Feist, Your Favourite Noughties Indie Musician, Is Back

Photo: Mary Rozzi
When I moved to London 10 years ago, Feist practically soundtracked my early days in the capital. If I listen to “1234” or “I Feel It All” from her 2007 album The Reminder then I am immediately transported to a dingy flat on Holloway Road, arguing over who finished the Tropicana. Like so many young women of an indie persuasion at the time, “Mushaboom” was my MySpace profile song (excuse me while I go and check if that thing’s still active).
But the 41-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter has been quiet of late. She hasn’t played a show in three years and there’s been no new music for six. Fortunately, the Grammy-nominated artist is now back with a killer new album, Pleasure, which is both wounded and confident, reflective and defiant, filled with the rawness we've come to know her for.
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I sat down with Feist on her recent trip to the UK to talk about her new album, the key to getting more girls to pick up guitars, and what she really thinks about Justin Trudeau.
So, Feist, without accusing you of laziness, what have you been doing since your last album Metals came out in 2011?
Well I actually toured for about three years and then this record has been done for a year. So there were only about two or three years that I took off, which is still a long time but… I was just stumbling my way through life and then eventually wrote about it.
Why did you decide on the title Pleasure when so many of the songs are about quite the opposite?
The songs were exploring the flip side. I started to see that I was putting all of my experience through this filter of fatigue, and feeling a little depleted, and realising that I might be making things worse by naming it ‘difficulty’ in my head. I started to realise that if I flipped it, and named it something else, that I could give myself a little bit of ease. I had to stop investing in the experience I was going through as being hard. To name it ‘pleasure’, it felt like a head start in beginning to feel it. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Do you think having self-awareness is a requirement of being a musician?
To be a musician is an extension of whatever type of person you are, so whatever you put into your life is what will come out in your music. I was going through a particularly hard time and I was making it worse by feeling like I couldn’t let on how hard it was. I realised afterwards that I’d made it so much worse by feeling ashamed about what a hard time I was having. And if there’s anything to put out there in a song, it’s some of the clues I’ve learned along the way about maybe owning it and allowing that to pass.
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“I Wish I Didn’t Miss You” sounds like it is destined to become a song for the brokenhearted. How does that make you feel, knowing that people might turn to your music for comfort in those situations?
That gives me comfort too because writing is a pretty private enterprise, so I always imagine the song going into people through headphones and into their private world – not to presume that that’ll happen but that’s kind of my intention. I don’t picture it playing at the restaurant, it’s from one mind to one mind. I’m singing it ultimately to give myself some comfort so I’d be glad to think that could be the case.
Are you comfortable with letting go of your music to be interpreted in any way that people might?
YES. I actually really enjoy that. If someone has a crazy theory about my work then they’re right because it’s what they thought. That’s the collaboration of creating and listening.
Do you find it difficult when people try to draw parallels between your work and your private life?
It doesn’t happen that often and it would be impossible for them to be right because they don’t know me but it doesn’t bother me.
Jarvis Cocker appears on the track “Century” with a brilliant out-the-blue spoken-word part. How did that come about?
We actually met on a boat in the Arctic 10 years ago [laughs]. It was this climate change-meets-art kind of symposium that happened on a Russian tanker near Greenland. We became friends on the boat and then had 10 years of running into each other.
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Are you looking forward to performing live again and what is your relationship with being on stage like?
I guess I don’t quite remember, it’s been a while. But I like the truth of everyone being in a room together. It’s a part of it I enjoy going back to.
Do you think much about what you wear on stage?
I recently went to a vintage store in LA, well, it’s a woman who has a collection in her beautiful home which is by appointment only – by the way, it’s called Rachel Zabar Vintage because I know Refinery29 readers might like to know these things. She didn’t know me but it came to light that I’m a musician and was looking for some totemic stuff to wear on stage and she was like, ‘Oh well tell me, what’s your fashion?’ And I was like, ‘Oh no no, you’re misunderstanding, I consider myself a worker and I need to be able to move and I need the fabrics to be natural and things can’t be synthetic’. It’s like there is a task to do and I need clothes to cover my body while I do it. Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy the mythological creation of a character but if I’m thinking about the clothes more than how I feel in them, then something is wrong. If I’m made body-conscious or self-conscious about the clothes then I’m in trouble and I can’t do what I’m there to do. So often it feels like I’m just trying to find my uniform to get the job done.
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Lots of your videos in the past have been very musical-like, do you have any big plans for videos for this album?
I think the key is to never try to make a large-scale dance video again [laughs]. I did make a sort of accidental video for this, though. I was doing a photoshoot with Mary Rozzi, who has taken a lot of my photographs in the past, and we started making a video for “Pleasure” on her camera even though she was complaining that it wasn’t the right camera or the right light. I liked how truly guerrilla it was. There wasn’t the big writing of a treatment or 8,000 people there. It wasn’t this long, protracted, high-production scenario. It was just two friends with the intention to just get it done.
I love the album cover...
Thank you! It was shot by Cass Bird, who’s based in New York, and an old friend of mine. I was living in Venice [California] at that point and I kept driving past this building every day and it was very industrial, not at all pretty, but it had been taken over by these flowers and it was extraordinary. One day I was like, this is the album. This is the embodiment of the album; turning ugly into beauty. Taking difficulty and letting it become wild again and getting air back in its lungs.
Your guitar playing on the record is next level. You only started playing when you were 20, do you think girls and young women are still intimidated to pick up a guitar?
Probably less and less. There are these girl rock camps going on. A friend of mine’s daughter, when she was 12, went to girls’ rock camp and now she’s 19 and one of the most killer drummers you’ll ever meet. They're encouraged to be more in their bodies and take up more space and get more discordant and get messy, get loud, which is how it should be.
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Are there any female musicians you’re particularly enjoying at the moment?
I like Charlotte Day Wilson, she’s a young, self-produced Canadian. She’s ballsy. There’s a song called “Work” which is one of my favourite songs of the last year.
What is your relationship like with some of your older songs, which have become classics? I’m thinking songs like “1234”, “Mushaboom” and “Limit To Your Love”.
I still remember how I wrote them, or who I wrote them as, so in a way it’s a bit like looking at an old Polaroid. I feel a lot of tenderness for them. Some more than others!
And finally, what are your thoughts about Justin Trudeau and do you find it amusing that your Prime Minister is now a massive pin-up?
I know, he’s a sweater model! [laughs] He’s so handsome, how could he be the leader of a nation? But we don’t really know anything about him yet; he is yet to prove himself. I like that he did a lot of progressive things as soon as he was elected, like making his cabinet equally male and female, and he went to Pride. But handsomeness does not a leader make, so we will find out…
Feist's album Pleasure is out now on Polydor Records. She plays Shepherd's Bush Empire on 27th & 28th July.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Photo: Mary Rozzi
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