Chameleon performer Slim Twig dialogues on rocking out and dialing in

By Colin Gallant
Between genres and narratives, Slim Twig says thanks without compromise. Photo: Vanessa Heins

Between genres and narratives, Slim Twig says thanks without compromise.
Photo: Vanessa Heins

CALGARY — From his early days and sample-based releases to the laboured unveiling of 2012’s orchestral A Hound at the Hem, Toronto musician Slim Twig (née Max Turnbull) has thrived in his role as a changeling. Somewhere between the past and present, fantasy and harsh reality, lies an identity that continues to shed skin to the end of thoughtful provocation.

Most recently, an unexpected pairing with New York’s DFA Records put in motion the creation of Twig’s latest release, Thank You For Stickin’ With Twig. It simultaneously resulted in a wide-release reissue of A Hound at the Hem, which suffered a stunted self-release after it didn’t jive with Twig’s then-home on Paper Bag Records.

“It’s been a really long process. The lifespan on that record was longer than the normal kind of album cycle because it had to go through it twice… its felt like a long time since people have been current with what I’ve actually been up to,” he says.

What he’s been up to is recording a multi-faceted exploration of eras. Sonically, …Stickin’ With Twig dives into ‘70s cock rock and psychedelia with some jarring warps from classical music and beyond. It’s a working method that transcends pastiche and becomes an extension of a certain ideology.

“What I’m trying to do is get mesh-y within those genre confines and not stick to one sound but try and incorporate ideas from all kinds of music in one song, let alone one album. I think there’s an original quality that comes to the surface when you’re combining literally hundreds of different ideas and influences into one place,” says Twig.

“That’s just my personal preference for music. I wish that more artists would take a more era-ambiguous approach because we’re living in a time where access to every history of music, every era, is so readily available that it only makes sense to me to throw it all in one pot and be remixing the whole history of rock and pop.”

It’s not just the established eras of musical history that Twig is aiming to tread, but also his own. Tracks like “A Woman’s Touch (It’s No Coincidence)” tackles The Beatles’ creative relationship to their wives while “Textiles on Mainstreet” mines The Rolling Stones to protest wage inequality between men and women. It all aligns via cohesion between the sonically disparate releases of Twig.

“This record is the first record where I’ve felt comfortable in all the capacities that I want to express my musical vision. Arrangement, production, feeling a little bit better grasp over what I want to do lyrically and wanting to write about real things. I think it combines all the threads really… this record represents all of those ideas and the refinement of them,“ he says.

In terms of real things, the album addresses issues ranging from gender identity, sexual assault and capitalism. For this, Twig took heavy flack in a review by Pitchfork’s Laura Snapes, who accused him of putting “another pat on his own back.” Contrary to the idea of self-congratulatory posturing, Twig said he and partner Megan Remy (who records as U.S. Girls) “have sort of a pact this year” to “try and write about things that are engaging in the real world and write about things of substance and try and reach people on that level.” In the case of “Red Roll Red Roll (Song for Steubenville),” Twig chose to go a mostly instrumental route on the path to engage his audience on the horrifying rape case from the region.

“I think there’s a history of that in classical music,” he says. “Having tributes to tragic events through music and dealing with feelings and consequences through more abstract means like music. It’s kind of a memorial towards that event and people can take that as they like. I’m open to being criticized for it but I think it’s better to openly talk about something and take that criticism than remain silent about an issue that you find troubling,” he says.

While he’s proved himself capable of making statements directly tied to pervasive social issues, Twig has also reserved the right to indulge a broad approach. Perhaps the best illustration of Twig’s duality is found on closing track and prior Record Store Day release “Cannabis,” a cover of the classic Serge Gainsbourg cut. Its title, the promotional cycle and the consciousness-altering tones found on the album created a false dialogue in some publications that …Stickin’ With Twig was a pothead’s mission statement. This suggestion induces frustration for Twig, who holds that the marijuana was just a reference to a larger relationship between experiencing art and the audience’s state of mind.

“What I thought was my kind of original take on [the relationship between weed and music] was that before I made the record, hearing music stoned was something… the concept of that was something that I thought about a lot: how music changes. It’s fluid, and when you hear it from different perspectives, like emotionally or wherever you are in your life at a different time, you hear it differently.”

He concludes astutely, “Music is always shifting and the associations we have with it and our perspective on it is totally fluid.“

Slim Twig plays on Sunday, September 20th at The Good Will in Winnipeg, on Wednesday, September 23rd at Broken City in Calgary with Dead Emperor, and on Thursday, September 24th at The Media Club in Vancouver.

, , , , , , , , ,