On FKA twigs’ acclaimed 2014 debut, LP1, she explored the hymn format and resisted genre classification. The album landed her BRIT Award, Mercury Prize and MTV Video Music Award nominations; by 2018, she scored a high-profile commercial with Apple, appearing in a Spike Jonze-directed short.
Now, the British artist born Tahliah Debrett Barnett is returning with her new album, Magdalene, out Nov. 8 on Young Turks. It opens with her self-described choir-boy voice, multitracked but otherwise unaccompanied — an expression of confidence that the 31-year-old worked hard to find after her debut, during which she endured health issues and heartache while taking on new hobbies like pole dancing and the martial art wushu. “At this point in my career, I’ve accepted that there’s no real blueprint for what I’m doing,” she says. “Truth is, I’m still learning.”
How have you evolved as a producer?
When I was younger, I was obsessed with doing it all in the computer; taking something like the Tempest, playing it live and then going to the computer. On this album, I feel less precious; I’ve tampered with the sounds less, because I feel a bit more at peace with a song telling a story and having the music as a supportive element. I also worked with so many collaborators [like Nicolás Jaar and Benny Blanco] who have brilliant sounds, and I’m less afraid to pick apart what they’re doing, take a little aspect and sew it together like a patchwork quilt. Editing is key to the type of music I make. It can get quite busy quite quickly.
How has your songwriting changed?
When I wrote my first album I was 23, and when I wrote my second album I was 30. I think I’ve always been truthful, but I’ve been digging deeper for Magdalene; I knew I didn’t want to release any new music until I’d found the bottom of the well.
On “Home With Me,” you rap the line “I’ve never seen a hero like me in a sci-fi.”
I wrote that with CY AN and Ethan [P. Flynn]. It came together in one go. I was feeling frustrated that day and was messing with my voice on the Helicon voice machine, creating this distortion and echo. I was thinking about the feeling of coming from a very loving and creative, but quite beautifully broken family, and as I’m getting older and people are depending on me, what is my example to look to, as a young woman of color? I look at a lot of strong women who maybe I’m supposed to model myself after, and they seem too majestic. I don’t relate to that. My heart lies in something that’s far more vulnerable.
You’ve done significant work with Red Bull Music Academy, including your recent show Magdalene at the Park Avenue Armory. What do you think about that program coming to an end?
Oh my god, I didn’t know. That’s really sad. Red Bull allowed me to put on my first big show, Congregata [in 2015]. That performance showed people that I could put together a group of artistic creators for a full spectacle. Red Bull helped me create things that an indie artist like myself wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
Is working with a corporation necessary to make ambitious work in 2019?
You always have to look for like-minded people. For instance, WeTransfer is incredible because they’re supportive, but they don’t try and own my content. My contact there, we text and email — it feels more like family, rather than some big brand coming to suck your life and cool. For an artist like myself, brand collaborations are a necessity; I’m signed to a really creative but small label, and I don’t have huge major-label budgets, but I do have a lot of creative freedom — I wouldn’t change it. My shows don’t have huge lasers or pyrotechnics or massive screens. It’s just me, my band, a few dancers, and we’re presenting our gifts to the audience. That doesn’t cost anything.
Is there a particular skill that you’d like to tackle next?
I can definitely get deeper into martial arts. There’s an amazing Filipino martial art that manages your stress through having someone attack you and then you learn all of the blocks. It’s hard to explain but it’s naturally beautiful. Contortion, too, in terms of how flexible I can get.