Leslie Feist’s wheels are turning again.
Four years after her 2007 breakthrough The Reminder and its ubiquitous iPod jingle 1234 brought her everything from Juno Awards and Grammy noms to a Sesame Street gig — and two years after she hit the brakes on that rapidly accelerating fame to realign her life and recharge her creative batteries — the Canadian singer-songwriter is gearing up to release her fifth album Metals.
For some artists, rebooting after a long break is like getting back on a bike. For others, it’s like learning to ride again. For the 35-year- old indie-rock vet, it was something else.
“It was about seeing what a bicycle is again, to continue your analogy,” she says. “To see what those wheels are and how they work and what the mechanics are. The first time you get on a bike when you’re a kid, you feel the wind and see how fast you can go, and you have this fascination with how different it is to move that way. But after years and years, you stop noticing. I’m really going with your bike analogy, by the way, so you better set this up so it was your question and it doesn’t look like I’m just obsessed with bicycles, OK?”
OK, done. So anyway ...
“Anyway, with this record, I had enough time off to be able to look again and go, ‘Whoa, those wheels turn. How does that work? What’s the physics of that?’ And really, this is a terribly long analogy, but I just wanted to know how it all moves again and be curious again about why I even got on it and what it’s for. And I got some of the childlike innocence and excitement back.”
Phew. Good thing she’s not obsessed with bicycles. But she does speak the truth. Recorded in Big Sur in just two weeks with longtime partners in crime Jason (Gonzales) Beck and Dominic (Mocky) Salole, the noisy and artful Metals brings Feist full circle, dialing back the coffeeshop folk-pop and harkening back to the freewheeling sound of her 1999 debut Monarch.
With the album in stores and online this week, Feist filled me in on crawling into the coffin, living in a novel and getting back behind the wheel.
Some people thrive in the spotlight. Others feel like they’ve been caught in a prison break. How did it go for you?
It was multifaceted. There were parts that felt familiar and normal, like playing gigs. But yeah, there were other parts of it that were beyond surreal. And it became the type of dream you might want to wake up from rather than stay in forever.
Did you really give up music entirely? No playing, no singing, no writing?
Well, there were isolated moments. I worked with Wilco for one song. I sang on Doug Paisley’s album. And I worked on the documentary (Look at What the Light Did Now) about my visual collaborators. But the important thing is I wasn’t on the road. I wasn’t rolling. There weren’t wheels under me while I did all that.
But you didn’t exactly go into seclusion.
The sensory-deprivation tank? No, that’s only at night. That’s when I crawl into the coffin. Wait, no — that’s during the day, when the sun rises. (Laughs)
How did you know when it was time to start again?
At some point I just became curious again and got back into a melodic mindset. I mean, I was always there I suppose, because that’s just what I’ve done my whole life. But for a long time, I wasn’t interested in encapsulating those ideas into songs. I didn’t want it to feel like work. You can’t force yourself to be in that mindset, because nothing will happen.
How important was it for you not to make The Reminder 2?
To not remind myself again? It would have been pointless — for my sake and for everybody else’s. Records are about trying to capture the state of mind you’re in. And I’m just not in the same state of mind I was when I made The Reminder.
You made this one in Big Sur. You did some of the last one in Paris. How does the setting factor into the work?
It’s more about the state of mind you’ll get into making the thing. On a practical level, I don’t want to spend my day trying to move between urban environments or eat the same thing 15 days in a row because there’s only one restaurant within 10 kilometres. So it’s an opportunity to not have any of that normal, logistical stuff and to get to live like you’re in a novel. This time, I was just drawn west.
I don’t know if it was from reading a lot of Steinbeck, or from camping in Joshua Tree or just spending a lot of time in California, but I wanted to be at the edge of the continent.
So, now you’re heading back into the spotlight and putting wheels under you again. Did you learn anything from the last experience that will help this time?
Let’s hope. We’re going to try to leave a little space between tours so we can see where we just were or go home for a second and just not have them dovetailing into the other for seven years. I want to have a little balance this time.