Felicia Atkinson, a.k.a. Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier, has been making art and music for years now; yet it seems only recently that her work has come into the limelight and stolen the hearts of our underground ears. Currently living in Brussels, Felicia’s discography has seemed to continuously multiply over the course of 2011, and on into 2012 under one alias or another, many of them on cassette tape. Her music has been released on a variety of labels including Stunned, Digitalis, No Kings, Rurualfaune, La Station Radar, I Had An Accident Records, and Aguirre to name a few. Felicia’s tape for No Kings titled Discovering Mathematics 2 was a particularly brilliant collection of pieces, and possibly one of my favorites of her work from last year (I recommend tracking it down if you’re able to). However her recent LP, L’enfant Sauvage, finds the artist taking it to the next level entirely; an enveloping irradescence surrounds the listener until all that remains is the sound. Felicia has an uncanny ability to create whole environments with sound, taking you out of your present physical state and into some other realm where the artists night visions play out before you like a picture-show in slow motion. Now Felicia is poised to release a new LP, An Age of Wonder, this March 2012 on Shelter Press (watch the promo-video for the LP here). Needless to say, this is an artist on the rise and one you should keep on your radar if you know what’s good for you.
I hadn’t been in touch with Felicia for very long, and certainly not in great depth, before asking her to do an interview. As an admirer of her music, I immediately began trying to find more information about this strange artist who seemed to so mysteriously appear out of nowhere all of a sudden in 2011. It didn’t take long before I stumbled across Felicia’s website, which just completely blew me away. Felicia is the complete package: creating in both the visual and aural dimensions. As one review so nicely put it: “Felicia… blends her music, visual art and writing into a seemingly unseparable unity … Like a truly creative mind, she doesn’t need (or want) anyone else’s music to illustrate her visions. She creates her own worlds entirely by herself, both visually and musically.” In addition to her recordings and visual art, her CV is more than impressive (to say the very least); and as if that weren’t enough icing on the cake, she’s also a writer! After following my curiosity and related questions down the rabbit hole that is the internet I was given the answers to all of my questions and more. After this doing this interview I feel as though I know Felicia so much better, and understand her music more than before. Read on as Felicia discusses her travels and family history, her philosophies on language, music and art, and you’ll be rewarded at the end with a lovely mix compiled by the artist, exclusively for the readers at Foxy D.:
1. I’ve heard that you’re a world traveler! I know you currently reside in Belgium, have had at least 1 residency in the states, and that you were originally based in France. Can you comment on the differences and similarities of recording music in various countries?
… More than traveling, I love the feeling of being a foreigner. I guess it is part of my history, my mom is polish, my grand grand father was english, I have cousins that are half togolese, other that are half german…I live in Belgium where there are 3 official languages….
I am born in Paris in 1981 where a lot of intellectuals without money immigrants could stay for cheap and learn at universities for free and find a job, and make babies there! That is the history of my parents …I guess now France has changed a lot in 30 years… A lot of people I know are leaving…chasing hope elsewhere…
Anyway, this feeling of being a stranger brings you to push your limits, because you have no habits and you have to redefine your language and what is a meaning, a thought, a gesture. For example, I write you in English, but this is not my primary language, I have to be in a state of translation. I feel like a lot of my music is inspired by this state of mind: being in translation, searching for an unknown meaning.
2. You were extremely prolific over the course of 2012. Your cassette on No Kings was my first introduction, and I’ve been gathering your releases ever since. Many of your releases have been on cassette tape. Can you give us your thoughts on the cassette format: do you prefer it over other formats and why/why not?
2011 was a blessed year for sure. It is such a nice feeling to feel supported by this small but stiring community of amazing labels, musicians and blog all over the world, it really gave me strength. Because sometimes in Brussels I feel a bit isolated and Internet helped me a lot to build bridges over the sea!
I remember when I discovered your music Rachel, I was like, wow, she is younger than me but she is my big sister: her music is close to mine and in the meantime she is so mature in her own way! I was so impressed ! I totally wanted to get in touch with you! Thank you Internet !
Back again in childhood: cassette and vinyls were what I was listening to as a kid. The magic of cassette is that you could record yourself with a cassette player, directly from the source, which I loved as a kid.
I like the size and the cost of the cassette: it is cheap and small but also precious. I believe in the preciousness of little and cheap things. Also, what is beautiful with a cassette is its track. It s like a destination inside. A cassette is a bit like a track with an invisible train inside. I like the magic of the tape itself.
But I love vinyls too. I like when music makes circles. I believe in circularity.In my latest art show in Rennes, there was a geodesic dome, cassettes, vinyls, 35 mm films, for me, all those “objects” were vehicles of circularity, of a sensation of the earth spinning. That is my vision of what is a sound.
3. You released an LP on Aguirre Records towards the end of 2011, and another vinyl effort “An Age of Wonder” will be out soon. Do you have a different approach to recording music for vinyl that you do for cassettes or other formats? If so, what’s the difference between your processes for each?
Yes for sure. L’enfant Sauvage and An Age of Wonder were conceived the same month of July 2011, the week I was going to turn 30 years old. I thought a lot about turning 30 while recording, thinking like, this will be the last recordings I’ve done in my 20s!
It is like a part 1 and part 2 of the same story. The evolution of a kind of a sound child…
It was recorded in Ohio during a residency last summer at this very cool place called Harold Arts. There was this studio run by the guys from the art residency and the sound engineer, Ben, was super calm and nice. I could basically do whatever I wanted, they would help picking the good amp, the right keyboard. The heat was unbearable but the feeling was there. And then I re-worked the tracks at home, in Brussels. And then had them mastered both by the wonderful Pete Swanson, who read my mind and added this special light he has in his way of treating sound that is so magical.
4. Can you tell us more about your new LP, “An Age of Wonder”? How is it different and/or similar from your previous LP, “L’Enfant Sauvage”?
L‘Enfant Sauvage is inspired by this movie called The Wild Child (l”enfant Sauvage ) by Francois Truffaut. It ‘s a record about wilderness and being a warrior in the sound. The label is called Aguirre, which is a movie by Werner Herzog about a lonely warrior; my bandname means ” I am the little knight” from a song from Nico and the album was The Wild Child !!!!
This record is very dark and wild I think; I thought also about the comics Black Hole by Charles Burns while doing it.
It is about this time when you want to deal with forces, when you discover power but you don’t know how to control it yet. It is about the days where you are not an adult yet.
An Age of Wonder , that will be released as a co-release on March 21 with La Station radar / Shelter Press is the second part: it is more sensual and happy in a way; it is like, I am not afraid of love, anger, power, anymore, I can play with them. I see them as shapes to sculpt and not as threads to fight. I am an adult now, with its imperfections, its wonders.
I feel also like L’enfant sauvage has no gender, whereas An Age of Wonder is more feminine; one completes the other. Because sometimes I feel like a woman who does music, and sometimes I feel without gender. It depends I guess on what kind of action I am experimenting!
5. The French language has some obvious influences on your music, at least when it comes to titles and naming. Does that influence extend further? What other things have strongly influenced your sound and art?
I never realized French influenced my music actually, it is just that it is my primary language, so I speak with it. I wouldn’t consider it as a use but rather as the closest language to think and express myself. But I love english too because it is so musical and so physical in the same time. For me, it’s like English is made of clay and French made of wood, each of it is necessary but doesn’t feel the same in the hand…
Many of my records and cassettes are inspired by films and books: Truffaut, Apichatpong Verasethakul, Thomas Pynchon, Shakespeare, Robert Bresson, Samuel Beckett… but actually also by tv shows like lost or twin peaks or true blood…but yes, after reading or watching a film or a TV show I often feel like playing music, like as a way to come back in this state of fiction I was into just before. It is like getting back into the game.
Recently I have been very influenced by Lloyd Kahn and the books he edited in the ’60s like Shelter. This is why the new publication house I am running as a co-pilot of Bartolome Sanson, my partner is called Shelter Press. This idea of building your own shelter, whereas it is for sleeping, for doing music or arts.
But I am also inspired by poetry for example: this book by Jerome Rothenberg Technicians of the Sacred where he collects oral poems and cosmogonies from all over the word and ages is so wonderful I love also different poets such as Paul Celan, Anna Akmatova, EE Cummings, Dylan Thomas, Marina Tsvetaieva, Vladimir Mayakovski. It is sad that poetry is so unpopular right now. It is sound too!
But also landscapes. Each trip I do has a massive influence on my music. for exemple, the redwoods we went to 2 years ago are still haunting me!
6. I know you record as Felicia Atkinson and Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier. What is the difference between the music created under each name? Why did you choose to separately define a sound for each?
At one point, to know myself better, I needed a new name, like a kind of animal totem. This was where came from Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier. It’s like being a werewolf. Sometimes, I need to change my skin and chant to full moon wildly! I don’t want to give any rational distinction between the two, because it is more instinctive than thought. But if I had to make a distinction I would say that my music as F.A is more horizontal where my music as JSLPC is more vertical.
7. Do you have any other aliases that you have recorded/are recording as that we should know about?
Not amymore for now. I used to have a band with my best friend called Stretchandrelax where we were playing only lying on the floor. Elise was a dancer and was doing those incredible movements with the instruments. I loved that band!
Now . I have this collab project called Riviere Amur with the wonderful Inez Lightfoot.
8. I know you’ve got at least one side project with Jackie McDowell of Inez Lightfoot, wonderfully titled Riviere Amur. Can you tell us a little more about this collaboration and how you two came to make music together, despite the distance between you? Do you have any other collab projects we should keep an eye out for?
When I discovered Inez ‘s work I was stoked, as when I discovered your music with the echos and similarities, in a good way. I was like, we need to make a band!
We are far away and of course it would be so easier to be in the same continent, but it is also nice to feel that when night comes to her place, day appear in mine and so on, we keep the light in our hands! This is the way I feel about Riviere Amur. We care about a little piece of sun we share from one ocean to another!
We just released 2 cassettes, one on I had An Accident ( a really cool label that put out one of my first cassette as jslpc, Tropical Malady) called Bois FLotte with the wonderful artwork by Ana Cabaleiro and now one with your beautiful collages on Hooker Vision.
We have new ideas on their way but I prefer to keep them secret for now…
A new collab / split album that will be out soon is a one shot project with Ensemble Economique. I added voices on his side and he added voices on my side. It will be a bit like a cosmic ping pong game record!
9. I’ve seen images and video of you in art museums, and know you’re also a visual artist as well as a sound artist. Can you tell us more about your visual art? What is the connection for you between audio and visual art?
My drawings and installations are made in the same kind of state of mind as my music…they are like calls and visions that appear to me. They happen when they miss, from their absence, their silence. There is a state of vacancy necessary for me to create. That is why I need to sleep or walk or do “nothing” sometimes, there is passivity necessary for things to happen like rain on rainbow or thunder.
My art can be seen as the possible shelter for my music, but one need the absence of the other to happen, I can’t make drawing and music in the same time. Art is more like inhaling and music as exhaling maybe. I don’t know…I can play music under a dome or a structure that I conceived but I would never draw and make music in the same time!
My drawings can be abstracts, or with characters and figures, depending of what I see in my mind. It’s a question of scale, evrything is abstract and figurative, depending on the scale you put it. They are often made on transparent paper or watercolor paper with colored inks and colored pencils.
The sculptures are made often with wood and found stuff. They are like little camps, or little geographical memorials for the mind. Sometimes they get confronted to found images that I print, or all ready existant geometrical shapes that creates a dialogue between the unseen and the archetypes that face them: a geodesic dome, an enagram, a ancestral stone would be in discussion with an abstratc watercolor, an abstrac sculpture made with pieces of wood.
10. Who are your biggest influences musically? Visually?
What is weird is that a lot of things I listen to doesn’t sound at all like what I do musically.
Most of the time I listen to folk music such as Townes van Zandt, Bert Jansch, Neil Young, Palace Brothers or Smog. A rock band like Low influenced me a lot with their threading lyrics, almost scary, sensual, violent and calm in the same time.
I feel the same adjectives when I listen to Pete Swanson or the Yellow Swans. Last night we drove with Bartolome from Brittany to Brussels, in a thunderstorm, listening to Going Places of the Yellow Swans in the car and I was again, so moved. The music was like a warm violence, a good violence, like a fire that burns and purify in the same. This record is perfect to me.
I learned a lot listening to the catalogue of labels like Root Strata, or Immune, I feel I can listen everything, because everything is coherent visually and musically, with a strong spirit. I admire so much Root Strata for their references, the thinking behind the music and images. We met Jefre Cantu and Maxwell when we went in California a year and half ago with Bartolome and also Gregg Kowalski and Marielle Jacobson. I love the work and energy of those people. They are very mature and wide thinking. I can say they are a big influence to me as musicians and as humans.
Also, as a kid, my father was listening to a lot of Indian raga music and contemporary music such as Steve Reich, Pierre Henry, John Cage or Morton Feldman, so I guess this feeling of duration and repetition influenced me…
But I am as well very excited about all those girls doing music right now such as you Rachel, or Inez Lightfoot, Grouper of course, she is the best, but also Leslie Kieffer , Stellar Om Source, Chicaloyoh, Marielle Jacobsen, Wise Blood, Pocahaunted when it was existing, Orphan fairytale, Fursaxa, Christina Carter, Julia Holter or Birds of Passage…this is great!
And to end the subject, I am also very impressed by cassette labels like NO KINGS or Sic Sic Tapes, and how every art work is so nice, and suits well as the music, like also Hooker Vision or what used to be Stunned and is still Digitalis. I love cassette labels so much!
11. What can we expect from Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier in the coming year?
Well, I don’t know yet. A few things are on their way but as soon as it is not done I prefer to keep it secret for now. Those 2 LPs on Aguirre and La Station radar / Shelter Press took me a lot of strength + my F.A and Riviere Amur Release, and this collab with Ensemble Economique…so I want to think a little bit ahead before doing a new LPs, maybe let the summer pass and gives its solar energy. I did more than 10 releases this year so want to take some time to make changes in my music, to evolve…
I want to play more live shows also. I feel I have a lot to learn in live shows. But maybe I am getting old but I feel it is hard to tour, so exhausting sometimes even if I love it! I don’t know how other people do that! I want to find a way to tour and stay healthy, like a tour where you could drink tea, eat vegetables and sleep well! I suggest people create a healthy booking agency!
I have also new drawings and sculptures in mind I am all ready working at right now.
Not forgetting to talk about Shelter Press, Bartolome’s books and records publishing house I am co-piloting. We are thinking of maybe opening a Shelter Space in Brussels…so we have to think about this ahead! and make it the best as it can be!
12. Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier mix:
- SMOG – My Family
- SUISHOU – The Rain Falls
- LOW – Lust 1
- YELLOWSWANS – Sovereign
- ORENAMBARCHI – This Evening So Soon
- MOUNTEERIE – Voice in Headphones
- ILYASAHMED – Love After Love
- BRIGITTEFONTAINE – Dommage Que Tu Sois Mort
- TOPAZRAGS – Wear You Thin
- NICO – Le Petit Chevalier