When our call connects, it is 5pm in L.A. “I’ve been in the studio since 7am, all day!” Baird tells me, who seems to be living life with a full tank of gas, and his foot taped to the accelerator. Music has been a large part of Baird’s life, it all started when he was six or so years old... he can't really remember. Fast-forward almost 2 decades later, Baird has two solid projects, BIRDSONGS Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, as well as jumping into the spotlight for his producer whiz collaborations on the latest BROCKHAMPTON album: ROADRUNNER. And since then, has been calling Kevin’s studio his second home. “We actually recorded some more BROCKHAMPTON yesterday. It is non-stop. Kevin texted me yesterday and I was going to take the afternoon off... but I pulled up with some beats and my guitar.”
"I think things should be messier, less clean and less perfected. So I'm really hoping that if I leave any mark at all it's the idea that music can be rough around the edges, and still be perfect to you."
BIRDSONGS VOL. 1 and BIRDSONGS VOL. 2, each offering their own unique texture of sounds. “With the first one I was just trying to see what I could do... the second one was a little more tactical. I feel like I opened up different avenues with the first one, I had a sound that was poking in a few directions, then I felt like with volume 2 I was going further with the traditional indie rock direction on one of the tracks, then more of a dance direction on one of them, then one that’s just a guitar duet... The second was more exploratory because I didn’t want to trod all over the same ground.” Explaining the creative process behind BIRDSONGS Vol. 2, Baird explains how the project felt like a cross-country trip. “It was kind of a trip because it was made across four different cities.” The project began in Baltimore where Baird is from. He was working a part time job, still living with his parents, recording in a little art studio downtown. He got accepted into a program in Mexico City to study ethnomusicology, the study of music in its social and cultural contexts. In just a short four weeks later, he found himself over in Mexico City. He wouldn’t admit it at the time, but he put music on the backburner. He was still slowly progressing on it in Mexico City, but was a lot more focused on being there to have an adventure, telling himself that once this chapter of his life was closed he would get back into music. He lived there for about eight months, having way so much fun that he didn’t want to come home. That’s when the pandemic hit, they began to close borders, so he caught a flight two hours before the cut off. It was a crazy mess. He returned to the United States, and crashed on his friend’s couch for quarantine. He tells me how they were staying on his grandfather’s old farm house in Vashon Island, just out of Seattle. “Basically, his grandfather had been a painter and had a separate studio out the back. I brought my speakers and finished the project there on this rainy island in the middle of the woods. I wish I could have stayed there forever.” When he returned to L.A, he wrapped up the mixes and masters for the project. “BIRDSONGS Vol. 2 was basically just moving between a few different places, and I think that’s why it sounds a little like a collage, there are a lot of different influences... there’s some stuff that I wrote in Mexico, some that I wrote in Baltimore and then on Vashon Island.”
Now, Baird is working on BIRDSONGS Vol. 3, his favourite one so far. He tells me that it is the time that he can get away from producing for other people. “I’m really lucky that I’ve been busy with that, but I also have to say no to some things to allow some time for myself. It really is an amazing problem to have don’t get me wrong, I shouldn’t complain about it! I think I’m way better at working with other people... I set out this goal for myself to make all of this stuff as a portfolio, and it’s the purest manifestation of my creative work so I do love it, but it is a lot easier when someone gives you a hard deadline or somebody is in the room bouncing ideas to you. You know, I’ll have Kevin Abstract saying “make it sound more psychedelic... make it sound more rock...” I can just go and do that.” His budding friendship with Kevin started by chance, in fact Baird tells me that even meeting BROCKHAMPTON was all down to luck. His friend was an engineer at Rick Ruben’s famous Shangri La studio for a long time. He had some sessions with Romil Hemnani, BROCKHAMPTON’s kingpin producer. He asked if Baird could tag along. “So, I was going to Shangri La right? This famous, mystical studio where Rick Ruben walks around with his shoes off and takes ice baths... so I took half a tab of acid before, because I thought it would be this dreamland, and it was! But when I got there and I saw there were a few members of BROCKHAMPTON, all of a sudden I was like “oh shit... I’ve made a mistake...” I was starting to trip, and there are all these people here. I walked in and messed up all of the handshakes, I was super awkward. I was just trying to not be embarrassed when something might not sound good… I’d try it anyway, and because of that I got a long with them on a musical level really well.” They exchanged numbers, but Baird didn’t hear anything from them for a few months. BROCKHAMPTON had actually already finished their ROADRUNNER album... or so Baird thought. Three months pass, and he saw Jabari Manwa had posted a photo in the studio onto his Instagram story. Baird took a shot, and messaged him. This shot was a straight swish. “Five minutes later I get a text from Kevin saying “yo, we are re-doing ROADRUNNER... come to the studio.” so I dropped what I was doing and got there. I plugged right in and started recording! They’re just like, go, go, go! I walked in, and didn’t leave for three weeks.” Baird has described this experience as a crazy three-week long summer camp. “The recording process was really fast-paced, they are just constantly working. I would say that the typical process was either me, Romil or Jabari would pull something up, a skeleton of a beat... and we would just start jamming over it and record some live instruments over it. Joba plays bass really well, so usually he’d start with the bass and I would start playing my guitar. We would add drums, and just kept jamming until we had a loop. We would let the loop keep rocking, and then all of a sudden you would see everyone jump up to start writing lyrics, and then one person will step up and start showing what they have, and ideas begin to bounce around.” He says that on the most productive days the group were making six or seven songs.
Five minutes later I get a text from Kevin saying “"yo, we are re-doing ROADRUNNER... come to the studio. So I dropped what I was doing and got there. I plugged right in and started recording! I walked in, and didn’t leave for three weeks.”
Baird tells me he didn’t contribute too much to the writing side of the album, but chimed in now and again. This occasional chime would eventually lead to him making an appearance on the album, featuring on the song ‘OLD NEWS’. Everyone would leave the studio for an hour or longer to write their raps, and so he thought why not? “I thought I may as well try to write a verse if everyone else is. It’s not my thing, but if there is nothing else to do...” He tells me that ‘OLD NEWS’ started from a jam. He starts playing the opening riff on his guitar over our zoom call. He continues, telling me how he just started playing, Joba added a bassline, and Jabari laid down the hook. However, because BROCKHAMPTON work so quickly, often as soon as an idea becomes to feel diminishing returns, they would instantly start working on a new idea. So, the group were sitting with the hook for almost two weeks. It made a few resurfaces, but it kept getting lost in the shuffle of things. Baird really believed in the song, and nobody had written anything for it – so one night around 5am, while the group were working on another song, Baird threw his headphones on and began writing. "I had written a couple of other verses, but this one was the one that could work, it felt good. I honestly wouldn’t have written that had I not just watched everyone else write their verses the energy of that was kinetic and was very much in the air. It felt like the normal thing to do. I wanted to try and give something more so it could be a proper contender for the project.” He recorded his verse, laying it down faster than anything he does on his own projects just to keep up with the rapid pace the group had. “I just texted it to Kevin, and then went to get food. I came back and they told me that they love my verse, which was pretty cool. I think it fit really well because their energy rubbed off on me, I don’t usually write like that.” While thinking back on this experience, Baird shares how he wants to blur the boundaries between artist and producer. He believes there is a strange sort of dichotomy that exists to separate the two. “It makes things easier to create if people have roles. But I like making things that go across those lines. It just seems like rules can be more fluid and studio roles don’t have to be so strict” he continues “I’m not necessarily trying to be the biggest star and make the most palatable music, I’m just giving a portfolio of my skills. I’m producing and playing all the instruments all myself, not because it’s better, but it feels like an accurate portrayal of me.
As our conversation draws to a close, I ask Baird what mark he wants to leave with his music. He ponders for a moment, and begins telling me that he is trying to make music that is conscious of the music that came before it... while also being irreverent “you have to know the rules, but then you can break them...” he continues, “I think things should be messier, things should be less clean and less perfected, so I’m hoping that if I leave any mark it is the idea that music can be rough around the edges, and still be perfect to you. I don’t know what to say without sounding cliché, I don’t think I’m god’s gift to music, I’m just another dude making music.”
Listen to Baird's latest project, 'BIRDSONGS VOL. 2' on Spotify below, as well as his production and feature on BROCKHAMPTON's album, 'ROADRUNNER'
Baird is featured in Tenner Magazine's 'Discover' issue - available to pre-order now!
Words by Oli Spencer
Photography by Oli Spencer, shot over FaceTime