Feist: Past in present

By Dan Trevarthen

Growing tomatoes and learning how to make apple cider – Feist has been enjoying the fruits of a well-earned break. Now back with new album Metals, the elusive songstress talks to VOLUME about getting back together with her guitar.

Feist plays St Jerome's Laneway Festival on Monday 30 January at Silo Park, Wynyard Quarter. Photo / Supplied
Feist plays St Jerome's Laneway Festival on Monday 30 January at Silo Park, Wynyard Quarter. Photo / Supplied

If this is how hard it is to get hold of Leslie Feist these days, you'd hate to be waiting to interview her when she was blowing up in 2007. After burning through five promises of a phone interview with the Canadian songstress, VOLUME finally got an interview with her a month later than planned. But as she talks about the schedule grind which led her to take time out from music, it's hard to be mad.

"I'd been on tour for two albums in a row, which added up to about six or seven years, and I wanted to go home."

That's a lot of mileage. To recap, following an eventful 16 years playing music in Canada, including opening for The Ramones with her high school band, touring with By Divine Right opening for The Tragically Hip, flatting/recording/touring with Peaches and joining eventual indie rock institution Broken Social Scene, the ride only got crazier when she started making solo records. The high point came in 2007 with the release of The Reminder, which hit number 16 on the mainstream US Billboard chart, yet seemed to reside smack bang in the middle of the zeitgeist, soundtracking summer holidays and delighting advertising creatives looking for their next TV commercial soundtrack.

As you can imagine, once that kind of momentum starts it's hard to stop.

"I had to draw a brick wall in the calendar and say I was going to stop after this line in the sand, because it could have gone on forever. I started to really get the impression that it could have gone on forever - unless we stopped. When we hit the seven-year mark of touring, at that point you can't really remember life before touring. I like to call it my sabbatical; it makes it sound a bit more official and professor-ly."

But stop she did, taking a year off, then another year. She talks about "growing tomatoes and learning how to make apple cider". Enjoying that sabbatical away from her music, she went largely cold turkey from her guitar.

"I really didn't have any interest in picking up a guitar and it took a while before I wanted to again, and then whenever I would want to - it would feel like stealing a kiss in the stairwell or hiding in the stairwell kissing someone that you've known for a really long time, then rushing, sneaking back into your real life. It took a while before I could re-romance the guitar."

But when the romance happened, she was able to get to writing Metals.

"One day it dawned on me that I kind of had the frame back - you know, the lens that you look at things through and the curiosity about the whole thing. I made a little space behind my apartment in this sort of shed, and I put a desk and some speakers and a piano, one guitar, one amp and one tambourine and one floor tom, and started to write. Once I got the motivation for it, it all happened relatively quickly."

The record she ended up isn't as accessible as The Reminder, or even Let It Die, but it's carried over some molecules all the same. Feist talks about saving a small piece of her older stuff and blending it with the new.

"There's this idea of grandfathering dough - there's some places where when they're making dough they keep a tiny little piece aside, and then when they make a new batch they knead the old piece into the new. Some bakeries have some that's like 100 years old. At that point it's just molecules that are from a 100 years ago. It's that idea of things being brought forward. Some songs are brought forward and they become the ancestors of the new songs."

Even after years of intense touring and an equal number of interviews, she remains pleasant and charming throughout, never seeming jaded or content. But she's in the midst of her next point when our conversation's interrupted. It could just be coincidence or an over-zealous phone operator, but after all the trouble getting ahold of her, it's pretty fitting that we've gotten just 10 minutes into our call when the line goes abruptly dead.

Keep rolling on, Feist.

*Feist plays St Jerome's Laneway Festival on Monday 30 January at Silo Park, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland with Anna Calvi, Twin Shadow, The Horrors, Gotye, Laura Marling, Pajama Club, SBTRKT Live, Shayne P. Carter, Washed Out, Austra, M83, Cults, Girls, EMA, Yuck, Toro Y Moi, Wu Lyf, Glasser, Opossom, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Austra, Transistors and more.

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