In alive's interview with Leslie Feist, she talks about life on the road and the success of her CD The Reminder.
As she stands under a highway overpass in Tulsa, Oklahoma, our telephone connection dies. When we re-establish contact, Leslie Feist is laughing. It’s just one of those unpredictable glitches that happen on the road. Although she calls touring a “steamroller,” Feist admits her curiosity keeps her going.
Her sense of curiosity has led her down many paths. At 12 years old she danced at the opening ceremonies of the Calgary Olympics. At 15 she founded and was lead singer of a Calgary punk band called Placebo.
Last year, at 31, she released her third solo album, The Reminder (Art & Crafts, 2007). It included the single “1234,” which became a household ditty when Apple used it in an iPod Nano commercial.
This latest project garnered Feist five Juno Awards in April, including Album of the Year and Single of the Year for “1234.” Winning in her hometown of Calgary gave the occasion extra meaning for her, but she humbly says she didn’t expect to win anything.
“I actually remember thinking, please no, please no, please no,” she says, “because I had nothing prepared to say. But Fate gave me five chances to go up and get it right and thank the people I wanted to thank.”
After the Junos Feist spent three weeks visiting with her family in Calgary before heading out on what she calls the tour “that keeps going forever.” By the time the year is over, she will have crossed the United States from Boston to Los Angeles, traversed Europe from London to Frankfurt, and returned to Canada in early August to play Burnaby, BC. After a brief break in August she will head to Edmonton to start the Canadian leg of her tour, which stretches to St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Inside and Out
When she’s not touring, Feist lives north of Toronto near the Bruce Trail, where she enjoys “camping out” at her home and walking on the surrounding footpaths. She describes being home as the “polar opposite” to touring–a time when she consciously strives to avoid using her car and to slow down.
Being home allows her to buy meat at a local organic farm near her house. She avoids what she dubs “mystery” meat on the road and sticks to fish and vegetables as the mainstay of her diet.
Living a 9-to-5 life on the road often means 9 pm to 5 am, so Feist tries to stick to proteins and greens. Her favourites include broccoli, kale, green beans, and spinach. She also loves sushi. She tries to avoid the late-night pizza on the bus.
“Touring can be like a steamroller because there’s no stability, there’s no opportunity to create a routine,” Feist explains. “You don’t know where you’re going to wake up; I often used to get lost when I went jogging.”
The instability of road life makes maintaining a fitness routine difficult. For group motivation the female tour members hang out together. On sunny mornings they try to run or inline skate. Feist runs with Clea Minaker, the performer who creates shadow puppet shows that are projected behind Feist on stage.
Making fitness fun is what motivates the girls to keep moving. They have fun–and keep in shape–while on the road by playing badminton, squash, racquetball, or cycling.
She Feels It All
Feist views performing live and recording as two different trajectories of the same sort of impulse. When she’s performing in concert, she enjoys the way music just evaporates after it’s performed, providing her with the opportunity to redefine the song night after night.
“Recording is the opposite of performing,” she says. “It’s like making definitive versions of songs that are like butterflies on corkboard. In a way, every album is a photograph. It’s just a moment in that evolution of song.”
A successful songwriter, Feist is reluctant to talk about the process of songwriting. She compares it to kissing–she likes to daydream about it, but she doesn’t want to think about the play-by-play.
“Somehow I can turn a phrase or a reflection from bitter to bittersweet,” she says. “The alchemy of storytelling is what’s interesting to me, but it’s definitely nothing I can put a finger on–and I prefer it that way.”
As for the influences behind her music, Feist is also reticent to discuss specifics. She refers to human interactions, reading, and what she watches and listens to as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that she’s slowly piecing together. “We’re all sponges,” she says, “and we’re soaking up everything from our environment.”
Despite her five-award haul at the Junos, Feist doesn’t feel as if she’s made it as a performer. She sees each gig as justifying the next–the good ones are motivating, but the bad ones inspire her to change and improve.
“I guess to say ‘made it’ means that there was always an end in sight or some kind of destination that drives the whole process, but I was never aiming anywhere,” Feist reflects.
Despite her purported aimlessness, music has taken Feist to a diversity of places–from Carnegie Hall to Sesame Street, where she met Oscar and Grover and performed her hit song “1234.” In May she performed at the 15th Rainforest Foundation Fund’s benefit concert in New York, organized by Sting and his wife Trudie Styler.
Standing underneath the freeway in Tulsa, Feist–still laughing–says, “I haven’t really arrived anywhere except where I woke up this morning. I really am fuelled by curiosity. I wonder, ‘Where am I going to wake up tomorrow?’ Each day justifies the next–so I’m still not there.”
Well on Her Way
- Since May 2007 Feist has sold more than 200,000 copies of The Reminder in Canada. The album’s success has boosted the fortunes of Canadian independent record label Arts & Crafts which has increased its publicity, marketing, and retail capabilities.
- To date, The Reminder has sold more than 1 million copies worldwide.
Feist recently teamed up with indie rock band The Constantines from Guelph, Ontario to record a duet of the Bee Gees’ song Islands in the Stream. It was a hit country music single for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton in 1983; undoubtedly Feist and lead singer Bryan Webb have put a new spin on it.