to the Rinse show you did with Jacques Greene back in March. I didn’t know what it was called at the time but hearing Flash Back in that set was pure magic.
Rustie: Ah, thanks a lot.
It feels like it’s been a while coming. How has it been for you?
Rustie: It’s been quite long. Quite difficult I guess…
Did you have a strong idea of what you wanted the album to be before you got to it and it’s taken time to get to that or…?
Rustie: I didn’t really have a strong idea. I was just making tracks and not really thinking too much of it as being an album, and then having loads of tracks done and picking the best ones really and trying to pull it together in a coherent way. Sending stuff back and forth to Warp, I found that difficult, like, people critiquing what you want to put out as well [laughs]. It was a bit of a long process.
I love the names you give your tracks. Your music is very visual – and the track names are very musical, poetic – so they fit well together. Do you name them as you go along?
Rustie: Cool [laughs]. I usually start with a working title and something they stick or either I’ll listen back to the track afterwards and just think of something. It doesn’t attach you too much to the track, it kind of gives your mind space to wander.
“[The track names don’t] attach you too much to the track, it kind of gives your mind space to wander.” Rustie
When did you start the album?
Rustie: It’s been a couple of years since I signed to do the album so I’ve kind of been working on it since 2008 maybe. But obviously releasing other stuff in the meantime.
Does it feel different to have an album out?
Rustie: It does feel a bit different, I’m not sure why. I’m more happy with this than I’ve been with any of the EPs.
“I sometimes forget I’m not in Glasgow.” Rustie
What drives you to write music? How did you get into it?
Rustie: I got into producing through DJ-ing and being into dance music since I was 15. My brother got a computer with Fruity Loops on it when I was 20 or something and I started messing about on that. I’ve always been into music. Before I got into DJ-ing I was into rock bands and stuff, I used to play the guitar. My family are into music. My dad plays guitar and my mum collects albums, rock bands and stuff.
What struck me back when I first heard your music – around the time of Inside Pikachu’s Cunt was your use of sound. It’s so strong on ‘Glass Swords’ too: each sound is so crafted yet natural. Do you spend a long time working out the sounds?
Rustie: I’ve built up a lot of my own sounds that I use but I don’t really take time separately to make those sounds. I’ve just accumulated them over the years and I go back and recycle ideas I’ve done before, songs I’ve done before, kind of cannibalise old tracks and stuff.
What’s your favourite sound?
Rustie: Umm, in what sort of..
“I have to use things to dirty up the sound, compressors and tape distortion plugins to get that sort of warmth.” Rustie
In any sort of context?
Rustie: I don’t think I have a favourite sound to be honest.
A favourite set of sounds or tones?
Rustie: I guess I like 80s soul, kind of sythesised sounds. 80s soul sounds.
How did you record this album?
Rustie: It’s just been all done on Ableton on a PC. I’ve got a few controllers. I’ve got a midi guitar controller, a midi keyboard, a microphone, a few bits and bobs.
A lot of the sounds on there sound so analogue.
Rustie: Yeah, I guess that’s the kind of sound I’m trying to create so I have to use things to dirty up the sound, compressors and tape distortion plugins to get that sort of warmth. I would love to use analogue gear but it’s just not affordable really.
Who is singing on Surph?
Rustie: That’s me, through a bunch of effects. And my girlfriend does some backing vocals as well.
Are you planning to ‘Glass Swords’ live?
Rustie: Not like live live, with a full band but I’ll probably do it live with a little bit of improvisation, with guitar and keyboards. But I don’t think I could ever do it totally live [laughs].
I know you moved from Glasgow to London a year or so ago?
Rustie: About a year and a half, yeah.
Did you feel that it influenced your sound at all, or the way you approach music?
Rustie: I don’t think so. I may as well have not moved cos I don’t really… I’m either by myself in the house or online [laughs]. I sometimes forget I’m not in Glasgow because I’m just in my own house or on tour.
Is your set-up any better down here?
Probably the set-up’s a bit worse. And the rent’s more expensive [laughs].