Felix and the Future refuses to take no for an answer. “This is who I am, and either you like it or you don’t,” the Brooklyn-based artist told me over the phone a few weeks ago. From songwriting to costume design, Felix (a firm believer in pushing oneself forward regardless of obstacles) proudly wears many hats to turn his creative visions into reality, and the result of his efforts is highly impressive. Get to know Felix better in the conversation below, during which we discussed his embrace of otherness, his creative process and more:
So I know you’re headed to SXSW; how are you going to pack for that? Because you have so many amazing outfits that you wear on stage!
I had to choose an airline based on that! Southwest actually allows you two free checked bags, so I was like, “Okay, I have to fly with them.” [Laughs] But I did a run-through of all of that recently, because I just did Outsider Fest two weeks ago. That’s how I ended up getting these showcases at SXSW.
Exciting! Alright, and before we leave the topic of costuming, how does everything you wear get designed? Because it all looks very customized. Also, when you’re songwriting, do you ever have these costumes, or fashion in general, in mind as a source of inspiration?
I’d say I make ninety percent of my costumes. Occasionally, I’m very lucky in that friends of mine might say, “Hey, I found this at a vintage store,” or “Somebody was throwing this out,” and it’s something that’s totally me. But people have to bring me those things, because I just make everything else. As far as whether or not the costumes inspire the songs, I guess maybe they have at some point, but generally they come after the songs are done. They almost always wait until the last minute, and then I come up with the concept of how I’m going to perform. Most of my songs are more inspired by visuals, so if I’m watching a movie or walking down the street or if I see a painting, visually I’m much more stimulated to write music than I even am sonically.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Well, as a teenager I wrote a lot of poetry, and that was kind of my gateway. When I was a kid I wanted to sing, but I was repeatedly told that I had a terrible voice and that I needed to stop. So I was kind of kicked out of the choir at my school, and then I just didn’t do music at all. I stopped up until I was seventeen, and I had a roommate who was a pianist. He encouraged me to get my own digital piano, so I sold my computer and bought one, and I started writing my first song basically that night. I just started tinkering around, using all the lyrics that I already had from my poems. I still go back to those whenever I’m writing something new, just to see if there’s anything there that can add depth.
I really love that you kind of said fuck it, even though people were telling you no, and you just went ahead and said, “I have something to say, and I’m going to do it.” That’s very punk rock!
It kind of comes out of the need to express, which has always been at the forefront of what I do. I was a ballet dancer up until I was eighteen, and expression was always a part of me. I also never had the means to pay someone to do it for me. Growing up, I couldn’t get lessons because we couldn’t afford them. So I learned really young that if you sacrifice time and you dedicate yourself, you can possibly get people to help you out. When I was a dancer, I was at a conservatory that allowed me to dance and study for free because they needed male dancers. I’d come in every single day and wash the mirrors, too. It was because I really wanted it, and that theme has stayed with me throughout my entire life. Like, “Oh, no one wants to help me? I guess I’m just going to have to figure out how to do it myself.” People used to say, “You should get somebody to sing your songs!” and I’d go, “Give it time, you’ll get used to my voice. Give it time.” [Laughs]
That’s amazing! So you are obviously very comfortable with saying, “This is me, get used to it,” and I wonder how (if at all) your queerness has influenced that.
I came out when I was fourteen, and I kind of burst forth in animal prints and pleather, you know? The full nine yards. I think throughout the different experiences I’ve had, my willingness to put that forward has lessened and has increased. I think that just comes with maturity and life experiences and setbacks. When I first got to New York I was auditioning for a lot of movies, and I was doing independent films. I kept getting this recurring subtle message that I was too soft, and all of it went back to me being gay, being queer. But no one wanted to say that. And so I think when I was doing that, auditioning for movies, I started to really lose my identity for the first time ever; I’ve always had a very secure point of view, and that really made me feel terrible. It took a toll on me. So I rediscovered myself through performing as a musician, kind of incorporating all of the things that I’d learned before. Dance is very liberating, and I could also be whatever I wanted on stage, create a whole world of characters.
When I went into the acting side of things, it was very bleak. They wanted traditional Janes and Johns from the middle of America who were just pliable, and who could play basic white characters. I had people say to me, “You need to be a little more Hispanic,” or “You need to be a little more this,” because nothing was working at that time. I think it’s changed a lot in terms of representation, but to go back to your question, once I stopped acting, and I really put music forward, it was full force “This is who I am, and either you like it or you don’t.” And it is undeniably queer and undeniably weird, and I guess part of developing your artistry is realizing that people are coming to see and listen to you because of you. Not even necessarily because of your work always, but because there’s something that you do, or a way that you present yourself, that resonates with them in their own way. I’d like to believe that younger generations are going to listen and hopefully find pieces of themselves in what I do, whether that’s queer or Latinx or just being a human being. I definitely think that pushing forth is my point of view, which is queer and Latin and strange. All of it is really important to me, for sure, because we don’t need to hear any more of the same voices that we’ve been hearing for hundreds of years. It’s time to experience something new.
Absolutely. And certainly being all of those things is amazing and beautiful, but they can be scary sometimes, too, especially under this current nightmare of an administration. Do you find catharsis in creation?
Yeah, I can’t help but write more aggressive music because of it. Part of my last album that I released last year, Holy Hands Vol. 2, I pretty much finished most of it by the time the election happened, and then I added some additional songs to it. But right before I released it, I started writing my new album, which is coming out later this year. And it’s very, very aggressive and critical. I’ve always been very critical in what I do, but I think it’s made things darker and edgier for me. I’m excited to be releasing new music, because it’s a little more cut-throat in sound and in the lyrics.
When you sit down to write a song, what does that process tend to look like for you? Does it change?
Well, usually I do it in the moment. If something pops into my head if I’m on the train, for example, I’ll write notes and come back to it. Oftentimes, the music comes when I’m sitting at the piano, because everything starts with the piano. I’ll sit there for a while, and maybe nothing will happen, but then I’ll hit a chord and it’ll be like, “Okay, this is where it’s all starting,” and a sense of warmth comes over you because you know that’s the beginning of something. That’s all you really need, is that first step. After that, it doesn’t really matter what it becomes. I’m more interested in that initial experience, because that’s the thing you’re looking for for days or weeks or months. Once you have it, you say, “Okay, at least I have something to start from.” I don’t really believe in writer’s block for me, personally. (I’m sure people do experience it.) But it’s like a knock on the door, and suddenly there it is. Sometimes it doesn’t happen for weeks, but I never rush it.
And is there anything about what you do that scares you?
[Laughs] What scares me…I guess you invest so much time into your art that there’s always the potential that it’s just going to fade away into the internet oblivion like so many things do. So I guess there’s a little bit of that, but I can’t say that much does scare me, mainly because of some of the very extreme things that I’ve experienced in my life. I kind of only really see it as uphill from here. I’ve crashed and burned on stage so many times, and I’ve been told no since I was born, told that this wasn’t possible, so it’s like, what’s going to be different? I think in the grand scheme of things, especially after the election and seeing how things are going, it does put things into perspective about what your wants and needs are, and what can you offer the world to better it. I’m looking at it from that point of view.