“Look for the boat in the parking alley and you’ll find the door buzzer across from it (trust me this will make sense when you’re here).”
That was the sole source of direction given to me the first time I traveled across the East River to meet up with Bird Language. Linking with the Brooklyn based production duo a few months removed from their cultivation of Trapo‘s 2016 smash, Shade Trees, the two invited me over for a house party towards the end of April.
After locating said boat, said entrance, and said buzzer, I made my way into the remodeled warehouse of an apartment building, reaching the second floor to a door that was already ajar.
“Will’s in the back,” said a girl in the kitchen double fisting some Bud Light Platinum.
Sifting my way through drinking games, friendly conversation, and other recreational activities, I came upon the back room of the spacious apartment. Then, nudging my head inside the door I was greeted by the group’s cerebral sonic expert, Will Hutchison.
“Yo, man, come on up,” he said.
By “up,” he meant up the makeshift staircase leading to his bedroom’s bird nest, a cozy loft sitting directly parallel a tall, freshly painted, white brick wall. On any given evening in the five bedroom Williamsburg apartment, that wall sports images of anything from fractal animation to OG N64 games like NFL Blitz and Mario Party (SIDENOTE: I mounted an absurd Mario Party comeback victory to defeat Will the very first time I ever met him.).
Scattered about Will’s room are random books on birds, BIC lighters Sharpie’d with the group’s name, and bird themed hats and apparel ranging from a royal blue Seahawks snapback to an equally dated Duck, North Carolina crewneck.
According to Jake Backer (the group’s genre defying, instrumental anarchist), the duo came up with the name Bird Language through a “throw shit at the wall and see how it sticks” approach, with Hutchison adding that they “made a long ass list of names while zooted” and the fowl themed moniker was one of two good titles that made it past the chopping block.
A whiteboard calendar is tacked next to Hutchison’s dresser stocked with notes about an impending Trapo verse, photos of the duo after a night dubbed “The Roast of Will,” and other general reminders that pale in comparison to the group’s work with an artist that’s graced publications such as NPR, XXL, and Pigeons & Planes. Also scrawled on the very bottom in red letters is the goal “QUIT OUR DAY JOBS,” something neither of the two have had the opportunity to claim just yet.
But still, the elephant (or pride of elephants rather) in the room is the group’s stocked inventory of studio equipment seated front row center. Facing the lone window is Hutchison’s setup — a desktop crowded with knobs, notes, various vinyls, and a Korg ES-1 sampling machine. Backer’s bread and butter remains the instrumentation, as he plays the bass, guitar, drums, and piano.
Both native New Yorkers, Backer and Hutchison initially met while studying at Yale University. After developing a bond with one another and frequently collaborating on music together, the two moved to Brooklyn with a group of college friends, determined to bring their music aspirations to a bigger platform.
Then, in April of 2016, Hutchison was approached by an old friend in Steven Louis, manager for Trapo and founder of the music management company Esselgy. After reconnecting with Louis, the manager asked Hutchison if he and Backer could help guide the production process of Trapo’s upcoming album, a project dubbed Shade Trees.
Chalking up their collaboration with the young Wisconsin rapper as serendipity, Hutchison told me “We lucked our way onto that record pretty much,” a notion Backer was quick to cosign.
With disregard to the hasty partnership, the duo delivered, teaming up with producers like Norwei, Chris LaBella, and Derrick Thomas to score a project that ultimately received higher marks than both Childish Gambino‘s Awaken, My Love!, and KiD CuDi‘s Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ on Pigeons & Planes’ comprehensive year end list.
Thriving off lessons learned and the success of Shade Trees, the group now debuts their Skunkworks EP. The project, a groovy compilation of four playfully titled beats, showcases Hutchison’s synthesized direction and Backer’s experimental take on modern day hip-hop.
“It’s an interesting proposition to put out music after having been in the shed for so long,” Backer told me, adding “We’ve been making tracks on tracks on tracks and showing them to almost no one. With Skunkworks, we’ve made something that feels like a representation of all the sounds and textures we’ve been developing and experimenting with in the past few years, but brought together as a cohesive whole. This EP really gives you a taste of what, to us, has been a really dope collaboration. Collaboration in its true form – where both artist’s tastes and ideas are present but also the end result is something neither could have created by ourselves.”
Providing first hand insight into their dual-creative process, Backer is right. After watching the two go to work multiple times in that room, it’s nothing more than a machine that’s beginning to realize it’s capabilities through a shared workload. Often during recording sessions the group will set a timer, claiming that after 30 minutes if a beat isn’t going anywhere, it’s pretty much a lost cause. It’s a calculated process that’s paying dividends. All four Skunkworks tracks present carefully curated, settling in as a united set, each one complimenting and building upon that of their counterparts.
“Skunkworks sounds like hanging out with us,” Hutchison said. “The music is serious, but there’s always a joke underneath all of it. It’s great when you can tell that musicians are having fun when they’re creating or performing, and we want people get that vibe from this project. The songs all embody distinct feelings, and as people are going through it we want them to think ‘I want this to be part of my life’s soundtrack, lemme throw this on my smoking playlist or my driving playlist or my study playlist or whatever.’ We hope people can see some of their own lives in these tracks and connect with Bird Language a little bit through that.”
Peep Bird Language’s debut EP Skunkworks below, and stay posted for their full length album Insider Art dropping this fall.