FKA Twigs is a rising R&B star

We spoke to the British singer, songwriter & producer about her history as a music video dancer and what it brings to her blossoming solo career.

FKA twigs by David Burton
FKA Twigs

FKA Twigs is a 26-year-old R&B singer and producer, a musician who’s learned how to aim and strike at the perfect junction of icy minimalism and fiery swells of sonic seduction. Her vocals are as light on theatrics as her music is lean on noise — a clear and cleanly delivered metaphor over a scant but expertly executed smattering of beats and a few fleeting strokes of synths is often all it takes to win a listener over by the time their first FKA Twigs track is over.

The cover of Cult MTL's August issue
The cover of Cult MTL’s August issue

Born Tahliah Barnett in Gloucester, England, FKA Twigs (she added the “formerly known as” to avoid legal issues with another Twigs) has been based in London for nearly a decade. She’s already left behind one career, as a professional dancer in music videos—she’s appeared behind and alongside the likes of Kylie Minogue and Jessi J, a job she reflects on in the song “Video Girl.”

I spoke to Twigs in late July, ahead of her first Montreal show on Aug. 9 — a proper live show,she promises, where she’ll be backed by three musicians and no click track— and the release of her debut album LP1 by U.K. label Young Turks (the XX, SBTRKT) on Aug. 12. Having made a pair of EPs over the past year, she’s been even more prolific in her production of music videos—she’s made 10 to date. We connected a couple of days prior to the unveiling of her latest video, the opulent “Two Weeks.”

Lorraine Carpenter: You must be a music video expert by now. Did you come up with the concepts for all your videos?
FKA Twigs: I always have pictures in my brain, and I want to get them out. I always direct or co-direct my videos, or make the concept and bring it to somebody else for them to do. I’m really, really involved in everything I do. It’s really important to me.

Half of the video is the concept and half is the performance, and if it’s all me then it’s all on me. Even if it’s a vacant performance like “Water Me” or “Papi Pacify” where it’s down to me to still look strong and still look in control even though I have a big black guy shoving his hand in my mouth, it’s down to me to get the message across. In “Papi Pacify,” if it had been a model or an actress doing the part and they didn’t understand where I was coming from and they couldn’t do it, that would ruin the whole video for me. If anything, it’s easier doing it myself — I know the things I’m good at; I know my limitations.

I know some artists really struggle when they get in front of a camera, whereas I’ve always done that. For me, the last thing to fit into the jigsaw puzzle was learning how to program all my own music and use Ableton and getting better at playing the piano and getting better at playing bass and drum programming. Those have been the things that I had to really concentrate on over the last two years.

LC: So when did the transition from dance to music happen?
FKAT: Um, I mean, it’s weird, there was never really a transition. I moved to London when I was 16 to become a dancer, and I realized I didn’t want to do it within, like, a month of going to dance college — I realized I just wanted to do music, but I still kept on training. Dance has been such a big part of my life. I would always keep training, even if I didn’t go for four months, I would suddenly be like, “Oh, I have to go and get back on it,” because in four months you start to lose flexibility and strength. If you don’t do a pirouette for that long, it’s amazing how your balance goes and how your body just gets off sync.

And I’ve been in the studio for half of my week, every single week since I was like 16, 17 years old, really. Every opportunity, I’ve always been making music, and I knew that I’ve wanted to only make music. My mom said to me when I was young, “What you wanna do [is] find a job where, like, you can make the most amount of money for the least amount of time and you can enjoy your life and do things that you actually want to do,” and that’s what I did with my dancing.

I mean I worked in Selfridges [department store] for a while as well, but like, doing a 9-to-5 minimum wage job, and I thought to myself, “Why am I working in Selfridges all day, a bar all night and coming home with nothing when I could be training, getting fit, being a dancer and only work, like, three days a week?”

I would always sack off a dance job in a second if I thought that I had a really good studio session, know what I mean? Singing always came first. ■

FKA Twigs plays with opener P. Morris at Cabaret du Mile End (5240 Parc) tonight, Saturday, Aug. 9, 8 p.m., SOLD OUT