By Nicholas Jennings on Monday, 31 December 2007
Category: Magazine

Feature Article: Feist and the art of flow

Feist is sitting in a Latin American café in Toronto’s west end, sipping mint tea and talking enthusiastically about ocean waves. She’s just returned from a rare week off in Mexico, where she holidayed with buddies Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe, of Norwegian folk-pop duo Kings of Convenience. “My friends were telling me to watch out for the riptide, because it’ll pull you out,” Feist recalls. “But all you have to do is just go with it and it’ll pull you back to shore. You just have to go the full cycle. People don’t have faith in that. They don’t realize it’s all about flow and cycles and currents.” She adds: “I’ve been thinking a lot about that stuff lately, about movement and the natural balance of something on such an enormous scale.”

Feist knows of what she speaks. The indie-Canrock poster girl turned Paris-based chanteuse is all about flow. The tidal wave of critical acclaim that greeted her 2004 album Let it Die turned her world upside down, leading to several Top 10 singles, numerous year-end lists, a couple of Juno Awards and 33 months of touring on three continents. Barely skipping a beat, Feist settled into a 200-year-old manor house in the French countryside and quickly recorded a followup album, The Reminder. “I know more than I knew before,” she sings on the (yes) feisty guitar track “I Feel It All.” “I didn’t rest, I didn’t stop.” Where Let it Die reinvented the onetime Calgary punk rocker as a sultry cabaret singer, The Reminder embraces all of Feist’s musical personas. “Let it Die was a bit of an anomaly, as far as what I’ve always done,” she admits. “It was really a step out from the regular, while the new album is coming back to that.”

Produced with her usual suspects, Chilly Gonzales and Renaud Letang, with help from Dominic “Mocky” Salole, The Reminder ranges from the spunky “Past in Present” and the jubilant, handclapping “Sea Lion” to such quiet, intimate numbers as “Intuition” and “The Water.” There’s a sweet co-write with Ron Sexsmith, “Brandy Alexander,” and a giddy collaboration with New Buffalo’s Sally Seltman about teenage love called “1234.” But the album’s most evocative pair of songs is “My Moon My Man” and “The Park,” which segue together with recorded sounds of footsteps, doors closing and birds singing. “It’s really chapter one and chapter two of the same story in a way,” explains Feist. “It has me ditching my man and running outside and being alone. If you were writing a script, that’s what the girl would do.”

Like songwriting, recording relied a good deal on intuition. “We started to call Gonzales the Minister of Energy,” recalls Feist. “You know when you look through night-vision goggles and how points of light appear on a topographical map? That’s how Gonzales was looking at songs. He’d say, ‘That’s a hot spot. The sound is too concentrated. We’ve got to balance it to remove the bizarre peaks and valleys.’”

This month, after dates in England, Germany and France, Feist opens a Canadian theatre tour that will showcase The Reminder’s wide-ranging energies as well as favorites from Let it Die. Then she’s off across America and back to Europe. One of these days she might find time to plant a garden and “absorb a little more stillness.” In the meantime, she’ll continue to “unroll the carpet a little longer and keep following it.” Says Feist: “I’ve only ever tried to stay liquid and go where there’s a reason to go and stay when there’s a reason to stay and leave when there’s a reason to leave. That way I can flow over whatever obstacles come my way.”