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Attawalpa Dan Martensen photographer Emma Chitty CD 4
Nine Songs
Attawalpa

As he releases his debut album Presence, Luis Felber, a.k.a Attawalpa, talks Chris Almeida through the pivotal songs in his life

12 October 2022, 10:30 | Words by Christina Almeida

Attawalpa has the quality of an artist whose self-acceptance radiates through his manner, his interactions and his creative work.

“I always have to bust through the idea of thinking how people will see me”, he tells me “because that’s just nonsense. It’s the first thing to dissolve”. Luis Felber talks about books, films and music with the same emotional energy that he tells the stories of his life. There’s no hint of hierarchy between his experiences of reading Please Kill Me, Legs McNeil’s definitive tome on Punk, discovering Nirvana and The Velvet Underground, or releasing his first album – they are all indistinctively heartfelt events, yet each are fundamental in the same way.

Music and movement are constant forces in his life and he learned to make the most of both. “A lot of my formative music listening actually happened inside of cars”, he explains. “There were too many personalities in the house and too much happening for us to listen to music in a room, like reading the paper. When we were in the car and the music was on, there was that connection of everyone sharing the same experience”.

Luis Delfin Attawalpa Saul Felber was born in Winchester, but spent half of his childhood in Peru – where his mother is from – before returning to England, his father’s native country. By age of 13, he had lived in seven different houses, and gone through seven different schools. Though we don’t always get to choose when or how life will change, we can at least choose how we go through it - even from an early age. “Listening to music I liked was like building my own little house. From there I could go out into the world. I always felt safe when there was music playing. I still do”.

We met in London just before Felber is due to fly to the Toronto International Film Festival to accompany his wife Lena Dunham for the premiere of Catherine, Called Birdy, for which he provided the score and soundtrack. Rewind a couple of years and Felber was the lead guitarist for Jamie T, a former bandmate of Mick Jagger’s son, James Jagger, in Turbogeist and co-founder of legendary Young Turks club night, before it became a label.

However, it was only through Felber’s most recent project Attawalpa where he found his voice and his place in music. “The older I get, the more in touch I am with myself, and the more open I am. That’s one of the reasons why the album is called Presence. I don’t think I got to be present until now”.

This discovery is palpable for witnesses and bystanders. Felber is one of those people who feels good with themselves and with who they are, and this shines through everyone around them, in everything they talk about and everything they make, including music.

Felber tells me that were so many stories and so much history to fit into his Nine Songs choices that he initially started with 28 songs, but with Dunham’s help he managed to narrow it down to the magic nine, just about. “I had Lou Reed on with “Street Hassle”. Lena pointed out that it should be either that or Nirvana. And I was like ‘Why? They’re very different things’. She said ‘They are, but they also stand for the same things for you’. She was right.

“So I decided to think about these songs chronologically, by the word ‘pivotal’: something that changes your life. I thought about my life as a timeline and then I figured out what songs fit into that’.

“The King of Rock ‘N’ ’Roll” by Prefab Sprout

“The King of Rock ‘N’ ’Roll” was my first jam! I remember dancing to this song from the age of two. I’m the youngest of four, and my closest sibling is ten years older than me so I’m the baby, and ever since I can remember I would want to be the center of attention. And what a better way to gather attention than a dance performance?

I told my mum that I was coming here to do this interview today, I mentioned this song and her instant response was ‘Aw! You were so cute!’. That’s my memory of this song, her reaction. I still love that reaction. It’s like being on stage.

As I got older, my performances became more dramatic. I loved Britpop and when you get Jarvis Cocker’s dramatic songs, you get to do all sorts of moves. I used to love dancing. I still do, but I’m now a bit more self-conscious than when I was two, sadly.

“(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding

When I was really young, all I wanted to do was to play football. That was before I discovered drugs. And the opposite sex! Although that one was pretty early on; my mum says that one of the first phrases I ever said was ‘que lindas chiquitas’ (pretty girls!). Going back to football, I had a best friend, Callum, and his dad would take us to Arsenal games with his season ticket.

Callum’s dad could play Oasis songs on guitar and that was the height of cool back then! My dad plays guitar too, but he’s still playing the same Dylan songs, and still doesn’t understand why Dylan went electric - you know, it’s a different generation.

Once we went on holiday with his family and they played this compilation called Atlantic Soul Classics in the car. “(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay” was the last track. I remember looking out the window at the landscape of the South of France, and no one was really talking, everyone was quiet, just listening. It was the first time I'd really paid attention to Otis Redding, who’s arguably the best singer in the world.

He’s definitely the best male singer, there's so much character in his voice. At the same time that it feels like he's not trying, it feels like he’s also putting everything he's got into it. He’s what a singer should be like. It’s one of the first examples of a perfect song from the actual soul.

It was one of those moments when your brain clicks and goes ‘These are people like me, sitting down and figuring out their emotions and filtering out for a song.’ “(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay” was the beginning of that journey for me. Otis has one of the most cherished voices too. It just makes me happy.

“Dumb” by Nirvana

Kurt Cobain was my 1977 punk movement. I didn't have the tools to say what I wanted to say or do what I wanted to do before Nirvana. His taste and the way he saw the world made me want to pick up a guitar and express myself before I could even play anything.

My first band was a grunge / punk band in the world of indie sleaze, called Eraserheads.

We moved to London around 2005, we were a three piece all living together, experiencing the city in new ways. We saw ourselves like Nirvana and wanted to write like Lou Reed and John Cale but we didn’t really have the songs, the patience or the life experiences.

“Dumb” is so simple with its meaning but also endlessly deep with the words and musicianship. It shows you how a punk rocker can make a very heartfelt song. It has a cello! Which is so chic and mature.

I also grew up listening to a lot of Radiohead but Nirvana gave me the instinct to create. Radiohead are kind of a posh Nirvana. The idea of writing like Radiohead at such a young age was like flying. Or making a whole feature length movie. Nirvana gave the youth the idea that you could do it with three chords, attitude, spirit and the people you have around you. They were the last great punk band.

There’s that good John Lennon line ‘Before Elvis, there was nothing’. For me it was like that with Nirvana. Before Nirvana, there was really nothing.

“Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F' Wit” by Wu-Tang Clan

If making music was like painting, that song would be a perfectly placed painting, that at any angle you look at, it gives you something you've never had before. It’s eight people in a room around one mic - clapping, finger snapping, chasing their untouchable, original energy, competing lovingly. Bettering themselves. It’s real and very obtainable. RZA is still my favorite producer to this day.

I had to ask my mum to buy Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) from our local shop in Farnham. It was before I read Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me and devoured Loaded by The Velvet Underground –before I had fully discovered punk– and the album changed my life. The attitude and the sounds were like a map to a feeling I wanted to absorb. It gave me a nudge to use my brother’s Korg 8-track and start recording. All very DIY, dirty and self taught. That energy of ‘I’m going to do this because this is what I feel like doing. And this is what I was born to do’.

It’s a timeless record, one of the best ever debut albums. Wu-Tang is a historical group. We, as a society, should care as much about the Wu-Tang Clan as we do about The Beatles and The Stones.

“If I Was Your Girlfriend” by Prince

Speaking about making records, this song is a universe within itself. It’s really Prince delving into seeing what he can do. It’s his White Album in one song. It’s playful, sexy and cool.

I don’t remember the first time I heard Prince but it was probably before I could talk. I love all the greats –Neil Young, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Bowie, Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Dylan, etc– but Prince is just next level. It's like that void around the galaxy. Prince’s work ethic is spectacular. Everything he put out was a hit. He made everyone in the club dance and made the world happy. And he wrote it all himself, how jealous should all artists be of that guy? Insanely jealous. It's an incredible example of human achievement. And so cool. His look, his hair, his dancing, guitar playing… it’s all very high up.

There was a time when my bandmates were like ‘Why don’t you try to do that thing that Prince does and talk about sex in the music?’ I tried and I was like, ‘I can’t do that.’ I realised it was because everyone disguises their shit in a different way. You can't just go and be Prince. You can't just be Tom Waits or David Bowie.

It was very liberating seeing a guy wearing a thong, makeup, and being really sexy and masculine. I got my nails done today and a friend asked me ‘Does that make you feel feminine?’ No, it just makes me feel more like me. It makes me feel a little bit happier. There's really no feminine or masculine, it's just one thing. Prince to me is like that uncle that you never got to know, but everyone always says great things about him and he did everything right.

“Are You Mine” by Kim Deal

Kim Deal sticks out. She sticks out without even looking at the rest. She sticks out on all Pixies records, even she’s just doing a backing of ‘Aaaa...’ it makes you go ‘What the fuck is that sound?’ Black Francis is great, Joey Santiago is brilliant, but Kim Deal is a beyond-incredible songwriter. She was kind of kicked out from the band for being too good really. But then she leaves and is like ‘I'm going to start my own band’. Last Splash sold more records than any Pixies record ever did.

I thought I had heard every Breeders song under the sun, but I found out that Kim Deal had this whole unreleased album on Spotify that she self-released and it doesn't have a label. When I heard this song for the first time it made me cry. I don't know why, I wasn't really listening to the lyrics so much, but I love the composition and the guitars, everything seemed perfect.

Afterwards I read that it’s about one of her parents and she wrote it after they discovered they had Alzheimer’s. It’s the human condition to not be able to just enjoy and love everything around us, for better or for worse.

Like Prince, Kim teaches me to spend time perfecting sounds. In the documentary there’s this really good bit about when they are making Title TK. They invite a session musician and he plays too well. She then asks if he can play as if he never played the drums before: ‘Can you play like a toddler?’ He didn’t. So she goes to learn how to play drums for six months so she can do it herself.

“GONE, GONE / THANK YOU” by Tyler, The Creator

I love music that is made by one person, in a room, surrounded by the endless sea of music and sounds we have in our world to this point. I’m not someone who keeps trying to discover where the original comes from, but I do love samples.

In this song, the kick and the snare sound like they're made out of toys in a cartoon anime. You don’t know what those surfaces sound like or where he got to these sounds. Then the pitched up guitar, pitched up voice, and your brain has to process that in those first 40 seconds. It’s like ‘Wow. I’m in a different world. I feel like I’m listening to music coming from a different planet.’ It makes you feel optimistic, and a little bit jealous of what he produced, but also positively inspired by it. Beautiful instrumentation and strange arrangements will always inspire me.

I love Igor. It came out when I was really leaning into finishing my first two EPS (Spells and Patterns) . Also just before I started putting them out as singles. My song ‘Tucked in Tight’ closes my sophomore Ep Patterns and this song really challenged me to push it as far as it could before it’s just madness. It took about four years to finish. One year to mix. Don’t ask me why but it did and we learnt a lot.

“The Barrel” by Aldous Harding

This is a perfect song in so many ways. I don’t know what she’s on about, but I love that. I don’t want to know, please don’t explain it to me. It goes back to that Nirvana thing, with the press wanting Kurt to explain his lyrics because he was the highlight of obsession in culture at that time. It’s not necessary. Good lyrics mean something slightly different to everyone.

Once I went through a break-up and I got really into Elliott Smith. On that basis, a friend recommended Big Thief which I also got obsessed over. That led me to Julia Jacklin’s Crushing, and Julia led me to Aldous.

You know when you’re a kid you and you’re playing with these toys, but then you get Buzz Lightyear and you leave the others aside? Aldous was Buzz Lightyear. Again, it’s inspiring and free music. It makes me want to run around in a field and play hip hop beats like Richard Starkey on his most cherished drum kit.

I saw her play recently and she has the presence of a Bowie character, but then she sits down and plays a nylon string in a way that not even Bowie could do that. It’s godlike, she’s so strong. She’s an artist you can get behind. Everything she releases, I'll be excited.

“This Will Be Our Year” by The Zombies

I would always get asked if I prefer the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, Blur or Oasis. I like all of them. The Kinks, Pulp and Supergrass also get some love but The Zombies hold a magical place in my heart. “This Will Be Our Year” was the first dance with my wife at our very special and beautiful wedding. It was the best day of my life and it put everything into perspective.

I’m an artist and I make art. It’s been hard, but what good isn’t hard in this world? Meeting Lena and dancing to this song framed the fact that I had met my match. My best friend and my partner in crime - rather than the voice in my head speaking to me before I sleep. And getting to my safe place (the studio) the next day with my also loving musical partner Matt Allchin or the stage. I have my amazing wife to bounce my ideas off. She was the first person who really saw me and for the first time I felt safe.

This song represents the freedom the 60’s held with regards to creating and pushing the envelope beyond its foreseeable trajectory. At the end of the day all we can do is be ourselves and push that further into the world. It could always be the 60’s in your head, this song is always a reminder of that. And that first dance.

Presence is out now

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