As much as you might be quick to write Alex Fleming aka Black Atlass off as just another pretty face doing an R&B sound that’s so hot right now, there are deep permeating layers to the modelesque 20-year-old’s music.
After posting demos online and touring only a few months, Fleming’s music (and looks) caught the attention of Marc Jacobs, who used his single, “Paris” to score a film celebrating his Louis Vuitton exhibit at the Musée Des Arts Décoratifs. From Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and Kris Van Assche, the fashion world fell hard for the singer, which lead to a record deal with Fool’s Gold.
Last month Black Atlass released a five-track collection of distorted tugs on your heartstrings titled Young Bloods. Though cloaked in a high fashion aesthetic, there’s a pureness to Fleming’s deep billowy cuts. His sound is built on more than neo-soul underpinnings; timeless piano keystrokes meld effortlessly with textural bass and sultry vocals that are just begging to be broken free.
Wise beyond his years, Fleming exercises a great amount of restraint in both his music and his approach to the creative process lending to a signature sound that’s sexy and dark without being overdone. Drunk off his concoction of R&B, soul, and something we can’t say we’ve ever tasted before, Mass Appeal profiles the young singer, producer and pianist to find out what makes him tick. He talks influences, hip hop, his love of Kanye West and more. Get involved.
Mass Appeal: I want to jump right in and talk about your music! I read that you didn’t want to put anything out or online until you already had a sound developed. Can you talk about where the idea for the sound came from?
Black Atlass: The idea for the sound came really naturally to me. I mean I’ve been working on stuff for a while, but just using sample-based stuff. Kind of like a more gritty, fuller sound. I’ve always loved electronic music, and I’ve always loved rock music, and I’ve always loved hip hop, so it was basically clashing all my interests together.
I think that’s super important as an artist, to keep your output concise and make what you’re putting out there important and meaningful, rather than just putting shit out there that might be half finished, or you just put it out because you had to.
MA: How do you go about creating songs. Do you write the lyrics last?
BA: No, not all the time. I don’t do them first, but more recently I’ve wanted to focus on being a lead vocalist and establishing myself as that, so I’ve really taken into account putting in melodies and emphasizing my vocals. I’ve been writing songs by sitting down at the piano and just coming up with melodies and the chords for the song, and building the lyrics from there. Or I already have a lyric and a subject matter in mind, and kind of creating something that fits the idea and fits the emotion I want to put into it.
MA: Ok, so let’s talk about Kanye West. You’re a big fan. What do you like about him?
BA: [Laughs] Yes. I love so many things about him. Just the type of artist he is. Being at that huge pop cultural, artist level, like the level he’s at in his career, and the audience that he reaches, but the creativity, and the originality and just genuine aspect he brings to the project I think is super interesting.
Of course the music fits his personality, and he can talk about it however he wants to because he’s going to be right. He knows exactly what he’s talking about because he puts the passion into it, he puts the work into it, and the work backs what he’s saying up. I want to be an artist like that one day, and I want to be able to talk about my work the way I want to and know that it’s at a certain level, and then have the work to back that up.
MA: When I listen to your music, it’s very passionate and pure and timeless. I’m curious about your musical influences.
BA: Just forming that sound that’s super genuine to who you are and really putting a lot of work into it and paying close attention to detail with it, which is also another thing I love about Kanye’s work. I think that truly shines through. You have to be patient a lot of the time if you want to put out work like that.
I’ve had so many great influences at such a young age because of my parents music collection, and their taste, and being from Montreal, and kind of showing me different aspects of culture and sharing with me their whole music library.
MA: You’ve only been singing a few years, have you taken lessons?
BA: No I’ve never taken lessons, but taking piano lessons at such a young age I think has really improved my foundation in that area, and made me able to recognize tone a bit better.
I mean, drawing inspiration from the best vocalists, because that’s who you want to be in the same league with as a vocalist. People like Prince and Beyoncé, and Adele and Michael Jackson, and stuff they can do with their vocals, and just practicing, singing along, I think that’s almost better than taking a vocal lesson in some ways. Vocal lessons are great, but if you don’t have the passion behind it, and you don’t have the inspiration behind it, like it’s easy to see that there’s nothing really translating there besides the technical aspect of it.
MA: Was there a catalyst that got you to start singing, and writing and producing?
BA: I would say being more interested in hip hop and that culture. That’s what kind of introduced me to the music industry more and more. And then just seeing people like Kanye who can produce a song and have it be their own. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I thought that was so amazing, so that’s where I came into producing. I knew that for where I wanted to go with it, just being a producer wasn’t enough; I had to be an artist myself. And I wasn’t going to rap, so singing was the obvious choice.
MA: Can you talk about the Young Bloods EP?
BA: Yeah so the five singles are basically what I worked on all last summer. And again, it took a long time because I was making sure the output was super concise. I wanted to make sure the videos matched, the artwork was perfect, and iconic in a way. It had to be something that would impact people more than it just being visually and aesthetically appealing. It had to have that added element to it.
MA: The live show. What does it feel like for you when you’re performing?
BA: It’s always such a rush, like there’s the nerves, and then, the minute I get on stage it’s always like you’re just in the zone, like you’re ready to perform and you’re ready to show people why they came to watch you. Even if they take the slightest bit of interest, you want them to want to watch you and enjoy the show.
MA: Best compliment you’ve received so far in your musical journey?
BA: Just people’s appreciation for the music. It’s such a compliment to me that people I respect so much have truly taken an interest in my music. It is so humbling to have all those experiences this early in my career. I definitely don’t take it for granted at all. I’m very humbled and don’t want to let anything get in the way of that feeling, I want it to remain very real.