Interview: Celebrated producer Felix Cartal discusses latest LP
Image credit: Trevor Brady
Last year Felix Cartal landed on our radar with his infectious platinum single ‘Mine’ which featured the talented singer Sophie Simmons. Little did we know, this would be the start of a series of releases that would build towards his emotional-filled album Expensive Sounds For Nice People, released last Friday via Physical Presents. These songs also include the platinum-certified singles ‘Love Me’ (with the singer LIGHTS) as well as ‘Happy Hour’ with pop princess Kiiara. The singles quickly set the tone for what Felix Cartal considers the second chapter of his musical career: each song had to be perfect or he wasn’t interested in sharing it with the public.
Felix Cartal shared some insight on the name of the album: “The sounds, to me, are expensive because I know time is a valuable commodity and I’ve logged the hours to get there. On the other hand, as an artist, who knows what even gives art value half the time?”
As soon as we encountered Felix Cartal, we sat down for an exclusive interview, which you can catch here and set us itching to learn more. When we heard the news about his latest LP, it seemed only natural to explore the album track by track and get his thoughts on the previously unheard songs. Catch it all below.
Starting off the journey of sound, we have ‘The Life’ featuring the dynamic duo Fjord (who also previously featured in Felix Cartal’s platinum single ‘Get What You Give’). One of the first instrumentals Felix wrote for the album, ‘The Life’ is a commentary on the superficiality of social media, encased in rose coloured glasses and enticingly honest lyrics.
The Playground: Give us the highlights from your collaboration with Veronica on ‘Over It’
Felix Cartal: We wrote this in LA one day. Some of my songwriting has been trying to think of casual phrases that people say but I haven’t really heard in songs. Veronica has this really effortless vocal style that compliments this type of lyric so well. Sort of conversational in a way but still brings a ton of attitude to a song. The lead chop on the drop was a happy pitch-shifting accident that just gave the whole thing this carefree vibe. This is one of my favourite songs to play in the club to this day.
‘Harmony’ dances its way into our hearts next with vocals that call to mind pop icons of our youth. Aiming to lift spirits with a little bit of melodic harmony, the single was accompanied by a high energy video that was shot in the picturesque landscapes of Canda.
The Playground: Your previously unheard track, ‘Layover’takes a more gentle, mellow approach. Tell us about your methods behind the production of this song.
Felix Cartal: I started this idea during a layover in the Frankfurt airport, hence the title! I had recently changed my production setup to something way more portable so I was feeling really inspired to just write whenever, and wherever I was. One of my big influences lately has been Kevin Parker, I definitely like how he’ll push one or two central grooves for an entire song and just sorta expand on that. That was the inspo for this one, something you can just vibe to without a really clear chorus-verse structure.
The certified platinum single ‘Mine’ featuring the well-known Sophie Simmons was also accompanied by a hyper-stylized video. The music video had an impressive team behind it with Marc Webb (who has previously worked with The Weeknd, Chevy and Vodafone) as director and Carlee Wallace (whose client list includes Teen Vogue, Marie Claire US and Billboard) for concept, styling and production.
The Playground: Why did you select ‘500 Days’ as the focus track for your LP?
Felix Cartal: I think it encapsulates a lot of the different moods that are throughout the album — all in one song. Very danceable, grandiose feel-good production, mixed with unassuming melodramatic lyrics.
The Playground: How did you discover Ofelia K and what made you choose to work with her on ‘Old Self’?
Felix Cartal: We’ve been working together since 2013 now, since our first release: New Scene. I feel like Ofelia K has been such an integral part in helping me find my sound, so an album without her would feel empty to me at this point. She’s hands down the most inspiring lyricist I’ve ever met. “I have tried to set my demons free / Guess I like their sick company.” I love this line so much I’m about ready to get it tattooed. Creative buds for life. Don’t sleep on Ofelia K.
The Playground: Venturing into house territory, ‘We Fall’ carries a deeper and more rhythmic tone. Care to share the inspiration behind this track?
Felix Cartal: As I dig more into finding and refining my own sound, vocal chops keep coming up as a recurring theme. I love diving into them and seeing how far I can push it, especially over different feels. This one is an experiment to create something high energy with one repeating chop theme. Seeing if I can challenge myself to keep one motif exciting for a full track. Kinda digs back to the inspo of Layover, just something you can vibe to, that feels uniquely me.
Next up, Felix Cartal makes us feel like the ‘Only One’ with UK songstress Karen Harding providing her soulful vocals. The singer will be releasing her debut mini-album in July via Ultra Music after surpassing 400 million streams on Spotify alone. Written in an impromptu jam session, the single is high energy and high romance.
The young producer paired up with rising songstress Hanne Mjøen on his cheeky single, ‘My Last Song’. A reflection of the energy he’s devoted to his music career and the relationships that have suffered as a result of it, Felix Cartal chose the perfect accompanying singer. Hanne Mjøen is a rebellious artist who is rising quickly, despite rejecting the harsh industry standards.
‘Love Me’ with the prolific singer LIGHTS made waves as soon as it was released, with excitement growing in the following months. We’ve already mentioned that the song also reached platinum in Canada but fans shouldn’t overlook that it won the Dance Recording of the Year at the Junos 2020. Perhaps one of the most well-known songs from the album, we’re expecting this one to appear on playlists for years to come.
The Playground: Who is the mystery vocalist on ‘Going Up’?
Felix Cartal: Some things have to stay a mystery…..
‘Happy Hour’ with astonishing pop sensation Kiiara called us back into the world of clubs, booze and unforgettable nights with its fun-fuelled music video, directed by Kasey Lum. Featuring karaoke, mysterious blue cocktails and a thirst for the joys of life – count us in for the next great adventure.
The Playground: Your track ‘Jealous’ is lighthearted in tone but less so in the lyrics. Was there a particular event that inspired this song?
Felix Cartal: I think this type of theme is actually quite consistent in a lot of my work. I definitely gravitate towards lyrics that have a less light-hearted tone mixed with production that is a bit more hopeful. Happy Hour definitely has this quality as well. Unassuming lyrics for how the production feels. I love that juxtaposition.
The Playground: Where does the name for ‘Hygge’ come from?
Felix Cartal: Hygge is the Danish word that can be loosely translated to ‘cosy.’ I love this term, I learned about it when I was travelling there, and the melodies on this track always gave me that feeling. A soundtrack to keep you warm at night with your favourite blanket, candle, and fireplace. Very Hygge.
The producer completes the album with the recently released single, ‘Too Late’ featuring the avant-pop Canadian songstress KROY. The singer is one half of the Juno Award-winning duo Milk & Bone. Dipping her fingers in multiple streams of creativity, the artist has also scored soundtracks and themes for projects like the 2019 documentary Sisterhood, two Cirque du Soleil shows as well as several feature films. A light and airy gem created from another impromptu session, the single rounds off the album beautifully.
Finally, which track on the LP is your personal favourite? What shouldn’t fans sleep on?
I think Old Self is such a beautiful track that I’m really proud of. It makes me emotional to this day. Going Up is one that took the most hours in the studio to perfect, so if you want to hear me at my most experimental, check that one. All in all, I’m proud of the whole LP and hope people can find the time to give it a listen from front to back.
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By Sarah Britton