Leslie Feist has been on a very, very tight schedule for a long, long time, and she needs some time to just let go.

Since time on the phone is a precious commodity for someone thrust so quickly and deeply to international stardom, I sent her a few questions by e-mail.

She describes where she’s writing from: “A small metallic white desk with a copy of To A God Unknown by Steinbeck, a small black journal, a roll of yellow duct tape, a small Ziploc bag of multicoloured vegetation I found under the snow in the arctic, a whiskey flask, a phone bill and some lotion.”

Her show here in St. John’s on November 9th will be her second-to-last show before looking for a nest to hole up in with quilts, tea, books, and a fireplace…

(“…also a piano, a recorder, a tambourine, and a BBQ…”)

“I think it’s maybe six or seven years since I don’t have another gig waving at me from the horizon,” she writes. “So this allows a free-fall into space and time, and I’m not sure where I’ll be, or what I’ll do. That’s the point, I guess.”

(“…a loud stereo, a warm parka, hope, family, concentration, and lots of sleep…”)

Constant travel on a tight schedule is draining. You could even compare it to being on the run from the law. (For the record, Feist has been on the move for three years longer than the TV series The Fugitive was on the air.)

“You just never set roots,” she said in an interview with Pitchfork two years back. “You take pleasure in simple conversations because you know you’re not going to have much more than that.”

This longing for a small degree of calm feels thick in her 2007 album The Reminder. As is the disconnected feeling that constant travel gives.

She’s a true original, and her honesty and frankness is part of what makes her so appealing to listeners, but it’s also what makes it so draining.

The shows she’s doing on this tour are some of the biggest she’s ever done. Having been thrust quickly from critical acclaim to popular success over the past 18 months—following a spot on an iPod commercial—has been dizzying. But she’s managed to keep her sanity somehow.

To put her fame in perspective: in just the past few months, the Canadian singer has been invited to sing at the illustrious Nobel Prize gala, selected to travel with a small group of artists on a scientific and artistic exploration to Greenland (“it was a rare opportunity to see the Far North and learn undiluted by biased opinion or media what is actually happening to the ice”), and sang a version of her hit “1234” on Sesame Street. (The latter was a career highlight, she says.)

(“…maybe also a DVD, a bag of almonds, a large window, and some oranges….”)

Generosity could be one of the things that keeps her sane. At each stop on this tour, she’s asked concert-goers to bring food donations, and so far she’s collected hundreds of pounds for local food banks.

“A very small thing can make a very big difference,” she says.

A year ago she began reserving all of the profits from all her merch sales at gigs for charity, but she wanted to encourage people to make a difference locally, and so the food drive idea popped up.

“We were working primarily with overseas, third world, human rights, and extreme poverty issues, and hadn’t committed to any local charities. They’re just as important, but somehow it’s hard to earmark money for social programs when people elsewhere literally don’t have water to drink.”

“So the food bank drive was a way to try and help encourage the audience to be the ones helping their own communities.”

(“…Okay, I’ll also need pencil crayons, a good friend, semolina flour, BBQed peaches, a blank journal, a bead loom, pajamas, red wine, water, a canary, strings of coloured lights, kindling…”)

With great fame comes great, cavernous venues.

Playing in stadiums like Mile One presents some problems in terms of a live show. Her music is intimate and subtle—not a style of music or performance that transfers easily to a stadium tour. It’s music perhaps better-suited to sharing between a small group of 150 than than to thousands of people, but according to reviews, whatever she’s doing seems to be working.

“It was a gift to be given such a uniquely Canadian creative quagmire,” she says. “How to make warm what is cold? How to make intimate what is huge?”

“We worked on the idea of macro and micro, light and shadow and making very, very loud what is very, very quiet,” she says.

“Illusions and smoke and mirrors, but not in the David Copperfield sense.”

(“…Add also a shovel and a balaclava.”)


Feist will be performing on November 9 at Mile One Centre with special guest Hayden. Tickets available at the Mile One Centre box office, by phone 576-7657 (1-800-361-4595) and at www.sonicconcerts.com

by Elling Lien


A world without Urkel & other TV “almosts”

A world without Urkel & other TV “almosts”

Television and what could have been…

3 December 2010

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