At 26 years old, Carlo "Illangelo" Montagnese has accomplished a lot for a producer that is just a few years removed from not achieving, "What I wanted to do with my life," as he puts it. But right now, it looks like everything has fallen into place for the Toronto producer by way of Calgary, Alberta.
His life turned around when he linked up with The Weeknd and fellow producer Doc McKinney in 2010 and they created an undeniably distinct sound through three acclaimed mixtapes that redefined the boundaries of R&B, House of Ballons, Thursday, and Echos of Slience. Mixtapes so good they eventually landed Weeknd on the cover of Complex. Illangelo's integral role alongside The Weeknd continued in 2012 with the compilation album Trilogy, which Illangelo engineered, mixed, and executive produced. His hard work paid off earlier this year, where he won a Grammy for contributing to Drake's sophomore album Take Care on "Crew Love."
While those are all moments others would happily settle for, Illangelo continues his pursuit for greatness with his new role as a solo artist. His first venture into the spotlight is his debut album History of Man. Released through Bromance Records, the 10-track project is a layered audio expedition that takes inspiration from John Milton's 17th century poem Paradise Lost. In 44 minutes the listener encounters angst, euphoria, and misery, told through his intense compositions and Giuseppe A. Rosi's accompanying story. Like Paradise Lost, Illangelo's History of Man doesn't have a happy ending, but you'll come away feeling enlightened from the experience.
Complex spoke with Illangelo about the vision he had for his debut album, as well as what else he has planned going forward as a solo artist. He also went in-depth about his relationship and past work with The Weeknd, including the creation of "Crew Love," the challenges of putting together Trilogy, and why he's not on Kiss Land. Plus he talked about working with Elijah Blake and his future plans.
Interview by Edwin Ortiz (@iTunesEra)
If Illangelo were to produce the theme song for captain James T. Kirk, what would that sound like?
[Laughs.] That’s an amazing question, I love Star Trek. I still put on Star Trek to this day and I’m fucking blown away. But if I had to score the music for it, that would be an interesting one. I don’t know if I would change it for what it is to honest with you.
The reason why I started with that question is because on this new project you have, History of Man, you’re boldly going where no man has gone before.
[Laughs.] Edwin, you’re hilarious.
[Laughs.] When you initially came across John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost, what was it that made you say, “I want to create an audible version of this journey.”
I was putting together some songs, and I wasn’t really thinking of anything because I was so focused on The Weeknd projects for so long that I was sort of in a nice little space where I just wanted to create really openly. The first three or four songs on the album, I wasn’t thinking of Paradise Lost, I wasn’t thinking of anything. But then as I was composing these songs, I started realizing, holy shit, this is extremely cinematic.
To be honest with you, there’s also not much interesting things for me happening in music. Pretty much after 2003 I started really not liking music whatsoever.
I’m really close to my cousin [and writer] Giuseppe A. Rosi, so I hit him up and said, “Hey, check out these songs.” I had written some ideas of what visually I saw happening, sent it over to him, and he told me, “This is exactly Paradise Lost.” Once he told me that, we essentially just started going back and forth thinking, “Okay, maybe this project should be based on Paradise Lost.”
In the end, we decided Paradise Lost was going to be an incredible move to base this project around. As I started composing more songs on the album, he started composing more chapters of the literature. Jonathan Zawada did the artwork and started composing these pieces that were all based off of everything. In the end we came up with this project which I’m extremely proud of.
What are your musical influences?
Radiohead is a massive influence to me. I read an interview that Thom Yorke did where he was saying they decided to create an album and then they decided to treat the whole album as if it were to be DJed. So they started taking different elements of it and started tweaking things more like from a DJ perspective. When I read that interview, it was extremely inspiring.
When I was working on this album, I composed each song individually. Then at the very end of the project, I took all 10 songs and I exported all the files, and put them into one project. Once all the songs were within this one project, I was then able to really start making this a cohesive album. For example, there’s elements of the end of song one that lead into song two, and there’s elements of song two that go into three, and so on. That was based off inspiration from an interview I read from Thom Yorke.
You've said before that when you create music, you’re never looking to create something similar. How do you juxtapose what you created here with History of Man with what you’ve worked on with The Weeknd in the past?
Me, Abel [Tesfaye], and Doc [McKinney] as well, it will be a collaboration process. I would be doing something and Abel will give input, and then Abel will be recording and we all will just be giving each other input and direction.
With History of Man, it was entirely just me in my head creating musically, so that was a huge difference. And how I get it sonically to be different is I really don’t listen to music in general. I have my influences that I listened to growing up. Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Wu-Tang Clan, Radiohead, Timbaland, The Neptunes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, of course Kanye West. But as of the past couple of years I just slowly stopped listening.
To be honest with you, there’s also not much interesting things for me happening in music. Pretty much after 2003 I started really not liking music whatsoever. I guess that was around the same time I started making music as well. I just feel like the last couple years of music have just been rubbish. Pop in general these days is fucking terrible, it’s essentially the epitome of what pop music is, almost sort of like glam rock in the '80s. I just never liked it.
You've been an integral part of The Weeknd’s career. What do you remember about those first experiences working together?
The funny thing with me, I have a pretty terrible memory. I'll meet people and I’ll have no idea where I met them before. That’s also because I'm so fucking focused on my work, it would be hard for me to remember my work and other stuff. But when it comes to The Weeknd, to that moment in time, that’s something I could never forget.
While we were working on Thursday, there were a lot of distractions. The whole world wanted to know what was happening with The Weeknd. Thursday probably took a little bit longer than it needed to come out. We had presidents from every record label fly out to see us in Toronto.
We never hesitated with anything we did. The first time we met we did “Crew Love,” and we did it within like 30 to 45 minutes. There were the keys, there was him singing, and once he finished singing, we chopped up his vocals and laid it out. Then us playing with the kick drums, nobody fucking does that. I just did it because that shit sounded cool. We just did it, no hesitation.
Later on that week we ended up doing a few other songs. We did a very early version of “Glass Table Girls,” which is not at all what “Glass Table Girls” is now. We did “Gone,” which is pretty similar to what “Gone” turned out to be. We did a few different songs within that week, and there was no hesitation, which is exactly why those songs sound the way they do.
With you guys putting out three projects in one year, did you create one project, stop, and then start with a new one? Or we’re those all songs you had been continuously working on and then it worked out that they fit these three specific mixtapes?
No, not at all. House of Balloons was an extremely focused project. Once that ended we dived right into Thursday. All three of these projects, we essentially locked ourselves in the studio.
While we were working on Thursday, there were a lot of distractions. The whole world wanted to know what was happening with The Weeknd. Thursday probably took a little bit longer than it needed to come out. We had presidents from every record label fly out to see us in Toronto. It was just a really intense moment in time.
Echoes Of Silence, that was a project me and Abel essentially did in one month, from the end of November to just before Christmas. That was a combination of us starting out in Montreal for a week, and we just worked everyday until Christmas when we put it out. We definitely worked towards each project specifically.