Luis Felber on creating music for his wife Lena Dunham’s two new films
Luis Felber’s life changed in January 2021 when a mutual friend offered him a blind date with Lena Dunham. Born in Winchester, UK, to a Jewish businessman father from North London and a Peruvian painter mother, Felber was initially hesitant, after being locked up for most of the year, writing love songs on her iPhone for her band Atttawalpa.
“I wasn’t in a place where I was looking for love,” the 36-year-old musician says, revealing he’s never seen an episode of “Girls,” even though his mom and sister were grown ups. fans. “Covid wasn’t exactly the sexiest time to meet someone. We texted for two days before we went out. We’re not one-word types…we throw our emotions on the phone and end with our fingers
“Literally, the moment I met Lena, I was in love with her. I just wanted to talk to her forever. I feel like she really saw me as an artist, which I was. I I could really be myself with her. In the first 20 minutes, I talked about my traumas, my fears, my demons. If someone loves you for who you are, even if you’re a little eccentric and weird, that’s a rare thing.
A few months later, Felber was working on the score for “Sharp Stick,” Dunham’s first major project since “Girls,” with longtime collaborator Matt Allchin. Fifteen distinct, jagged, minor-toned instrumentals reflect the inner life of Kristine Froseth’s lead character’s virginal Sarah Jo as she navigates a fable-worthy sexual awakening and self-acceptance. The film stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as her promiscuous mother, along with escapist “Zola” Taylour Paige as her influential sister and Jon Bernthal as her married lover, with the latter two also doing office of executive producers. Dunham appears as the pregnant wife of Bernthal’s womanizing husband.
“When Lena said [executive producers] FilmNation [Entertainment] the boyfriend she just met would do the score, they were a bit skeptical,” admits Felber. “But I know myself as an artist and I would never do anything that I didn’t think I could do.”
Given a minimal indie film budget, Felber and Allchin assembled a team – many of whom had worked with them on Attawalpa – that included pianist Matt Jones, who plays the haunting score that represents Sarah Jo’s inner voice, ” smoky, jazzy” drummer Henry Danowski and a live string section, with Hayden Wynn on cello, a pair of fiddlers (Claudia Lily Tarrant Matthews, Ellie Hill) and a viola (Martha Campbell). The addition of an Ondes Martenot rare and rebuilt, a copy of a primitive early synthesizer first built in 1928 and featuring a Theremin-like sliding block “to glue the strings to the piano”, was inspired by its use on “Kid A” by Radiohead and Jonny Greenwood’s score for ‘There Will Be Blood’.
“When I was bringing these songs to Lena, there was no discussion, no argument,” he says of their creative collaboration. “She just told me to go. Matt and I had already built up a good network of musicians and studios.
Felber is no newcomer to the music scene. He was an early promoter of Young Turks club nights, which spawned the XL Recordings/Beggars Group (now just Young)-affiliated label of the same name which is home to the xx, FKA twigs, Kamasi Washington and Sampha, among others. Felber has also toured with British singer/songwriter/rapper Jamie T, co-wrote a song with Mick Jagger for HBO’s ill-fated “Vinyl,” and starred in Turbogeist, a band fronted by Jagger’s son James. (by Jerry Hall), who also appeared on the show.
A fan of everything from ’70s New York punk-rock to Prince and the Wu-Tang Clan to Tom Waits, Nirvana and Radiohead, Felber has released two EPs under the name Attawalpa, with Dunham directing the video for ” Tucked In Tight”, one of the songs on the second that parodies relationships captured on iPhone. His feature debut, “Presence” (released Oct. 6) included several tracks recorded at Electric Lady in New York with former Sharon Jones and Dap-Kings guitarist Binky Griptite and former Charles Bradley drummer Caito Sanchez.
Felber and Allchin also recorded seven covers to include on the soundtrack for Dunham’s upcoming feature, “Catherine Called Birdy,” a medieval tale based on Karen Cushman’s 1994 children’s novel that will premiere at the International Film Festival. Toronto film on September 23. are “Fade into You” by Mazzy Star, “Alright” by Supergrass, “Connection” by Elastica and “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels as well as an original co-written with the star of the film, “Game of Thrones”‘ Bella Ramsey.
“Making ‘Sharp Stick’ was a real palette cleanse for me,” says Felber, indicating that distributor Utopia is planning a release for the score and soundtrack. “It was quite liberating. All the character work had been done up front by Lena and the editors. I didn’t have to give birth to the feelings of these songs. The emotions came from my reaction to the story from the movie. It’s such a beautiful way to work, so inspiring. And it’s my girlfriend’s movie.
Felber cites collaborator Allchin’s comments on the film’s composition process. “Writing a pop song is like running through a building,” her partner said. “Writing film music is like running in a field. Matt and I have known each other for almost 20 years. He is six years older than me and has really helped me find my voice as an artist and singer.
After meeting in January, Felber and Dunham tied the knot in a Jewish ceremony nine months later in London at Soho’s Union Club. At the time of this conversation, he still hadn’t watched “Girls.”
“I guess I could see ‘Tiny Furniture,'” he says of Dunham’s 2010 debut as writer/director. “It’s just a movie. I don’t need to watch six seasons on repeat. Lena and I watch a lot of TV together, and we’re currently on ‘The Sandman.’