Published May 31, 2012Alien Tentacle Sex is situated in the unique mind-space where visual and aural arts worlds of Talwst ("tall waist") collide. The seven-track EP by the Edmonton-raised, Toronto-based artist (nee Curtis Santiago) is a collaboration with Illangelo, known for producing the House of Balloons trilogy with reclusive wunderkind the Weeknd. Shuttling between Toronto, Vancouver and NYC, Talwst draws musical inspiration from his gig as a multidisciplinary artist, with paintings featured in local galleries. His moniker refers to the high-waisted characteristic of the men in his family, a unique feature that quite literally sets him apart from the crowd. Astute music fans will recognize Santiago from his days with the live soul/dance rock Edmonton group the Hi-Phoniqs in the late '90s. As Talwst, he notes his current music represents his new sensibilities on art ― a "natural evolution" of sound and visuals in action. He brands Alien Tentacle Sex as contemporary R&B within his post-modern perspective.
So what's good with you?
Aw man. So good. Since Illangelo and I wrapped the record and did the first video [for "Peace Tonight"] we've been well received. That's started opening doors. [We've been] preparing for and putting together this release with things like putting a band together. It's all the excitement of having a project that's starting to get recognized.
How did the TALWST/Illangelo connection come about?
We meet in a studio in Vancouver like four or five years ago. Some people you meet and you know that the energy is there, the vibes are there, you know? I went to hear what he was working on and the sounds coming out of his speaker… it was like nothing else that I was hearing from anyone else. And immediately at that point when someone is telling you they want to be the greatest in the world, that's the kind of people you want to mess with.
How far removed is your new sound compared to what you've done before?
It's a natural evolution. When I started, I was really fine-tuning my songwriting skills and learning how to collaborate.
How does your visual art inform your musical sound?
For me, one of my influences growing up was [late American artist] Basquiat and his ability to take his paintings and translate it into this avant-garde stuff. The music that I'm doing is still a little left-of-centre, but it's still pop music. It's visual, it's music, it's layers. It's all about frequencies and layers ― certain colours evoke a certain emotion, certain sounds or chords evoke certain emotions. I feel like what's going to make me win is looking at artists that I admire and hope to work with in the future. Guys like Kanye West, who are going out and finding really strong visual art. I want to be skilled in all those mediums. When I present my music live, the visuals play heavy.
So you obviously may get comparisons to the Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye). Are you cool with that? What's the connection?
We've shared studio space and we recorded our material at the same time. When I first moved [to Toronto]. Abel and I were literally back-to-back in the studio. I would say, more than anything, the sound is produced by Illangelo so we both have his current running [though the music]. But what we talk about and our lifestyles, his goals are much different than my goals. But any comparison is dope. I'd love to work with Weeknd and any collaboration if it were to happen people would really see and understand the differences. He's on an amazing ride and it's like a one in a million for how that went down for him. Illangelo and I have said that it may have taken a while for things to pop but my fizz is forever. I'm going to welcome all comparisons, but over time my body of work ― I've got catalogs of back material― I know when I bring that stuff out along with the visual art that people will see that I'm doing my own thing.
So Alien Tentacle Sex. What's up with the title and what do you aim to achieve with this project?
The reason why I chose that title is that I have a few theories on extra-terrestrial life, the announcement of it in the future and my experiences over the holidays of seeing shooting stars change direction three or four times. My girl is an amazing painter and we were creating work in the studio and just joking about titles and the sound of the music. And I was like I want it to feel like a new experience. For me it's inevitable that Canada would be the next spot to emerge with this new R&B sound but I want it to feel so foreign. So we've experienced so much, but we're never experienced sex with an alien (laughs).
So what's the difference between Curtis Santiago and Talwst?
I was born Curtis Santiago but my history and my backstory is Talwst. Talwst is also my father and also my grandfather. I was in Trinidad around seven years old and I saw this navy blue snakeskin beret that I was obsessed with. So my parents were like "If you want it you have to figure out how to get to High Street [a shopping area in Trinidad] to get it. So I get down there, I'm by myself in the market and all of a sudden these older guys started yelling, "Tall Waist!" So I look over to these guys and these guys started telling me "Your father is Frank, your grandfather is Mark" and so on. They automatically knew who I was from my exceptionally high waist. Flash-forward to a year or so ago, I was in New York on the train going back to Bushwick and I'm thinking I've done all I can as Curtis Santiago. I'm starting to get recognized for my art and my music and I've had the opportunity to meet [trend innovator and former Lady Gaga collaborator] Lou Sagar. So from my art to my music, it all came together ― to take on the past and the future. I'm so much influenced by my (past) but I've always had an idea of what's coming around the curve. So I starting looking into my star charts and branding everything with the Talwst name. It just felt right.
What themes did you want to touch upon with this album?
Alien African Dior. These were the three words that I was reaching for. I started researching into the Dogon Tribe (of Africa). Dior has been one of my top labels for design and then obviously the alien aspect. So I started combining the symbols of all three, looking at the fabrics and patterns and sound. When I started telling Illangelo that, you can hear that there's always going to be that tribal element. When Kanye dropped "Love Lockdown," the minute I heard that sound and then the video I was like "That's what I've been thinking of."
How do define success?
Of course money fuels a lot of things but I will feel that I've made it in my career and I've accomplished the things I want to is when I'm able in the future to take care of my family by doing nothing but creating art. Success to me is touring around with my music. I've been half the way around, but I want to go all the way around. At the end of the day it's (to know) that this shit is world class. I've always had talent, but now I know I have a body of work that ― love it or hate it ― you can't deny the quality of it.