Unlike the usual trajectory young artists take these days to “make it”- blasting some cover songs on YouTube, getting discovered by X record label, swooning the teeny boppers and ultimately being recognized as a top 20 artist- Alex Fleming, who records under the moniker Black Atlass did none of the above and still managed to turn fashion and music heads alike.
His slick black hair, exceedingly chiseled features and casual yet carefully articulated style are the perfect compliment to his all encompassing talents. His sound is unique with large sounding gritty synths, elegant acoustics, dark, soulful lyrics and hip hop inspired drums, is a sound not quite confined to one of the standard music genres.
On the brink of kicking off his North American tour, Toys for Boys sat down with the Canadian visionary to figure out exactly how he earned the likes of Louis Vuitton, Alexander Wang and manages to have singer, songwriter, producer and model – all under his resume at the ripe age of 22.
TFB: You’ve been called the anti- Bieber for many reasons – you wrote and produced your own EP at 17 but steered clear of YouTube and teeny boppers. What was your thought process on how to “make it” ?
BA: What’s been really important to me from the beginning was to maintain a certain level of continuity within my output, making sure everything makes sense -whether its a video, a piece of music, the artwork, even an interview or photo shoot – its all carefully curated and illustrates the best of my vision.
TFB: Obviously you were on to something as Louis Vuitton noticed you shortly after. Did you ever expect to dive head first in the fashion world at 19?
BA: While I certainly didn’t expect it that early on- fashion has been a part of my family my entire life, my great grandmother was the head buyer for the department store Ogilvys in Montreal and was always around the fashion scene. My grandmother was also fashion model when she was my age and worked with all these iconic photographers, it was always a part of my upbringing that I was drawn too, and I’ve always injected that into my creativity and vision from the start.
TFB: So you clearly do it all…and well. Writing, producing, singing and in front of the camera – like your recent campaign with Alexander Wang where you rub shoulders with Kylie Jenner and other cool kids – do you have a favorite among the four?
BA: Hmm, I wouldn’t say I have a favorite per say- I think that goes against what I stand for as an artist – what I wanted to be considered as over all is being an artist. Period. Not being confined to a certain medium, I love being creative all around. Any project where I can do that and share my vision, collaborate and work with others I’m more than happy to do so. It’s something I want to continue to do in my career, constantly experimenting and innovating across new mediums, I’d love to get into the film world for example, and see what I can create there.
TFB: Your sound is refreshing and unique – a new and distinctive genre you can’t quite categorize – who would you consider your contemporaries in music at the moment?
BA: That’s a tough one! Throughout my career, I think watching The Weeknd’s growth has definitely been inspiring. Abel [from The Weekend] has always been such an idol of mine since early on, an artist I really look up to. For him to break through and pave the way for this new genre of music that combines a lot of different influences and isn’t just R&B or just strong vocals, it’s definitely a realm I, along with other new artists fit into.
TFB: I know you touched on your fashion influence growing up, but in terms of musical talent, are your parents also musically inclined?
BA: Yep, pretty much. Both my parents play guitar, I actually still play my mom’s acoustic guitar and used it for many tracks on my latest album, Haunted Paradise. Growing up I was always exposed to art in general and all kinds of different music, literature, photography, film – anything that sparked creativity was always my outlet, versus sports like most kids.
TFB: What about your personal playlist at the moment?
BA: Right now, I’m all about songs that make me feel good. I just got home after spending a few weeks in LA where I was riding around the city, listening to a lot of The Weeknd’s new album, I keep going back to rihanna’s Anti album that I think is just so amazing and was really inspiring to me. A lot of Migos, Future, makes me feel good and connects with me.
TFB: You have a pretty unique style, what are some of your favorite brands at the moment that align with your overall look and vision?
BA: I think DIOR HOMME is doing some really interesting things right now, I love their overall creative direction, it’s one of those brands I’ve always loved from the beginning and getting to know Kris [Van Assche] everything they do is at the ultimate level, their campaigns, designs, it’s all very inspiring. Getting to know and work with Alexander Wang as well, seeing the overall picture of his campaigns and all the work he puts into them. His most recent show just blew my mind, the production quality just gave me chills. Brings me back to what I mentioned earlier, always striving to innovate and work across different mediums. Those two are at the top of my list and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with both.
TFB: I know you’ve touched a lot about what drives your vision, but on the topic of muses – who or what was your target inspiration for your latest album, Haunted Paradise?
BA: Well I was inspired by a lot of different things, Los Angeles being one of them. It was really my first time visiting the city, really just experiencing it firsthand, playing the story in my head. From a music perspective, a lot of 90s rock and early 2000s R&B with a touch of modern rap production. Radiohead, Nirvana, Marshall Mathers LP, early LIL Wayne, Carter III era; I really wanted to combine all those things, there is a certain essence from that era of music that I don’t think is around too much these days.
Riding on his peers’ coattails, it’s clear Black Atlass is one to watch and has certainly not peaked quite yet. Whether it’s film, photography, music or fashion it’s refreshing to see someone so fearless when it comes to boundaries and can’t wait to see what comes next. It’s only just begun.