FKA twigs: "Emotion in Music Is All So Subjective"

<p>FKA twigs' <i>LP1</i> album art by collaborator Jesse Kanda</p>

FKA twigs' LP1 album art by collaborator Jesse Kanda

FKA twigs | Fine Line Music Cafe | Friday, November 14

Update: The Fine Line show is sold out, but details for twigs' Paisley Park appearance are on the next page.

Curlicues of baby hair snake around baby-smooth temples and disappear into spiral plaits. Perfect cupid's bow lips coo at a microphone. A voice both angelic and sultrily impish floats into the air. This is FKA twigs.

The FKA stands for "Formerly Known As" -- an acronym tacked on to her nickname twigs, which refers to the way her bones crack as she dances (she's particular about that lowercase "t"). Her original moniker "twigs" proved too similar to another musical group, so she added a few letters. Christened Tahliah Barnett in rural in Gloucestershire before making her way to London as a teenager, the now-26-year-old has been captivating music fans in-the-know since releasing EP1 2012.

The petite performer is touring across the pond now, selling out shows around the States, and for good reason. She's a damn good performer. Earlier this year, twigs played at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, giving discerning Midwestern fans a taste of the hype they'd only seen in fever-dream videos. Clad in matching patchwork pants, a midriff-baring top, and carefully coiffed pigtails, the singer crooned at the crowd over her blue-tinted sunglasses. The audience was in love.


If you throw a dart at a pile of tabloids, chances are you'll see twigs splashed across the front page -- though not for her music. She's dating actor Robert Pattinson, which has propelled twigs further into the mainstream spotlight than perhaps she would like. Given the outpouring of vitriol twigs has received in relation to her association with Pattinson, it's not hard to see why all the page space on the Daily Mail and People magazine is unwanted attention.

Still, for her fans, twigs' haunting and expert artistry has risen above the tabloid fodder and into that of legend.

Ethereal, provocative, aqueous, sensual -- there are countless ways to describe twigs' sound. And there have been plenty of critics that have tried to fit her style into a category, musically speaking. Is twigs PBR&B? Avant pop? Indie electronica? When it comes to describing her own music, twigs remains mum, relying on the subjective nature of her art and how others perceive her.


"I feel like it's not a word that I can say that my music is," she explains. "I just feel and then I make. It's as simple as that. I can't even name my album, so I'm not going to try and say what word describes my music. I just feel something and then it just comes out of me and then I make it and then it's down to other people to say what words they feel. I don't know... it's weird."

While twigs won't define her music, she's more than willing to have a hand in crafting it every step of the way -- from conception and writing to producing and performing. On EP1, twigs had the help of producer Tic Zogson. Two years later on her debut album LP1, twigs has collaborators like Arca, Sampha, Emile Haynie, Paul Epworth, and Tic helping her craft her sound just the way she wants it.

"Even if I haven't produced a track myself, I'm always so involved," twigs explains. "I pick the sounds and say what instruments I want. Producing for me is like I get to experiment more. I get to really link the sound of the emotion -- how I would feel it, because obviously emotion in music is all so subjective."

The art in producing for twigs lays in being able to tap into exactly how she feels about a song, a synth, or a beat. "If I'm producing myself, then I can feel more hooked into the emotions of what I'm singing about," she says. "I have more of an affinity with the song because really, truly where I'm coming from instead of trying to explain to someone where I'm coming from. If I say I want a buzzy synth, what that means to someone else isn't what necessarily what I mean. It's just more intrinsically linked to what I'm feeling. I feel closer to the songs that I fully produced or co-produced on the record, for sure."

It was a feeling that compelled twigs to use a line from Thomas Wyatt's poetry on LP1 in "Prelude" and on the vinyl pressing. When she relayed the story to us, it was like twigs' intellect was moving just a shade quicker than she could speak, and by the end she was nearly out of breath. And yet, that tale -- and others during our chat -- made it clear just how passionate and deeply twigs delves into her art and the detail behind it.

Here's the story she told me in its entirety:

I was watching a documentary, it was really late. I came in, I'd been out drinking, and I came into my house. I had studio equipment everywhere, just wires and stuff. I stumbled in at three or four o'clock in the morning -- and there was this documentary on artists throughout history that had really inspired specifically English art to be more daring, more sexual, more provocative, or to be more truthful.

There was the example of Thomas Wyatt whose poetry then was very loaded in terms of sexual imagery and the types of words he was using to evoke a feeling in the time when they were -- as sexual beings -- quite repressed. People didn't write so overtly about things, so he just happened to be in this documentary that I was watching. The narrator of the documentary read out the Thomas Wyatt poem, and there was just this one line that was "I love another, and thus I hate myself." It just really resonated with a lot of things I'd been through personally.

I didn't have a title for the album, and I didn't want a title for the album because I just didn't feel that it should have a title. There's just nothing I thought that I could call it that could sum up what it was called. I kind of felt like that on EP1 and EP2 as well, I just didn't feel like it was... not wordy, but I just didn't want to put it under this parcel. I always imagined if my album was called like The Redemption of a Backup Dancer, it would just be a cluster of words that people would try to make into a bigger deal than it is. So I knew I didn't want a title, but "I love another and thus I hate myself" really struck a chord with me. Then I realized that was my plight over the past two years -- to do with family, to do with lovers, to do with my music, to do with me as a producer, a programmer... all these things. It was all this conflict of somehow feeling so passionate and not making the grade within myself and not feeling like I was good enough within myself or not doing exactly what I wanted.

From the anonymous hips in "Hide" and the exaggerated facial features in "Water Me" to the regal splendor in "Two Weeks" and the visceral themes in "Video Girl," twigs has taken the art of music videos to a new level. Having made videos for many of her songs from EP1 through LP1, each piece is like a jarring-yet-entrancing short film. The concepts, each wildly different, are just as diverse when twigs dreams them up.

"They just come into my head," she says of the inspiration behind her music videos. "It's different every time. Sometimes I'll sing a lyric and it reminds me of and image. It's difficult talking about the creative process; I think it just sort of happens. I don't really like to intellectualize things too much."


We talk about if her latest video project -- the can't-take-your-eyes-away visuals of twigs dancing for a death row inmate in "Video Girl" -- is the byproduct of her feelings about her own days as a backup dancer. (She was prominently featured in Jessie J's videos "Price Tag" and "Do It Like a Dude.")

"Yeah, it is actually... It's probably the most biographical song on the record," twigs says of "Video Girl." "Not because other songs aren't about myself -- because they are -- but they're more about interactions with other people. With every other single song on the record, I could almost think about another person that is also included in that song, like a person I've met along the way in my life that I'm writing that song to or about or reflecting upon that experience. But 'Video Girl' has no one else in it apart from me."

twigs conjures up the growing pains and memories that brought about "Video Girl" in its current form:

"It's about me at 19 years old and wanting so badly to do something, but I didn't even know what it was," she says. "I just remember being on set [on music videos] and just wanting something, but not exactly knowing what it was. It was just kind of weird, like I felt thirsty and hungry, which I don't feel anymore at all... and I haven't felt for years now, thank goodness. I just remember this thirst that I had when I was late teens, early 20s... It's almost quite detrimental I think if you're an artist and you're thirsty, which is why I wasn't making good music then. It almost clouded my view -- this want, this aching something that I didn't really know where to place that energy, so I was just sort of dancing for other people so I could make money and sort of become a better musician and better songwriter."

twigs' thirst was quenched long before she exercised creative control over her music these days, though. "My thirst went before I'd even put out EP1," she says. "I don't really know what changed, to be honest with you. It just went for some reason."

While she may not have that nascent artist's hunger anymore, that doesn't mean twigs is idle. She just kicked off her U.S. tour a few days ago and has already noticed a difference in this one thanks to the crew traveling with her along the way.

"I'm quite a homebody and I love just being at home making music and being able to go to dance class when I want," she says, missing her life back home in London. "But this tour's probably been my best one so far, I don't want to jinx it because I'm only a quarter of the way through... It's quite rough, I mean, you're sleeping on a bus every single night."

Just ahead of her tour kickoff, twigs made her U.S. network television debut on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Though she delivered a captivating performance, twigs admits she isn't that fond of television as a performance space.

"I guess kind of found television shows quite hard as an artist," she says. "I really felt like every time I did it I was losing my identity, because you're performing in a place where so many artists have performed before and the shows have a really strict structure for what works for them. TV isn't something that I enjoyed that much... but then I was asked to do Jimmy Fallon, and I just wanted to make something really facile that I could call my own."

Whether or not Fallon won over new fans for her, twigs isn't sure, since she has limited her time on social media. "I was in a phase where I haven't looked at anything for almost two months, so it's hard for me to tell," she says. "I only just started looking again maybe like three days ago."

That being said, she did tweet out a coy message about performing at Paisley Park this weekend. (Here's to hoping we'll be able to see the fruits of that event featuring one one, but two artists "Formerly Known As" in some capacity, though given Prince's allergy to cellular technology, who knows.)

Despite twigs' trepidation about performing on the small screen, she pulled off a stunner on Fallon last week that combined her singing and dancing talents with an other-worldly display of wind power and floating fabric orchestrated by artist Danuel Wurtzel.

"When I was given an opportunity to perform on Fallon, I thought it was a great opportunity to work with an artist that I'd been looking at," says twigs. "We just reached out to him and he was really down to collaborate with us."

The finesse twigs' exercised on Fallon didn't come without hours of practice in Wurtzel's studio. "It's just so tricky, isn't it," she says. "A lot of times the fabric would just blow in your face and you'd get wrapped around it. There were so many variables that could potentially go so wrong when you're working with air and fabric... which was actually bigger than I was." twigs pauses and laughs before growing serious.

"I just wanted to do something brave," she says resolutely. "As an artist, I'm always trying to be brave and push my own personal boundaries. I guess it could have been quite disastrous, but it ended up working out well luckily... but in a parallel universe somewhere, I'm definitely drowning in organza." twigs laughs again and then she gets playfully cosmic.

"Somewhere else in the world in another universe, I think it could have gone really wrong and I'm trapped in fabric somewhere still," she speculates, "Luckily the wind was in my favor that day."

Here are the details for twigs' performance at Paisley Park this Saturday night:

FKA twigs will perform tonight, November 14 at the Fine Line Music Cafe. SOLD OUT.


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