Brooklyn-based indie hip-hop producer duo Bird Language drops off their ambitiously experimental debut album ‘Insider Art.’
Insider Art opens with “93 Mercedes Orchestra,” an homage to the vehicle that carried the pair and their studio equipment four hours to a week-long recording session in rural New York. The trip came weeks after they finished executive production work on Trapo’s standout 2016 album ‘Shade Trees.’ Ready to build on that momentum, the duo (composer/multi-instrumentalist Jake Backer and beatmaker/sonic architect Will Hutchison) set up their makeshift studio to begin exploring the question: what is insider art?
After four years of refinement, the completed Insider Art presents a lush collection of vignettes that demonstrates the duo’s meticulous craftsmanship. Their fascination with layering and dense arrangements creates a shifting sonic palette that combines elaborate guitar work, toy instruments, microcassette recordings, and a song with a 15/8 time signature. Many of the original instrumental recordings were strengthened with dynamic features from Conner Youngblood, Max Wonders, Jazz Ingram, and others. The project touches on themes of exploration, nostalgia, and impermanence across its 17 tracks and deceptively short 21-minute runtime.
As the project reaches its halting conclusion with “Art Is Never Finished Only Abandoned (Rain),” the world of Insider Art vanishes. The duo’s memorable yet fleeting debut introduces them as burgeoning talents ready to stake their claim as two of the most innovative producers in New York. We had a chance to catch up with the duo and talk about inspiration outside of music, the process of working on the album, the most challenging aspect of producing, and much more. Check out the full interview down below.
Tell us about your earliest musical memory?
Will: When I was young, my mom would sing a lullaby when she tucked me into bed. Sometimes I would sing it along with her, and I remember being fascinated by the sound our combined voices made, especially when I could match her pitch. I still can’t sing, but I love hearing the nuance of sound waves working together to create or trigger emotion.
Jake: Hooka Tooka
How did you two actually come together?
J: We ended up meeting through a spreadsheet. At college, the radio station created a networking guide for musicians on campus: what do you play, what kind of shit are you trying to make, etc. Our bands had already shared a bill at that point, but we met for real after that. We eventually started producing together, first for ourselves and then for other people. Bird Language, as it exists now, was a natural evolution of me and Will collaborating over a long time.
W: Spreadsheet magic.
At what point in your life did you have that moment where you said to yourself, “This is it. This is the type of music I want to create?”
W: That moment was in 2016 when we were working on Trapo’s album Shade Trees. The music was so much better than anything I had made before. It wasn’t about locking into a style necessarily, but into a level of quality and artistry. Once you make music that people care about, you never want to do anything else. No matter the artist or type of music, it has to be heat.
J: I’ve honestly never had that moment. I’m always trying to make new and different stuff.
What inspires you outside of music? What do you turn to when the creative well runs a little low?
J: Sometimes, it’s just genres of music I don’t usually listen to. A few years back, I was feeling sort of stuck and tired of what I was hearing. So I looked up the “top 10” salsa albums and listened to them all. It was great! A whole different aesthetic and way of thinking about groove and composition. Outside of music, it’s usually really good prose. I don’t get into poetry too much, but beautiful descriptions in novels make me want to write songs that can even scratch that level. I find it inspiring, and it makes me want to up my pen game.
W: Innovation & creativity in the world. It’s everywhere.
What is your opinion on the ever-spreading sub-genre vine? Are there too many? Do you think there’s perhaps a sub-genre that doesn’t get the attention it deserves?
W: Genre exists as a tool for music marketers, not musicians. I wouldn’t say I like the rules that genre classifications imply for music creators. There are no rules. Genre as an institution also has a divisive and racist history, and it’d be good for the music industry to come to terms with that. It seems like sub-genres are often created to pen in artists who don’t fit under existing labels to be more readily exploited. That said, a genre is a valuable tool in musical analysis (Is meme rap a genre? Are the Beatles a country band because they played country songs? What do we call k-pop musicians when they don’t make pop?) I want to shout out all music that is hard to classify because it was made with art, not commerce, in mind. Maybe that needs to be a new sub-genre… art music or something.
J: Fun to bicker about but ultimately not helpful.
As music producers, it becomes apparent that there is a vast difference between art and business. Is there anything about the music scene that you would personally change?
J: On the business side, I fundamentally wish streaming paid more. At this point, music has become a loss leader in selling merch and living show tickets — it’s sad to see how much the music itself has been devalued. I also wish there was an easier way to report and collect royalties. It’s such a clunky, backward-looking system that it almost makes you feel like it was designed to keep people from getting paid. Also, everyone who’s not paying their producers should pay their producers, [laughs.]
W: More communication, more community.
What was it like to work on Insider Art?
W: Insider Art was a joy to create. It took a long time, but we went on the advice that “you have your entire life to make your first album and nine months to make your second.” The week before the 2016 election, we crammed all our studio gear into my old car (the inspiration for the opening song 93 Mercedes Orchestra) and spent a week in the Catskills recording. It was a wonderful, creative time. Once we got back to Brooklyn, we began a slow process of refining and perfecting the album. Originally we wanted the project to be an instrumental beat tape – but we realized that some of the songs would be much better with vocals. We’re lucky to have very talented friends, and the features we recorded added a lot to the project. Once everything was recorded, I mixed Insider Art myself, and I’m very proud of that. I was figuring it out as I went along. When you’ve spent years on a project, sending it in for mastering is such a sweet feeling — shoutout to Chris Labella, who mastered the project. We’re coming full circle by releasing Insider Art the week before the 2020 election, and we’re super excited to share this weird symphony with the world finally. I hope people listen to it and enjoy it.
Did you borrow inspiration from your previous work or approach this project as an entirely new chapter?
J: Insider Art was self-discovery in real-time. We set out to do this project without a real sense of what a Bird Language album sounds like. When we started recording, we immediately broke a bunch of the guidelines we had set for ourselves. Making this record was rewarding; we were feeling out our artistic direction and boundaries as we were creating the music.
W: We did our best to avoid the mistakes we made in the past.
What would you call the most challenging aspect of producing this project?
W: When we started Insider Art, we knew almost nobody in the music world. We’re producers first and foremost, so we prioritize working with artists over making Bird Language solo music. The biggest challenge was staying focused on finishing this project as we met more great artists and had opportunities to work on cool projects. Although 2020 has been a bad year, it gave us the time to focus on getting Insider Art out into the world. It helps that we picked a fitting quarantine album title back in 2016!
J: Is it too rude to say, Will?
What else is happening next in Bird Language’s world?
J: The big thing we’ve been working on is Sebastian Adé’s project. We’ve spent a lot of quarantine deep in the weeds with him, digging into the songs, the instrumentals, the harmonies. It’s been really exciting to hear the album take shape. We haven’t been afraid to go crazy with the production — some of these cuts have over 100 tracks, and there are tiny sounds tucked away in every song. I think it’s going to reward close listening. It’s really good, and people are 100% going to rock with what Sebastian’s got next.
W: More wins.
Famous last words?
W: Before I die, I hope my last words are “famous last words.”
J: Ahhhhhhhhhhhh *splat*