Leslie Feist has earned a break. Despite being submerged in her 17th week of Europe-to-U.S. zig-zag touring, she sounds awake and aware when speaking by phone from New York. “You’re my last interview of the day,” she says, “and after this, there’s a pool on the roof of my hotel!”
Feist’s seemingly endless tour is largely due to the popularity of Let it Die (Interscope), released in Europe last year and domestically last March. The songwriter (who goes by her last name) intended to stay home in Paris for a while, but since the record has earned critical praise on both continents, the inevitable back-and-forth has begun. In recent months Feist has been on the road solo and with Norway’s Kings of Convenience (she contributed vocals to the duo’s latest release) and fellow Canadians Stars and Apostle of Hustle. Feist can see an end in sight. She gets two weeks of vacation after a west coast stint and another pair of transatlantic sprees. “I don’t know where I’m homesick for anymore,” she muses. “Wherever you are, you make it home.”
American audiences may just be learning about her, but Feist has been making music for 15 years, beginning with her high school punk band in Calgary, Alberta. After winning a battle of the bands contest, she opened for the Ramones. Since then, her performing life has been laced with surprising contradictions that belie an up-for-anything attitude.
In 1999 she played Canadian stadiums with a band opening for the Tragically Hip. The following year she acted as sidekick to then-roommate Peaches, slinging admittedly bad rhymes while wearing workout attire at their shows. Her most well-known collaboration though, has been with rock collective Broken Social Scene. Its 2003 opus You Forgot it in People was born in Toronto by friends as means of surviving a rough winter indoors. She’s now shaken off ensembles for the solo Let it Die. Although each song is unique, with minimal production from the traditional “When I Was a Young Girl,” to a slinky disco cover of the Bee Gees “Inside and Out,” the centerpiece is always her warm, sultry voice.
Let it Die can be viewed as the story of a romance coming full-circle, its essence encapsulated by lyrics from the title track. “The saddest part of a broken heart / isn’t the ending so much as the start.” Although love’s various stages are described, from the daydreaming before meeting someone to a sense of loneliness once they’ve left, many of the songs written during the album’s making will never be released. “They were necessary, like steps,” Feist explains. “One was the key, one the lock, another was the door and yet another was the hand opening the door.”
Toned-down in comparison to her previous work, Feist’s eclectic songwriting style draws diverse crowds. She’s used to playing for mosh pits, but her audiences now range from the elderly to fist-in-the-air punks, as evidenced recently by two consecutive stops in Europe. She recalls playing a festival in the Yukon a few years ago and noticing people waltzing. “I remember thinking, ‘this is so different!’” she says. “Now (with Let it Die), there’s a higher ratio of slow-dancers.”
Feist has benefited from Canada’s immense support of the arts. “Everything I’ve done until this record has been on Canadian grants,” she says, “all of my firsts: record, two Canadian tours, Web site, video. You cannot fuck with the system there.”
Whether she’s in a traditional rock band, part of a large ensemble or solo, Feist has taken away a few pearls of wisdom from her years of touring. “You arrive at a club and there are 20 people you’re working with for one night,” she notes on her travels as a musician. “You constantly get the opportunity to be an ass or to be kind, and to have people treat you likewise. Kindness is rare and wins all the time.”
This interview by Rachel Shimp appeared in ROCKRGRL Issue #57, Fall 2005.