It's not hard to see why teenage Ellen Page's character has a crush on cool guy Slim Twig in The Tracey Fragments. The young Toronto musician and actor's persona exudes the sort of tight-jeaned, music-savvy, cinematic cool you feel like you never got to embrace as a teenager. It's difficult to tell if there's a distinction between the stage persona that Twig, who adopted the stage name several years ago, projects, and the real person, because he is also happily working on projects with his mom and dad (who he still lives with) and is articulate, but relatively down-to-earth, over the phone.
At 21, the musician, performing at the Obey Convention on Friday night, has been a figure in the Toronto music scene for several years. His music---once described by Toronto's Eye Weekly as a drunk hookup between electronica and rockabilly---is influenced by acts like Suicide, Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Brian Eno. The son of two filmmakers, Twig's world straddles film and music, with a certain cinematic quality to his music, and lists director David Lynch as a major songwriting influence. He also acts regularly.
Twig recently bridged these two spheres by completing the score for a feature directed by his parents, Sight Unseen, which he stars in as well. The movie is a "family affair" that his younger sister also appears in, a "lo-fi science fiction film about a young guy [played by Twig] who gets an eye chip installed, kind of a contact lens...he finds some footage on there he doesn't remember taking," Twig says.
"It's pretty intimidating to compose music for an hour-and-a-half-long thing. It's a different challenge than writing the stuff I'm used to," he says. "I was trying to stay away from using samples, which was a challenge because that's kind of the core of what I make as Slim Twig." He's attracted to the "sense of purpose" that a film score has in accompanying a movie.
Twig is at work on a "mix tape," though there's no actual tape involved---it's more the concept of the tape. It's based on film scores; he returned to sampling after composing the Sight Unseen score without it. The so-called tapes are released as free downloads on his blog (slimtwig.blogspot.com). Twig is interested in the sampling and mix-tape culture of hip-hop and has released two to date. The new one comes out of his research into various scores in preparation for his own, including music from Serge Gainsbourg, A Streetcar Named Desire, Rosemary's Baby and The Shining, among others.
The idea of structure is what he finds appealing about the concept. "I can appreciate writing music for a specific format," he says. "People used to structure albums differently. Using two sides is an interesting structural choice." Of his own releases, he's released one tape, two vinyl LPs and an EP. "I love vinyl, so it's great to have a release come out that way."
Twig's full-length album, Contempt!, was released last year. He describes it as "12 mini-narratives about contempt." Like his idol Nick Cave, he's interested in stories of "male depravity," but his lyrics somehow come out less violent and twisted than Cave's.
"I'm trying to quickly paint a portrait of someone," Twig says of his songwriting method. "You write these characters and hopefully they move about in some kind of way, evoke some kind of mood." There are corresponding themes, but no overall narrative, to Contempt!.
"Particularly in experimental music, punk or whatever, there isn't a lot of emphasis on lyrics," Twig says. "People are concerned with mixing, toning down vocals...I'm really proud of the lyrics.
"I can't go out in the desert with an acoustic guitar and come back in two weeks with an album," he continues, explaining the reliance on technology in his creative process, and interest in the random elements that sampling provides. "I'm working with narrative in the idiom of experimental songwriting."
The film-like aspects of his music are evident in his recording and through the creation of the Slim Twig persona. But he's also interested in narrative in the print form. "I try to read as much as I can," he says. "I have no trouble stealing shit, I think art should be a conversation, and quoting, or reference, is part of that---but I like to quote 12 things, not one."
Twig is looking at a more structured theme for the next album he works on, thinking about songs based on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, but more the ideas of the story and dynamics between characters than deriving content directly from the book. "I'm trying to formulate a character right...thinking about feeling so sorry for this guy (Humbert Humbert) and how pathetic he is.
"He had this love that was just completely inappropriate...it's a tension I find really inspiring. I think that's a lot of what I'm interested in---these emotions that are inappropriate."