INTERVIEW

“Even if you haven’t heard of Feist you’ll have heard her. You’ll know her because the outlandish Canadian singer/songwriter Leslie Feist – known simply as Feist – recently loaned the video to her single ‘1234’ to those nice people over at Apple. It is currently being aired on TV’s from Beijing to LA in an […]

“Even if you haven’t heard of Feist you’ll have heard her.
You’ll know her because the outlandish Canadian singer/songwriter Leslie Feist – known simply as Feist – recently loaned the video to her single ‘1234’ to those nice people over at Apple. It is currently being aired on TV’s from Beijing to LA in an ad for the new i-pod Nano. “We heard not so soon before it actually happened that they wanted to use the song. I don’t know why they liked the song. It came from their end. The video was already made which was the only reason I agreed.”

Feist, who seems to be on a never ending tour of the world, currently promoting her third solo album ‘The Reminder’ -released in April – is sat on her tour bus in Bristol, on the final date of her UK tour, munching on a banana. “In a way it’s kinda interesting because yeah it is a product, but it’s not really like lending your song to a beer. Artistically it’s clean. It is not a product that has nothing to do with music, it is actually the vehicle that people will be listening and watching through. I really looked at this commercial when it first came to my attention as a rare circumstance where an ad isn’t anything but amplifying the thing that already exists, which in this case is the video.”

The 30-second advert alone has racked up over half a million views on youtube, while the charming, feelgood video that was directed by Patrick Daughters, has itself garnered almost 2 million, propelling Feist, after a decade of being Toronto’s reigning indie Princess, into the worldwide spotlight. Her record company have gone into overdrive. “It is just one ingredient in the greater concoction, but already the label looks at this and starts foaming at the mouth. I guess it’s a fortunate position to be in. I have always had complete creative control which has come in really handy in the last week when every single country wants to put an enormous apple logo sticker on my album, and I have emphatically said absolutely no way.”

Now 31, Feist has been writing and performing since the age of 15. You wonder if she is concerned about being remembered merely as the girl on the Apple advert? “It is totally a concern, but I have to realise that I am not helpless in this situation. First of all, it doesn’t define me, that song doesn’t define me. In my own impression of myself it is just one of many. Also I think a lot of times in the singles culture, people are just seeking the moment, you know, the one song, they aren’t really the type of people who will be going to my gigs anyway, and for me my reality is touring. So as long as that doesn’t get tainted by this bizarre lightning striking me, I’m fine. At the end of the day it is such a simple thing and if it starts to flip negatively I know there are things I can do. I can just disappear for a little while and come back with a new record. But at this point it hasn’t been negative. It is like a double edge sword, so far it hasn’t sliced me on the bad side.”

Feist was born in Nova Scotia to artist parents. Her Father was an abstract-expressionist painter and her mother a ceramicist. Her parents divorced when she was a child and Feist moved with her Mother, first to Regina and then on to Calgary. It was here, at the age of 15, that she began her musical career as the lead vocalist in the all girl punk band Placebo (not that Placebo, obviously). After five years of touring she was forced to quit after damaging her vocal chords. She left Calgary too, relocating to Toronto to stay with her father and allow her voice to recover. It was in Toronto that Feist first picked up the guitar, and in 1999 joined the band By Divine Right for the release of their ‘Bless This Mess’ album. In the same year Feist released her first solo album, ‘Monarch (Lay your Jeweled Head Down)’.

Her collaborations with other artists reads almost like a who’s who of the Canadian indie scene. Having been a part of a defining musical movement as associate and flatmate to the first lady of electroclash, Peaches, Feist rapped with sock puppets under the psydenoum Bitch Lap Lap, appearing as a guest vocalist on ‘The Teaches Of Peaches’ album. It was at this point that she also became a member of the Canadian musical cooperative Broken Social Scene and met up with long-term friend and musical collaborator Gonzales. When Peaches and Gonzales jumped ship to Berlin for a few years, Feist went too. They were the trailblazers, bringing Canadian music to European ears and opening the doors for the likes of Arcade Fire and Metric. Feist was also beginning to find her own voice. In 2003, by now residing in Paris, she recorded her second solo album, ‘Let it Die’. “I have been in a lot of projects that are purely one thing, and my stuff has always been purely bedroom recordings, you know, four track lo-fi home recording and not so much done on the stage. But I had spent all this time on stages with Gonzales and Broken Social Scene and By Divine Right. But then when I started to do something with my own name, with the ‘Let It Die’ album, it was definitely not about pulling my past into the present, it was really something else, an anomaly, like a sabbatical from what I had actually done before, it was about doing something different.”

‘Let It Die’ earned Feist recognition as a solo artist and brought her music to a wider audience, selling over 40,000 copies worldwide. She soon found herself added to best of year lists across the globe. No one could reasonably begrudge Feist her success. She toured solidly for 33 months before finally coming to rest in an old farmhouse in the French countryside to record her current album ‘The Reminder’. “It was an ideal 10 days to spend anywhere. I was with all my greatest friends, all the musicians that I respect most who happen to be my greatest friends in a beautiful house in the countryside. It was springtime, I didn’t have to get in any vehicles and move around in a blur as the world passed me by. I just got to stay in one place. I went in with about 12 skeletons of songs and thought I would leave with about 6 demos, and by the time we left we had 12 finished songs. It was so unexpected that it would be that easy.”

Feist’s dream team consisted of Gonzales of course, Renaud Letang who was also involved in the recording of ‘ Let It Die’. Mocky and Jamie Lidell were also on the list, alongside her live band – Julian Brown, Bryden Baird and Jesse Baird. “I think I made a dream list that I wrote with a diamond pen on golden paper, my little dream stardust list of who would be there with me. The fact they all came and that we worked together so well is perhaps proof of the pudding.”

After such a long and varied musical schooling that has crossed genres and continents, this still feels like a new beginning for Feist. It could be said that the album is more Feist than anything she has done previously – “The Reminder in a way is bringing together the 4 track secret solo bedroom concerts and the stage shows and all those bands I have spent years playing in. It kinda brings all it into one room. They are all looking at each going, ‘she was hanging out with you? Yeah, she was hanging with me too?'”

The Reminder could be the album that launches Feist into the celebrity spotlight. As the size of the venues she plays grows and grows with each tour, she’s been tipped by some critics as the singer songwriter most likely to ‘do a Rufus Wainwright’. When asked how she feels about her impending celebrity and if she could handle her private life being made public property, a la Amy Winehouse, she says, “I think there is something innately imprinted in my DNA that would make me not that interesting to those people. I am just a very ordinary person. I think there is something fantastical about Amy Winehouse, you know, she is other worldly, I mean like a cartoon character in the sense that she has a two dimensional quality, which has ended up being her image in the press but has nothing to do with who she really is. Basically, all the papers and the images that show her are flat. Eventually if you are wedged between those pages it becomes like when you take a leaf and press it between the pages of a dictionary to keep it as a memento. People can get pressed flat. But I don’t think this is where I am heading.”

Like PJ Harvey or a young Patti Smith, Feist has that classic female rock star quality, with her long raven hair, sultry voice and a bewitching presence, suggestive of both strength and vulnerability. Back in Canada she is already viewed as somewhat of a pin up. “I just find it amusing cause it’s me. I guess it’s a compliment, but it’s only something that can be funny, and luckily I’m surrounded by people who chuckle as hard as me about it. I can barely even wear a bathing suit on the beach.”

For Feist, touring is her life. It is what she loves, what drives her. But you can’t help but feel she would be happy to take or leave the photo shoots and interrogations that go with it. “Photo shoots can be just the most painful part of this entire process. It’s just so strange. At family gatherings I am the one who always hides when the picture is being taken.”

A few weeks ago, Feist had the honor of being photographed by iconic photographer Annie Lebovicz. “She was incredibly laid back and eager to make me feel comfortable to the point of telling me to wear what I arrived in and saying don’t let anyone tell you what to do with your face when they are taking your picture. You have to make sure these pictures are about you. What’s worse than seeing your photo in a magazine is seeing a picture of yourself not being yourself in a magazine, where you have co-operated with someone who’s tried to push you in another direction. Then you get someone as renowned as Annie Lebovicz and you’re just enormously chilled out. It was inspiring to me to realise I don’t need to feel helpless in a shoot situation. It made me more determined to say, no sorry I don’t do that, I don’t wear that.”

It is hard to imagine a woman who is so used to performing in front of an audience every night being quite so uncomfortable in front of a camera. But that is part of her charm. “Onstage I am occupied. There is no posing involved in playing a show, you are just busy doing what you do and yes, every single second hand is holding a camera phone up, but that doesn’t bother me. It is capturing a little snap shot of the truth, so that’s ok, but posing though, that’s slightly different equation. But they say you get out of a situation what you put into it and so you will only enjoy a photo shoot as much as you decide to, and if you go in with that hatred as a spear with a shield of suspicion in front of you it’s going to be more painful than if you just shrug it off. “

Feist has performed in bands for the past 15 years so does she think women are still judged on their appearance before their music? “I don’t know, I am sure it is the case, but I think it is the case for men too. I think that’s a big part of thinking about yourself from the outside which is kinda the kiss of death. If I was to start thinking about myself from the outside, given that my entire world is about this record and touring and half the time talking about myself I’d lose myself, I guess I need to live my life not thinking about myself. Well, not thinking about myself as much. I need to make sure my day is about other things.”

Despite her coyness in front of the camera, Feist is obviously very conscious of her image and how the media portrays her. “Like any human walking this planet you want to be comfortable and be happy in you own skin. I think about it no more or no less than the average secretary or doctor.”

And she sights Nina Simone as one of her all time heroines. “I really love what she did. Her repertoire is outstanding. It is so broad and yet she really sews it all together with her identity, that it’s crystal clear.” Sound familiar? You can’t help but feel the quality’s she looks up to in Simone’s music are those she aspires to in her own. “Although, I read her autobiography and there is nothing crystal clear about her. She is the most cloudy human on earth, just these dark storm clouds and a completely confused mind.”

‘The Reminder’ even features a version of the Nina Simone classic ‘See-Line Women’, entitled ‘Sea Lion Women’. What is interesting about this is that Nina Simone’s ‘See-Line Women’ is in fact a reworking of a recording by sisters Christine and Katherine Shipp, made in 1939. By choosing to record her own take on the song, Feist is aligning herself with the blues tradition that spawned it by contemporising the song.

You wonder if Feist ever tires of her relentless schedule. At the time of our meeting, she still has another five countries to tour before Christmas. You wonder if she will ever reach a point were she might want to wake up at home one morning and stay in and read a book, or perhaps one day even start a family. “Yes, absolutely. There is no doubt one day I will do those things, but right now it is not really relevant to think about that stuff as there is really no time. I have my own little patch of the woods in Canada and that is definitely home now. I am never there but it’s there waiting for me, and I know one day I’ll have plenty of time.”

Feist’s time is now.

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