Broken Social Scenester

An interview with Leslie Feist
By KURT B. REIGHLY  |  February 9, 2006

TRANCE DANCER "Whatever was going to come out of my mouth was the best-of-the-truth."In her relatively short musical career, Leslie Feist — or just Feist, as she prefers to be billed — hasn’t just come a long way, she’s taken a round-about route to the dreampop that landed her sophomore disc, Let It Die (Interscope), on so many Top 10 lists last year. A blend of velvety vocals, electro-folk arrangements, and well-chosen covers mixed in with impressive originals like the chugging “Mushaboom” and the lazy, lascivious “Leisure Suite,” the disc continues to sell steadily almost two years since it was recorded. Prior to that, the Canadian-born artist had already accumulated a résumé hefty enough to crash the server.

Her old band, By Divine Right, spent six months opening for Canadian superstars the Tragically Hip. She recorded and toured with former roommate Peaches (working undercover as “Bitch Lap Lap”). She was there at the genesis of the acclaimed Toronto-based indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene, and she’s featured on their formative 2003 album You Forgot It in People (Arts & Crafts). You’ll also find her guesting on recordings by Kings of Convenience, Gonzales, and former Serge Gainsbourg paramour Jane Birkin.

So it’s not surprising that Feist has yet to record a follow-up to Let It Die, which was recorded in 2003, released in Canada the following year, and finally issued in the States last year. “Oh my God, no! I haven’t even begun,” she gasps from her current home in Paris. “When would I have had a chance to make a new album?”

But she has been writing on the road, and she says that her shows now feature a generous selection of as-yet-unrecorded material. (She headlines the Paradise this Saturday.) “In the last year, the live show has been about half Let It Die and half new songs destined to be recorded in March.” And the covers that fleshed out the latter half of Let It Die — her understated interpretations of Ron Sexsmith’s “Secret Heart,” the Bee-Gees’ “Inside and Out,” and Blossom Dearie’s “Tout Doucement” — rarely make the set list of late.

“The decisions to have the covers on the last album were all very lighthearted,” she recalls. It’s her own compositions, like the title track and the mellow “Gatekeeper,” that anchor Let It Die and have become highlights of her live show. “Those songs owned the album, and they just rented space out to the covers. Two years down the road, there are new tenants that want to move in.”

From her first public appearance — opening for the Ramones after winning a high-school battle-of-the-bands competition — to recording Let It Die in the same Parisian studio where Nina Simone once worked, Feist has covered a lot of territory. But she sees it all as part of a unified æsthetic.

“When I was 16, I had bright red hair, in a shaved, not-quite-committing-to-it mohawk, and was making extraordinarily loud, aggressive music. Once during a concert I looked down at myself and my legs were covered in blood. I didn’t have shoes on, and I’d stepped on some glass and didn’t even notice. That kind of music is so intense, and about losing yourself — you go into a trance.”

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Feist, "Mushaboom" (Windows Media Player)

Feist, "Mushaboom" (Real Audio)