After a spell away, Feist is back, refreshed and ready for more.
The opening title track on Feist’s new album 'Pleasure' is a creeping, almost unnoticeable slip through the door – a hushed return from a songwriter who is able to capture our uncertainties and turn them into a sort of dynamically-charged, candid poignancy. It serves as a vital force in the reintroduction of an artist who’s been away for six years, reaffirming her ability to weave and encapsulate the very intricacies of what makes us human.
“It seemed like an apt beginning to such a tentative album,” Feist says of the title-track. “The subject of the album is that I'm neither here nor there; I'm in this liminal state of I'm not sure, everything sucks, and I'm not sure if it's going to be okay... I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing, I'm not sure that you're doing the right thing,” she continues. “It felt truer than to arrive at some sort of podium and state my case. The megaphone comes later.”
Feist has always been a prolific artist. Her 2010 documentary Look At What The Light Did Now showcased the extent of what actually goes into a tour – “It felt like it I was white water rafting, there was such much momentum” – and with the 2012 Polaris Prize going to her last album 'Metals', it’s no wonder Feist found herself needing to take a breather, to rediscover what it is she loves about songwriting in in the first place. “I did throw myself under the bus a little bit, so to speak,” she says. “It took me a little while to begin to write again because I was really listening closely to what might compel me again, and to be honest, I was completely open to having that be something other than music.”
“I was at a point in my life where I just felt like the 16-year-old version had lunged into making these decisions that were based entirely on the moment and my mood and the time and the place, and it felt right to join that hardcore band. I followed one song to the next, one gig to the next, one band to the next and then here I was after 'Metals' really wanting to make sure that I wasn't continuing because it was all I do or all I had done. I really got quiet for a while and was waiting for some type of lightning to strike me and by the time songs began to formulate in my mind, I realised that that's just the lens I see the world through, and it's a relationship I'll always have if I'm lucky. It felt worthwhile continuing.”
Dynamically speaking, Feist has always been one to use her voice as a constructional tool for storytelling. It dips and tumbles as quickly as it soars and bursts, marking the moments of most importance through each narrative. Her vocal delivery throughout Pleasure feels particularly focused; the hushed tones during the fade out of 'Lost Dreams' is juxtaposed with the crescendo of 'Any Party' while a choir is introduced on 'A Man Is Not His Song’. Concerning her voice, Feist jokes that they “know each other pretty well by now,” adding that it “knows what to do to be true to me and my range of person”. “I'm not very concerned with the way it sounds as much as how honest it sounds,” she continues. “I'm really concerned with conviction and maybe squinting very closely about what's necessary about the conveyance of a narrative. That is more important to me than sounding pretty or evoking prettiness.”
The sparse instrumentation throughout the album is also strikingly evident. Compared to the richness and collaboration of 'Metals', 'Pleasure' is stripped back and intimate, revealing a lucidity that marks its themes of uncertainty as imperative to its purpose. “The angular simplicity of these arrangements were really intentional because I think the subject matter is a little bit sparse and a little bit raw and boney. I’m kind of just squinting into the wind or something,” she says, laughing. “I suppose it was a moment of not feeling certain about anything so it's hard to try and pretty that up or make it more dressed up than that experience really is. There are no declarations of having my shit together. The confidence is only in having the self-compassion to state these things without being ashamed of them and that experience of squinting at yourself through the dark night of your soul; it's just a stark experience, it's a little bit like a spectre, of being haunted by all of that hollowness of loss.”
This spectre stretches across the final moments of each track, as the meditative, instrumental fade out of ‘Lost Dreams’ is quickly juxtaposed with the abrupt conclusion of ‘Century’. This, as Feist explains, aims to show the swimming of our thoughts – the repetition of certain ruminations that run through our minds in a seemingly never-ending cycle. “Each one was instinctual,” she adds. “Each song tells you what type of ending it needs.” However, she’s adamant that the album isn’t entirely doom-and-gloom. “At the very end there's a small wink to the potential that not all is lost, but ultimately when you have those kind of thoughts, they’re like a broken record in your head so to have a two minute fade out [on ‘Lost Dreams’], it felt narratively correct.”
‘Century’ also marks a rare collaboration on the album, with Jarvis Cocker offering a narration over haunting, intimate melodies. “There would've been no other choice right? Who else could be the Vincent Price to my 'Thriller'?” she says enthusiastically, clearly happy to be talking about someone she admires. “There was no other man for the job to be the narrator. He has such a history of observing the fall apart of the difference between fantasy and reality. I was lucky that he was willing to be on this record.” Feist reveals that she’s off to see Jarvis Cocker perform tonight, alongside Chilly Gonzales with their collaborative project ‘Room 29’. She says the album is her “new obsession” and jokes that she’s scheduled her entire European press run to coincide with their performances. “I'm going to go to Berlin too,” she says, laughing. “I'm finally figuring out this travel thing.”
When Feist makes a new album or embarks on a new project, she has the tendency to make visible what is audible. She presents new material with a focused sense of imagery, and as we chat more about her intentions with the record, it’s clear that this is something that will continue to shape her work. “I think that when I first developed the instinct to think like that was because I started to learn that there was a necessity to make visuals to go with the songs and to go with the albums,” she explains. “I was adamant that they not misrepresent what I'd made and so it was sort of self-protection that I became so interested in the imagery and protecting the imagery around records.”
The main visual to take away from the new album and well, any album ever, is the artwork. The front cover of 'Pleasure' is adorned with bougainvillea, its vibrant colours juxtaposed against a darkened sky that pretty much perfectly sums up the album’s shifting tone – of seeing the light despite the darkness shrouding your mind. Feist was living in Los Angeles last winter and drove past the bougainvillea building almost every night; it was two weeks before her eureka moment. “I screeched to a halt and realised that I was looking at the album cover,” she says. “I was in the midst of mixing the album at that point too, so it was funny that it took me so long to realise that's what it was. It definitely felt like a moment where things were triangulating for me I didn't want the album imagery to be dark – the title up against something dark too would have been misleading, the title up against me with a lollipop would have been totally misleading. It was important to strike a balance and really represent what the album is. I felt so grateful when I found that.”
All in all, 'Pleasure' is about facing your demons and making it out alive; it’s about being okay with not being okay. But perhaps the most compelling take away from the album is never to feel ashamed of these emotions and uncertainties, that by welcoming them with open arms we’ll become better, more honest versions of ourselves. “The album is dealing with a dark time, but I didn't land in a dark place,” Feist continues. “I think it's necessary to go through those periods and allow yourself to be fully forged by the flame of those experiences; they're unavoidable and you can come out the other end bitter, or you can come out the other end having really fessed up and faced yourself and the experience. Even the most difficult experience can be the thing you're most grateful for when you're 90-years-old.”
Feist’s album ‘Pleasure’ is out on 28th April.