The crisis that made Feist go quiet
Feist had something of a crisis a few years ago.
After spending much of her life following the cycle of writing, recording and touring – and eventually doing so to enormous acclaim and the occasional burst of commercial success – she found herself in a rut.
"Enough time has passed where you've watched a repetition of certain experiences that, every time through your 20s you say, 'This is unique'. At some point they kind of collate and add up to what you begin to finally recognise as a repetition. You're in a rut," she told Double J's Myf Warhurst.
I felt like I was locked into this way that things were gonna be forever.Feist — Double J
“There's something about that and not really knowing where it came from. Feeling like 'Well now I'm locked in to this way my mind works. This attitude that I approach life with.'
"I think at some point I felt a bit of helplessness that I hadn't authored that new place that I was now gonna live forever. I felt like I was locked into this way that things were gonna be forever.”
And Feist didn’t want to shy away from it. She wanted this feeling of uncertainty and of discomfort to come across in her songs.
“I knew going into making the record that I didn't want to embellish it with any romanticisation,” she said.
“I didn't want it to be an easy, comfortable place. I knew there shouldn't be sweeping romantic strings and harps... even the bombast of horns is too certain.
“If I were a painter I would have painted about that feeling. If I were a filmmaker maybe I would have tried to make film about it. The fact that I wrote songs around that state of mind was just by virtue that that's what I've always done since I was a kid, I write songs.”
Writing from this very dark and very personal place meant that Feist was able to distance herself from her audience and critics. When she wrote, she wrote for herself.
“The thought of it coming out was really far from my mind,” she said. “I was writing it totally facing inward on the whole experience. I didn't know and certainly wasn't interested in thinking about whether or not they would have merit outside of me, because i was so focused on what was going on inside of me.”
Which gave her time to become philosophical about her position. Not just at that point in time, but in the abstract. A trip to Ireland, and the shock discovery that part of her family had originated there, helped generate some ideas about life and the choices we make that inform not only our own, but those of the people who come after us.
“I did start to think about the decisions I was being forced to make for my own wellbeing,” she said. “How is my life gonna look? What's the next step? What am I supposed to do here?
“Just before that I had been to Ireland for the first time, where I learned about my great-grandfather – I had never known that I had Irish blood at all, it's just one of the eight pieces of the puzzle of the great grandparents that led to me - I learned his name and I learned what day he left and a bit about his story.
“It made me realise, there's just droves of people that made all of us. And all of their decisions that were, to them, subjective decisions – where they're just trying to figure out what they're supposed to do next to escape a famine or escape a war or genocide or even just want a better future for their kids – whatever the thing is that caused them to make their next steps to have their lives unfold the way they did, that's why we're here.
"That's what we're all doing here. Each of those decisions they were moving towards something better for themselves and their own unique life, it added up to you and it added up to me.
“I started to think about these ideas and it lifted me a bit out of my own myopic obsession with my own life and made me feel a part of something. The song 'Pleasure' was an extension of that. Sort of putting all of our subjective decisions in this larger context of this march of time.”
That crisis Feist felt when started making the record is now over. She’s relishing making music and performing more than ever. It just took a while.
“I was looking to be compelled back into caring as much as I did when I was 16 about playing,” she said. “It was all there was when I was 16. I was just looking for my way back in, and I found it. I mean, I feel at home inside of it all again. I just needed to take a minute.”
Pleasure is out now.
Feist plays the following Australian shows this November:
Tuesday 28 November – The Tivoli, Brisbane
Friday 1 December – Forum Theatre, Melbourne
Sunday 3 December – Sydney Opera House Concert Hall