Musician Black Atlass Brings A Much Needed Dose Of Soul To Fashion
Canadians seem to have taken over R&B, which might be one of the only truly American genres of music. Between crooners like The Weeknd and the sexier stylings of Drake and Justin Bieber, the Great White North is definitely bringing the jams. But we’re really feeling relative newcomer Black Atlass (born Alex Fleming), a 21-year-old, insanely pillowy-lipped singer-songwriter and producer, whose lovely voice and booming production stems from an R&B tradition, yet defies simple classification. We called the tracks trip-hop meets chamber music, a description that made Fleming laugh and made us want to crawl in a hole—but we’re sticking to it.
Fleming, who splits his time between Montreal, Toronto, and his small hometown in London, Ontario, is also a favorite of the fashion world. At just 18, he soundtracked a Marc Jacobs ad, and in 2014, after Dior used one of Fleming’s songs in a short film, the storied French fashion house flew him to Paris to sit front row at the Dior Homme Spring/Summer ’14 show. The Black Atlass music videos have a distinctly fashionable influence—“Paris” was styled by major Montreal boutique SSENSE, and the last major video, “Tonight,” was directed by famed fashion photographer Kenneth Cappello, whom Fleming views as a mentor of sorts.
The video for “Tonight,” which features flawless finishing from Milk’s post-production studio Velem, was a positive experience for Cappello—as a genuine fan, he plans to continue to shoot for Black Atlass. “I do really enjoy directing,” said Cappello. “But it has to be a song that I love, and someone I love to work with. There’s no money in music videos, so it has to be something I really care about.”
In addition to Fleming and a lovely lady, the music video (which Noisey referred to as a “certified panty-dropper”) features a live falcon and a tarantula, which crawls on both Fleming’s face and up towards a female model’s nether regions. “[Alex] was not fine with the tarantula,” laughed Cappello. “He didn’t love it, but he did it. I got it with some mild reassurance that it wasn’t gonna bite him, but in the end animals are animals, and they’re going to do what they want.”
Thankfully there were no major injuries. Black Atlass lives on, releasing a new single today called “Island Love.” The artist, signed to indie powerhouse Fool’s Gold Records, is planning on an album release this summer. Called Haunted Paradise, it was inspired by his first trip to LA. “I was thinking of a narrative that would fit in the darker side of paradise,” he told us. We’re excited. Read on for Fleming’s take on the fashion world, growing up in a small town, and getting inspiration from the ladies.
“What I really want to do is blend different genres and interests and influences into something entirely unique.”
You have such a soulful voice. I read in an interview that you’re inspired by a lot of female artists, like Adele, and I feel like R&B is a very gendered genre. What about female artists speaks to you?
I think it’s really the range they have within their voices, and what they’re able to achieve there. That’s something I always aspire to within my own range and my own performance, the way that a performer like Adele or Beyoncé can switch between something really soft and intimate, and then the next minute switch into something that’s really powerful and really soulful, and have such a range between a deeper voice and a falsetto. I think there are a lot of really amazing, empowering female artists today that really inspire my music a lot.
How did you get into R&B in the first place?
It kind of came from my love of hip-hop, and that being my introduction into music production and songwriting and stuff. It was a conscious decision not to try and start rapping and stuff, and I guess the only other option was to sing. But I don’t like to classify my music as strictly R&B. I like to use the word alternative, because it can be anything, and what I really want to do is blend different genres and interests and influences into something entirely unique.
On top of music, I know you’re really into fashion. Could you tell me about your experiences in the fashion world?
Having my music lead to that in the way that it did really opened my eyes into this whole creative world that was really interesting and inspiring to me. Now, that’s a large part of my work and my inspiration and what I do, being involved in the fashion world, whether it’s modeling or collaborating musically or collaborating even visually—which is sort of how I see modeling. It’s really inspiring [for] me to look at the careers and creative processes of different designers and fashion houses and apply that to my process.
Do you have any particular labels that you like?
I do like Dior. I love Alexander McQueen—his whole story and his whole career is really inspiring to me. Rick Owens is a real favorite of mine. And I actually just watched the Jeremy Scott documentary [Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer] last night.
What did you think of it?
It’s amazing. I got three quarters of the way through and then I had to go to bed. [Laughs] But yeah, it was awesome. I didn’t know that much about his career, but then seeing how he made everything happen for himself was really inspiring. And even his whole aesthetic is just really cool and really different, and it sort of falls in line with what I want to do—maybe not visually, but just the way he went about his career and being an entrepreneur.
That’s an interesting answer that I think can apply to the music industry. Artists are really trying to change how they own their music—you have stuff like Tidal, people trying to own all their masters, etc.
My approach to it right now and where I really want to go with things is just to be somewhat of a Renaissance artist, and then apply a different sort of business thinking to that, basically making sure that you protect your work and protect your integrity throughout your career. I’m starting to do more on the production side of things, and I want to grow that—maybe even into a label someday. [I also have] the fashion and modeling stuff, and I’d like to bring those things together in my career. So that’s what I mean about entrepreneurial stuff. But looking at people like Jeremy Scott again, his process and the way he’s done things is really cool, he’s really maintained these things throughout his career.
I liked the parts in the Jeremy Scott doc when they go back to his childhood. You also grew up in a small town. What was it like? Were you always musical?
Music has definitely been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents have always had a huge interest in the arts, and my grandparents were involved in the fashion world. So I guess having those things around and having that in my world really opened my eyes at a young age. That’s another connection I felt to Jeremy Scott, is that we grew up in these small towns where there was such a different mentality towards uniqueness, I guess, and just the arts in general. It gives you an outsider’s perspective on those different worlds, and leads to creating something really interesting in what you do. You’re basically a blank slate when it comes to pop culture and culture in general, really.
Did you always feel different growing up?
I guess, but I always had really good friends in high school that I still work with pretty closely today. But it was definitely a small town, and there was less openness to certain things, certain elements of culture, and the arts weren’t really a part of school or anything. So there was a bit of a struggle in trying to break through in that way, and to find your niche. But I think it allows for a good perspective that’s sort of neutral, especially when you’re traveling and stuff.
What was it like working with Kenneth Cappello on the “Tonight” video?
We connected through my PR, and we just started talking, I went to LA and met with him there, we vibed with him pretty well, and he really just took me under his wing and tried to teach me about the industry in different ways, so it’s been amazing to work with him in that way. The concept just goes back to the way I want to collaborate with people. I just want to let him do his thing, and see the way he interpreted the music visually. It just happened to be what I’d always been looking for and hadn’t been able to find until then. With his process, he doesn’t necessarily have a treatment or a narrative or anything, it’s more about using his visual sense in terms of photography, and using the music to help create moving images.
And finally, how did you come up with the name Black Atlass?
[Laughs] Everyone’s been asking me that lately. It’s gaining different meaning as my career progresses. I want to leave it open to interpretation.
Images courtesy of Velem. Check out the new Black Atlass single.
Director: Kenneth Cappello
DP: Alexandre Themistocleous
Editor: Adam Zukerman
Model: Staz Lindes
Stylist: Sean Knight
Glam: Daniele Piersons
DP: Alex Themistocleous
Camera Operator: Jordan Ritz
AC: Adam Kryzer
VFX: Neal Jonas
Associate Producers: Aviv Russ & Jamie McPhee
Milk Digital LA: Tyson Pilcher & Anthony Cabaero Velem: Summer McCloskey
Label: Fools Gold
Stay tuned to Milk for more fashionable crooners.