Heading here for Laneway, Canadian star Feist talks to Nekesa Mumbi Moody about her new album, Metals.
As Feist celebrated her 35th birthday earlier this year with an intimate dinner with friends, she was momentarily distracted by the intense flickering of a television in a nearby room.
The images were bizarre - motorbikes on a stage accompanied by pyrotechnics and music. Whatever it was seemed outlandish and jarring. What, she wondered, could be the spectacle?
It wasn't until she got closer to the television that the frenetic, choreographed commotion made sense. It was the telecast of the Grammy Awards. Only three years earlier, she was part of that scene, performing 1234, the song co-written with Australian singer Sally Seltmann that would make the former indie artist a global sensation - in a different out-of-context performance.
Now, watching the awards, the images she saw confirmed how surreal that experience had been - and how she just doesn't fit into that world.
"The Grammys, and the magnitude of that spotlight, it wasn't a place where I felt at home. Like what I do doesn't really happen there," Feist says as she sits on the patio at her downtown Manhattan hotel. "It's such a potent and brief moment, and it doesn't really speak to the truth of what touring and being a musician is. It's mostly fanfare, inflated and very intense. I wasn't feeling very comfortable in that kind of setting."
Now Feist is releasing fourth album Metals, the follow-up to her 2007 breakthrough The Reminder. Her new album is darker in tone, but still has that otherworldly, mystical quality that made her an original voice.
"It's just heading into a much more personal and bold and more uncompromising direction, taking all kinds of risks, which I respect," says her longtime collaborator Chilly Gonzales, one of the album's producers and songwriters. He compares her new album to territory occupied by Kate Bush and PJ Harvey - ambitious, daring, but most importantly, a new direction from The Reminder.
It would have been tempting to try. While the Canadian singer already had a name and critical acclaim, it wasn't until she decided to let Apple use a clip of her video for the whimsical 1234 for an iPod Nano ad that the mainstream caught on - she even sang the tune on Sesame Street. The clip, which featured dancers in brightly coloured outfits, swaying with a sparkly dressed Feist as if it were a scene from a Broadway musical, entranced millions.
Looking back, Feist isn't sure she would now agree to be part of of a commercial. "When I made that decision, I was in a really different place and I really didn't know; like, no one could imagine that would happen. It was incredible in a lot of ways as well, but it's put me in circumstances now where I wouldn't necessarily feel that that is something that could be helpful," she said.
"I landed somewhere different than I started, so now I would have very different perspectives on all of that, for sure."
When the whirlwind was over, Feist hit a wall. Including her tour for The Reminder, she had been on the road for seven years. So she retreated, taking about two years off - though she collaborated with friends like Canadian group Broken Social Scene and put together a documentary of The Reminder era, entitled Look at What the Light Did Now.
"It's so funny, I almost don't even remember having time off," she said, laughing.
"I didn't do anything specific except not go to a different town every night. I just did everything you can't do while you're moving. I planted a little garden and I adopted some dogs. I got a place in the country and just hung out in the woods a lot ... It took about a year and a half of just floating before I got interested in reframing things, which is ultimately what songwriting is."
Some of the new album frames things in a period of turmoil and loss. Songs like How Come You Never Go There and Comfort Me seem to describe the end of a romance. Musically, she veers somewhat from The Reminder with songs that seem weightier. While she's appreciative of the new audience The Reminder brought to her, she knows what most people discovered was a fragmented version of herself. With Metals, she's hoping to fill in the picture.
Who: Feist, Canadian singer-songwriter and one-time iPod jingle star
What: New album Metals
When and where: Laneway Festival, Silo Park, Auckland, Monday Jan 30
*Questions about Laneway? Ask your question direct to co-promoter Ben Howe in our live chat here.
- AAPBy Nekesa Mumbi Moody