Rustie’s Roots: Producer on Dirty Albums and Joyful Noises
"The world’s a really fucked up place. So I think the more joy or happiness you can put in, the better."
Rustie’s Glass Swords (Warp) was one of the most innovative electronic releases of last year. Amid the glut of bass-heavy records that were dominating subs, the Glaswegian producer’s bright, technicolor treble effects distilled his affinity for cross-spectrum music — from prog, to quiet storm, to contemporary rap — into a gleaming piece of work that bursts at the seams with sensuousness. Glossy funk riffs are topped with ecstatic vocals (by himself and his girlfriend, fellow producer Nightwave), yet the music doesn’t adhere to any strict definition of genre beyond loose electronic, which makes it the perfect album to accompany everything, from raves to dates. Fresh off a recent, crucial “Essential Mix,” Rustie (born Russell Whyte) will be touring the whole summer before going back to the lab. SPIN sat with him at Warp headquarters during a recent date in New York, and talked about his album process, his composing philosophy, and baby-making music.
How did you make Glass Swords?
I was making it over the course of two years. I started making it in Glasgow at my dad’s house, and did the other half in London when I moved. I just started off making tunes for fun without really thinking of what it was eventually going to be. Then towards the last six months, I was trying to glue everything together so it made sense as an album. It was just expressing joy and emotion about being alive.
What were the elements you used to glue the tracks together? It really does flow like a cohesive work.
I guess just creating little intros to tracks, and I did little motifs and things to make it make more sense. Picking tracks that fit together as well, because I picked from about 100 tracks and whittled it down to 14. Most of it was rubbish, I just picked the best ones.
When did you start producing?
Well, I’ve been playing guitar since I was like ten. Then I got into DJing when I was 15, and when I was 18 I started making tunes on my brother’s PC. One of the first things I remember that my mom played me was this Donovan children’s album, when I was like a baby. Just all this ’70s rock stuff that my parents used to play, and stuff like Kraftwerk and the weird other side of the music they liked.
Yeah, your music has a little bit of a proggy vibe.
My mom was a big Yes fan, as well. What’s your life like in London?
I’m well out of the way where everything’s happening, it’s not like East London or anything. I live quite near Heathrow, and whenever I’m in London I’m working, so I don’t really get to go out to clubs so much. The only time I really go out is when I’m playing. So I’m not really part of any scene there. I’m a bit of a hermit!
Can you hear airplanes from your apartment?
Yeah! You get used to it. It’s every five minutes, pretty much, up until like seven o’clock, and then it slows down and stops.
Does that alter your brain-state? Do you ever watch Lost? Like every 14 minutes the button alarm goes off.
[Laughs] Yeah, I don’t even hear it anymore, you just kind of forget it’s happening. But then someone will come round and you’re watching TV and it’s like, fuckin’ plane’s going past, you have to turn up the volume.
So, can you tell me about the cover of Glass Swords?
Warp showed me a bunch of designers’ portfolios, and I picked this guy Jonathan Zawada, I really liked his work. A lot of it had ’70s sci-fi art feel, and I spoke with him, passed some ideas back and forth, and gave him the album. Then after a few days, he came up with this image.
It does have a very ’70s, even a Yes kind of thing, but also a very classic Warp cover. Where does the title come from?
I just came up with it after. I made the intro track two years ago, and I was listening to a lot of Fripp and Eno stuff, and I made the track and like with any other track I make, I just listened to it to see what sort of images I got. That track had a kind of glassy feel to it.
So you’re not like, secretly into role-playing games.
[Laughs] I’m into sci-fi, and I like fantasy art and stuff like that.
Has anyone ever told you they fell in love to your music?
It’s so sexual! Also, I’m a perv, so I look at the cover of Glass Swords and think: those are two boners.
[Laughs] Everyone says that! That’s what I thought when I first saw it and I was like, “Am I okay with that?” And, yeah, that’s fine. It does look like two cocks but I’m cool with that.
That’s awesome! It makes it lighter, and your music totally sounds like boning music, especially “All Nite.”
I like a lot of really sleazy music as well. Stuff like Prince, and Cameo. I guess I do like quite sexy music.
What’s your set-up like?
Really basic, I’ve got a desktop PC, a keyboard controller, mic, speakers obviously. Almost no hardware other than a microphone and a guitar. I’ve got just a normal electric guitar, and there are bits of it on Glass Swords. I’ve got a MIDI guitar as well, where I can control any synth or whatever using that. I use a keyboard as well but I can play faster on guitar than I can on keyboard, and I can play different weird chords that I know on guitar that I can’t do on keyboard.
That’s unusual for an electronic producer. Can you get real noodle-y?
Yeah, I’m all right. I’ve been playing for a long time but I’ve never had any proper lessons, I’ve always just played by ear. I don’t practice enough anymore.
Did you grow up listening to Warp Records?
Like from the age of 18 or something, I got into Boards of Canada and Squarepusher and Prefuse 73. All that stuff blew my mind and I was like, “This is the coolest record label in the world.” I got started getting into different music as well, getting away from electronica, and two years ago I think my stuff would have fit a lot more on Warp than now, because it’s a little more cheesy than it used to be. But it’s still really cool that they wanted to put that kind of stuff out. It’s kind of different from all their other stuff.
I guess it’s sort of cheesy, but it’s cool because you’re so serious about it. You don’t do anything because you’re trying to be funny.
No! I’ve just got really bad taste in music.
What’s the corniest thing you can think of that you’re super into?
Like Kenny Loggins or something.
That’s pretty bad, but totally respectable. That guy had some jams. Coming back to the idea of you putting joy into your music. Are you a super positive person?
I’m not, but I try to channel good energy, just love and peace and happiness and joy. That’s what I want from my music, and that’s what I want other people to feel. I don’t think there’s any point in putting more darkness in the world, because the world’s a really fucked up place. So I think the more joy or happiness you can put in, the better.
Were you into raves?
Not like proper ‘90s raves, but warehouse parties in Glasgow, just playing Detroit techno, and I used to go to break and trance raves and get wasted and have fun.
Is there a big cultural difference between Glasgow and London?
Yeah, people are really different I think. Especially when it comes to going out. Glasgow’s the rowdiest crowd you will ever see when you go out. In London, people are really cool and stand about. In Glasgow, people will jump up and down and go mental. It’s quite hard when you’re used to playing to Glasgow crowds and you go everywhere else and everyone’s just like, trying to be cool.
Did you go buck?