Nerves Baddington has been Birmingham favorites ever since they first released music in 2014, and recently returned to provide more great music to the city they love with two unique releases titled “Micro” and “Macro”. The double-drop is a new milestone of musical glory for a group that’s already made some incredible music. Baddington bassist Kilgore Doubt (John McNaughton) shines in his first-time role as lead producer, with help from drummer Cam (Johnson) and often collaborating with the group’s lyric-slinging frontman inkline (Ryan Howell).The album can even be bought on cassette (with incredible custom gift boxes) and the cover design can also be bought on shirts from the group’s store.

inkline absolutely tears up the beats with fun plays on popular phrases and pointed observations, and he doesn’t sacrifice any catchiness on the tracks while doing so. But this album isn’t just about the evolutional greatness of Nerves Baddington. It is a jaw-dropping ode to lyricism that’s jam-packed with collaborations with many of the best wordsmiths in Alabama and around the nation. It is a community affair of an album, and we’re all the better for it.

Besides the quality of songs on the “Micro” and “Macro,” the actual structure of the two albums sets them apart from a regular release. “Macro” contains a variation of every song on the “Micro” album, played in reverse order–so the first song will find its variation on the last track of the second record. This idea came from an audiobook that John was listening to. “There was a reference to a film that you could view one way and get one meaning from it, and view it backwards and get a different meaning from it.” Ryan was quick to jump on the concept, thinking of the Satanic panic of the 80s, where concerned parents thought rock records played in reverse brought evil, and the ideas of self-reflection and struggles. Choruses and some of Ryan’s verses are the same, but different samples, production, and features are featured on the second album, creating two completely unique experiences that are still clearly tied together.

The beginning of the project didn’t start with the plan for two albums, or even one really. It was just a necessary creative spark that snowballed into something incredible. The group hadn’t released too much since inkline’s move to Denver two years ago, and the pandemic mixed with life’s personal challenges made creativity even more scarce. Then one late summer day Cam sent Kilgore Doubt, who’d been honing his production skills, a drum beat with some 808s. John added some stuff to it and sent it to Ryan, as he’d done with many songs before. McNaughton laughs saying he began his production career with stuff around 125 BPM and would send these works to Ryan with the hopeful intentions he’d jump on one. None of those brought in a verse, but this latest effort was different.

“Ryan’s the producer that I look up to,” John shares. “He’s the one that I was asking questions when I first started learning to do this shit.” McNaughton didn’t think that beat was anything super special but Ryan told him, “No this is good, so keep going.” inkline delivered his lyrics to the song the very next day. Cam and John would deliver more tracks, and Ryan would tell them “Keep going, keep going.” Kilgore would eventually take over most of the front-end production duties, with shared files online being the way these musicians were able to record an album from three different states in a pandemic.

“It’s kinda fun doing it from sharing files. Just very normal to do anyway these days. I was sharing with people when I was living in Birmingham, so it’s not new like that but writing two records was different but I was comfortable with it,” inkline shares, “I kind of zone out. I’m not a guy that needs a room full of people at the studio or anything like that.” Being in his own space for writing and eventually mixing the songs set a mood that brought forth a really fun creative energy for the artist. Kilgore Doubt agreed that the process was fun. “You might wake up to a file,” he shares, or maybe get one while at work and “head outside and listen to it. I know I was trying to push myself, and I was just trying to impress him.” Ryan was liking John’s production, and was certainly impressing him in return. “I was dancing around the house, and I don’t dance,” McNaughton joked about hearing some of Howell’s verses for the first time. 

It was September 2021, and Nerves Baddington determined they would finish their album in three weeks and aim for a Halloween release–but then Kilgore Doubt went and read the book on reverse meanings and they jumped to album #2. They laughed while saying some of their friends thought the concept was crazy, but “the momentum just hit and we just kinda kept going.” They were on to something special already, and showed no signs of slowing down. As inkline put it, “It just sounded dope, so it was like why not go for it?”

The “Micro” and “Macro” releases have started 2022 off right for the Birmingham music scene.

Kilgore Doubt was already enthused about his beat-making mentor rapping on a beat he created, and was about to see some of his all-time favorite artists deliver linguistic thunderbolts on his often gritty, exhilarating productions. Artists from Birmingham, Atlanta, Denver, and more were excited to hear about the project, and surprisingly quick to come back with career-defining verses. The Magic City is well represented with artists like Black Plastique, LINNIL, Shaun Judah, G.I. Magus, Phrasure, The Phasing Octopus, Joshua of K.L.U.B. Monsta, K1NG ELJAY, Akil Pratt, and Ozu8lack give their all to their craft. 

“As far as hip-hop goes, I don’t know any doper rappers to be honest,” Ryan comments, “My top five is full of Birmingham.” John agrees with this sentiment, saying “I’ll always be mad that that last K.L.U.B. Monsta album is not massive.” They are loved by the hip-hop heads in the Magic City though, including Kilgore Doubt who was elated when Joshua of the group came back with a verse. “That makes me smile. That makes me happy as fuck.” In addition to the lyrical features, another fun collaboration came with the Nerves Baddington crew inviting The Phasing Octopus to co-produce two tracks with them.

Some of the verse requests went to people John had long respected as musicians, but didn’t know very well. One was Day Tripper from The Difference Machine in Atlanta, who John first saw opening a Run The Jewels concert. I just took a shot. I was like ‘Do you want to do a verse?’ and he said yes and had it back in 24 hours. Maybe less,” McNaughton recalled, “And fucking killed it. His verse is incredible.” Ryan concurred with how impressive the speed of the process was, saying “He was so fast. You told me he was down when I was getting ready to go to work and by lunch break you sent me a verse.”

Another fun out-of-state collaboration was with Mane-Rok, a member of Stay Tuned which inkline has been working with while living in Denver. Nerves Baddington was doing the inverse to the last song on the first album, meaning this would be the leading song in the second. Inkline didn’t feel he wanted to start the song, but they needed someone close to the group to do so. Mane-Rok came in and calmed all concerns. “I’ll never forget the first night I heard that,” is the recollection of Kilgore Doubt on the primary listen.

Once all the parts were sent in and Ryan completed his mixing, everything was sent to Jason Hamric (also of Substrate Radio and a longtime friend of the group) to master. “He’s as much a part of Nerves Baddington as any of us really. He’s done so much for us,” inkline shares, ”especially in growing in finding a sound, and not being afraid to be creative. Definitely shouts out to Hamric. He’s a great mastering engineer too, so it was just kind of a win that he just so happens to fuck with us.” 

“Me and Ryan have been making music together for most of my life at this point,” John shares, “We met when we were still in high school.” From shoegaze-inspired bands to post-punk adventures, a long hiatus due to life’s quite literal trials, reconnecting and evolving from an acoustic guitar and a bass set-up to the unique and inspired sounds that are Nerves Baddington in 2022. “I’m glad it happened. I’m really glad,” John reflects–and this is a theme you get from the entire Zoom interview. It’s full of smiles, genuine appreciation, and gratitude. They are truly excited about what they just accomplished, and the rising city around them.

“It’s a special place with a lot of passion and obviously talent, but it’s way more than that. That shit runs deep. Whatever it is–it’s magical. Once you notice it you see it everywhere. I’m using hip-hop as an example, but it’s literally everything. Whenever you notice somebody’s passion in Birmingham, when you see how deep it runs. There’s a familiar hunger to it.” There’s an energy that’s created by that unified hunger, and Nerves Baddington just released the soundtrack. Tune in and listen.

Cover image from Jaysen Michael at Secret Playground Photography