Interview: Feist talks new album, metal meeting ‘Metals’ with Mastodon

When it came to writing her latest album “Metals” last winter, Leslie Feist took inspiration from Jonathan Franzen, when he was writing his 2010 novel “Freedom.” The writer whittled down his work space to a minimum, to objects of bare necessity, with only a desk, laptop working solely as a word processor and a “beige, buzzing overhead light. 

“I wanted to do the same thing, so all I had was my laptop, with no internet, a floor tom and one old guitar, an amp and one new guitar. I made like a little altar, with things that were dear to me like a few postcards and couple of books. It was basically modernity-forbidden zone,” Feist told me in our recent interview. She banged out ideas for “Metals” from a “shed” in the backyard of her Toronto home. When it came time to record, she and her backing players set up shop in Big Sur, out of a converted barn where “it took 20 minutes just to get drive down the driveway, to get to the highway.” There was almost no cell reception, and getting online was a hassle.
“You felt so cutoff. It was a bubble and really potent, if not a little irritating. It”d be like, ‘Oh the internet”s down again, I guess we”ll just make a record.”
Working within those four walls and on top of those rocky bluffs was an act of wiping the slate clean, for new creative works. Feist really needed it that way. It had been almost three years since she dropped her 2008 album “The Reminder,” which had launched her into mainstream success with tracks like “1 2 3 4.” The follow-up tour was a whole other creative endeavor, as chronicled in the 2010 documentary “Look at What the Light Did Now”: she took with her a team of visual artists and puppeteers, with a new A/V experience with every show. She was featured in several music videos, almost all directed by frequent collaborator Patrick Daughters. It was a lot, especially after two years of constant touring off of 2004″s “Let It Die” and its 2006 remix companion “Open Season.”
“The reality was that I actually begged the label to wait to put out ‘The Reminder.” It was like I was about to dovetail two tours together. There was literally a meeting of all the international label heads, and I implored them, so I could have a break,” she said.
From 2009 to late last year, Feist again wanted to return to normalcy – or, rather “I wasn”t feeling the need to do anything at all. I was just hanging out, like baking, y”know. Baking cakes. Puttering. It had been so long since I”d done all the stuff that is normal to most people, like having a routine. And I realized that seven years is a long time to not have had a routine, so it”s not like I was even the same person that I was seven years ago. I didn”t know what it was like to be off the road.”
“Metals” was almost reserved as a spring 2012 release, but the singer/songwriter didn”t want to sit on the effort for year.
“It was very deliberate when I began writing again, like the fuel came back… And in this case [with ‘Metals”], I found I was begging on my knees, again — only this time for them to let me put out this album as soon as possible.”
“What a diva,” I joked.
“Yeah, because royalty are always on their knees, begging.”
This would mark the first time she”d written, recorded and released an album all in one year, but time constraints haven”t allowed for visual art integration into her live show, as the North American tour for “Metals” kicks off this week. Daughters has also stepped away from directing music videos entirely and Feist has no clips to show for “Metals” so far, save for some recording vignettes. Her colleagues Mocky and Chilly Gonzales are working on their own projects, which restricts the time they can spend playing with Feist on tour. Like her Toronto work shed, Feist has a bit of a blank slate on her hands.
But from these new circumstances, fresh opportunity has been born. For one, vocal group Mountain Men now accompany her on tour. And the combo has gotten her thinking about other potential creative matches. For videos: electronica/soul artist James Blake covered Feist”s “Limit to Your Love” for a single, and she was very taken with the video“s director Martin de Thurah. Vice Cooler, who helmed the clip for “Mud” by Feist”s friend and former collaborator Peaches has also caught her eye.
Then there”s some unusual musical alliances she”d like to explore.
“I heard Wayne Coyne is doing a series of collaborations,” Feist enthused. “I need to get in on that, man. We just need find each other in some city while we”re on tour. Flaming Lips are one of my favorite bands.”
The Canadian songwriter recently found herself sharing the stage with one of the most eminent rising metal bands in America, Mastodon, on “Later… with Jools Holland.” The Atlanta-based band was on the late-night show to promote their latest “The Hunter,” and the two acts formed a little mutual appreciation.
“Brent [Hinds] and I were nodding at each other, and he”s like, ‘Nice riff,” and I”m like ‘Nice tone.” So backstage I”m thinking about letting these two worlds collide, how they should collide, so I”m like ‘How about ‘Metals” meeting metal?”” Feist explained, saying she sort of pitched a split record to Mastodon. “Brent was like, ‘Well, I do like that “Bad in Each Other” song, I could see that.” Maybe now I will look into learning to cover ‘Oblivion’… or anything off [‘The Hunter”]. That album”s amazing.”
As for any new work with her former group Broken Social Scene, Feist says that the band is taking a breather after their South American tour, and beyond that, she doesn”t know of their plans. She”s already contributed to BSS”s Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning”s solo records, and Drew and Charles Spearin have sometimes performed in her backing band. Beyond that, she”s open to working with any of the members in the future. As has been, seemingly, her mantra for much of this record cycle, “You never know.”

Here are Feist’s tour dates:

Oct 29 Philadelphia, USA / World Café 20th Anniversary
Nov 02 Brooklyn, USA / Howard Gilman Opera House
Nov 04 Chicago, USA / Riviera Theatre
Nov 06 Atlanta, USA / Tabernacle
Nov 08 Dallas, USA / Majestic Theatre
Nov 12 Los Angeles, USA / Wiltern Theatre
Nov 14 San Francisco, USA / Warfield Theatre
Nov 16 Portland, USA/ Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
Nov 17 Seattle, USA / Moore Theatre
Nov 18 Vancouver, Canada / Performing Arts Centre
Nov 20 Edmonton, Canada / Northern Alberta Jubilee
Nov 21 Calgary, Canada / Jack Singer Concert Hall
Dec 01 Toronto, Canada / Massey Hall
Dec 03 Montreal, Canada / Metropolis
Dec 05 Ottawa, Canada / National Arts Centre
Dec 06 Quebec City, Canada / Grand Theatre Du Quebec