An Interview with Feist
Canada's smooth operator
A look into Leslie Feist's background will reveal her stint in a high school grunge band, her participation in Canadian jam collective Broken Social Scene, and her role as Bitch Lap-Lap, rapper in the touring circus of electro-badass Peaches. There are few clues leading up to Leslie Feist's latest musical romance—a womanly, worldly jazz-oriented mix of genres that revels in the soft and simple. While the odd fan on Feist's online message board screams "sellout" to Feist's resignation from rock, the rest of us are gushing over Let It Die, an acoustic-meets-electronic sophomore gem celebrated equally by indie hipsters as by graying fans of easy listening (i.e. my father). Let It Die feels slick yet homemade, with her smoky R&B-tinged timbre commanding the attention on all eleven tracks—the first five written by Feist with producer Chilly Gonzales and the latter comprising a wide array of covers selected from the public domain ("When I Was A Young Girl") and the Bee Gees ("Inside and Out"). Her first solo record, Monarch was released to little fanfare in 1999, but Let It Die earned rave reviews and respect almost immediately, beginning in her current country-of-residence France, and slowly seducing the rest of the world. She has been touring non-stop since Let It Die first broke. I got her on the phone while she kicked back on her tour bus, stuck in traffic in the Canadian countryside.
CCC: I heard that your first high school band opened up for the Ramones.
Feist: I always feel really stupid with New Yorkers when I claim that that's the truth, so I have to come clean. I didn't really open for the Ramones. (Laughs). My band—we were sixteen, in high school, and we won a battle of the bands contest. The prize was to play at this festival, and the slot they gave us happened to be on the same day—on the same stage as the Ramones, but there were about seven bands between us and them. So you know it wasn't what it sounds like. I was actually talking to Peaches a month ago, and I said, "Wow, it's really funny that everybody is asking me about opening for the Ramones and I'm kind of exaggerating the truth." And she said, "Go with it! It's simplification. Make it simple for people. Don't apologize for those seven bands in between." So I haven't been correcting people in general, but since you're from New York I have to come clean.
The New Yorkers get the truth!
Actually I didn't even really know who the Ramones were back then, but I was excited that they were a band from New York. Being from Calgary—a country girl dreaming of the romantic big city—it was more that they were from New York that I was excited about.
What kind of music were you playing at the time?
It was just at the beginning of grunge I think, 1991, 1992, 1993. So we were at the trail end of cheesy stuff like Faith No More. But I love Jane's Addiction. And my drummer loved Anthrax. My bass player modeled herself after the Jesus Lizard bass player—she bought the exact same gear and had a Jesus Lizard/ Tool/ Jawbox sound. And our drummer was a metal head. So really there was not such a high quality vision between the four of us. But it was a good way to spend your teenage years.
What album would you say soundtracked your youth?
Dinosaur Jr. Bug.
You and Peaches lived together for awhile—how did that happen?
It was pre-Peaches, it was when she had just bought the MC505 Groovebox, and literally we were just friends from around. I needed a roommate and she needed a place to live and so she moved in. She made The Teaches Of Peaches in our house. And that's how I ended up being involved from the early days—it was open season. The music was crystal-clear right from the beginning, but the show—and what form it was going to take on stage—was still developing. She played some of those early shows wearing a black wool turtleneck and pants and winter boots and stood still and just triggered stuff and sang without moving. But as time passed, what was going on in our house started to go on onstage—just a lot of antics, playing dress-up, and jackassing. Our apartment was called the 701, and we were the Canadian Jack Ass crew.
You were all girls?
No, it was Gonzales, Mocky, Taylor Savvy, myself, and another guy, the World Provider. It was a big gang of people, all who live in Berlin now. I'm the only one living in Paris. But we've all since moved to Europe—kind of following the trail that Gonzales cut first, and then Peaches followed second.