She’s one talented head on the amorphous hydra known as Broken Social Scene. She turned the Bee Gees’ disco hit “Love You Inside Out” into a piece of subdued pop perfection. Her last album, Let it Die, won a Juno Award in Canada: Feist’s native country, and where she’s a quasi-mainstream sensation. At one time she occasionally shared a stage with friend and former housemate Peaches, the raunchy songstress responsible for the immortal “sucking on my titties like you wanted me.” Her third solo album, The Reminder, retains the soulful songcraft of Let it Die and adds newfound guitar sounds along with a handclap happy skipping song and a beautiful duet with Eirik Glambek Boe of Kings of Convenience. Anthem sat down with Feist on two separate occasions nearly a year apart—the following interview is a mutant combination of both.
I was going to ask you what you do in your free time, but evidently you don’t have any.
Feist: We [had] a wonderful woman traveling with us, the wife of one of the band members. At about midnight I get a call in my hotel room the middle of some industrial-type mini-mall strip mall in Raleigh, NC. And the phone call says: [in faux-evil Germanic voice] ‘Miss Feist, your adventure begins in 20 minutes, mwahahaha!’ And I was like—what? What the fuck? And then a note slips under my door and it was the beginning of a scavenger hunt that she had set up, and it went on for about two hours inside this empty hotel in the middle of nowhere. We were following clues and solving little puzzles and it went from the pool where there was a bottle with a message in it that I had to get from the middle of the pool—and even the clerk at the desk of the hotel was involved. So that’s what we’re doing in our spare time: scavenger hunts.
And making the new album, The Reminder?
F: We toured our way straight into the studio, basically, and made a record. We rented a manor house outside Paris. It had a studio in the basement, but we wired everything upstairs into the parlor on the main floor—filled with couches, lamps, bookshelves, sliding glass doors. Sort of a dreamy, stained glass, high-ceiling jam spot.
Nearly half of Let it Die was made up of cover songs. It’s all original material this time—except ‘Sea Lion’ is a traditional song, right?
F: The first I heard it was on some of those Harry Smith or Alan Lomax field recordings. I heard a recording of these little girls—it’s a skipping song, and then Nina Simone made it famous. She did a version of it in the 70s. Nina Simone, as she does to a lot of traditional songs, claimed to have written ‘Sea Lion’—even tough she wasn’t alive when those little girls sang it, so I don’t understand. I’ve been calling it a double cover.
And you co-wrote a song this time with Ron Sexmith, whose ‘Secret Heart’ you covered on Let it Die.
F: It was a pen pal co-write. We have yet to sit in a room and play it together. I sent some lyrics, and he wrote back and said ‘Yeah, I wrote a melody I think you’ll like for it, but I have no way to record it, so when we see each other next I’ll sing it to you.’ Six months later he came to a show in L.A. We went into the catacombs of the theater, and he played me the song. I didn’t have any way to record it, no Dictaphone, so I literally remembered what he had sung me, went into the studio and recorded what I remembered of what he had sung me. I sent it to him. Now he’s going to record it for his album, [as a] rollicking Irish drinking song. It’s really interesting, [a] very old-fashioned pony express collab.
Peaches and your solo work—put those tracks together on a mix tape, and it’d be a bit schizophrenic.
F: Well, we lived together, so I guess for us it was really natural. She can play guitar very beautifully, and her first band was an acoustic duo, two women, kind of like Kings of Convenience but girls, and more Joni Mitchell-esque, from Canada, really long curly hair. She comes from a very…it was no stretch for her to think about my songwriting and it was no stretch for me to think about hers, because I came from a punk band.
You’ve said when you’d play with Peaches you’d get off stage and not feel odd—but playing solo you do feel odd at times…
F: There’s something about the Church of Me that I get uncomfortable with—that’s a term I kind of made up: singer-songwriter, the apex of individuality and diary-entry. I love it, and what I like to listen to, and if it’s done honestly and not just stabbing yourself. If it’s done with skill, like the ingenuity of a puppet show at the turn of the century. There’s no bells and whistles, there’s no trickery, except that ingenuity of pulling a string at just the right moment—all the actual sweat and muscle of an individual knowing how to create illusion.
Speaking of another of your collaborators—I saw Gonzalez at POP Montreal. I saw the organ thing. I had no idea what it was…and I still don’t really.
F: It’s called ‘Organism.’ In Paris, [there’s] this thing called Nuit Blanche—the whole city stays up all night and all these public spaces are turned into installations and art shows. The city sets it up. Anyone who wants can do anything anywhere they want. He got the cathedral [in Montmartre]. There’s a pipe organ. It was a twelve-hour performance. His thing he really does is ‘Piano Vision,’ a solo piano show that has a camera suspended above the keyboard. It’s projecting the entire length of the stage, the entire keyboard, you see his hands playing. It’s so fascinating and really beautiful.
I feel like  was the year of solo female performers: Emily Haines, Cat Power. All these amazing, talented women.
F: I don’t really have any formulated opinion about it. I think Emily’s album is gorgeous, Cat Power’s stuff I always thought was beautiful and special—but I feel the same way about Bonnie Prince Billy and M. Ward. I’ve always had way less focus on the sex of people that make music than their voice and the way they choose to tell a story.
What about the title of the new record: The Reminder?
F: For me, a lot of these songs [have] something to do with clues or scavenger hunts or riddles, no right answer philosophical question marks in the sky. I like it when it’s not completely clear what it is you’re trying to tell yourself. Singing songs from Let it Die for the past three years, some of them would just change their face on me. I’d be in mid-phrase watching it tickertape out of my mouth—every now and then you literally see the words coming out like a typewriter, and you watch and read them as they come out, almost as if you’ve never seen them before. You have a different vantage point that night. It was always such a little heart balloon, a little gift, a little inflating heart. The Reminder is…what you will be reminded of is yet to be seen, it’s in the unseeable future, but it’s good to keep yourself in check for where you’ve already been—if you want to end up back there, if you don’t, at least leave the crumbs in the forest for yourself to get back out again. [laughs] Or something like that!
So Broken Social Scene—no more?
F: God no! We’ll be 70 and still in the band. This is the year of the Other Projects.
Apostles [Of Hustle’s] record’s done. Kevin Drew’s putting out a solo album. Jason Collete. Emily, Amy Millan put out hers. Do Make Say Think. Brendan Canning just did the soundtrack to a Bruce McDonald film. Everybody has something else! That’s why Broken’s always had the width and breadth that it’s had, that freedom knowing there’s this revolving door. Everyone’s a cameo. It would lose its spirit if it nailed anyone down. Everyone’s going to get the craving back, and then everyone’ll congregate back in the basement. Mark my words!
So why do you think—it’s kind of a joke in New York that anytime in the past two years a band comes around that’s good, they’re not only not from New York. But they’re from Canada, 9 out of 10 times. I wouldn’t even say that’s media hype—it draws more attention to it, but they’re all great bands. I think we’re getting jealous here, because we’re not putting out anything of equivalent caliber.
F: Well, anything good needs time to gestate. Could be in a couple of months New York is the new Canada.