Leslie Feist is welcomed to the club
The folk-art singer used to think the Grammys were out of reach. Then she got four nominations.
Feist, in concert last June at the Wiltern, was driving through a blizzard in the Canadian wilderness when she received a text message informing her of the nominations. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
"Maybe it's because I'm Canadian, but it's kind of like you're the little sibling and you've got your cool older brother who's gonna have the super-cool party on Saturday night," the 31-year-old Toronto native says, relaxing in a room at the Renaissance Hollywood earlier this winter before heading to the Gibson Amphitheatre to perform at KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas concert. "And you totally know you're gonna get told you're not allowed to come."
This year she found a way to sneak into the party: She got nominated. Part of an interconnected Canadian indie-rock crew that also features the bands Stars, Metric and Broken Social Scene (of which she's a part-time member), Feist, who performs under her last name only, is up for four Grammys, including pop vocal album (for her third solo disc, "The Reminder") and female pop vocal performance (for the single "1234," familiar to many from the iPod spot that excerpts its intricately choreographed video).
Her most prestigious nomination, though, is in the new artist category, where her competition includes platinum-selling powerhouses Amy Winehouse and Taylor Swift. Feist hasn't notched those kinds of numbers -- "The Reminder" has sold 515,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- and the singer knows that makes her a dark-horse candidate.
"The Grammys weren't on my radar, so I assumed I wasn't on theirs," she says, adding that the day the nominations came out she was driving through a blizzard in the Canadian wilderness when she received a text message alerting her to the news.
But thanks to an elegant art-folk sound that splits the considerable difference between Norah Jones and Björk, Feist might be the artistic favorite.
"I think it all starts with her voice, which is just so beautiful," says Lisa Worden, KROQ's music director. The song "1234," Worden says, "is really unique; it sticks out and catches your attention, but there's also something haunting about it. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the iPod commercial obviously put the song in front of a lot of ears. But there have been other songs that Apple has championed that haven't gotten the same response here."
With a sly chuckle, Feist says she knew that execs at her label, Interscope's Cherrytree imprint, would seize upon "1234" as a single -- so she omitted the track from the first version of "The Reminder" she turned in to them.
"She sort of masterminded this plan to get us excited about the whole record," says Cherrytree President Martin Kierszenbaum, who first met Feist after a performance at a tiny Rotterdam, Netherlands, club in 2004. "But she didn't need to do that: I love the record from start to finish, and I feel like we're gonna be involved for a really long time."
Feist recorded "The Reminder" in a rented mansion outside Paris with a sizable creative team that included French producer Renaud Letang and her longtime collaborator Jason Charles Beck, known professionally as Gonzalez.
Though it still bounces from bare-bones piano ballads to hard-thumping disco jams, the album is a less eclectic, more stripped-down affair than 2004's willfully quirky "Let It Die," on which Feist complemented her own material with covers of songs by the Bee Gees, Ron Sexsmith and others.
Feist credits the shift in approach to the 2 1/2 years' worth of international touring she did in support of "Let It Die," which she says "led me back to where I came from: playing with lots of people and the sound of mistakes in a room with the windows open."
She calls "Let It Die" a record about arrangements rather than one about performances. "It felt like being the parade queen, where I got to ride on this amazing float," she says. "Of course, underneath every float there's a Buick."
"The Reminder" is not a Buick. But it is a record about performance, and confidence, and the substance beneath the sparkle. "I was pretty sure about what I wanted to make," Feist says. "I really like that feeling."