Photo by Liz Huth
If Nana Felix sounds like the name of a cartoon character, that's because it is—two of them, to be exact.
"I wanted my name to represent who I am and the environment I was raised in," says the New York-bred, SoCal-based singer-songwriter-producer born Lisa Remar. "Nana is based off of a manga I used to read religiously. She's a rock and roll punk guitar player and lead singer. She was my idol while I was growing up. And Felix I thought was fitting because Felix the Cat is a distinctly American character."
Combine her NYC grime scene roots, her half-Japense heritage, and her classicaly trained upbringing, and you get 21-year-old Nana Felix.
Felix's self-released EP, Kiss & Fly, is out today, a collection of soul-pop works anchored by electronic production. Despite her rich, vulnerable vocals, singing isn't Felix's formal specialty; that would be composing, which she's studied for the past four years at Cal Arts in the LA suburb of Santa Clarita, exploring everything from jazz to classical to film scoring. You can hear her training and diverse influences in the thoughtful, layered production that marks the EP. Studying among some of the strongest rising artistic talents in the country, Felix has a hand in just about every aspect of her outputs, from production to engineering to the typeface design in her video.
We met up with Felix on a recent afternoon in LA to discuss her EP, what's next, and the collaborative video for lead single "Let 'Em Heal," which premiers below.
NOISEY: You're classically trained and studying composing, but have you always had these more pop ambitions?
Nana Felix: I just really enjoy performing, and performing my own songs. And I like to reach a wide audience. Because I feel like a lot of people can resonate with what I'm trying to express in each song. I try to be as honest as possible when I write music. It's the only outlet that I can be completely honest through. That's why I feel like can and have connected with my music. I have a huge appreciation for jazz music and electronic composition. When I applied for Cal Arts I'd been playing piano for a really long time, from about age four to 15-ish. I just wanted to learn more about music in general. I wanted the formal structure as well as the weird experimental side that they're known for, and I definitely got both.
The choreography in the "Let 'Em Heal" video came together sort of by accident after some dance students got a hold of your song. How did the video itself come to be?
Yeah! I saw the two lead dancers and choreographers, Kearian Giertz and Kelsey Long, perform a dance they composed based on one of my songs, and it totally blew me away. I'd never even met Kelsey before. I was just like, wait, a music video must happen! We really wanted to incorporate flourescens and reflection, with everything from teh reflective sports gear to the bleached hair to the water. It's the concept of treading water and not being able to get to point B or accomplishing something, or becoming your best self and resurfacing, I guess.
You originally wrote the song for a friend recovering from addiction, correct?
Yeah. The video definitely is a manifestation of how not only my friend felt, in terms of striving to be his best self, but also how I felt in terms of striving to help him help himself. It more so embodies my side of the whole experience. Because I guess Kearian and Kelsey, what they show and emote just goes above and beyond the dancing. That's why I'm running in some of it, because I'm like, "I have to be really intense too!" I had to put my A-game on. They represent my massive, dragging need. Or that of anyone in that situation.
The project seems very holistic, everything from how the song was created to its visual presentation. Is that something that you see yourself bringing to live performances going forward?
Yeah, it totally will be. I haven't actually performed "Let 'Em Heal" live. I start rehearsals next week. I have to figure out an acoustic-electronic arrangement. I plan to perform it all over the stage, running around. Sometimes I go barefoot. I never wear dresses becaue I want to move around as much as possible. I guess it'll look sort of like the music video. But with a mic. And above water. [Laughs]
What do you draw on for your songwriting? How do your influences vary for composing versus singing?
It definitely varies according to the song. Sometimes even one verse will be addressed to one person and then the other to somebody else, but all sort of under the same context. I usually always have some sort of riff that I'm playing with. Lyrically, I write usually in one sitting, and then continue to craft the song. For example, "Let 'Em Heal," I wrote it in one sitting and it was based on my driving need to help my friend out but not being able to because of his substance abuse. I've also experienced other loved ones who have experienced substance abuse, so I've been surrounded by a lot of people like that. Which is totally fine, but I wanted to express my feelings towards wanting to help these people but not being able to. Because the way that they tend to get better is by helping themselves. And coming to that realization, I've noticed, has been really, really, really hard. So it was to serve as a source of comfort. Sonically, I worked on it for a really long time. The whole production side of it took me forever. I produced basically—well, yeah, I produced all of the songs. I just don't really admit it for some reason?
It's definitely a thing. I do it. I didn't realize I was the whole singer-songwriter-producer type person. It probably has to do with gender. Production is a very male-dominated profession. I feel like, honestly, I never mentioned it because it's like, oh, it'll be disregarded anyway. So I thought it's not worth mentioning. But then I realized, fuck it. Grimes was pretty [forthright] about being a producer, and people were really supportive of that. She engineers her own stuff, which I also do. They teach you literally everything at Cal Arts. Kind of. They don't teach you how to like, use Twitter. [Laughs] Which I feel like is crucial [as an artist]. Besides that they definitely get you very prepared for the music industry. We all collaborate. It definitely came together with the help of a lot of people. Which is why I'm hesitant to admit to all I've done on it, even when I should.
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