Photo: Christian Diaz
Felly Talks "Heartstrings," Vulnerability On New Album & Learning From Icons
24-year-old Connecticut-born, Los Angeles-based artist Felly is on a roll. Since his first mixtape in 2014, he's released at least one major project a year, culminating in his debut studio album, 2018's Surf Trap. He's gathered a growing fan base along the way, with his laid-back demeanor and experimental approach to surf-rock-drenched, at-times-jazzy, hip-hop.
Today, he dropped a buzzy new single, "Heartstrings," electrified by the otherworldly guitar riffs of 10-time GRAMMY-winner Carlos Santana. The music video was directed by Felly himself—his directorial debut—and shot by Christian Diaz, primarily in the serene desert of Joshua Tree, Calif.
Ahead of the shimmering new track, the Recording Academy caught up with Felly over the phone to learn more about the magical collaboration with Santana, getting closer to his true self, being human and more.
So you're about to drop your new song "Heartstrings" featuring none other than Carlos Santana. What are you most excited for about sharing this new song?
I'm just ready to put out new music to the people because I have been making all this amazing stuff, and have been listening to it over and over. And my friends have been hearing it, but everybody [else] still references my old stuff. So I want to let people know it's a new day.
I'm just happy to reinvent myself again, and to be an artist and be in this world where I'm able to do something like that. It's kind of a purifying feeling, and it's just fun.
You explore a lot of different sounds across your already-extensive music catalog. How you would summarize your musical journey and evolution through the different projects?
I think it's all just getting closer to your true self and your true soul, which I think has a godly element to it. The closer you can get to being your truest, purest form of yourself, it's a beautiful thing for the world to see, but also for you to feel.
I've released a lot of projects where I've sort of been on that search. People admire that because they can relate to that feeling of searching themselves, and trying to discover themselves. To know that somebody else is going through that same journey is nice. It's comforting, it's inspiring and it helps us to relate to each other. With this release, I just feel like I have gotten a lot closer; with how I've been living my life, and things that I've cut out of my life, and things that I have added into my life.
I'm honing in on myself, so each project kind of shows that. When I listen back to all the projects, I'll be able to identify certain areas where maybe I'm out of pocket, or confused with myself, or who I want to be. But that's all part of it, and is the current state of it, too. Everything grows.
— felly (@fellythekid) October 17, 2019
Going back to "Heartstrings," I'm curious how you connected with Carlos for the song, and what it was like working with him in the studio.
We had been looking for someone to get on that record because we thought it's a super strong record, and I previously hadn't really been collaborative with anybody else. Just out of not being in a position to, not really knowing people, not really having the credibility yet. So getting to the point where people actually want to get in with you, and work with you, that's largely because music's better. It was sort of getting to that time.
So we were searching for someone that could complement the record. And I felt like, unless it came organically, it would sound like a ploy or whatever. And you see a bunch of these ploys that people do to get noticed by a Spotify playlist, by curators, or just kind of to get press. Those all feel very stunt-y to me. I don't want to be one of those artists that just does stunts, because I feel like those are here today and gone tomorrow.
But yeah, when the Carlos thing happened, it was completely organic. He had heard the record through someone at my label sending it to his camp, saying, "Hey, this is Felly's new record, what do you guys think of it?" He loved it and wanted to be a part of it. And he didn't care if I'm not as big as him or any of that stuff. He connected with the actual music; the soul and the personality of the record.
So meeting him and feeling that, and just seeing that come to fruition, reminded me that, you know, real sh*t is still alive. True personal connection, soul connection is still alive. You could get persuaded differently being in L.A., or being in this industry, that it has to be some fake ploy, and you have to do sh*t like buy followers, plays or features.
The idea of buying a feature from a rapper kind of irked me, because I know my fans know me as someone who's real, genuine and upfront. Something from Carlos Santana that came genuinely, and he just so happens to be probably the coolest musician on this earth, and the best person I could imagine getting a feature from. It's sort of like God showing me that I'm right to feel how I felt, and blessing me for having patience and stuff.
What was your biggest takeaway from seeing him at work and collaborating with him?
I think I aged like 60 years of knowledge in just that one session. Honestly. They pretty much gave me the torch, and kind of said, "Hey, you're next up. And in this journey, you're the guy who's going to carry the torch for us." This is surreal, but it was really the type of sh*t that they said to me. And that, combined with different rock star knowledge and them treating me like I'm going to be a rock star, was really cool.
They just treated me as an equal, which is really awesome to see. Santana sees soul value in people and he's just super connected to spirituality, and kind of taught me about those types of things. That if you put energy, compassion and clear intention into your work, it will have that connection.
He did this gesture where he said, "It's like this." And he looked up at the sky, held his hands out, brought it back into his heart, and then extended his hands out to the people in the room. And he kind of took energy from the sky and gave it to the people in the room. And I was like, "Yes, that's exactly what it's like."
And so he taught me about having your mind step out of the way, and to approach things as if you've never heard them, or never done this before, because that's when things can get stale and mundane, or you can kind of let your ego run its way. But if you do the things that he is talking about, you'll create something fresh and new, and people will resonate with that. When we made the record, I think he kind of recognized that, and that's why he wanted to be a part of it.
Felly & Carlos Santana | Photo: Christian Diaz
If I'm not mistaken, this song is going to be the lead single for your upcoming album. I was curious to know what you're going for with this next project as a whole?
Yeah. It's sort of an album about coming home to oneself, you know, feeling oneself in all the true colors and just getting closer to them, cutting out the bullsh*t. It's a very raw project that soul is the carrying factor through it. Soul, emotion and just truth. And it's not trying to be flashy by any means. You'll get some of the flashiness on these singles, maybe. But it's something that can make you feel human again. It's called Mariposa, which means butterfly in Spanish, and is about becoming one's true self, taking a new form.
A butterfly goes through many stages before it can actually branch out and fly, be the beautiful creature that it is. It's metaphoric of the time I'm going through. And I kind of felt I've gone through the cocoon, been in the dark and been in forms that I wasn't sure if I would make it to feel like a true form of myself. Luckily, I do feel that way.
What did it feel like for you working on this project versus the last one? Did it feel sort of cathartic to write these songs?
I wrote half of it when I got back from tour, where I was super depressed and depleted. I had given all my energy to the world and didn't feel any satisfaction from it, and was in a very dark place. And so you have that side of the album. But the past few months I've been working on it, I've been adding the element of, you know, light and love.
And so it has a healthy balance of dark and light, which I think life and the spiritual journey is reminiscent of, especially the metaphor of a butterfly. It kind of has to be in the dark for awhile before it can fly. And so I've been adding those elements of love, and just good energy, light, and just been sort of feeling it more in the past couple of months. I'm still etching away at how I want to make it happen. It was very hard to write some of these songs at first. It's very vulnerable. But then as it got more under my skin, it got really fun.
Zooming out a little bit, what made you want to go into music?
I don't know. I think it was in my DNA, in my soul and my upbringing in Connecticut. And you know, losing my father and, because of those combinations, of not really having anyone around me. My mom was dating and my older brothers were out doing their own things, so I had like a lot of alone time and thoughtful time. So that led to, "Okay, how can I make something light of this situation? How can I create something?" And so creation, to me, became the base of my life, and sort of how I can transcend a dark moment.
When you were younger, did you have an artist or someone that you looked up to, like, "Okay, like maybe I can be like them; if they can do it, I can too," or something like that?
Yeah, I really liked to listen to Atmosphere. I mean I had many artists, even local artists, and people that I looked up to. I really liked Rhymesayers, an independent record label in Minnesota [that Atmosphere and other indie rappers are on]. And I thought that was so cool that they were able to like be successful, and do their own things, as just kind of random dudes, white dudes who were just like me. That definitely inspired me.
If you don't have people around like that to kind of pat you on the a** to keep going, and to encourage you that you can do these things, a lot of people quit and lose hope in it. So that support, whether you find it, or it comes to you, it's super important to keep it going.
What is your favorite part about life as an artist? And what do you think is the hardest part?
My favorite part about life as an artist is being on my own schedule and being able to do whatever I want. And not that I take advantage of that, but just that I can feel like my time is mine, and kind of create infinite possibilities out of that. That's an amazing freedom.
The least favorite is—I mean, I think everything comes with a balance, so if something's sh*tty in one way, it's going to be good in another. But I think with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility, or overthinking, or stuff that you can just get caught up in, like comparison. I don't really like flying. That's kind of it.
I like your attitude because it's true. Sometimes something can seem really overwhelming, but then you do it and its like, "Man, I did that!"
Yeah, definitely. I mean, my attitude, it's definitely not always like this. Everyone thinks I'm like a super happy, bright dude, but not all the times for sure. I'm human, just like everyone else.
We just talked about it a bit, but I wanted to look more at your influences. Who were your favorite artists when you were a teen?
I really liked a lot of independent hip-hop and a lot of indie music. I'm the youngest of five, I have three older brothers and a sister. So they pushed a lot of different genres on to me. That was a good opportunity because I'd get old-school Lil Wayne from my stepbrother, and then I would get Taking Back Sunday, Hawthorne Heights, harder rock, Rage Against The Machine, from my other brother. And then my sister would show me acoustic music and stuff like that.
So everyone was sort of fighting for "What is Chris going to dig?" But I also had a fusion of everybody else's stuff. It was a lot of Bob Marley. The first record I ever recorded on was at a Universal theme park. You could pay 15 bucks or whatever to record and mine was "Buffalo Soldier" by Bob Marley. I still wish I could find that record. I was like eight and that was my first time in the booth.