Photo credit: Jenna Jones
Attawalpa, a.k.a British Peruvian musical maven Luis Felber, has released his new single ‘Too Much’. Written and produced by Felber and confederate Matt Allchin, the track was recorded at South London’s Off Licence Studio and mixed by Eduardo De La Paz. The accompanying video, directed by regular collaborator Emma Chitty and starring celebrated actor and dancer Will Kemp, can be viewed below.
“Lyrically ‘Too Much’ is about meeting ‘the one’, but you’re not quite evolved yet,’ explains Felber. “Generally speaking men always take longer at everything emotional. I feel I am part of a disillusioned generation who knows true love is possible if it doesn’t get lost in translation. I love Prince and I remember seeing him last at KOKO around 2017 (I saw him 3 times in total, 4 if you count my first ever show in my mum’s tummy on the Love Sexy tour). I feel this is the closest I have ever gotten to his sexy tonal energy musically. ‘Dirty Mind’ vibes, but done in our own way. An Ode. The simple drums and Matt’s baseline would make the most frigid soul want to dance.”
Musing on the concept behind the video, director Emma Chitty reflected, “I initially intended to express the moment unconscious co-dependent or toxic relationship patterns awaken into your awareness. But now I watch it and it feels more like good ol’ heartbreak…. the chasm of losing the world you had with one person. Suddenly disappearing as if it never existed.”
Despite spending the best part of a decade-and-a-half ricocheting visibly across the musical firmament, Attawalpa’s Luis Felber might have fallen off the map altogether, were it not for some eleventh-hour redemptive action and a dash of kismet leading to a major personal reset. A charismatic, Johnny Thunders lookalike guitar-for-hire, autodidact songwriter, producer and all-round hyperactive London scene-maker, Luis enjoyed his twenties as a Dionysian perpetuum mobile, apparently living like a character from his favourite music book, Please Kill Me, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s lurid memoir of the ’70s New York punk scene. Influenced by that CBGB-centric world, alongside a miscellany of other musical forebears and contemporaries, from Kim Deal to the Wu-Tang Clan, Prince to Julia Jacklin, The Misfits to Tom Waits, Luis’ capacious CV boasts a Mick Jagger songwriting co-credit, a stint in the rock group Turbogeist, fronted by Mick’s son James Jagger, the co-founding of London’s celebrated Young Turks club nights (and, soon after, the eponymous record label), half-a-dozen years spent touring the world in Jamie T’s band, and even a Mario Testino photoshoot for Vogue. His ‘career’ was seemingly a pageant of glamorous collisions and spontaneous decisions, governed only by an apparently unquenchable appetite for the unholy triumvirate of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, and, from the outside, it certainly looked like a lot of fun.
However, despite the years of frenzied escapades, pursuing picaresque, drug-fuelled sojourns in Latin America, helming exhilarating London club nights or making a beautiful noise as one half of hazy psyche-pop duo Shuga, in tandem with singer, director and sometime soulmate, Emma Chitty, Luis hit his thirties feeling increasingly dissociated from the world and on the verge of burnout.
Deliverance finally arrived courtesy of a synchroneity of actions, people and influences, not the least an introduction to Five-Element acupuncture and EMDR therapies, absorption in Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir documenting her youthful relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and, ultimately, finding that book’s echo in a tryst with celebrated filmmaker, actor, Girls originator and fourth-wave feminist icon, Lena Dunham. After meeting in early 2021, courtesy of a blind date arranged by a mutual friend, romance blossomed precipitously as the pair perambulated a half-deserted, locked-down London, neither party standing on ceremony – as Luis revealed to the New York Times. “I just walked into the situation very myself… And Lena liked that. And she’s the same.” The impulsively simpatico creative couple tied the knot last September in a service at Soho’s Union Club. “I met the love of my life and my creative partner”, explains a still blissed-out Luis (Dunham reciprocates, calling Luis her “most talented co-pilot”).
Cupid’s rejuvenating arrows notwithstanding, voluntary abstemiousness and exposure to formal therapies had already helped to instil Luis with a long-missing equilibrium. “Acupuncture opened up all kinds of repressed childhood memories”, he clarifies. “That and EMDR, which is a psychotherapy with moving lights – it’s often used to help traumatised soldiers… Suddenly, I found I was digging up all this heavy stuff from my childhood, and it really helped me reconnect to the world and finally become present in it.” His reset had actually begun back in 2018, after moving back in with his parents, ostensibly to dry out. “Then, just before the pandemic hit, I moved into my friend James’ flat in central London”, he explains. “We’d built a studio and I was in a good creative mindset. I had just made some money from my own music, from doing what I loved, for the first time. I believed I was on the right path as an artist and that things would come with hard work and staying open to opportunities through creation.”
Thus, even as much of the world was sinking into anxious lockdown, Luis was finding creative emancipation and, moreover, the long-elusive artistic identity was finally beginning to crystalise, not least after he decided to work under the moniker Attawalpa – one of his middle names, given to him by his Peruvian mother after a mischievous, rebellious so-named 16th century Incan emperor. It was an acknowledgement of a cultural heritage that, as a teenager, Luis had largely suppressed, fearful of stigmatisation by callous schoolmates. “Names are spells – they’re how you conjure your path.”
Catalysed by re-connecting with an old acquaintance, writer-producer-arranger-multi-instrumentalist Matt Allchin, Attalwalpa released their first single ‘Borrowed Time’ in April 2020. A soulfully grooved, psyche-pop slow burner, propelled by Henry Danowski’s metronomic drums, the song was as much a reflection on the parlous nature of Luis’ life up to that point as it was a confident, optimistic statement of mature artistic intent. Richly produced, with a voluptuous bass sound (“that’s the [Wung Tang Clan’s] RZA influence”, reveals Luis. “I’ve always loved the bass on [Enter the Wu-Tang] 36 Chambers… If music isn’t groovy or sexy, I’m not interested”), the song would lead off the debut Attawalpa EP, Spells, attracting widespread plaudits across the blogosphere for its blend of languid grooves punctuated by chiming guitar figures and Luis’s arrestingly languid drawl on songs like the clamorous ‘Take a Bite’ and brooding ‘Holiday’.
A second EP, Patterns, would follow in the summer of 2021, drawing further rave notices. Once again working in tandem with Allchin, its five tracks, all boasting the sumptuous Attawalpa ‘in-the-pocket’ bass-end hallmark, offered further evidence of Luis’s sophisticated, ‘80s-indebted yet sui generis songwriting, from the percussive pulse and earworm chorus of ‘Done Hanging On’ (later given a surging remix by Wolf Alice) to the soaring, cautionary, surely self-referential ‘Please Take Care’ (complemented by a beautiful Emma Chitty-directed video) and languorous, churning ‘Yellow Fingers’. Sebastian Strasser provided a truly surreal, digital strip-club-themed video for the latter, while Lena Dunham captured the touchingly domestic mise-en-scène for ‘Tucked in Tight’ (a wry, soulful paean to Luis’ smartphone), as she did for a subsequent single, the Bowie and Prince-shaded ‘Peter Gabriel’s Dream’, released in November 2021 – the video featuring Luis in a cat-suit and co-starring the couple’s dog, Ingrid (“humour is important in art”, Luis maintains).
Aside from Attawalpa, and on something of a creative roll with musical partner Allchin, Luis also co-composed the part jazz, part chamber-orchestral score for his wife’s 2022 feature film Sharp Stick and he’s collaborated with Dunham again on her forthcoming Amazon project Catherine, Called Birdy, its soundtrack featuring covers of classic songs written or performed by female artists (including an original song by Shuga called ‘Sweet Dream’ and one original song delivered by Luis and Matt writing with the film’s lead actress, Bella Ramsey). Luis and Lena are also developing a TV script 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…”
As for the future of Attawalpa, Luis is content to carry on self-releasing and pushing forward artistically, finally having wrested control of his own creative and existential destinies. Ambitious live plans are currently being chewed over, with some low-profile, post-lockdown dates already under his belt, and work on songs for an album is now underway. Luis being Luis, he’s naturally also busy as co-writer and producer on other projects, with singer-songwriter Tom Atkins and anonymous duo NRVS, for example, but nowadays such subsidiary activity is less a matter of feverish digression and much more about finding artistic fulfilment. “Looking back, I was a bit obsessed with dipping my toe in oblivion… but now everything is about being in a safe creative space with people I really cherish. I’ve learned the hard way that good relationships and genuine collaboration are the key to great art.”