The Artist formerly known as Curtis Santiago. Artists who change their moniker obviously recall the practice’s most famous example. Talwst is now the preferred name of the artist and musician Curtis Santiago. This is the only name change for Santiago while Prince went through multiple changes, so the comparison is premature. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to watch if Talwst becomes the first iteration of an ever evolving identify.
Talwst separates the artist and person, though in some ways the moniker is a better match for the person than his birth name. Santiago was born in Edmonton.
There were frequent trips to Trinidad growing up and the time spent in the Caribbean gave Santiago an early sense of a wide world. During one of these trips to Trinidad a young & unaccompanied Santiago went down to the local market. As he wandered through the stalls people he had never met began to call out to him. His bodily form recalled his father’s and grandfather’s so strongly that strangers immediately recognized his lineage. Talwst as in tall waist, high waist — long legs. It’s strikingly obviously if you’ve seen Curtis Santiago. The man’s legs go on forever. “My father’s exactly the same, my grandfather’s exactly the same. We often tuck our shirts in and our pants would always be a little bit shorter because we could never find pants that were long enough,” says Santiago.
Talwst connects the disparate chronological and geographical threads that run through Santiago’s life. All our familial histories are present in us, but perhaps not as obviously as Santiago’s. The name honors those implied histories by explicitly acknowledging them. Talwst explains his goal is “to combine ancient knowledge with what I’m learning of the contemporary world.”
The past and present, the far and near come together in his music and his art. His current show, ‘Death of Swag’, at the Fuse Gallery, New York, presents a collection of sculptured human heads. The sequel to ‘Swagged Out’, is inspired from the character wall masks designed by W. Ray Bosson in the mid 20th century. The cast of heads are international; from an Arab sheik to a Native American to a turbaned Sikh. Using Bosson’s heads, Talwst’s makes subtle differences that contemporize and subvert the original. A moustache on da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
Each head sports either a pair of Ray-Bans or Shutter Shades. The “Talwst Ray-Ban Edition sunglasses”, as Santiago calls them, were created through computer modeling then brought to life by a 3-D resin printer. The Kanye West glasses are the most obvious reference to Swag culture, but look closer and you see Louis Vuitton scarfs and hand sculpted grills. The heads are brash, vulgar, and tacky. Expertly and realistically rendered, the human faces have slight exaggerations and become more grotesque the closer you get.
The titles reference swag rap; a genre characterized a brash attitude, by style rather than content. The delivery is what’s important. A meticulously crafted Sikh head wearing Kanye West glasses is great delivery. It looks cool, but what does it mean? Similar types have made me to wary of first impressions. Banksy’s stencil ‘Soldier frisked by a little girl’. It looks cool it must mean something. Banksy’s doesn’t, but does Talwst’s work have depth beyond the surface?
Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun first saw Santiago through his living room window staring at the numerous paintings within the condo. An admirer of Yuxweluptun’s work he did not realize the home belonged to the paintings’ creator. An initially skeptical Lawrence Paul let him in and warmed to Santiago, charmed by his enthusiasm and colourful Addidas Crazy 8 high-tops. Through sheer perseverance Santiago convinced Yuxweluptun to take him as an apprentice. “The biggest thing I liked about Lawrence’s work is his focus on spirit animals, something out of this realm. I identify with surrealist art the most and have always gravitated towards it. I love the idea of what couldn’t quite be explained in the spiritual world,” says Talwst.
The surrealist tendencies extend to Santiago’s music. In 2012, Santiago released his first album under Talwst — Alien Tentacle Sex. A childhood UFO experience began a lifelong fascination with the stars. The album, produced by Illangelo, is worth a listen. Santiago’s vocal range is on display moving from gravelly in ‘Peace Tonight’ to a smooth tenor in ‘No Stones.’ He sings over an eclectic and complex background of sounds.
Talwst sees music as performance art, another branch of the same creative impulse. Both are attempts to reconcile the material and mystical. In the material world, he is conscious of history, image, brand & presentation. The other mystical world is populated with aliens, animal spirits & UFOs. “When I’m in the zone creatively it’s like I leave this realm, I leave my body, I leave my mind. It’s just something higher. The vibrations and frequencies align,” says Santiago.
Santiago is very much an artist of the 21st Century, a product of our time. He is bi-coastal & geographically mobile with a complex personal heritage. He, like us, sees the totality of Earth like never before possible and yet finds room for the mystical and mysterious. His music and art weave interesting connections between his myriad experiences of modernity and the sublime.
In the ten years since Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg started First Aid Kit, they have been going non-stop. The indie-folk duo got their start when their cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” went viral, and have since released four albums, won five Swedish Grammis awards, and brought two of their idols to tears on live television. Following a brief hiatus, and four years after their last record, Stay Gold, First Aid Kit is back with Ruins, a raw account of losing love and finding yourself. In the middle of a North American tour, Georgie talked to Klara and Johanna about the new album and what brought them to Ruins. G—You’ve said in past interviews that Stay Gold was a more put-together, polished kind of album, and Ruins is a lot rawer. What caused that shift? JS—The production of Stay Gold is very lush and elegant, and I think that’s what we wanted at the time. But we started longing for this rawness, this almost lo-fi aspect that we had on our first records. [For Ruins]…our attitude was that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. If we sing a bum note or there’s a little crack
Charlotte Cardin is on track to having her biggest year yet. The electro jazz-pop singer has been nominated for Songwriter of the Year and Breakthrough Artist of the Year at next month’s Juno Awards. Along the way, she has performed at Osheaga—an experience she calls “surreal”, having attended for years growing up in Montréal—and Festival d’été de Québec where she opened for Sting and Peter Gabriel. More recently, she has been touring behind her EPs Big Boy (Cult Nation Records, 2016) and Main Girl (Sony Music, 2017). Through this past September and October, she supported Nick Murphy (formerly Chet Faker), and she’s been on tour with BØRNS since January. This spring, Cardin will headline her own dates. Prior to her full-time career in music, Cardin modelled in fashion which afforded her pocket money and freedom to work on her art. She also competed on the first season of La Voix, a francophone Canadian version of The Voice. But being on television, like modelling, was never her passion. “I never really felt that much pressure when I was on TV. For me, there’s something a lot more real about what I’m doing right now.” She feels more pressure performing her own
Garland Jeffreys’ album, 14 Steps to Harlem, grew out of a soulful period of retrospection late in the artist’s life and career. As a veteran songwriter, Jeffreys started writing provocative, ahead-of-its- time, genre-bending songs in the early 1970s, with lyrics focused on everything from relationships to racial diversity to political turmoil. Now in his seventies, the New York musician is looking back on his life with an album that takes on bold topics and includes a title track inspired by his turbulent relationship with his father. Jefferys spoke with Georgie about his latest release, his relationship with Lou Reed and his somewhat unconventional approach to songwriting. Georgie—14 Steps to Harlem is a great album. Garland Jeffreys—Thank you. I’m very proud of the record. I took some chances in recording it but had confidence that it could be something special. You don’t know a record is good or bad until it’s done – then you know. I worked on the album with my co-producer, James Maddock, who’s a great artist in his own right. G—The title track, “14 Steps to Harlem”, stood out to me. I read that it was written with your father in mind. Did the experience of writing about your dad