London singer/songwriter Luis Felber finally found his voice and sound by embracing his true self.
As Attawalpa - a name taken from the last ruler of the Inca Empire - London-based Luis Felber has been making esoteric and textural pop with a tender heart since his debut Spells EP dropped last year. Now in his thirties, Felber’s spent over half of his life in the industry, notably as the co-founder of Young Turks (a club night before it became a label) and as guitarist for Jamie T.
He signed to Luv Luv Luv as part of the short-lived duo Shuga and was also a member of party rock n roll outfit Turbogeist. But it’s the music he’s making now that’s finally bringing him the creative satisfaction he always craved: “'I’ve been through the system a few times, and I just don't trust it anymore with my music,” Felber explains proudly of his very personal DIY project. “This is the first thing I've done where I really care about it...It's kind of my therapy.”
The sound of Attawalpa allies Felber’s years as a collaborator and running club nights - soaking up influence, excitement and connection - with his own heritage. Born in Winchester, he spent his early years living his mother’s native Peru, at a time when the country was plagued by terrorism from the likes of the Sendero Luminoso (“Shining Path”) and MRTA. An all-too-close encounter with an explosion led Felber’s mother to bring the family back to London where the adolescent Luis found his way into music.
Felber has been able to open up as Attawalpa without the kind of self-doubt he used to encounter: “I would question everything to the point where I just wouldn't release stuff, and just be sitting on demos,” he laments. Giving up drink and drugs has also been a big part of the change. Felber was turned onto five element acupuncture by an ex-girlfriend, which led to a period of sobriety; three months without booze turned into a year sober: “I sort of reset myself,” he tells me. “But I was doing music as a solo artist and it still wasn’t really connecting with me.” He put out a song on Luv Luv Luv as ALLTHINGSMATA - the London label’s final release - before realising he needed to reclaim his identity: “My full name is Luis Delfin Attawalpa Saul Felber. My artist name should be Attawalpa. It’s a sick name! I can connect to that name! It has power to me!”
Patterns, the follow up to Spells, was released last week and collects five songs Felber released throughout the pandemic, each with its own visual. Writer, director and actress Lena Dunham came on board to direct the video for the final track, EP closer “Tucked in Tight”, shooting the whole thing on an iPhone in London and around the English countryside. The visual for the seven-minute song came together as the pair were forging their own romantic connection after meeting on a blind date and falling in love over the comedy of Chris Morris. “You can’t really do much during lockdown other than blind dates,” Felber laughs. “Lena and I just hung out or listened to music and chatted. She'd never heard of Chris Morris so I played her Jam and that’s when we first fell in love. When she saw how much I laughed at that she told me “I knew that's when I want to be around this guy forever.”
Felber calls the track, originally written as a love-letter to his mobile phone, “the saddest song ever” but Dunham’s directorial eye brought an extra layer of poignancy to his sonics. “I was simultaneously thinking about how trained we are to broadcast both our pain and pleasure online, and how desperately we - especially women- are trained to prove we are being seen, loved, desired,” she explains. Faced with a new relationship, Dunham found herself wanting to document moments at times, “rather than just exist in them.”
“I wanted to play with this idea and confuse the audience a bit with the intimacy of what they’re watching, and simultaneously find a way to show what a nightmare being turned into #boyfriendgoals can be for the confused guy in question.”
As for now, Felber’s on a creative high, collaborating again with Dunham on her upcoming Amazon project Catherine, Called Birdy (“We're doing a soundtrack which classic songs written or performed by female artists”) and a script they’re working on together based loosely on their relationship. “It’s about two people falling in love from two different cultures but we both speak the same language, like Americans and English people,’ he adds.