By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 07, 2024 at 9:01 AM

Modern soul singer Felix Ames has been turning heads for his string of melodic hits, including In June, he “Bend Don’t Break,” “Taxi Driver” and “7711,” released over the past couple years.

One of his tunes, “Shoestring,” has nearly 3 million streams on Spotify at the time of writing.

Ames, who is from Milwaukee but now lives in Los Angeles, is signed to legendary hip-hop label Def Jam and his debut album, “JENA,” iwas recently released.

It’s been a pretty amazing ride for Ames, who taught himself music theory and recording during the pandemic in 2020.

We caught up with Ames to ask about his time in Milwaukee, his music and his rapid ascent.

Cue up “JENA” here and read on...

Felix AmesX

OnMilwaukee: For folks who don't know, tell us about your time in Milwaukee: where you grew up, went to school, etc.

Felix Ames: I grew up on the North Side of Milwaukee primarily. My mom moved around quite a bit so I spent a bit of time on the East Side, but Brown Deer was home.

Were you doing music while you were here?  Tell us a bit about how you got your start.

I grew up singing almost constantly but was never involved in music growing up. That happened much later. In high school I wrote raps with my friends for fun but I didn’t really start pursuing music and taking it seriously until college at 19.

A friend of mine introduced me to GarageBand and I got my start pulling beats off of YouTube and recording into a Beats headphones mic. From there I gradually improved and moved around for years to record as much music as possible and landed in my moms basement in 2021 where I really started to get a grip on what I wanted to do creatively.

Were you able to, or feel like you were able to make it while living in Milwaukee or did you have to move elsewhere?

I feel like it’s possible to make a living in Milwaukee off of the music but it’s sometimes smarter to go where the highest density of the most talented people in the world are for perspective and to learn.

Living in L.A. off and on really showed me the level I had to be at to get to where I wanted to go and also showed me that nearly every successful creative individual in this industry was at some point just some person with an idea. It’s not as complex as it seems sometimes.

You have to be pretty pleased with nearly 3 million Spotify streams for "Shoestring..."

I feel really proud of that song. Shouts out to Calvin Valentine and Lucas who made the song with me. We went to Calvin’s to jam and “Shoestring” was the first thing that came out of the session.

It felt as natural as breathing, like the song was dropped to us. I think the song feels the same way and I’m glad it’s being received well.

Tell us about the debut record, where it was recorded, etc., and how it's doing.

I started recording my debut album “JENA” in my mom’s basement in Milwaukee with “7711” then the rest of it was made between my producer Calvin Valentine’s house and my apartment in L.A.

We approach music like a jam session and always do and say what comes the most naturally and hits our hearts, that’s why I think people are really gravitating towards the album. Every single day someone new finds it and falls in love with it and that lights me up.

We never forced any studio sessions while working on the album and I think that’s important as well. If we showed up and tried a few things but neither/none of us felt inspired, we’d go out to Calvin’s backyard and watch the day pass while smoking joints and bonding over our favorite music. I’ve found that for me, the best ideas typically come rather easily.

Do you still have a place in Milwaukee or get back to Milwaukee much?

I don’t have a place there or much family there anymore unfortunately – my parents and siblings all moved toward the West Coast – but I have a lot of friends that I go back to see periodically.

I also go back to go visit my childhood home because I think something special happens whenever I return there. I go and replay memories from my childhood, my first car, hotboxing my friends’ cars in the driveway in high school. A lot of good times.

What would you say to aspiring Milwaukee musicians?

I would say to always focus on developing your craft through exploring your musical roots. Find music from every era that you love and figure out what you love about it. Do the same thing with fashion, interior design, or anything else you’re interested in. Stay inspired, do the personal work, and always remember to be human.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.