Black Atlass Shows Us How to Write a Song | Check the Technique

XO Records' latest signee gives us a step-by-step tutorial on writing a bona fide hit in the first episode of Complex Canada's Check the Technique.

Black Atlass was planning to spend all summer touring Europe with The Weeknd, but COVID-19 had a slightly different agenda. Forced into semi-permanent lockdown like the rest of us during this global pandemic, XO Records’ latest signee has had no choice but to shelve most of the promo schedule forDream Awake, his excellent third LP, which dropped in early April. So how’s the R&B visionary been coping with this unexpected wrench in his career trajectory? Well, in the most productive way possible: by penning his next album.

In the first episode of Complex Canada’s Check the Technique, Black Atlass teaches you the fine art of writing a song from the comfort of your own home. It’s something he’s been doing a lot of lately, after all. Who needs a professional studio? You can write the next feel-good hit of the summer with a pen, a guitar, and a latte. Watch the episode above, then check out our chat with Black Atlass below on what he’s been up to during isolation.

How has quarantine life been treating you?

Fortunately, well. I feel lucky to be able to stay productive during this time and have my health and be safe, and have my loved ones be safe and healthy. I know there's a lot of people out there who aren't able to have that same opportunity and are really struggling, so I really feel for them.

What specifically have you been working on?

I'm starting to work on my next album. I’m just getting together a bunch of new music; really using this downtime to focus creatively on my process and on writing and coming up with the concept for the next project and the next visuals and all that kind of stuff. So yeah, it's been really useful for that. I feel like I have the whole next vision sort of mapped out for everything. [I’ve been] writing on my guitar and just FaceTiming with my producer, going back and forth on ideas and getting references from other producers. That’s been helping move things along a lot faster.

Are there any new hobbies or routines you've picked up during isolation? I guess cutting your own hair is one…

Yeah, that's true, actually. [Laughs.] I did buy a set of clippers, so I feel like that's something I want to get really good at. And I did want to get into cooking more. I’ve started a little bit, but I need to keep up with that. I've been trying to perfect the classic pan-fried steak sort of thing. I want to do a couple more stew-like dishes, using the Crousset.

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It can be pretty challenging to stay healthy while quarantining. How’ve you managed to lead a healthy, functional lifestyle at home?

Well, everyone has a lot of time right now to reflect and to think and to slow things down. I think with everything slowing down and everything being on pause for a minute, it’s a good time where you can take advantage of having those moments of thought and self-reflection. [You can] calm things down, work through ideas, work through thoughts and feelings, and then come out on the other side of it stronger. I think you can try and focus your energy on working through things in a positive way and just addressing them mentally, which you might not normally have had the chance to, you know, with everyone always caught up with so much in their daily lives. In a time like right now, where we’re just at home and there's not a lot going on, it can be really useful to do that. That's what I've been doing, and it’s what's been really inspiring my next work, too. Just having those moments of self-reflection and introspection has given me a lot to work from.

Obviously you can't go about your career as you normally would right now. How have you been keeping your skills sharp at home?

Just staying productive, trying to set some time aside every day to focus on working on music, whether that's just sitting down, brainstorming, collecting references and listening to stuff to get inspired or actually doing some writing. I’m just really, really hungry to keep working, especially coming off the back of Dream Awake. I really want to just keep that momentum going and not fall out of the creative process. So I'm trying to just do a little bit of something every day. I think it is nice to have a lot of free time where you know the rest of the world has stopped. You don't feel that, I guess, social pressure [when] you take it a bit more time to do something or you wanna have some time just to think. I feel like that's really given me a break to kind of just relax more and let the creative process flow a bit more freely. If this weren't happening, it would be harder to continue the process of working on music because I'd have to fit that into the rest of my schedule and rehearsing for a tour.

What have you been watching and listening to during isolation?

Just from being at home with my parents, I’ve been feeling really nostalgic for the stuff I listened to in high school. I’m going back to all the kind of 2010's indie, Tumblr-era stuff, like all the early Lana Del Rey and Little Dragon records. Fleet Foxes, MGMT, LCD Soundsystem. But actually, I've been really excited about the 1975's new album—all the new singles they've been dropping have been insane. So I've been listening to them like every single day.

And I’ve been watching the Jordan documentary. That series was real cool. Really inspiring. I'm not a huge sports fan, but I love just learning about other people's processes and their career and where it took them. Just his dedication to the game and to his vision for the player that he wanted to be. It’s really inspiring to anyone in any field just to learn how to really excel and focus and harness that energy and that vision that you have.

What's the first thing you're gonna do once the pandemic is over?

Hmm. I want to travel to Tokyo, I think. I want to just do, like, the ultimate traveling. Just go as far away as possible and see something completely new, and be somewhere I've never been before. But I've also been really missing L.A. and the West Coast and the warm weather. So I want to get back there too.

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