I can interpret Feist's infectious, killer song "I Feel It All" as someone who is very much over a past relationship that turned sour but still kicking themselves for reeling from it. That may or not be the case, but that doesn't matter. Music is meant to be felt, and it can hold different meanings for different people.
On a recent, rather warm August evening, that notion and more got passed around as I met the acclaimed Canadian singer/songwriter at a cozy antique hotel in the East Village. Sitting in the courtyard which, surprisingly, drowned out the city noise, I found her to be as authentic as the words she puts to music. Within minutes of meeting me, Feist apologized for being a little late for the interview. She was running a few errands since she just landed in New York and admittedly, she was jet lagged. Even so, Leslie Feist, dressed in a loose white shirt and jeans, was bright-eyed and game to discuss her current mindset and music -- both of which are centered these days on Metals, her fourth full-length album which drops Oct. 4.
Throughout the course of our 30-minute interview, the mood remained light as the subject matter got deeper and deeper, thanks to intentionally bad jokes and cornball comments on my end (her new album is not a Transformers concept album) and the well-intentioned grief she gave me on her end. "You can say that's a joke your dad would make, but you're saying it," she noted after one dopey comment I made. "All you're doing is contextualizing them as your dad's jokes, but you're still making them. You're going to stop contextualizing them in like ten years. I do the mom bike helmet warning and some day I'm going to forget that my mom told me that."
The contrast of light and heavy conversation is fitting when you consider the singer is a bit of a walking contradiction: soft spoken but packing such a loud punch, lyrically. That appeal crossed over to the masses in 2007 with the release of The Reminder.
Following a now infamous Apple campaign that pushed iPod Nanos down our throats by using her magical music video for first single "1234," Feist became a household name. The album sold tons of copies in the U.S. and her native Canada, earned her five Grammy nods, and she cleaned up at the Junos. Appearances on a bunch of shows from Saturday Night Live to Stephen Colbert to Sesame Street also came with Feist's new-found fame.
It'd be impossible for anyone to approach making their next record expecting to match or exceed that kind of success. Thankfully for Feist, it never entered her mind when she recorded Metals last winter after writing it last fall. "I was only thinking of my own trajectory, of imagining being 70 and looking back, that every record was a true archive of whatever that moment was about," she said.
Seeming a bit torn on how to explain her emotions through it all, she said, "I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but it was just an unlikely place to end up. I wasn't a watcher of SNL or Letterman. I watched Colbert, and millennia ago, I watched Sesame Street but those things were never really in my awareness. Of course it was amazing [but] it doesn't change what I'm up to. I play shows and sometimes shows are available to be played to that audience. It was like being invited to some secret club and you go right in the center of the enclave, do something of weight there, and then you leave."
Expanding on that thought, she said, "It's all something that's super unlikely but dazzling when it happens. Like right now. I read the Huffington Post. This is on another level. I can't believe this is now what I'll read. There's always a bit of a flip side of trying to understand. It's like being a kid sitting right in front of the TV knocking [on it], and saying 'how did stuff get in there?' Eventually, you see behind the scenes of what got in there. It's not where you're supposed to aim for, though."
Still, on some level, The Reminder's success likely influenced the writing of Metals, which will be her fourth full-length album. "It was nothing directly," she explained, but, "you're always soaking in everything. You never know what's going to play into what's worthy of getting encapsulated into a song."
Feist appreciates a good pun every now and again. When I made a terrible, unintentional one on whether there was "weight" with her new album title, she responded with sort of a
wink-wink, nudge-nudge: "I live and die by puns."
Feist let some puns fly when describing the album. "I feel like I've weight lifted some serious metals out of my mind," she said. "You make them into something tangible and you make some sense of the otherwise mad flurry of not being able to just link any thoughts together."
She continued, "So it's kind of, in a way, a tool for living selfishly. I think that's why I needed to take such a breather after The Reminder: to give myself a clean slate to work on it and a new vocabulary -- a new set of words."
Surprisingly, writing songs isn't as therapeutic for Feist as it likely is for other artists. "Are you kidding me," she asked rhetorically before breaking into laughter. "I need therapy after writing. It's like leaking blood from a stone. It's brutally difficult but worth it."
Feist has an interesting take on what songs mean to songwriters. "I have a bit of superstition that songs are self-fulfilling prophecies [where] you can plant subliminal seeds into your own experience. Sometimes you're talking about the past but as you talk about the past, you're ultimately talking about a potential future, too," she explained.
Continuing that point, she said, "These things will cycle back to your life. Inevitably a lot of these things are just going to happen over and over so each time, you have to figure out when you reach a fork in road, which way did I go last time? Which way do I go this time? Do I want to make the same mistake, be stuck, and be a broken record? There have been times I've planted stuff in songs where four years later I'll be singing it from a subconscious, kind of chameleon little lizard mind... and at a certain moment, all of a sudden, I'll hear a line from a different vantage point and it'll change its meaning. It's something I wrote but it changed because I did.
"It's like reading a book again that you read in high school, it's a different book but it's not. You're a different reader. I'm planting all these sort of ideas in songs like little crumbs in the forest Hansel and Gretel style because I know I'm going to be coming back to these songs over and over."
Fittingly, Feist has sprinkled some crumbs all over Metals.
"You can never assume what people will take from the records. For me, there's a lot of discussion about things being changed, and maybe perspectives of times start to mean something different and weigh something more when you've gone through more of it. When you're younger, every moment kind of feels like eternity.
Every moment is sort of the umpteenth grief and the umpteenth joy and everything's at a maximum. Eventually, you start to dilute down and mellow out your observation of that kind of feeling of eternity and it starts to stretch out: ten minutes can feel like a hundred years and a hundred years can feel like they happened in a snap."
So, the 35 year old theorized, "This record is kind of pre-feeding my future self some of those booby traps moments. I left a lot of things on hinges like some kind of narrative truths and observations that aren't necessarily of a certain time or place."
Looking straight at me to make sure I'm following her point, she paused for a second, and quickly added, "Obviously, I think a lot about this shit."
New single: "How Come You Never Go There"
Follow Jon Chattman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thisisasides