19-year-old singer/producer Alex Fleming, better known as Black Atlass, is the latest teenaged Canadian heartthrob putting his name on the map, but you won’t find any drop-crotch trousers or pop star transgressions here.
Black Atlass makes soulful, instrument-heavy music, layered with delicate, breathy vocals – a sound he classifies as “contemporary R&B”. His first taste of music came at the age of seven when he took up piano lessons in his hometown London, Ontario. Years later, he would relocate to Montreal, a place he credits with defining his sound and broadening his creative circle; it’s where he caught the attention of A-Trak, fellow Montrealer and co-founder of Fool’s Gold Records. Influenced heavily by his father’s vinyl collection of everything from Prince to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alex began experimenting with production and for now proudly produces all of his own music. Singing on his own tracks was an instinctive progression, “I wanted to be heard and to be able to do that, I had to be more than just a producer, and I wasn’t gonna try rapping”. With just over a couple of years focused solely on music, he’s already built some strong connections to the fashion world, who just can’t resist a beautiful face. The doe-eyed dreamboat has already caught the eyes and ears of Dior menswear designer Kris Van Assche, landing him front row at the spring/summer 14 Dior Homme show last year. Shortly after, Louis Vuitton caught wind too, and chose his single Paris, to soundtrack one of their videos.
Ahead of his newest EP titled Young Bloods, dropping Feb. 15th on Fool’s Gold, we chatted it up with Black Atlass about menswear and his collaboration wish-list, while Seth Fluker took some photos around a derelict basement in Toronto.
So you started making beats on a keyboard?
Yeah, my uncle works for Korg so he got me a really good deal on a super nice synthesizer and I just started making shit on there. And it just grew.
What are you using to produce now?
Right now I’m using Ableton.
Are you a classically trained singer?
No, I just taught myself.
Tell me about your creative process. Do you write first or do you come up with the music first?
It’s usually kind of both at the same time. I get inspired by a story, or I’ll get inspired by a song or a specific sound and just go for it. It’s just really exciting for me and I start to create a world and a story that fits the narrative of my life at that time.
What is your music about?
I write all about personal feelings and experiences and about love more recently, because that’s something that’s new in my life. And also about the love interest. I just write about experiences with my friends and different feelings coming from a positive place, never a negative one.
What’s the best thing about Montreal?
I just think the atmosphere is super inspiring and people are really great. Everyone genuinely takes an interest in the arts and there are a lot of creative people there. They all want to see something succeed just out of the good of their hearts and they want to help out whatever way they can and a lot of the time that’s through creativity so it’s a very collaborative scene. And just the place in general – the heritage of it and all the different areas and neighbourhoods. It’s very inspiring and really beautiful.
Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
I’d love to collaborate with Rick Ross, Kanye West, Rihanna, Lana Del Rey, John Mayer and a producer called Jeff Bhasker.
You’re the same age as Justin Bieber. How do you feel about him?
I think he’s doing his thing. I respect him. How many other 19-year-olds have built that big an empire? And I like the new sound he’s going for, I think he’s gonna be really sick. This is the first time I’ve been excited to hear what he’s doing and I’m actually interested in the music side of it. There’s been stuff here and there in the past that’s been kind of cool but his new stuff for sure is the first time I’ve ever listened to any of his songs on repeat and I’d love to have that amount of success someday.
How important is fashion to your music career?
It just happened by chance. I’ve always taken an interest in fashion, but I like to keep it separate from what I’m doing. I mean it’s obviously an expression of yourself and to be an artist in this genre and to be a modern day artist, you have to portray yourself in a certain way and on the outside, you want to fit the look of what it is you’re portraying. I never want it to be this cliché thing as a musician who is super into fashion, but I mean, I am into it and it’s partly being from Montreal and being integrated into that scene.
What’s your look?
I would say it’s very classic, basic menswear but I appreciate the value of well-made stuff. Really well made basic stuff like T-shirts, jeans, nice boots and jackets. I love jackets. I always look to actors for inspiration for fashion rather than musicians. Johnny Depp is a good example.
Tell me about your new EP…
It’s going to be called the Young Bloods EP. I wanted it to be more centered around my lead vocals and I wanted to really establish myself as a vocalist with this project and play on a bit more of an R&B theme. Where I was coming from writing wise is, I was writing something that was completely new and in a way it was like being in love and being in a relationship. So yeah in that sense, it’s very different to the Black Atlass EP in lyrical content and production, and it kind of shows the progression in those years between the two projects and just in my life in general. I think it’s cool that as a musician, one of the biggest privileges is being able to document your life and narrate to yourself and write down what’s going on in your life and be able to go back and hear that, and be taken back to that time. I really wanted to set that feeling in stone.
Did you work with any other producers on it or was it just you?
Still entirely my production and my writing – everything.