No Bird Sing announced today that not only is their third full-length album finished and ready to be released but that it will come out on Sage Francis’s Strange Famous Records, home to influential hip-hop artists like B. Dolan, Buck 65, and Doomtree’s Cecil Otter.
The signing is a big deal for the Minneapolis trio, who have earned a reputation around town for their sizzling live shows and thought-provoking, genre-fusing albums, but have only just begun reaching outside their Twin Cities fanbase. To celebrate, the group—which features MC Joe Horton, guitarist Robert Mulrennan, and drummer Graham O’Brien—dropped their first single today, and it features a guest spot from their new label’s founder.
No Bird Sing’s Definition Sickness is due out November 12 on Strange Famous, with a release show at the Cedar Cultural Center on November 14. I caught up with frontman Joe Horton to find out more about what this signing symbolizes for them and get a little insight into the new album.
Local Current: How did the Strange Famous signing come about, and what does that mean for you and No Bird Sing?
Joe Horton: I met Sage Francis at the Micheal “Eyedea” Larsen bench dedication ceremony at Cherokee Park in Saint Paul. Sage and Mike were friends, and Mike and I were friends, so even in Mike’s absence he was connecting people. When we finished the album, we sent it to a few labels we thought would really understand what we were trying to do and be able to advocate for the record. Strange Famous was high on that list, due in large part to Sage’s own music. I’ve been a big fan of his for years. Given that SFR has released some of my favorite rap records, it was a no-brainer to say yes when they offered to pick up the record.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the signing means to other people. Based on the initial reactions, I’d say it means an added level of validation. When folks hear your name in the same sentence as Sage, Buck 65, Scroobious Pip, and Cecil Otter, etc. it can only breed good things. To us, though, the signing is symbolically very important. To know that people we hold in such high esteem have interest in and respect for what we’re doing is a huge motivator.
What should we know about the new record? Any overarching themes, or special guests you’d like to highlight?
The record is nothing if not overarching themes. We spent a long time crafting this record. It’s more, to us anyway, than a collection of songs. It’s more produced than people might expect. Graham really put his signature on the album as head producer. His sound is coming into its own and is operating, in my opinion, at an extremely high level. Really, in the crafting of the record, it felt like everybody was firing on all cylinders.
There are a lot of guests on the record. The lead track features Sage and we have the FIX camp represented with both Crescent Moon and Kristoff Krane guesting on the record. I suppose I won’t spoil the surprise by giving away all the guests, but I’m excited for people to hear the crew we assembled. One thing I will say is this record has a stronger female presence than any album we’ve done so far. I really dig that. It’s a different energy and it compliments some of the darker or aggressive notes we’re used to hitting.
What’s the meaning behind the title Definition Sickness?
The title is a reference to the overarching lyrical theme of the record. We live in a world that’s dominated by conception. By definition. Language, in a lot of ways, has divorced us from reality. It’s almost like we’re looking at reality through the surface of the water, and as a result can’t seem to grab what we’re reaching for. We kill for peace. We create divisions in the name of equality. We have wage-slaves in a country that prides itself above all else on its protection of personal freedoms. These things are only possible because we are sick with our own definitions.
Reality can be experienced with more presence of mind than we currently pay it. We can stick our heads into the water and open our eyes. In order to do that, though, we’ll have to admit some very difficult truths to ourselves. We have to practice a more pragmatic use of conception. I can’t control anybody else’s desire to do this. I only know that the more I use language as a tool instead of allowing it to define my entire existence, I experience a depth of beauty and clarity that cannot be described. It can only be hinted to. For that reason, and because nobody wants to be told what to do, I tried to avoid being didactic about this point in the record. My lyrical contribution to the record is like a finger pointing to something I very much want the listener to look at. I hope they don’t mistake my finger for the thing. I hope they use the record as a tool to strip themselves of excess and erroneous conceptions. This is the most important thing anybody can talk about, so I had no choice, if I were to speak, but to speak about this.