FKA Twigs Learns To Write For Her Voice On 'Magdalene' On songs like "Cellophane," the British artist steps out of her self-imposed cage and tests the limits of her tremendous soprano.
NPR logo

'I Found The Key': FKA Twigs Learns To Write For Her Voice On 'Magdalene'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/776186866/777753507" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'I Found The Key': FKA Twigs Learns To Write For Her Voice On 'Magdalene'

'I Found The Key': FKA Twigs Learns To Write For Her Voice On 'Magdalene'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/776186866/777753507" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The musician FKA twigs wants you to know that it is OK to be not OK. Her breathy soprano and baroque pop arrangements impressed critics when her debut album came out in 2014. Since then, twigs has been through a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CELLOPHANE")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) Didn't I do it for you? Why don't I do it for you?

KELLY: Her relationship with an A-list actor ended with lots of tabloid coverage, and the classically trained dancer had a health scare. She had surgery to remove tumors from her uterus. It is that pain that feeds the drama of FKA twigs' sophomore album "Magdalene" as she recently told my co-host Audie Cornish.

FKA TWIGS: The truth is I'm so grateful to have gone through such intense pain and confusion emotionally and physically. It's been beautiful, and during that time, I've really deciphered who I am and what I want. I think the biggest thing I've learned on this album is truly how to write for my voice. I feel like I sort of found a key and stepped out of my soprano golden birdcage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CELLOPHANE")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) And I just want to feel you're there, and I don't want to have to share our love.

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: This is very much out of the soprano golden cage, I think.

FKA TWIGS: Yeah.

CORNISH: Do you mind me asking about your process?

FKA TWIGS: Yeah, of course. I mean, I always feel a bit sort of strange, I guess, talking about my process because truly, each time is completely different. I went on the mic and pretty much sung the whole thing in one take almost, and the vocal that's there is the vocal that I did in the hour.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CELLOPHANE")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) And didn't I do it for you? Why don't I do it for you? Why won't you do it for me when all I do is for you?

CORNISH: That's incredible.

FKA TWIGS: Yeah. I think on this album, nothing really felt unpleasurably labored. You know, you're just trying so hard to, like, fix something, you're fixing it and breaking it and fixing it and breaking until you don't really know where you are with the music. But luckily, on this album, that didn't really happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAD DAY")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) Every time you look outside your window, everything is just the same as before. You are turning 'round (ph) and 'round, you see. It's a sad day for sure.

CORNISH: Your visual style has always been very dramatic. You've always had an incredible sense of style that's kind of reflective of punk and other influences, and I was reading that growing up, you were obsessed with ballet and operas.

FKA TWIGS: Well, I started studying classical ballet when I was 7 or 8 years old, and I think that really sort of turned me on to classical music.

CORNISH: I wondered how it informed your songwriting because your songs, especially on this album, are very vulnerable and almost have a kind of tragic heroine feel. Like, I could easily feel the influence of someone who, you know, has listened to a lot of fallen heroines. And opera made sense when I heard it.

FKA TWIGS: It's interesting that you say fallen heroines because for me, it's, like, the strongest I've ever sung.

CORNISH: Really?

FKA TWIGS: I feel - yeah. I mean, to me, when I listen to the record, I really feel it all sort of came together and like it's going to be OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAD DAY")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) Would you make a, make a, make a wish on my love?

But that's the interesting thing about making music. It's like it's not mine anymore.

CORNISH: Right. Everyone takes something from it.

FKA TWIGS: When you finish it...

CORNISH: Right.

FKA TWIGS: Yeah. That's the beautiful thing. It just depends what place, like, the listener's in and what they want to take.

(SOUNDBITE OF FKA TWIGS SONG, "MARY MAGDALENE")

CORNISH: I think I want to focus also more specifically, maybe, on the issue of physical pain because you are a dancer. Your performance and visuals are very physical. And I know that when I went through a physical ailment, it really made me reckon with myself and my body. I felt betrayed by my body for a long time.

FKA TWIGS: Right. Yeah.

CORNISH: And so I - given that this is called "Magdalene," I guess I wanted to explore that even more than the heartbreak side.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARY MAGDALENE")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) A woman's work...

Yeah.

CORNISH: Here's the song "Mary Magdalene."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARY MAGDALENE")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) A woman's prerogative, a woman's time to embrace she must put herself first...

CORNISH: So the opening of this song is the idea - a woman's prerogative, a woman's time to embrace she must put herself first. I feel like that's a lesson you learn when you go through something physical in particular.

FKA TWIGS: I mean, I think for me, it relates to the unpaid and unacknowledged emotional labor that women put into the world on a daily basis. So to me, ever since I was young, I was taught to nurture and taught to be aware of myself socially and aware of my emotions and mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARY MAGDALENE")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) I can lift you higher. I do it like Mary Magdalene. I'm what you desire. Come just a little bit closer till we collide.

Connecting with Mary Magdalene over the past couple of years spiritually, I started to explore the concept of the virgin whore, which is the idea that as a woman, you can be pure and you can be innocent and you can be like a fresh flower, but at the same time, you can be dangerous and seductive and all-knowing and healing. And it's been incredibly exciting for me to know that that's OK and it exists and I am as much sacred as I am sensual.

CORNISH: And that there is nothing wrong with either.

FKA TWIGS: Yeah. That's the whole point. You don't have to choose, but I am both, and that is stunning.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARY MAGDALENE")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) Yes, I heard you needed me. Yes, I'm here to open you. Yes, I know that your heart is blue, so cold.

CORNISH: I was reading in a statement where you said throughout my life, I've practiced my way to being the best I could be. It didn't work this time. I had to tear down every process I've ever relied on, go deeper, rebuild and start again. Where are you now in that process?

FKA TWIGS: Yeah. For the album, I really had to, like, let that concept go. But right now as we talk, I'm sitting here in my, like, wushu training gear with my sword at my feet.

CORNISH: I forget - yes.

FKA TWIGS: I'm very much...

CORNISH: You are practicing - it's a martial art.

FKA TWIGS: Yeah.

CORNISH: Correct? Or sword fighting...

FKA TWIGS: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Right now I'm completely - like, I'm back into practice mode, which is my safe place. But I do acknowledge that sometimes that isn't enough, and that is a realm beyond practice which you can't control. And that's what I learned in making "Magdalene." It was a really great lesson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIRRORED HEART")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) It's all for the gain.

CORNISH: Well, FKA twigs, thank you so much for speaking with us.

FKA TWIGS: Of course. Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIRRORED HEART")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) But I'm never going to give up.

KELLY: FKA twigs' latest album is called "Magdalene." It's out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIRRORED HEART")

FKA TWIGS: (Singing) I'm probably going to think about you all the time. And for the lovers who found a mirrored heart...

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.