This is the BBC. This podcast is supported by advertising outside the UK. Do you know who A15 is? BBC sounds, music, radio, podcasts, No. Six, four five are. Hello, I'm Larry Through, and this is grounded with Larry through my podcast series for Radio four in which I talk to people I've been itching to meet, but doing it remotely via the Internet.
I can hear you were the Twiggs can hear us is a different question. Yeah, I can hear you. Can you hear me?
Today's guest is FKA Twigs, a singer songwriter, dancer, actor and all round artist and performer whose two genre bending albums, LP One and Magdalen, have brought her international acclaim.
I'm not the best person of technology. I'm not going to like this edition is a little different and that it comes in two very different parts and I hope I've done this right.
Fingers crossed, it's always a bonus when we managed to record it twice and I first spoke in September when she was dealing with life in lockdown and the postponement of an international tour. Two months later, she made headlines when she filed a lawsuit against her ex-boyfriend, actor Shila Birth.
So we reconvened for a second conversation when the discussion touched on darker and more upsetting subject matter that we start on less troubling terrain, music and collaborations while confined to East London. Nice to meet you, Twiggs.
Hi. Sorry to call you Twiggs, isn't it? Yeah. Yeah. Your given name is Tahlia, is that right? Yeah. Does anyone call you that?
My mom. That's probably about it. There's a lot of ground to cover and I want to get to as many different things as possible. First of all, thank you for doing the podcast. I've really enjoyed your music over the years. And they're digging a little deeper in the last couple of weeks knowing that we would be talking.
I've been struck how versatile you are, but also how productive you are.
You have a tremendous work ethic, but you put your hand to a lot of different things.
And the last thing I watched literally fifteen minutes before coming on this call was a collaboration. You did. I don't know how you say his name. Six, four or five.
Oh, yeah. Like a license plate basically. Yeah.
I only found out about him quite recently. He's got a very unusual way of rapping, hasn't he. Yeah. Squeaky voice it squeak rap. Yeah. He sounds like he's gone through a machine, but I'm told that's his natural voice literally.
That's how he sounds. He doesn't speak like that. No. Like when he sings that's what comes up. I've spoken to him about it and he said that when he started rapping in squeaky voice, he felt like he could portray more emotion.
It's one of those things where you listen to it and you think, I don't know if this is like a novelty record or this is just incredibly avant garde or maybe somewhere between.
Yeah, and that only came out in August, I think. Yeah.
The people seem to be feeling that, you know, I don't I haven't actually looked, but I did have some nice texts, some from some of my friends saying that they felt it was really exciting.
When a project like that comes up, how does that come about? Is that because you're a fan of his music and you reach out or the other way around or something else?
Well, my friend Alguien Cho, who's an artist and producer, put me on to him. He was like, yeah, you need to check out this guy. Like, it would be fine if you guys did something together, like a kind of hard 90's RMV, like a lot of the things that I loved growing up. But it just fresh, like it's just got a whole new spin on it. And I thought to myself, like, because I can sing really high.
I just thought it would be quite funny.
You came in and you were sort of matching his range somewhat. So you were both in this very high register. Did you actually jump in a studio with six, four, five?
No. Well, that's been the interesting thing about this time period is that I've been doing everything over face time, everything over text, which is a new way of working, you know, but we have to adjust, I guess.
Where am I speaking to you from right now, if I may ask? Where are you speaking to me from right now? My living room. Your living room in East London. Yeah. So how is it been?
What I understand is that you were basically kicking off a world tour to promote your album Magdalen, and then it more or less was kyboshed by covid-19.
Yeah, basically. Which I thought actually I was going to take off my earrings because I'm worried that they're going to like make out, you know, Mark have sort of cut off at the knees, which was sad, but also very in keeping with the story of Mary Matalin, I felt I felt like it was quite poetic in a way that the full story wasn't able to be told, because for me, that is the truth about Mary Matalin is that we don't really know a lot about how or how wonderful she was or what her true role was in terms of all the work that she did.
With Jesus, so I think it's quite poetic that I was in the middle of taking Magdalene around the world so that people could really kind of understand the project and then it kind of all stopped.
The album had come out earlier in the year, right? Basically, middle of 2019.
Is that right now? The very end? It came out in November. You did some dates, tour dates or not?
Yes, I had done some tour dates, but I was about to go and do lots of festivals and had videos to release. And, you know, in putting out an album, it's quite interesting because I think a lot of people probably think that it's just about making the record and that's where a lot of the work goes into. But I'm equally as passionate about telling the story of the album and having lots of live shows and little vignettes that kind of carry the story on.
So much work goes into all of it. I mean, even in the costumes for the Magdalene tour, they were all references from Mary Magdalene in terms of the colors, and they were like secret messages sewn into the embroidery of the costume that only I would know were there. It kind of helps keep the magic going, if that makes sense. So there was a whole kind of other leg of the Matalan experience that I was ready to sort of put out into the world, but it all got stopped.
But, you know, that's okay. Other things come out of it. It was very sad to begin with, of course.
I mean, I went through my own very small version of it, two documentary projects. Well, three, really, that had to be sort of mothballed. And it remains to be seen when we'll get back to that. But in your case, you had a whole show that you had ready to go with what dancers and, you know, all the rest of it visual effects.
Yeah, well, I also learned how to pole dance and also how to do a show for the tour. But, you know, it's fine if I had one day of a lockdown where I kind of I remember I was like just like getting changed in the morning. And then I just started crying for like 15 minutes. And then I stopped and then it was okay.
So Mary Magdalene really represents something quite important to you. Yeah. I mean, at that period of time, I definitely found her very interesting is not to say that there aren't amazing role models in today's society because there really, really are. But I don't know. At that time when I was making my second album, it was really like a moment of growth for me in terms of, I guess, becoming a woman. And I had a lot of health issues.
I've had fibroids. I've gone through a very big breakup. I've sort of been catapulted with my career into a place that I wasn't really expecting or necessarily ready for.
And Mary Matalin, I don't know, she just had so many questions around her that were unanswered that I just felt like I wanted to dive deeper in terms of like, why is I not that much written about her in the Bible? And she was an incredible herbalist and she worked with oils and she did heal people. She had a lot of knowledge. That's also evidence of her funding, a lot of Jesus's missions and stuff. But why hasn't she written about in a positive way?
Like, I found it really interesting that at the end of it all, because I grew up in Gloucestershire and a lot of the schools are very religious, I went to like religious schools when I was growing up that I just heard that she was a prostitute. So as I got older, I thought it was really interesting that if you dig a little bit deeper, not even that far, that you can find out that she was somebody that was incredibly knowledgeable and kind and magical and inspirational.
But yet when I was young, she was just like a prostitute. And it kind of made me think how the patriarchy can do that to women sometimes. And I felt like I'd experienced that at times in my career. You know, I'm a classically trained dancer. I was trained in opera as well when I was young. And I'll do like this amazing show and I'll wear like a leotard so that I can dance properly the same way as a gymnast would wear a leotard or a ballet dancer would wear it later.
And I would do that as part of my art. And then there would be like some tabloid thing saying, like Twiggs writhes around on stage in crotch baring outfit displaying all now with is sort of quite unflattering picture of me, like mint expression with like a sort of pant leg in the air exposing myself. And I just thought, wow, like how narratives can change is really interesting. And I started to wonder whether maybe with Mary Matalin was one of the first things in history.
We can sort of prove of that nature, of changing the narrative to a point where the truth gets lost. There's a great tradition of kind of reading texts against the grain. Like one good example is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, who has this figure of the male character.
I can't remember his name, his first wife, who's crazy and banished to the attic.
And then Jean Rhys wrote a book, I don't know if you've read it Wide Sargasso Sea Now, where she reimagines that story from the perspective of the crazy first wife, who is actually what did this woman go through? Like she came from the West Indies and found her husband, who didn't love her, didn't treat her very well in England in a place she didn't know.
And it's a beautifully written story.
And you just see a whole sort of canonical text reimagined from the perspective of a woman who in the original story has been pushed to one side.
Exactly. That's exactly it. You know, like you say that and Madeleine could have easily been written. About the first wife in the attic. I mean, it is about my mark to them, but it's more about the template of that story, you know, and there's lots of other templates of women that could fit into that story. But I think that, like being really thrust into the public eye, kind of quite a late age, I've really had to learn on my feet.
And I started to see how unfair it was sometimes and how things could be twisted and how that narrative could be taken and become true just to get this out of the way.
Mentioned that you'd been through a break up. I'll say this. You don't even have to comment on it from a famous actor, Robert Pattinson. I know that comes up a lot in cutting's. And I can understand why you might be annoyed by the regularity in which that sort of repeated in articles. But is it fair to say in any sense or is it maybe diminishing to say that it's a break up album? I mean, it's certainly informed by sort of sense of heartache, isn't it?
Yeah. Now, it's not annoying for you to say that at all. I'm not trying to deny my history. I just think it's important that I'm not defined by it because he doesn't have to be defined by it. But yet I have to be defined by it. And I think that's kind of the point that I'm trying to make about the difference between being a woman and a man, you know, but no, it's not in line to say that that was an important part of my life.
Yes, it is a breakup album, not necessarily about one person, but just heartache in general. I didn't mean to make it back after my first album. I really wanted to come out with something really fab where I could, like, come up a stage with, like, wind machine and my hair and like a hundred dancers. And the music would be right now. And I do these like movements and my hair would go, but my life said, oh, I know it's not what you're supposed to be doing right now, maybe ever.
I would say really, I was kind of hoping I'd get to wear something sparkly and like a cape in that genre.
When you said that, I was thinking about I don't know why Cher, but Beyonce, obviously. Yeah. Who did you like growing up that kind of conformed to that sort of diva paradigm?
Because no one like that I mean, I loved, like Shakespeare's sister and like polystyrene from x ray specs is like my biggest hero ever or like capurso polystyrene x ray specs.
I couldn't even tell you.
Did they have any hits? Oh, bondage up yours, warrior in Woolworths. I am a poser. I'm supposed to be my one of my favorite songs, period.
These would have come out ten years before you were born, wouldn't they though. Yeah.
I've always loved the era of music. I've always loved Shakespeare's sister. Really? Oh yeah. Amazing.
Oh my gosh. That's so leftfield really.
She was in Bananarama Sherbourne Fergie. Right.
If I call them for dinner and I said I didn't know that she was in Bananarama. Yeah. I just know she I don't know Giggler. Like we can't be putting out disinformation.
Does that worry you if she was in Bananarama and it makes me like him more, that's sick. I used to be Jesse James back in know.
I mean I love stuff like Shakespeare's sister that's very on message for what we were just talking about, based on an essay by Virginia Woolf. Right. That's where that title is taken from saying that if Shakespeare had a sister, which I don't know that he did, who is equally talented as Shakespeare, would she have had the chance and the opportunity to become Shakespeare? Right.
I think it's in a sequel, a room of your own, which is to make the point, unless you've got your own space, how do you get to write plays and spend the time without worrying about cooking and cleaning and waiting on on men?
Right, exactly. Shivon Fahy. I knew it. There we go. And Marsella Detroit. WHARFIE Yep. Apologies if I'm pronouncing it wrong. What where your history is the only one of their songs I could your history.
Sorry for that. I for just singing to you if you know what's your favorite. Shakespeare's sister. What would you say.
It's obviously like stay isn't a stay. I thought that was my E seventeen is the one I like. There's a guy and he's like dying. And then one of them's like the angel said, no, don't go, please stay. And then the other ones like the devil and she's gonna come around the dinner that our my own. And I thought that video is pretty viable.
I don't think I've ever seen that video. I did read, though, that you listen to a lot of punk in your younger days. Is that true?
Yeah, I did. I mean, I quite like this sort of whole, like, new romantic thing like Adam and the Ants and Anabella when and when I was young. I actually, I guess, was like the young protege and apprentice of Mike Chapman, who was like a big songwriter in the late 70s, early 80s.
Who did you know, Mike Chapman? Yes, I did.
I actually, like, studied with him for about a year. We made music together, maybe longer whereabouts in London, but.
I went out to Connecticut as well, which is where he was living at the time. He's a legend. He's an absolute legend. You kidding me?
What was he in the suite or did he just write songs for the suite? He wrote for the suite. He wrote Ballroom Blitz. Ballroom Blitz. That's as much of that as I can see. Ballroom blitz.
He also produced parallel lines. Yes. Blondy, yes.
And takes credit for turning heart of glass from a reggae track into a ethereal disco track.
I mean, Heart of Glass is one of my favorite songs of all time is I don't know why. That's just a song that hits me in a very deep and intimate place.
I mean, he was a really important part for me, developing into an artist. And he actually wrote to me on MySpace, I think, or I wrote to him, I can't remember. He might have written to me and he was always, like, obsessed. The fact is that you're just like Annabella Lewyn. And I just thought that was the biggest compliment ever. And I used to have my hair in a Mohawk. So I used to think I'm going to be like Anabella the wind when I grow up.
I think I was like 19 or something. Who's Anabella Lewine from Bow-Wow.
I want Candy. Oh, no kidding.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. You see a child in the country. Exactly.
Yeah. I was kind of reading into all of that stuff.
Who is Malcolm McLaren protege. I remember exactly. That was an album that made an impression because I think she was naked on the cover of the album. They were sort of recreating mayonaise DNA. Sulabh Yeah.
And she was only like 15 or something like that. Yeah. And it was like a big controversy.
I think she is mixed race as well. And you mentioned polystyrene. And do you think there was a part of you that was responding to singers who looked like you are 100 percent?
You know, you have to remember, I grew up in Gloucestershire and nobody looked at me. So I think that I naturally gravitated towards women that maybe I could grow up into just to finish on Mike Chapman.
Yeah, he liked what he saw of your music on MySpace. Yeah, well, he liked the whole vibe you were giving off.
Yeah, well, I was very much into Blondie back then, naturally, like before Mike. So I think I had this song is called Like I'm Your Doll. Actually, I then released on your dog more of like a sort of heavy metal song. Its earlier version was kind of like a sort of Blondie esque pop song that he quite liked. And another song called Pretty Young Things as well. They're quite nice as well, which is like sort of Blondie song.
So what did you learn from him? I think I learned about the different roles that are in music and I learn how to write more structured songs. He was the first person that ever took me into a studio with a band, and I've never worked in that way before. Are there any other song on top of like MP threes? And we were trying to make my first ever original music, but then I did it and I just kind of I don't know, it didn't quite feel like me.
I've been through a couple of things like that in my early years, which just kind of going down a route and trying to find out who I was and maybe leaning too much on references and then sounding too much like somebody that I admire and then have to, like, rein it back in.
Who do you think you were guilty of maybe slightly attempting to emulate? Oh, definitely Anabella.
Definitely Blondie. Definitely Adam and the Ants. Everything I did is kind of like an antipathy and so on for many years. Really. Yeah, but I knew what I was doing.
It's just a part of growing. Maybe that's OK. Like it's a good thing to do, I think in your late teens and early 20s to kind of align yourself with things that you like. But ultimately people are only going to truly feel it if it's coming from you. I can't remember who said it, but there's an artist who said you got to drink from your own thumb. But that can take a while to figure out. Yeah. How to do that.
What do you think you were responding to in Adam? In the end?
The world creating it was a whole sort of mythology, wasn't it? Like the Native American references and the look. He had his whole thing worked out, didn't he?
Yeah, he really did. You know, I like world creators, even if I don't like someone's music specifically. If I can see that they've created a world, I just respect that so much because it's so much harder and it's so much more in depth than it leaves you so much more vulnerable to. Like, really go for it, go for esthetically, go for it lyrically, go for it sonically, go for it in skills, go for it and craft playing instruments, dancing, performing.
You know, it's such a precarious position to put yourself in that when I see other people doing it, I just I think it's amazing. I think it's so inspirational.
Have you ever met him here? Well, I don't know whether to call him a mentor. Stuart Goddard, I think is his given name.
Yeah, I did meet him once in Soho and I did something I don't say embarrassing, but I think now I'm a little embarrassed. I run up to him on old Compton Street and gave him a hug and I wouldn't let him go. I hey, if someone did that to me quite bad. I was young. I was just like, wow, like is adamant and I think I was also probably like dressed a little bit like him as well.
I think I'd like to know how would you have been? Oh, young be like 18 as it was in my first years of being in London.
I mean, I'm sure he quite liked it, didn't he? I mean, he probably wasn't getting that many hugs from strangers. You know, if you're 18, that would have been early 2000s, right?
I mean, I don't think his phone was probably ringing off the hook with offers from labels.
I don't mean to sound mean, but he's not in his pomp the way he was in the 80s.
No one is. That's the thing is like the industry, it moves on so quickly. You know, obviously I'm hoping for a long career, but I won't be one day. It happens to everybody, even the big stars that you think, oh, that person is going to be around forever because you have like a whole summer of, like, loving their music. But then two years later, it's just somebody else.
You know, I still find that confusing. I find it really confusing when I was a kid, like the idea that. Oh, what? Hang on, why don't we hear from them any more?
And someone says, oh, they're not relevant, you just think. But but they were relevant two years ago for this podcast, for example, someone who had hits in the 80s who would have been godlike might now be considered not very good looking people are focused on what's happening now.
Yeah, and now more than ever, the world is moving so fast. I mean, honestly, I can put out an album and four months later people will be messaging me saying, like, we need new music. And I'm like, bro, like I literally, like, learn a new form of martial arts. I like to fly in the air and pole dancing. I recovered from surgery. I made a whole album. I went on tour twice and then I put out a record.
And then it's like four months later we need more music on.
And I'm like, that's a lot just to finish on.
Adamant Stuart Goddard, I think. Adam. Yes, Adam, when you hugged him as a complete stranger, said, I love your music, whatever he just said, thank you and carried on. You know, I think he was happy.
He was really sweet to me. He was really nice. I mean, I think that's great that you did that, by the way. And one of the few times I felt an urge to do that but didn't do it, which was when I walked past Mick Jones of The Clash, walking into a Damien Hirst exhibition. This is about 10, 20 years ago.
The clash meant such a lot to me when I was a young teen that afterwards I thought I have just got down on my knees and done Wayne's World, not worthy prostration, you know, rendered respect in some sort of embarrassing way and then got on with my day because I sort of afterwards I thought they might appreciate that kind of a gesture. And you could give them a little lift.
Yeah, it's nice. I guess it's also quite sad that we move on so quickly from such amazing talent and from such craft and from such effort. You know, the world does move on really quickly from it.
Just to say one final thing on Adamant, he's one of a small, select handful of people who I was about to make a programme about, you know, going on tour with an 80s sort of revival tour called the Here and Now tour.
This would have been around 2001, 2002.
There were a lot of other stars on it. Toyah, Willcox Go West, Howard Jones, China Crisis. I could go on. Martin Fry from ABC Adamant was the headliner. And literally a week or so before we were due to kick off, he had a psychotic episode and I think he was sectioned and as a result didn't go on the tour.
So Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet filled him and he was not interested in being in a documentary with me at that time anyway. So it never came off.
The project was shelved for. I think you should pick that one back up. I agree.
I think part of what we responded to in the music and the visuals and the whole Adam and the Ants package was that quality of kind of volatility in certain respects is kind of makes sense that he's on the edge of being unpredictable.
I don't know. You have to be wary of conflating artistic talent and mental illness. But I do think that part of his creativity was his sort of uncontrollable energy that he had that could burst the banks from time to time.
Yeah, I think it's precarious as lots of artists suffer with mental health issues. And I completely understand why I completely get it.
Like it's a really exhilarating but harsh, tough industry.
Should we talk a little bit about because you mentioned growing up in Gloucestershire.
Yeah. You grew up in Tewkesbury. In Cheltenham. Okay, so what's the connection to Tewkesbury?
As I know everything on my Wikipedia is wrong, even like my first days were on it. So, OK, so these notes can go out the window.
So forget Tewkesbury, Cheltenham, where I've actually been, although I can't remember it, I think it's quite a genteel sort of west country town with a literary festival.
When you've spoken openly about how growing up, the mixed race, perhaps being the only person of color at your school, that that could sometimes maybe feel lonely.
Yeah, it was a bit of a nightmare. Like my primary school, there was one other mixed race girl, but she just looked not as mixed race as I did. I remember her hair was sort of a bit straighter, so I felt like she had a bit of an easier ride somehow. But yeah, it was really traumatic, actually. Now, as I look back and, you know, obviously at the time when you're young, you don't really realize you're just in your situation.
You're like, yeah, this is how life is. But I guess now looking back, you know, it was really difficult. I was a very confused little girl. You know, my mum really did you her best. And my stepdad who raised me is from Barbados. A lot of my family's from Birmingham. And so we would go to Birmingham a lot. And I would experience like my own culture from being in Birmingham and Coventry. But when I was at school, you know, for the majority of the time, it really was just me and I did.
Feel very otherwise, I think, is the correct term. I did feel very of it, and I guess that's the most painful thing because I really just wanted to fit in so badly up until I was probably about maybe like 15 if I really wanted to have straight hair and I really wanted to I remember I go round to my friends houses and they'd be playing a certain type of music and I'd go back to my house and it would be like Latin American acid jazz fusion.
Just to go back a minute. You mentioned your biological dad wasn't in the picture to begin with. Can you say anything about how your parents met? Like what was the situation of your coming into this world?
Well, my mom was a clothing designer and my biological dad at that time worked in fashion and they had a shop together.
And then I was the result of that shop, really kind of like Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood.
Yes, yeah. I mean, I grew up like I remember coming back and being like pins everywhere, fabric everywhere, half my dresses over the floor, haberdashery beads pinned to everything.
And my mum's favorite designer was Vivienne Westwood. So I think it's not really a surprise. I sort of gravitated towards that in my late teens because it was the actual world. I was play-acting at home almost.
So you talk about feeling like you didn't fit in. Right. And I just wondering, you know, kids can be quite mean in general. Right. Did feel like they were being actively racist or just sort of inconsiderate.
Probably a little bit of both. I mean, I remember being at primary school and us going on like a school trip somewhere just down the road, like to the church probably, or something like that. And I remember all the kids would have to hold hands like two by two, and she wouldn't hold my hand in case the color came off. And I was probably about four and I didn't really realize that I was a different color. It's the first time I'd ever, ever, ever realized.
And I remember one time coming out of a French lesson and my mum picked me up and we were like in this cul de sac and something had happened. I can't remember what that something had been knocked over. And I remember my mum came out and the neighbour said, oh, you know, those bloody jungle bunnies. And I remember my mum being absolutely horrified and being really upset by it and putting me in the car. And I didn't really understand what it meant, but I knew it was like a little bit may be directed at me or maybe people that look like me.
It was funny because years later, years and years later in my adult life, I was a boyfriend's house sitting at a Christmas dinner table and his aunt called a black woman a jungle bunny. And it just went right through me to like a really tender and unhealed wound that these comments really did affect me when I was young. And then even when I thought that I had handled it in my adult life, now people can call me something or call somebody that looks like me something.
And it takes me back to being five and not knowing how to stand up for myself or not knowing how to react in that moment.
Do you do much social media in general? Oh, gosh, I really try not to. I really don't like it. Can I read something? We don't have to go there if you don't want to.
I'm aware that when you first started going out with your then boyfriend in 2014, right. Yes.
You got a huge amount of wealth, a huge you got an amount of grief from his friends. And yes, a lot of it was racist and content, is that right?
Yeah, it was really, really deeply horrific. And I think it was at a time where I felt like I couldn't really talk about it, you know?
And I felt like if I was going through that now, I feel like I would be able to talk about it and do some good with it. But I don't know whether it was because of my age or whether it's because of the social climate or whether it was because being black and from Cheltenham and from a low income family and having to genuinely work twice as hard as everything I do to get a seat at the table, because that is true. You know, people talk about black excellence, but that is because we have to be excellent to be considered average, you know, so I've worked so, so, so, so, so hard just to get like a little seat at the table.
And then I got there and people just called me the most hurtful and ignorant and horrible names under the planet.
This is trolls on Twitter, basically crazy or not crazy or just people with the protection of anonymity sending out hateful tweets. Yeah, I think it probably trivializes it to call them crazy because those are not crazy people. They're just. People with nasty racist attitudes who considered that you are unworthy of going out with this guy. Is that what it was?
Yeah, of course it was that because he was the white Prince Charming, and I think they considered that he should definitely be with somebody white and blonde and not me. Whatever I did at that time, people would find pictures of monkeys and have me doing the same thing as the monkeys. I say, if I was wearing a red dress, I'd have a monkey and a red dress, or if I was on a bike, they'd find a monkey on a bike.
I used to think it was really hurtful, but really stupid. And I remember one time they found like a picture of my profile and then they found a picture of a monkey's profile and they put them next to each other. And I was like, wow, yeah, that looks the same. So I can't really argue with that. That looks the same. And I just remember it had this massive kind of like dysmorphic effect on me for about six months to a year where every time I saw my pictures in photographs, I would think, gosh, I look like a monkey and people are going to say it like a monkey.
So I need to really try and hide this monkey ness that I have because otherwise, like, people are going to come for me about it. And I remember when I would like take pictures and stuff, I'd really try to kind of hold myself in a different way. So that couldn't happen again. Obviously, I know now that it's completely ridiculous, but it's essentially bullying, you know, and it does affect you psychologically. It's really sad. And just for everyone to know, I now love how I look and I'm very confident and I feel really good.
But like it was deeply unfair at the time that I was made to feel so self-conscious and so ugly. And yeah, man, it was a lot that period was a lot basically, just like being in a war.
That's unreal. But, you know, in a way like obviously like all the rest of us, really horrific. But I love making music and I love dancing and and I feel so lucky to have met so many brilliant people. But it's not this journey is not come without its it's its difficulties, I guess. Absolutely.
So your album is amazing, by the way.
And not being able to continue the world tour, does that affect any sort of impact on sales or do you feel like from where you're sitting? Obviously artistically, I'm sure you love it and I'm very proud of it.
Were you able to give it the launch that you wanted? Is it doing big numbers? I think what I'm asking but you don't have to answer.
I mean, I don't think anything that I do really does big numbers. I don't really think that's what I'm here for. No.
Well, you know, I'm going to disagree, though, because I think that actually I could see you doing huge numbers. Like I think you're an incredible artist who could connect with tens, if not hundreds of millions of people. I'm not saying that to be a kiss ass, as they say. When you look at what people like Frank Ocean or Kanye West or Bjork or whoever you care to name.
Right. I think those guys are doing big numbers, aren't they?
I guess so.
I've never looked, but yeah, I guess they must be well, maintain the kind of artistic integrity and the sort of nonmainstream sort of sensibility.
No, I do understand what you're saying. But I mean, I guess it depends. I big in what way? Like there are cats that have 100 times more views on videos than I do. So I think that we're living in a world where, like, numbers are quite I don't want to say like irrelevant, but it feels quite contrived, whereas I feel like to really be a part of culture, you know, for me to feel connected to other artists in my generation, whether they're technically a smaller artist and me or a bigger artist than me, it has more integrity.
And right now.
Do you feel any pressure to be commercial? I'm just wondering, like I work in TV, and as much as I'd like to be able to say I don't care about the ratings. Right.
Or I don't feel any pressure when they come and say, oh, well, the numbers were a little lower than we expected, but it's all fine. Relax, we don't mind in my head, what I hear is we do mind and actually you better try a bit harder or your position is weak. And any time I feel I'm perceived as underperforming, that probably says a bit about my insecurity.
But it seems to me like in the music industry in general. There might be some pressure right, from the higher ups. I don't know what your relationship is like with your labor or how any of that works, but you don't feel that that there's people that sort of counting the numbers or thinking about selling more units or whatever it is.
I don't know.
It's weird, like we're having this conversation. It's like the first time I've ever felt like even a tiny bit of a failure, you know, is I mean, to me.
No, it's fine. It's interesting. It's it's interesting because I don't know what your numbers are like.
Your numbers might be huge. No, no, they're not. They're not. But I guess this is the and I'm trying to think about this feeling, but I think this is the first time I've ever felt like a bit of a failure. I think up until this point, I've always felt like I'm doing really brilliantly and and I just make what I want to make. And I feel really happy that anyone one just wants to engage with it because I hang onto that.
You, by the way, just edit out whatever I said that might have made you feel that way.
None of but it's important. Don't ask, don't tell is important. It shouldn't be edited out because it's the truth. But no, I guess no one's ever spoken to me. This is the first time I think I've ever had a conversation about amazing, by the way.
And you're welcome for it, including you in my insecurity, because I think that's why I just managed to do and I have a knack for that kind of enveloping people around me in whatever lack of self-worth I feel by kind of recruiting them into some sort of barometer of success or failure.
And then they're not measuring up, which I mean, it's sort of toxic.
And I'm being facetious, obviously, but but I think I'm guilty of doing that for sure.
And I think the dangerous part of it is that you can succeed or fail on your own terms.
Right. Or you can succeed or fail on someone else's terms. But the worst feeling is failing on someone else's terms, because then you haven't even got the satisfaction of knowing that you tried to do what you wanted to do. At least if you fail on your own terms, you think, well, that's what I wanted to do and it didn't work.
I don't think I've ever felt on my own terms because my own terms are not based on putting anything out into the world. My own terms are becoming a better singer, becoming a better songwriter, becoming a better dancer, becoming a better human. I'm learning grade one piano at the moment. You know how humbling it is to sit down award winning artist and learn great one piano. It's the most humbling experience and I love every single second of it. And that's what I love.
Like when I first started doing pole dancing, I couldn't even climb up the pole or when I first started doing Wushu with the sword and I just hit myself with the sword and go home of like little slices over my body from where I couldn't do the most simple moves. That's what I really live for in my life, is learning things and that some of the most successful, affluent, revered people in the whole world and they are so miserable, they are miserable and they are dark and they are lonely and they are lost.
You know, we need some names. No names, Louis.
But, you know, I'm sure you've met people like that, too. But I think that it's kind of not just about the big things. It's not just about the big numbers of winning awards. I mean, all that stuff's great, but it's also just about the little tiny leaps and bounds. And I think that this for me, I would like a career of longevity. And yeah, I'm just starting piano now, but maybe in ten years time, like, I could be really good at it, you know, and I could feel really confident at it.
And then if I learn piano then my songwriting will get better. And if my songwriting gets better then, you know, the numbers will look after themselves. You nailed it.
That was exactly right. I want to ask one more thing. It's tempting rhetorically felt like that kind of ended the interview because it was such a powerful artistic statement. But I've also inconveniently not. You mentioned the pole dancing. Right. And I haven't really asked you about it because it is amazing what you do with the pole dancing.
Yeah. Can we talk about it for two minutes? Yeah.
How did that come to be a part of your performance?
Um, well, I think I was recovering from my fibroid surgery, which is a weird you get kind of strange growths in your uterus, is that right? Yeah. So it's basically like tumors that grow in your uterus. I had like six or seven, so they were like a fruit bowl. Yeah, I used to call them my fruit bowl.
You said to Kiwi's, Yeah, I love cooking apples and a Sontarans and no, not bananas and cherries and dates.
You said it was like a fruit bowl of pain, which is a brilliant image. I was really glad that, like, I wouldn't be able to dance again because when I went in for my operation, they made me sign this piece of paper saying it was cool if they took my bladder out. So I literally. Oh, great. So I'm going to wake up with no bladder and a bag outside my body. And then I how am I going to dance or how am I going to have like.
Well, I have to have, like a little sparkly pouch for my like for you to me back. That would be pushing the envelope. I don't think anyone's done that.
But anyway, luckily that didn't happen. And so, yeah, I just stopped dancing. And the thing is, you know, I think initially I just wanted to fly. I've always been a very considered and delicate mover, like coming from ballet and contemporary dance and having a lot of spatial awareness. But I've never been very good at flinging myself around. So initially, I think it was that thing of being upside down and just swinging around of my ankle with, like my hair flying in the wind.
I was like, this is amazing. I feel so alive. I just felt so, so, so alive.
Your performance on Jimmy Fallon was extraordinary. When was that? That wasn't that long ago, was it? No, that was last year. Could you still do a lot of those moves now, do you think or do you have to be at Peak Fitness to do that?
No, I feel like once it's in your body, like if you said to me like a week, let's go do it. I've got a pole in my living room. Do you do you work on it?
See it. Oh, my goodness.
It's right in the middle of your living room. Yeah. How often will you get on the pole typically?
Well, I haven't been on it that much recently, but sometimes I get on every single day.
I looked at the performance. I thought it appeared effortless. But you were doing things that seemed to defy gravity. It was kind of extraordinary.
Yeah, that's the whole point. When you make it enjoyable, it's everything starts to feel effortless. That's the most fun thing about performing, is that you can do things which are really difficult. And then when you're on stage, it's about making it look like weightless.
So what does the future hold now? Like, will you be able to get your toe back on track or are you like the rest of us just sitting it out, making do collaborating at long distance and hoping that the situation changes well over lock down?
I wrote an album all via the Internet or working with people that I've never worked with before. I've got more collaborations and features on this album that I've ever had before. Majority of the people I've never met in real life, but we spend a lot of time with each other over face time. And I think that it's a real sort of product of 20/20. And again, it's just something about being able to have my work, hopefully represent landmarks in time.
So for me as an artist, to make a whole album over FaceTime is like the epitome of being isolated, like as an artist and still having the desire to make work.
So I feel like I did that. That was really exciting.
What about this ego death that's in the charts? Do we have charts now? I'm hearing it a lot at the moment when I talk to my smart speaker. If you say play AFCO Twiggs ego, death often comes on.
You didn't record that in lockdown, though, did you know what that feels like years ago now? Maybe two and a half years ago? I never thought it was going to come out.
That's with Kanye and tight all the time. When I wrote it, I wrote it with Ty Dollar Sign and with Suppan with feet. So it was just us on the record. And then afterwards, like a year later, I think title dollar sign Kony on the record.
He definitely brings something to it. Does he make a noise? Does he do a weird noise? Tell me, how does it go. Doesn't he say no.
He says no, no.
That is so good. Do you know what I'm talking about. I do now. You said it. Now I remember it. Yeah. No, no, no.
It's OK. Thank you for making me. I don't feel so strange. There was some recognition there. If you'd said I have no idea what you're doing now, that could have been awkward. But you did recognize what I did.
Well, to be honest with you, I knew what it was from the beginning. I just wanted to hear you did.
Oh, maybe I deserve that for fixating on numbers earlier in the conversation. That was payback. And that's how we left the conversation back in September. A couple of months later, though, Twiggs made headlines when she filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against an ex-boyfriend alleging sexual battery, assault and the infliction of emotional distress. And just before Christmas, she got in touch with me to see if we could talk again about what had been going on.
Well, I think the first time we spoke, we were talking a lot about my music and my life and what I'd been up to during lockdown in the past year.
And I felt like I was being dishonest in a way, because the one thing that I had in my head is that the majority of this year I've been recovering from being in an abusive relationship. It's not you know, it's difficult because it's not something that defines me, but it is now a big part of who I am. And I think when we spoke last time, I was still very much thinking about whether I wanted to come forward and talk about it and seeing how during covid a lot of victims are basically in a confined space with their abusers and not being able to get out.
And I felt like I wanted to come forward and talk about it because it is something in society that's a really big problem and it's really common. But for some reason we don't talk about it and we just ignore it.
So where do you want to begin? Are you comfortable dealing with the concrete details of it? Like, yeah, the person's name.
And I know it's all out there because it's been in the news. It's Qalibaf who's obviously well known actor, someone who made a film with called Honeyboy. And after the film ended, you struck up a relationship. Is that reasonable to put it like that?
Yeah. So to begin with, it was positive. I don't to put words in your mouth, like presumably there was aspects of the relationship at the beginning that made you want to pursue it and continue it.
Yeah, of course. And I think that's something that I want to be able to talk about, to raise awareness to the signs of abuse just via my experience. And the first thing is an intense honeymoon period at the beginning, which is a signifier of how brilliant things can be. It sets the benchmark for if you behave well and if you fulfill all of the requirements and meet the rules and all these things of the abuser, it can be here.
It can be great. Intense love bombing, big displays of affection, lots of love, words and happy times, great dates, lots of laughs.
You're amazing. Put on a pedestal. And that's very common in the beginning of an abusive relationship. And then for me, the grooming, the pushing of your emotional and spiritual boundaries, you know, so that can come out through somebody being jealous, controlling, you know, little things that you could do wrong that could take away from the happiness of where things could be.
For me, it was being nice to a waiter or being polite to somebody that could be seen as me flirting or want to engage in some sort of relationship with somebody else when I'm literally just ordering pasta and being polite.
So any harmless bit of friendliness on your part could be construed as disloyalty or sort of infidelity.
Yeah, which can be really isolating. You know, I was told that I knew what he was like and if I loved him, I wouldn't look man in the eye.
So that was my reality for a good four months towards the end of the relationship that I wasn't allowed to look men in the eye.
He told you that. So then I'm looking down all the time.
And, you know, that does a lot to someone's confidence. When you're worried about someone being nice to you in a shop, just any sort of day to day pleasant interaction could result in a three day, you know, event of me being berated and kept awake.
And I think for me, I started to really isolate myself.
So I stopped talking to my friends. I didn't talk to my family. I just was living a very regimented and contained life that I felt got me in the least trouble you've brought a legal suit against in which we can talk about in a minute, but it means I've read that so I know some of the details.
One thing you mention is that I think it's in that suit that he would count the number of times that you had kissed him in a day.
Yeah, right. Yeah, I had a quota that I had to meet that would change. So it was like touchers or looks or. Kisses that his previous partner apparently met this number very well, so I was inadequate compared to a previous partner of his and I had to get the touches and the kisses correct. But I never exactly knew kind of what the number exactly was. But it was essentially around 20 a day, like 20 touches, 20 kisses a day of just like, how are you OK?
Like reinforcements basically of my devotion for him and me being committed to him, which is exhausting, you know, because you can't be natural.
So he was keeping track of the kisses. And then if you didn't meet the number, what would happen?
He would start an argument with me, berate me for hours, make me feel like I was the worst person ever.
Like, I genuinely thought that I was so cold and so awful and such like a terrible girlfriend.
He would wake me up in the night to accuse me of all sorts of things, accused me of staring at the ceiling and thinking about ways to leave him, accuse me of masturbating, accuse me of not wanting to be with him, accusing me of wanting to be with somebody else. But it would be always, I'd say, between four and seven in the morning. And that's why I wanted to do this again.
You're kind of asking last time, like, what have you been doing over lockdown? But for me, I've just been like.
For me, I've been trying not wake up between three and seven in a panic attack, that's what I've been trying to do and I am there now, you know, just I am there. But for a long time, anything that woke me up in the night, even if it was just my dog or a noise outside or just needing to go to the bathroom, it could trigger a really intense panic attack because I was left with PTSD from there, which again, is just something that I don't think we really talk about as a society just in terms of the healing of leaving and how much work there has to be done to recover to get back to the person that you were before.
And that is time consuming and it's exhausting and it's expensive as well. You know, I completely acknowledge my privilege of having a house and having a good set of friends around me and having the means to be able to have therapy twice a week if I need it.
So could I be in the room for a second? Because I think what a lot of people will be wondering is, well, if you are the hospital saying you can't look at people in the eye because it's flirting or whatever, that you would think that would be a sign that something was wrong in the relationship or something's wrong with the person.
Right. So you were thinking that or what was in your mind because you said you've stayed with him after that.
It's hard to understand what's going on psychologically when you're being controlled and coerced by an abuser, because it happens very slowly.
So if I'm thinking in this relationship that I'm the worst person ever, that I'm disgusting, that everything I do is wrong to the point where at times I would call an ex partner in tears to say I'm the worst person ever to be around. And he would be like, No, not at all. Like, not at all. I just didn't know who I was. I was hollow. And, you know, that kind of. Why didn't you just leave?
Conversation is something that I really want to tackle. You know, people often ask the victim or the survivor, why didn't you leave instead of asking the abuser, why are you holding somebody hostage through abusive behavior? It's a fair question for you to ask, you know, why didn't you leave, but it puts a lot on me and it puts a lot on victims and survivors. And it's a lot it's a big question like why didn't you leave?
And, you know, one answer that I've given is because it genuinely felt impossible.
I felt so controlled and I felt so confused and I felt so low beneath myself that the fear of even leaving and knowing that I had all this work to do to get back to just feeling OK, it was completely overwhelming. It was completely overwhelming and genuinely felt it felt very impossible. And I'd never had a relationship like this before. Even really heard of a relationship like this before, honestly. So I just wasn't clued up. I didn't know the signs.
I didn't know the tactics.
So you'd internalized aspects of what you were being told and what was being conveyed and started to think that you deserved this in some way or that this was just how it was supposed to be?
Yeah, I think sometimes I did feel like I deserved it. I think I felt very scared and intimidated and controlled. Everything that I was was somehow tied to him.
And he was in control of my mood that day. And what I could do and when I'd done well and when I could have like a few days of going back into love bombing and this kind of like honeymoon life, because I'd done it good enough for his standards, then I think, okay, like it's going to get better, but then it doesn't. It's like a cycle. That's why they call it a cycle of abuse, you know, because it's like good and then it's normal and then you're fighting to get it good again and you get back to being good and you think, okay, that was just a phase.
It was just something that happened. You know, I'm forgiving past don't have empathy. And then it starts slipping down back into the abuse again, back into the shame, back into the heart. It just goes round and round and round.
And if you're not the one in control of it, it's really terrifying and disorientating.
How did you come to realize what was going on? I mean, were you kind of toggling back and forth between feeling OK about the relationship and then in the bad times, thinking this doesn't feel right, this feels abusive? Was there a moment when you conclusively realized actually you needed to get out of the relationship? And how did you come to see it?
Clearly after the incident, driving back from the desert where he was threatening to crash the car.
And as I said, I loved him and ended up basically strangling me in public at a gas station and nobody did anything. That was a really low moment for me because I felt like I would never be believed.
And there were bystanders at the gas station who saw what was happening and didn't step in.
No, nobody stepped in. And I think for me, that was a real moment of like, okay, no one is going to believe me because I'm the type of person if I saw something happening, I will go and help somebody. That's just who I am. But to have people see me being treated in that way and not do anything, I feel really disheartened. And I remember going back to where I was staying and calling an abused women's helpline and I literally just Googled like Free Women's Abuse Helpline USA.
You know, I just called the first one that came up and her reaction to me was so serious. And she was like, OK, from what you've said, it feels to me like you're in an unsafe place. Does your abuser know where you are? Can you get to a safe place? Who if you told about this, is there somewhere else that you can stay very like black and white lie almost when you call a paramedic is the person breathing?
And it felt really like, wow, like somebody that I don't even know that doesn't even know that like I'm a singer or anything like that. Somebody is taking this so seriously and wants to get me somewhere safe. And that was a really massive wake up call. That was the time when I realized, like, I need a lot of help to get out of this. And that's when I started messaging. I messaged my best friend and I said, I'm in a really abusive relationship and it's really bad.
And I've got a therapist who I started seeing twice a week. And I think about maybe a few months after I started that process, I was able to leave and leave for good.
Isn't something you know, life is so much more complicated than most of us would maybe assume. Like was it you just literally couldn't see how you could get out or were you still thinking maybe this is a viable relationship and maybe we can get it to work? No, no, I knew it wouldn't work, it was more just like for me, I had to spend a lot of time before I could leave, just trying to gather enough of myself together so that I knew when I left I really wouldn't go back and I wouldn't give in no matter what he did.
You brought a suit for sexual battery, battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and gross negligence filing in L.A. County Court. That's obviously a big step. Do you want to explain what the thinking was?
Because you will have known it would be a big story. You were both in the public eye. You could you know, there's a danger of traumatizing yourself or continuing your exposure to the events. Right. So I'm just wondering what was behind that.
I mean, I tried to do it behind closed doors. I tried to do it in a way where it wouldn't be public and I had certain conditions. So I just wanted him to agree to one, which was to get long term help for anger management and whatever it is he needs to like, sort out so that he stops abusing people.
And the other thing that I wanted was for him to donate money to a charity or some sort of organization for abused women, because for me, the turning point was calling that free helpline. I wanted him to contribute to other people's experience, to be able to leave their abusers in a positive way. And I wanted him just to say on paper or however, like, I'm going to take responsibility and I'm going to take this seriously. And that's all I wanted.
I just wanted him to take responsibility for his actions so that he wouldn't hurt anyone else.
So what will happen legally? I guess there's a chance you will actually end up in a civil trial, is that right?
Or he will he and his lawyers will decide actually that's too much to deal with and apologize or climb down.
Yeah, exactly. I don't really know. I can't really speculate like what is going on in his life or what he's thinking. Right. All I can do is just think about myself when I'm 50 years old and I've got kids and just think about what I want to have stood for. This is something that was completely unexpected. I never thought anything like this would happen to me, and I want to be able when I'm older, like if I have a daughter to say, like, this thing happened to me and I dealt with it, it's worth just for legal and other reasons, getting on the record.
Scheier the best response has been many of these allegations are not true, but he goes on to say, I have no excuses for my alcoholism or aggression, only rationalisations. I've been abusive to myself and everyone around me for years. I have a history of hurting the people closest to me. I am ashamed of that history and I'm sorry to those I hurt. There is nothing else I can really say. Feel free not to know if this is an inappropriate question or not, but I'm going to ask it and you feel free not to answer.
What are your feelings towards him at this point?
This situation is not really about Scheier anymore, and it's not really about me. I'm doing this for something much bigger, which is as I keep on repeating myself, I just want to change the conversation and the stigma around domestic abuse. I'm definitely healed to a point where I can put my experience into something positive to try and help other people.
That's all I want. But it's not really about him. It's just, you know, someone's got to do it. Like someone's got to take the risk about it. Why are we talking about this more? Why don't we have the language or why don't we have the understanding? For me, it just boils down to let's just banish that question of like, why didn't you leave? And that start asking the abusers, why are you holding someone hostage with your abuse?
If I can just start the conversation there, then it will be worth me coming forward and and doing this. Yes.
The good part of this is, is this is going to go out during the lockdown. Like if this reaches people and people listening to it and it triggers something in them in a good way, like if it actually connects with them or causes them to recognize something, what could be more valuable than that?
You know, that helps a lot more. I saw a bit pious, but I genuinely think that we are in a in the middle of a health emergency, but also a mental health emergency. And people need resources. And maybe this can be a little part of that.
Yeah, I think it's just to know, you know, for me when I was in it, but to know that I'm not alone and to know that there are places that you can go to to have support and to know that there is a way out.
Sounds good. Can I just ask how are you doing? Because it's been a little while since I spoke to you last time. Are you OK? No, no, I am.
I am actually okay. Like like I said. Yeah, this makes me emotional. Like I've been, I have been through something hard but like I am going to be OK. I said the other day to somebody, it's a big thing to heal publicly and like have to kind of do it in front of everybody, but. You know, I can do it. I'm a big girl, so I can do. You mentioned you'd written an album in Lockdown.
Yeah, and I'm just wondering whether any of your experiences you've been able to channel into your work in any way?
I mean, I'm sure subconsciously. Yeah.
You know, my next music I've made is, ironically, a lot lighter than the usual music that I make, because I think I spent so much time in darkness with him that when I have been in lockdown and I've been really missing my friends and going out and getting ready and dancing, I've wanted to make music for the people closest to me that I love.
Yeah, I'm sure subconsciously if I went through all the lyrics, there'll be things that because, you know, I'm an artist is probably me being literal minded, like, oh, you've had a big experience, time to write an album about it.
I don't think it's quite been like that.
I think if I thought about it, I probably would realize that was a pretty stupid question and maybe not even have asked. This has been grounded with me living through. My guest today has been a singer, songwriter, dancer and actor. FKA Twigs. I'm glad to hear you're making light music like I think we need a bit of levity, right.
We get enough grimness just on the news.
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Thank you for that. You know, the first half of the conversation is going to be mainly adamant and a little bit of Bow-Wow and then it's going to be this massive key change. I like what you do, and I've grown up when you so I feel like it's safe, has grown up with that.
I sound like a breakfast cereal growing up. You never grow out of that was Marmite. OK, there was the levity.
This has been a mindless house production for BBC Sounds and Radio four. It was produced remotely by Catherine Mannan, Molly Schneider and Paul Coatrack next week in the last of the current series. I keep it in the family and talk all things through with my actor, writer and filmmaker Cousin Justin through.
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