x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Feist's latest album emerges from solitude found in a Big Sur barn

When Apple lifted one of her songs for an iPod advertisement, Leslie Feist admits she was knocked sideways by success.

The Canadian singer Leslie Feist.
The Canadian singer Leslie Feist.

When Apple lifted one of her songs for an iPod advertisement, Leslie Feist admits she was knocked sideways by success. For her new album Metals, the Canadian went searching for silence and a clear horizon, recording in an oceanside barn in California.

Licensed from her 2007 album The Reminder, the track 1234 became a YouTube hit, turning Feist from indie singer to mainstream pop artist almost overnight - even earning her a guest slot on the children's TV show Sesame Street.

But after three years packed with gigs, television appearances, video shoots and non-stop touring, it was time to stop and "take a deep breath", the soft-spoken singer told AFP in an interview in Paris.

"There's no way you can predict something like that happening," Feist, whose breakthrough album went on to pick up six of Canada's Juno Awards and four Grammy nominations, said of her sudden success.

"It kind of created a bit of a fire. I ended up not really understanding what was happening, so that was part of the reason to take a break."

For the following two years, Feist sought out silence.

"I had had so much volume around me for so many years that I found myself really not wanting to listen to music. I really enjoyed the sounds of the trees, the sound of the street, or the sound of dogs barking."

That was until last autumn, when she hunkered down in her garage. Then, in the space of three months, Feist wrote the 12 tracks on Metals, her fourth studio album, which hit shelves yesterday.

"These songs really are more of an album than anything I have done before," Feist said. "I had taken long enough away that I lost my habits, and I felt very new again musically."

Once the songwriting was done, Feist called in fellow Canadian musicians Mocky and Chilly Gonzales to work on the arrangements, and then went looking for a place to record.

Based on what the songs were about, "and they had a sort of elemental basis", she says, "you squint at a map in your mind and you picture - where does it make sense to go find these?"

The place, it turned out, was a barn in Big Sur, a natural enclave on the Californian coast beloved of artists from the writer John Steinbeck - who set several stories there- to Joan Baez.

"It's incredibly unlikely we would find a place that perfect," Feist said. "It's just a giant, wooden empty space with light pouring in and two wood stoves at either end to keep it warm.

"You can see the ocean, between two hills, and every night that's exactly where the sun would set. And the whole thing was built kind of, at keeping in mind the elements."

For a title, Feist wanted a concept that could "blanket" the album.

"Metal has been a major building block of every civilisation," she said, whether turned into weapons, tools or jewellery, technology or scaffolding.

"Metal is such a changeable substance. It doesn't exist at the surface of the earth. So it's a crazy amount of effort and ingenuity and imagination to find it and turn it into something else.

"I felt like it had enough movement in it, that it can change depending on what each song wanted from it," she said. "Each song became a little stronger once I'd found the title."

After years spent performing the same hits, Feist said she aimed this time around for a kind of universality in her lyrics, for "songs that I can bring with me when I'm 80".

"I tried to plant the possibility for it to adapt with me," she said. "I tried to be really responsible for the fact I know I'm going to be singing these songs for the rest of my life."

Benedicte Rey and Emma Charlton, AFP