Feist: A Pop Star With A Punk-Rock Past The Canadian singer-songwriter behind the 2007 smash "1234" is back with her first album in four years, Metals. Though she's made her name with sunny pop, Feist began her music career as a raw-throated teenage rocker.
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Feist: A Pop Star With A Punk-Rock Past

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Feist: A Pop Star With A Punk-Rock Past

Feist: A Pop Star With A Punk-Rock Past

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I want to start by playing you a little music, if that's okay.



FEIST: Oh, my gosh.


FEIST: I am having a flashback.


GREENE: I'll let you tell us what it is.

FEIST: That's a young, sweet 15 or 16-year-old me.

GREENE: I don't know how sweet that sounds. You were a real teenaged punk rocker, it sounds like.

FEIST: Yeah.

GREENE: Where was your punk rocker kid shaped?

FEIST: Well, I lived, you know, lived in Calgary at that point. My world was super-limited. And I was in choirs and stuff but also starting to go to, like, gigs that were happening at the community halls.

GREENE: And his mom worried hearing you screaming and, kind of, punking-out when you were a kid?

FEIST: I think a lot of things probably perplexed her...


FEIST: ...about that particular era of my life. She just applied her knowledge to that context, like she invoiced me when she lent me money to make our first batch of T-shirts and charged me interest. She wasn't into it. She wasn't out of it. But she just sort of did her mom thing in what I was in the midst of.

GREENE: I wanted to ask you about your 2004 album, "Let it Die;" this is a little bit of "Gatekeeper," one of your songs from that album.


FEIST: (Singing) Well, it's time to begin as the summer sets in. It's a scene you set for new lovers. You play a part painting in a new start, but each gate will open another...

GREENE: There was a lot of romance in that album, but it was sad.


GREENE: I mean it wasn't romance that ended well.

FEIST: When does it ever end well?


FEIST: I mean if it ends, then it's not ending well. It's ending. And if it keeps going that it's not about ending. So I suppose the ending is usually of an unwell kind. No?

GREENE: And has it always ended for you so far?

FEIST: Thus far, yes.


FEIST: "Gatekeeper" was sort of my first attempt to put a little bit of a frame and boundaries around songwriting, and try to figure out a way to approach it that had a sort of end result in mind. I haven't written many like that. But "Gatekeeper" was sort of, I think I know what I want it to be about, so how do I go about writing about that?

GREENE: Can I ask you about "Sesame Street?"


FEIST: Sure.


FEIST: (Singing) One, two, three, four, a mouse is walking across the floor. I love counting, counting to the number four...

GREENE: That was the 2007 hit "1234" lands you on "Sesame Street." It lands you in an iPod commercial. I mean you just suddenly exploded with popularity.

FEIST: When I first played "1234" it was on stage in San Francisco at some kind of like sticky-floored club. And it felt like a punk song. I mean it's ridiculous to say that now, but it had that kind of like piercing straight melody. And then this fist-pumping ending, you know that pa-dap-pada. It just felt so simple in an absolutely non-patronizing way. And so, it's so funny that the songs that I approached with that sensibility became what it did, and turned everything on its head.

GREENE: Was there a downside to doing something that became really commercial?

FEIST: It's a double-edged sword. I mean I can only know that I might guide my next decision-making a bit differently. Before that, been signed to a label for the first time after making records for years, and selling them off the edge of the stage, I had no illusions about accepting help at that point. It's just at some point at the umpteenth twirl of that, like roulette wheel of all these external influences, that's when I took some time off.

GREENE: A lot of people would hear a successful musician, you know, talk about difficult times and say, oh, you know, life is difficult for you. I mean you're making money. You have fans. What was one day where you could describe to someone where you could really convince them that like, this really got tough and you needed to sort of escape for a while?

FEIST: I thought you were going to flip that and turn it into like a facetious, like, making fun of people who complain about that kind of thing.


FEIST: Because...


FEIST: ...there's no way to make sense in your mind of complaining about that kind of thing. It felt absurd to feel the way I did at that point. It's kind of like when you plan a vacation forever. And you get there and it's a lot more real than it looked in pictures, and you just end up tired or hungry, or your shoe is broken. And in the end, you are just a human who's hungry or tired.



FEIST: You know what I mean? At the end of the day, I was ultimately - I just got tired.

GREENE: Well, you got back to writing and your new album is called "Metals." Why that title?

FEIST: The short answer is that metals can be found un-forged and raw, and molten in the center of the Earth. And they can also be highly refined and turned into, like, little tiny jewelry.


FEIST: (Singing) Cicadas and gulls, they scrape on the hull. The land and the sea, they're distant from me.

GREENE: Talk if you can about the song "Cicadas and Gulls."

FEIST: Well, I wrote it in Toronto. And the ocean and warmth are two things that I don't get a lot of experience with. So it creates a certain symbolism for the warmth and unattainablility of all these kind of places that you don't end up.

GREENE: Talk me through the song "The Bad in Each Other" from the new album. Let's play a little of it.


FEIST: (Singing) (Unintelligible) bring out the good in each other.

GREENE: I guess we're still not settled at romance is a good thing yet.


FEIST: Well, there's just some universal truths in a way that I've just observed to be true. You read Voltaire. You read modern literature. Anywhere you go, there's these observations about romantic love and what it does people, and these rotten feelings that rarely are people meaning to do that to each other. I mean unless you mean it when you?


FEIST: ...I mean when hurt someone...


FEIST: Oh, silence.



GREENE: I'm not going to answer that one.


GREENE: Leslie, thanks so much for spending some time with us.

FEIST: Thank you.


GREENE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

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