When you're asked to listen to music produced by a teenager, it's safe to say that the expectations are probably not super high. Alex Fleming, also known as Black Atlass, definitely defies these stereotypes. At 17, after years of mastering his multi-instrumental skills, the prodigy released his first self-titled release. Before long, major players from all corners of music were hitting him up for material, and fashion-related corporations like Vogue, Yves Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton were also interested in his work. He eventually connected with New York City based label Fool's Gold and through them, released his first label release in 2014, the Young Bloods EP. We caught up with the young producer recently and had an in-depth conversation with him about music, the creative process, the industry, as well as fashion. He opened up about his collaborations and relationships with Yimmy Yayo, A-Trak, Chromeo and more, and detailed his come-up experiences, as well as his inspirations.
Can you shed some light on how you were first introduced to music?
My family has always been really musical so it’s always been a part of my life, I’ve never known life without it. That just naturally evolved into me wanting to create and be a part of something that I’ve always been around. From there I got into piano lessons and it kept evolving and I wanted more until I wanted to fully craft a body of work. So that’s where I got into working on my own project and producing and things like that.
So it’s kind of like you wanted to learn one thing at a time and wanted to understand all facets of the craft?
Yeah I guess so. I knew who my influences were, what they had done and I wanted to just be a part of that same world and that same work ethic and create at that level. Having to learn all of the parts of that just came with that desire.
You mentioned influences, can you go into more detail about who has influenced you?
Early on it was really classic stuff. When I first started getting into hip-hop and rap, artists from that genre were doing everything themselves and taking that DIY approach to music and that’s what I liked and what made it really accessible to someone like me. Once I started getting into hip-hop like Lil Wayne and Kanye, Kanye especially just seeing an artist like that… the way that he fully creates his vision and sound and everything was a big inspiration for me. The album that most attracted me to Kanye was MBDTF because it had that whole visual aspect to it. After that, it was just a matter of evolving everything that I was into before that and all the new stuff I’m finding now and shaping that into something that sounds like what I have in my head.
Speaking of creating your own sound in your head, how active are you with trying to sound unique or is it more about making music you enjoy and it just comes out?
I’d say it’s a bit of both. I always want to have a definitive style and I think that just comes naturally from the way that everyone is influenced by things in a slightly different way. I just really want that to be recognized. I take inspiration not as a form of copying something, but if I really like a part of something, like if I like one part of a song I can transform that into a full song of my own, you know? It’s mostly just trying to keep my expression unique, but at the same time I want people to understand where that’s coming from.
If you heard your music as someone else, how do you think you’d describe your sound?
More recently I’m kind of moving towards I guess you could say a more west coast, more rock-inspired sound and then still trying to keep that with the themes and emotions in my life that I feel really passionate about writing about. I don’t think there’s necessarily a way to generally describe it or put it in a genre. I mean obviously it’s alternative, but that could be anything from playing solo saxophone to what I’m doing. I’m just taking that initial inspiration from creating from a hip-hop perspective and doing it in that DIY form and then blending it with my rock and songwriter idols and things like that.
How would you describe the music scene in Ontario where you’re living?
Where I’m living now there isn’t much of a music community. There is a great appreciation for music but artistically there’s not a large community there. But I am really close to Toronto and I’m in Montreal like once a month. Those places I’d say it’s definitely really innovative and youth inspired, there’s a whole culture shift towards that. It’s also really collaborative too and I find that if you look in the right places people are really willing to help and adapt each person’s style to each other’s. It’s a really accepting and collaborative community.
How were you introduced to Fool’s Gold?
A friend of mine in Montreal, Similac, he’s pretty close friends with A-Trak and Chromeo. So he brought P-Thugg out to a show and I guess he really liked it and reached out to the team and A-Trak hit me up over Twitter and we started talking there and emailing back and forth. They expressed they were really interested in what I was doing and we sort of had that Montreal connection.
Fool’s Gold definitely seems on the forefront of finding young talent. What’s been your experience working with them?
I was really attracted to working with them since they have that level of influence across all genres. Both young and old generations can appreciate their music and they’re still an independent label that gives you the freedom you need as an artist, especially an artist like myself who is trying to fully craft a pure form of artistry and not be tied down to just music or one medium. It really helps to have them be at a down to earth level and on the flip side, you have that working dynamic where it’s really respectful. Also, they have the platform to put that out to such a wide audience and so many people appreciate what they do.
There’s more ways of being heard now and you don’t have to go the major label route.
For sure, and I can appreciate both sides of it but I don’t know if that would ever be the professionally working relationship I have now with a different record label.
Recently you’ve been working with Yimmy Yayo, can you discuss that?
He designed the artwork for all the singles that I’m doing with Fool’s Gold. That was really cool, we linked up last time I was here in LA. We had been talking online for a while and connected through friends. That was awesome, he’s someone that I’ve idolized creatively for so long, before I even knew what Tumblr was and my friends had showed me his blog and I’ve just always thought it was the coolest thing. For that to come full circle and to be working with someone at that level of creative genius is amazing and also the fact that I’ve looked up to him for so long is really cool too. He’s just such a chill guy and you can hang out with him and get along right off the bat.
How collaborative was the creative process?
It was really collaborative. That’s what I liked about it, I think that just sort of speaks to his character. Someone at that level professionally just calling you for 2 hours and speaking on the phone about reference images and him really going over every aspect of what he’s doing, it was honestly one of the best creative experiences I’ve ever had. His vision is so in line with what I really appreciate in art and creative direction. I mean he’s worked with top of the line clients, Jay-Z to Rihanna to Kanye, to have someone like that still be cool and have it be like two friends working together is amazing.
So you’ve been doing a lot of things in the fashion world, did you intend to get into the world?
It wasn’t intended, but it naturally evolved with my sound and the vision I had for the project from the get-go. I’ve always wanted to create at that same level and appreciate that attention to detail that I feel like fits in line with how the fashion world works. Also, I want to be considered an artist in general and I feel like to be a really great artist you have to appreciate all mediums and find beauty and inspiration in everything... more than just the genre you’re working in. So it is something that I’m really interested in and it’s been a natural evolution throughout my career. It wasn’t something that was cliche and it wasn’t one of those things where you start to get a buzz and you try to jump on the fashion bandwagon and start being styled with random shit that you’d never wear. I’ve appreciated fashion before I was making music or working on this project so they’ve just gone in line with each other.
What are a few of your favorite brands right now?
I’d say Fear of God is really cool. I like what Kris Van Assche is doing. I’d say that’s about it. I’m starting to get more into skate and surf style and really liking that California style. I love just hanging out in Venice and seeing that style there. Also, now where I’m staying just off Fairfax by this intersection here too. I love the graphic tee, tough sort of image. I love APC too, classic styles like that.