‘I had a big awakening within my soul’ – fresh from her RadiantMe² shows, the pop pathfinder talks self-empowerment and storytelling with kindred spirit Damaris Lewis
Taken from the 25th anniversary issue of Dazed:
“For me, twigs represents one of the few people who are unafraid of their minds, in the sense that her creativity is her creativity. When I see her perform, I see something that is so deeply rooted in twigs. I think nowadays we’ve lost our imaginations... We need people like twigs.” — Damaris Lewis
What does it mean to be unafraid of your own creativity? For FKA twigs, the answer lies in inhabiting your body to the point where it exists as an essence. To watch her perform is to bear witness to a parallel dimension made visible. Beneath a waterfall of platinum dreads, her body moves in ways we have never really seen: powered-up and poised, like a steely-eyed sci-fi heroine calling new worlds into existence. FKA twigs is a new archetype, a form of action-painting.
Damaris Lewis and FKA twigs are two young women who know their own power, and exercise complete control over their art. It was two years ago that Lewis first met twigs – an introduction made by none other than Prince, for whom Lewis was a muse and dancer before his death earlier this year. Today, they share the kind of spiritual bond that can only exist between two artists so committed to the power of performance. Lewis is the Brooklyn-raised model of West Indian heritage who balances keen philanthropy with dancing on the world’s biggest stages, including for the Purple One himself. Meanwhile twigs, fresh from debuting electrifying new music – her first since 2015’s M3LL155X – as part of her Radiant Me² tour over the summer, continues to show that absolute physical mastery and musical invention shine all the brighter when they exist in symbiosis. twigs challenges herself and the audience to go to places we have never gone before in pop, provoking a kind of uneasiness that every single artist who has ever mattered does.
twigs requested to be in discussion with Lewis for this interview, her first in some months. “I’ve been doing interviews for three years, and I just get asked the same questions all the time,” she says. “Obviously we’re our own people, but there’s a similarity between (Damaris and me) in terms of wanting to be a good person, wanting to be connected to ourselves and to the earth. To things you can touch so you know they definitely exist. I would rather be associated with those types of people, rather than people who are like, ‘Why are you called FKA twigs?’” – Claire Marie Healy
Damaris, what first pulled you into twigs’ universe?
Damaris Lewis: She is unafraid of her mind. I think nowadays we’ve lost our imaginations. This year, when she released her song ‘Good to Love’, it touched me really deep. Often, if we want inspiration for something we find it elsewhere, we don’t necessarily find it in ourselves. If you want to design your house you can go on Pinterest and look up design. But when I think of twigs, I don’t see anyone else. When I look at her videos and music, it’s unlike any other person. We need twigs, you know? We need people that the next generation can see (and realise) you can still be successful for being you. Everybody wants to be famous, but nobody wants to do the work. Nobody wants to wake up and truly ask themselves, ‘What does my mind want to do?’
It’s true. twigs, your work seems to get weirder the more famous you get, instead of conforming for a bigger audience.
FKA twigs: Yeah. But I don’t think I’m that weird. Like, say if you set me in a different era, up against artists from 20 or 30 years ago, what I’m doing wouldn’t seem that unique. Obviously it’s unique to me, and they’re unique to them, but it wouldn’t seem like I was pushing the boundaries of creativity, because everyone was doing it then. Does that make sense? There’s loads of amazing artists from that era who are genuine stars, and find such peace inside themselves to be able to find who they were and portray that through their art.
Damaris Lewis: twigs is the least weird person, in my mind. No legend ever fit in. I think that, when you look back on history, every single person whose name we knew, we knew because they didn’t fit in. I always give the example of the Wright Brothers. I’m pretty sure when they told someone they wanted to invent something that flew in the sky and transferred people from place to place, people looked at them like they were crazy. They had these ideas that nobody else had, but having those ideas and going with them is what made (those people) make history. And when I look at twigs, I see this person who is unafraid of not fitting in. She doesn’t care. Society is all about fitting in – you want as many likes, as many followers as every other person, you want to be on the same level as everybody else when essentially no great person was ever on the same level. No great person ever truly cared what other people thought about what came out of their brain. But we tend to look at geniuses as people who are crazy, when essentially it (is) maybe us who are the crazy ones.
Did you ever feel pressure to fit in, twigs?
FKA twigs: I’ve always just been doing what I wanted to do. That’s not to say certain things don’t make me feel insecure. I’m a human being. But ultimately I realise that what’s inside me is far more important than what’s on the outside of me. How I feel on the inside is far more important than how people think of me. I just want to be able to be myself. That’s the only thing that I want to do. As much as anyone that likes my music might be interested in learning more about me through the work I do, I’m learning about myself as well. It’s self-exploration, all the projects that I do – to see whether I can get better at dancing or producing or singing. I’m still young. I’ve got a lot to learn.
What does dance mean to you both as a form of expression?
Damaris Lewis: Dance for me is a means of speaking. I dance because sometimes it’s the only way to be freed from whatever I’m feeling. Dance is universal. You may be from America and only speak English, and you can go to a different country and have no idea what they’re saying because you don’t speak the language, but if you’re a dancer it doesn’t matter. I can be in a different country, but I don’t have to say a thing.
“When I dance, when I am truly in the moment, there’s a way for me to be outside of myself and push my body, to see how far it can go, see how far I can reach” — FKA twigs
FKA twigs: When I dance, when I am truly in the moment, and truly feel free, there’s a way for me to be outside of myself and push my body, to see how far it can go, see how far I can reach, see how deep I can sit. And often when I look back at videos where I’m freestyling on stage, I think, ‘Wow, if you taught me that in a routine I’d never be able to do it, ever.’ If you said, ‘OK, bend back like that, and then lift your arm, and then twist and go down to the floor and get up and don’t fall over,’ there’s no way I’d be able to get it. But somehow, when the music is on and you’re in the moment, your body does this incredible thing. You’re existing as an essence.
You were introduced to one another by Prince, who Damaris worked with. What’s a lesson that he imparted in you both?
Damaris Lewis: I know of twigs because of Prince, and he adored dancing because it was – I mean, it’s like a math equation. You add the one and the two, you get the three, you know? And I think that, if you look through his career, he’s always had dancers. Because dance adds to the singing, dance creates a story. With me, I know that when I was on the stage, that show wasn’t just a show, it was a story.
FKA twigs: The main thing about Prince is his ability. Everything he did, every piece of work he made, was so genuine and truthful, and I think that can be an inspiration to all of us. Especially now, in 2016: to be able to project whatever you feel and know for sure that it’s the truth.
Damaris Lewis: The one thing I can tell you Prince enforced in my life was that I had control over my greatness. He spent his life telling you how he felt through his art. The work that twigs and I do is an extension of his legacy. Not from the words that he spoke, but from what we know – how we know he lived.
“(Prince) spent his life telling you how he felt through his art. The work twigs and I do is an extension of his legacy” — Damaris Lewis
I also wanted to ask you both how you feel sensuality and sexuality relate to dance?
Damaris Lewis: Dance comes from the body, it’s that simple. I may do a move that looks really sexual to someone from America, but looks really normal to someone from Saint Kitts or Jamaica, because that’s their culture. Someone may do a dance topless, and to one person it looks scandalous, and to another it looks like art.
FKA twigs: If someone is moving and they’re confident, it almost doesn’t matter what they’re doing. The fact that someone is so in their body, I believe that is automatically so alluring and so sensual, and attractive.
I’m curious, as women in the public eye making art that pushes boundaries, if the internet makes you anxious?
Damaris Lewis: It used to give me a lot of anxiety. My formula is to not wake up and go to sleep with social media. The first thought in your head in the morning should belong to you. I don’t think I have as much anxiety as the kids who were born into this age. I didn’t have nice handbags and nice shoes when I was ten. But I didn’t feel bad about it. Because I went to school and I went back home, it was just me. Now you log on and you can see the $10,000 handbags that these celebrities have. I talk to a lot of kids, and a lot of them are sad. They want those things, and they’re not acquiring them.
FKA twigs: And what you see isn’t real anyway. It’s curated. It’s a decorated thing that people have made as a production of themselves, in a way. It’s so bizarre.
Damaris Lewis: Social media can be used for the greater good, it’s not all bad. The internet is an amazing creation, I just think that I want imagination again. I am where I am because of my imagination.
So, twigs, how do you rise above the distractions to focus on creating your art?
FKA twigs: I think, for me, it’s about taking time. If your first thought in the morning is something that’s sacred to you and the thing you think about before you go to bed is something sacred to you, then you’re feeding yourself. You’re not watching the world, you’re just letting your own idea grow. Often, if I have an idea I’ll sit on it for a year or two – like the ‘Papi Pacify’ video. I knew I wanted to do that nine months before I shot it. I’ll sit on songs for ages, letting them grow. Every few months I’ll change the drum pattern, or add a new bit. It’s like with genetically modified food, where you speed up the growth – you’ll say, ‘This apple is going to be round and perfect and shiny,’ but then you bite into it and it just tastes like water. But if you just fertilise the soil and sit on it, let the soil become organic, then the apples are going to grow. They’re going to have new shapes and colours, and the stalk will become really long, and it will have a misshapen green leaf. And when you bite into it, it’s going to taste like the most delicious apple.
Would you say that fame has freaked you out or emboldened you?
FKA twigs: I like it when people watch what I create. It’s not about numbers, but I like it when I make work and people get to see it and enjoy it. I do believe that a lot of celebrity culture now is shameless, which I think is a massive shame. It makes it difficult, even if you are accidentally in the public eye. That’s how I feel – like I’m accidentally there.
“My whole life has been one big art experiment. And this one thing I’m accidentally good at has got me here. It’s an accident” — FKA twigs
Why do you feel that way?
FKA twigs: When I was a kid, I was always making things, practising, dancing… My whole life has been one big art experiment. And this one thing that I’m accidentally good at has just got me here. It’s an accident. Like, one day you wake up and you’re just doing what you really love and people say, ‘Oh, you’re really good at that, you should keep on going, we’re waiting for the next thing.’ That means everyone will know your face, or you can’t sit in a restaurant without someone talking to you. Or you can’t walk down the street without someone wanting to take a picture. You know, that’s fine, but it is almost like a big social trauma. No one ever looks at it that way.
Damaris Lewis: Both of us have been in the belly of the beast. In order to survive you have to trust your own magic – twigs does it, and that’s how I function. You have to trust that life comes in waves. Hot today, not tomorrow, hot five years from now – it’s not giving yourself timelines for your goals. So instead of me saying I want to shoot for ‘x’ magazine by this age, I just say I want to shoot for ‘x’ magazine. If it happens now or when I’m 50, it doesn’t matter, I just trust my magic.
I have to ask: when can we expect new music from you, twigs? I know you’ve been playing some new songs in your recent performances.
FKA twigs: I mean, it’s like Damaris and I have said, in my own time. I just like to let things grow. So me taking a few songs on the road – I don’t even know if I’ll release them, it’s just this way of me seeing which way it can grow. But it’s not part of any big masterplan. Back in the day you would take songs out on the road for two or three years and then release them, you know? That’s how long it takes for the band to get perfect. It’s unusual nowadays because everything is so instant and everyone can see things straight away on the internet, but I’m sure there are plenty of songs that have been sung by amazing artists in a smoky room full of people, and only the people in the room have heard them. I guess I’m still trying to operate like that even though, you know, it goes viral. Recently I did an amazing project where I conducted a free dance workshop in Baltimore. It was incredible: all of these amazing people came and we all danced, everyone completely let go. Amazing choreographers came down to help everyone, (like) Ramon Baynes, Kash Powell and Dominic Lawrence, then I had my two dancers, (and) we all just went. Three hundred and fifty people from Baltimore that just wanted to dance and feel something. People were laughing, crying, sweating, passing out and lying on the floor – it was just the most amazing experience. The next day somebody wrote on Twitter, ‘Thank you so much for coming, twigs, because it’s the first time that Baltimore has been trending for a positive event in a while.’ Because obviously, you know, there are so many troubles there. I just thought, that’s the main thing in terms of the magic and the good you can do with your art and creativity. There’s so much love, and you can share it, even though I’m all the way from a town in the middle of nowhere in England, you’ll be able to go and create such amazing, positive energy. I think at the end of last year I had a big awakening within my soul. All of a sudden I can see how magical life can be, how much magic there is within the universe – and how tapped into it we can be if we choose to be.
Hair Ward at The Wall Group using Living Proof, make-up Yadim at Art Partner, nails Naomi Yasuda at Streeters using Chanel Le Vernis in Organdi, lighting design David Diesing, lighting asistant Evan Browning, fashion assistants Tara Greville, Kat Banas, Skye-Maree Dixon, make-up assistant Aya Watanabe, production Mary-Clancey Pace for Hen’s Tooth Productions, retouching Two Three Two Studio, executive talent consultant Greg Krelenstein at Starworks Group, associate talent consultant Alexia Elkaim at Starworks Group