To the mainstream at large, Feist is The Girl From That Commercial. You know the one, that iPod Nano spot set to the exuberantly choreographed video for Feist’s bouncy “1234,” which seemed to be on an endless television loop during the latter half of 2007. It became enough of a cultural phenomenon to inspire a wicked “Mad TV” spoof – and it also put Feist on an exhausting treadmill for a couple of years.
After the furor finally died down, Feist decided it was time to bring things to a complete halt. So she took a year off and did nothing musical, a hiatus that stretched into a second year before she felt up to writing music again. That break finally ended last fall with “Metals” (Cherrytree/Interscope Records), an atmospheric work that seems less like a work you listen to than drink in.
Feist will play Thursday at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium. We caught up with her by phone recently from her home in Canada.
Q: When you took that break after “1234,” were you sure you’d come back to making music?
A: I let my mind wander far away, where music was not. It’s not that I didn’t want to make music again, but I did want to be sure I was coming back for the right reasons – for something honest instead of just sticking quarters in a meter to continue something I’d started. I didn’t want to be doing it just because I always had. So I spent a year and a half maintaining a normal life, building a home and reminding my family of who I am, and I came back with new fuel.
Q: There’s not a song called “Metals,” and the word isn’t even in the album’s lyrics at all. Why that title?
A: It’s hard to find a title honest enough to represent the DNA of a record. I generally don’t like titling a record after one song because I feel like it throws the balance off, makes things lean unfairly toward that one song. The idea of “Metals” is that they respond to what human minds do with them. There are metals in a raw natural state and all the infinite things they’re made into, skyscrapers or watch gears or money.
Q: It seems like a very subdued album. Were you consciously dialing things down, or was that just where you were at?
A: Other people have said that, too. I feel the opposite, actually, but there are as many opinions as there are snowflakes. In terms of my making it, it’s the loudest, brashest, most coming-apart-at-the-hinges, blown-apart-by-a-storm album I’ve ever made. A couple of songs on it are quiet, but I find it to be the loudest record I’ve ever made in terms of the dynamics. I think it’s the opposite of subdued.
Q: Where is the big wooden “F” that’s on the cover?
A: That’s in Big Sur, where we recorded. There was this dead broken falling-down tree that looked like an F if you squinted at it. So I climbed up and we took a picture. It’s the Big Sur dreamscape. I picked Big Sur because it was the closest landscape to what the record was going to be. That’s kind of a lucky advantage of making a record. It’s not like someone who works at a bank can say they want to transfer to a branch at the side of a cliff. But recording can be done anywhere, and you can let poetry be your divining rod. You choose a physical place to do something unphysical. It’s the most ephemeral, non-concrete thing you can do, recording music, because it’s nothing you can hold in your hand. You can hold a CD, but not a song. It’s still mercurial – to invoke another metal.
Q: Do you still play “1234” in the show?
A: We did at the beginning of the run, but it just didn’t make sense with this set and this album. A lot of older songs easily climbed inside this band and the songs from this record, earning a spot next to the new material. I’m not saying “I Feel It All” became a whole new thing, but it translated easily to this set. But “1234” is connected to a certain cheeriness that did not find its way here. That’s not to say it’s gone for good. For the time being, it’s on vacation on a beach somewhere.
Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat