Q&A: Feist on a Bon Iver softball rivalry, honoring Jim Henson, and Feistodon

Leslie Feist, Muppet lover
Mary Rozzi

Leslie Feist's music is expansive. For the Broken Social Scene alum whose unique alt-pop vocals garnered mainstream recognition with 2007's The Reminder and the subsequent worldwide domination of her hit single "1234," Feist holds no allegiance to a concrete formula of songwriting. After a four-year hiatus, Feist came back with Metals last October, and the brooding album eludes the fairy-light pop sounds found on her previous work.

The Canadian-born and -raised songstress has not lost her sense of humor, though. Considering her cameo in The Muppets and her collaboration with Mastodon for a unique Record Store Day release titled Feistodon, it's safe to say that the last thing to be expected from Feist is dourness. In an interview with City Pages, the singer's smile rang through in all her responses, as she talked about everything from wanting to work with Wayne Coyne to battling Bon Iver in a last-minute softball game.

City Pages: So, you're performing at the Minnesota Zoo Amphitheater. How do you feel about performing at a zoo?

Leslie Feist: I actually just found that out, and I guess I didn't know that it was right in the zoo. I hope it's not bothersome to the animals. Has anyone ever asked about that?

CP: Oh, I imagine it's fine. The theater is kind of tucked away, on the edge of the zoo, and I don't think anyone's complained so far. In fact, I think the animals will love you.

LF: [Laughs] Oh, good.

CP: Tell me about the collaboration with Mastodon for Record Store Day. What was it like working with Brent Hinds?

LF: Actually, we didn't really work together. We met at the Jools Holland show [in October 2011] and were like, "We should do something together!" And then we covered each other's songs. We literally haven't been in touch at all, and every day I kind of think, "Aww, I should write those guys and tell them how much I love it." I'm really looking forward to meeting again someday and high-fiving.

CP: You recently mentioned wanting to work with the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne. What kind of collaboration do you think would come out of that partnership?

LF: I would follow his lead, like being his musical little sister. Like when I was working with Beck and Wilco [in 2009 as part of Beck's Record Club series] — they're total innovators, and I love packing myself into their world, and I think being in that world with Wayne Coyne and his crew would just be like, hailing the seniority. It would be fun.

CP: You had a recent cameo in The Muppets film last year, and before that, you were on Sesame Street. We're speaking on the 22nd anniversary (May 16, 1990) of Jim Henson's death. Anything in particular you'd say to the creator of the Muppets were he still around today?

LF: Oh, man. I would probably be just one of those people who doesn't know what to say. I would probably just be like, "I just love you! You shaped my childhood, and created my ideals and my morals. Thank you." That's probably all I could say.

CP: If you had to name the biggest motivator in your songwriting, what would it be?

LF: That's a good one! Heavy.... [pause] I suppose that there's some motivating kind of mysterious battering power in my songs.... It's really unclear why and what triggers the need to write a song or the curiosity to, and I really love not understanding that. Every time I write a song, I'm convinced it's going to be my last. It's just this mystery. It's like being an archaeologist, like brushing sand away to see what is going to rise up. It's really not something I have control over; you can't force it, but that curiosity is the motivation.

CP: Of all the outdoor festivals this summer, is there one in particular you're really looking forward to?

LF: I'm excited to play at Red Rocks. I've never been there, and it's supposed to be one of the most beautiful outdoor amphitheaters in the world. It's a natural sort of old Greek-style amphitheater, and I'm playing there with Bon Iver, so that's exciting.

CP: Have you ever seen Justin Vernon live or played with him?

LF: Yeah! We just played together in Tucson... and then we were playing this show a few weeks ago in Marfa, Texas — this tiny town in the middle of nowhere — and Bon Iver was there. We borrowed some softball equipment from the radio station and played a crew vs. crew softball game in the evening on the high school baseball diamond. People were there with beers and snacks, some playing and not playing, and it was just this perfect "first night of summer" thing.

CP: Who won?

LF: [Laughs] Well, we quit, but we were tied 12-12. We thought it's best if no one wins.

CP: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, it's been great —

LF: [Interrupting] Oh! I also wanted to mention: One of my backup singers — Alexandra Sauser-Monnig from Mountain Man, this all-female group who were also backup singers for this record — is from Minneapolis, so this show at the Zoo will be kind of a nice homecoming one. We're excited.

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