The Weeknd has been dubbed an overnight sensation, as has Illangelo, the co-producer of many of his ribcage-rattling tracks. Should the April 24 release of his album, Alien Tentacle Sex, be successful, TALWST (pronounced “Tall Waist”) might just be stamped with the same brand. But true overnight sensations are about as common as black Republicans; underground cats who, by luck or design, were left alone to pursue their muses until they got it so right that the world couldn’t ignore them for another second.
It’s particularly easy to be left alone if you’re, say, making soul music in Canada. The Edmonton-raised, Vancouver-and-then-Toronto-based TALWST—government name Curtis Santiago–has been bouncing around the up-north industry for years–as was Calgary’s Illangelo, before they joined forces and started dropping tracks. Tracks like the addictive, passion-fuelled “Woman” and “Peace Tonight” with its distorted spoken-word verses and incongruous, gentle piano breaking into a softly crooned chorus that shifts the mood, even as hard drums punctuate the track all the way through.
Over Americanos in a café on Toronto’s College Street, TALWST breaks down his history, his dreams and shows off a miniature art piece (he has a solo show coming up at New York’s Fuse gallery in August) that’s as detailed and beguiling as his music. (read more from Dave Morris at his blog, a-void.ca)
OKP: How did you and Illangelo come together?
TLWST: Through a music legend, Chin Injeti [musician/producer who’s worked with Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Eminem]. I was out in Vancouver and some group Illangelo was working with from Calgary were at Hipposonic in Vancouver, mixing their record with [Canadian hip-hop producer] Roger Swan. So I was in the studio one day, just stopping by, and he was there and we just started rapping. And when you meet someone in the business who has that spark—where you know that whatever they’re on is something left of center…. that was it. A year went by and the group needed some vocals, so they called me out to Calgary. Illangelo and I got in the lab, started working, and “Woman” was the first track that we did. And it was like, after that point—boom.
OKP: Was “Peace Tonight” done before or after The Weeknd?
TLWST: Before. I believe it was when the beat was first done for “Crew Love,” because at that time Abel [Tesfaye] and I were splitting morning and afternoons. We were all kind of coming in at the same time.
OKP: On that track, you’re balancing the spoken-word and the singing bit, and it all feels very live.
TLWST: That’s what we were going for and we kept referencing at the time. The live band that was epitomizing the sound I wanted was The XX. Because they had this post-hip-hop, real electronic feel, with the bass sounds and things like that. And that’s what we were constantly trying to amalgamate, because I know that my next project is going to incorporate the live element even more.
OKP: So back to you and Illangelo, you guys had been working together for a few years.
TLWST: Yeah. Writing things, scrapping it, just kind of developing the sound, and then, over the last two years, honing in on what we’re doing. He is such a perfectionist; his attention to detail is so high that, it’s not one of those things where [the producer] never gets it right, it’s that they just see through it. He sees The Matrix with his sound.