Interview: FKA twigs

“I love another, and thus I hate myself.”

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FKA twigs for Glamcult by Dominic Sheldon

Truth be told, speaking to the woman whom many describe as “the future” is more than a little stressful—especially when she describes the preceding interview as “a nightmare”. Chatting to Glamcult, Tahliah Barnett confirms that her current ascendancy to superstardom is just another step in an inevitably upwardly mobile career. She laughs, sings, ponders and lets go. And sometimes, FKA twigs has no answer at all, simply because the silence can’t be expressed in words. “I’d like to have an actual conversation with you. Does that make sense?”

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I love another, and thus I hate myself. It is this well-known line from a poem by 16th-century lyrical poet Sir Thomas Wyatt that flutters through the first and highest registers of FKA twigs’ recently released debut EP. The vulnerability, as well as the beauty that lies hidden in the continuous battle to better oneself, is a recurring theme in the 26-year-old producer’s work. Yet when one speaks to twigs, whose pseudonym is a reference to the audible crackling of her limbs when she dances, the artist seems surprisingly down-to-earth. “I just get on with it” is one of the phrases she uses repeatedly, even when she speaks of revealing the depths of her soul through music. “I don’t think about it, I just get on with it!”

twigs’ ethereal pop is not only characterized by an otherworldly sensitivity, it is also remarkably free from fear. “I’m not sure where that energy comes from,” she ponders. “I didn’t have loads of things growing up, so my mum basically always told me that I could do whatever I wanted to. I guess it’s difficult to look at things with hindsight. I’ve always thought like this: if you want to do something, get on with it. You snooze, you lose.”

If LP1—quite possibly the most hotly anticipated album of 2014—proves anything besides exceptional talent, it is that hard work does indeed pay off. “For me it was a journey about learning to be a better producer, pushing myself sonically. It was a search to find new and unusual sounds, a sonic palette that I could call my own, and one that no one has used before. My album is about that constant struggle to improve yourself and to get better at things. Whether it’s your relationships, your art, your music—no matter what it is: ‘I love another, and thus I hate myself’. This has kind of become the subtitle for the record.” Vis-à-vis the actual album title, twigs’ answer is short but sweet: “The name doesn’t really refer to anything. I like letters and I like numbers in that way. Just like my name: FKA twigs. I like how it is… very simple. I do like simple things.”

When twigs graced the cover of Dazed some months ago, editor-in-chief Tim Noakes characterized the swiftly rising artist with the words: “Her default volume is hushed.” In line with John Cage and Philip Glass, whose work she admires, twigs’ compositions repeatedly emphasize silence, bringing it together with the sweet structures of R&B and the dishevelled structures of avant-garde electronics. Apropos Noakes’ description, twigs leaves it up to her listeners to determine the veracity. “Sometimes people say something like that, and you don’t think about it until they say it. I can see that there’s a lot of silence in my music, but sometimes I put really high wishy-washy sounds in the background to fill in space. Maybe sometimes I don’t hear the silence at all. Then I can still hear the twirling sounds going on in the highest frequencies, or I’m still thinking about the reverb that is delayed and pounding in the background. Different people hear different things, don’t they?”

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Not only is quiet an important element of twigs’ music, it also drives her powerfully subtle and intimate shows. In London, her current hometown, the artist recently opened a show with a soundscaped rendition of Gavin Bryars’ Jesus Blood. “I think sonically it’s really beautiful,” she explains. “I love that it’s really brave and almost 20 minutes long. There are a lot of subtle differences going on throughout the piece. It’s bold and beautiful, and I find it really calming.” Not surprisingly, twigs got to know the song through the work of Glass. “I like listening to radio stations on Spotify and Pandora. That’s how I found this beautiful Gavin Bryars piece. Listen to Philip Glass and you’ll come across really special things.” When twigs took the stage at Amsterdam’s PITCH festival last July, she didn’t hesitate to ask for complete quiet. Looking back on it, she becomes animated. “Festivals are such unusual environments. People haven’t necessarily paid to see you and everyone’s really excited, talking about the next act that’s going to be on, and blah blah blah.” If you suppose jovial festival hubbub is unavoidable, you’re definitely in the room with the wrong person. “It’s important that the people who were there to see me, actually got to experience the show how it’s supposed to be experienced. And that’s not with people ordering drinks at bars in the background. I could see the people who were there to see me. I could spot them in the crowd a mile off, and I really appreciate that. I’d rather see the room half full with people who are going to be respectful. It’s my show, do you know what I mean? If you’ve gone into a tent to watch a show, watch the show!” Almost nonchalantly, she concludes: “I don’t mind if people leave—that’s cool.”

Shortly before twigs released the first single from EP1, she collaborated with LA boudoir’n’b band inc., aka siblings Daniel and Andrew Aged. Today, talk of the untitled audiovisual project they produced still makes twigs smile. “Those guys are so cool! They used to have a house in the desert, so I went to live with them for three weeks. It was incredible!” Not only did twigs come together with the boys as FKA x inc., she also asked them to participate on her record. “They actually played strings on Lights On. Are you also familiar with Kicks? There’s a funky keyboard line that comes in near the end, which goes like this—” a clear voice flutters through the room, flawlessly reproducing the electronic frills of her closing track. “Amazing musicians, they are!” Yet twigs doesn’t embark on collaborations light-heartedly. “Sometimes when people are a bit more famous, they don’t even know why they’re reaching out to you,” she comments. “They’re just hitting you up, not at all knowing what they want from you. When I work with artists like inc. or LuckI3 Eck$, I know they’re actually coming with their own.”

It’s on her own that twigs seems to function best, and if there’s one place the artist considers sacred, it is the confinement of her room. “Yes, I stay there a lot. I find it very inspirational, just hanging out amongst my books, my little things, the life that I’ve built for myself.” When, in the first stanza of the (twisted) hymn-like Closer she whispers, “Now I want to find you, and hurry to you,” twigs is actually referring to herself—but also to all things higher. “It’s about building a relationship with the better version of me,” she explains. “And it’s about building a relationship with God. Even if you’re not religious, if you don’t believe in God or you haven’t worked out what you believe in quite yet. I believe that being a good and kind person is some sort of higher energy within myself.” Perhaps just as easily, twigs’ heartfelt lyrics can be perceived in a hyper sensual or sexual way, as proven by uneducated critics and large numbers of YouTube commenters. The artist wholeheartedly counters such assumptions: “It doesn’t do justice to my work! People could perceive ‘I want to be closer to you’ as ‘I want to have sex with you’, but that’s not what it is. On the record there are maybe two or three songs that are that way inclined. I guess people make you into what they want to make you into. It doesn’t bother me. I also don’t think it downplays my music. It’s purely perception—and if anything, that’s really interesting.”

By Leendert Sonnevelt

Photography: Dominic Sheldon

www.wwwater.me

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