With ‘Metals,’ Feist Lets Go of Everything She Learned from ‘The Reminder’

I thought I might do this while taking a bubble bath,” says Leslie Feist after inviting me into her room at the Lafayette House, a gas light-era hotel in New York’s East Village. Dressed in a cream-colored skirt and sweater with a braided belt dangling from her hip, the petite musician has apparently changed her mind, instead sitting on a couch next to a set of French doors opening onto a garden. Like her music, Feist appears both crafted and casual. Her pale blue eyes shift mercurially and are capable of registering stillness, shyness, and robust laughter within seconds. “Have you been to Maryam Nassir Zadeh?” she asks of the New York boutique. “She carries crazy, beautiful sweaters that I live in. Getting on a long flight with one of her sweaters is the best.”

Finding comfort in unlikely places is one of Feist’s regular preoccupations; her itinerant lifestyle has seen the 35-year-old Canadian singer move between locales with the kind of frequency usually reserved for dry, wind-borne plants. While she’s finally put down stakes in the Toronto area with “a place in the woods” and “several little apartments in the city” (the response to her call in “Mushaboom” for an idyllic home), she’s about to begin yet another tour in support of her new album, Metals. Her need for “very few things” serves her well. As she avers in the single “How Come You Never Go There,” physical objects don’t enrich her internal life. “The room’s full but hearts are empty,” she sings, “Like the letters never sent me.”

It’s been four years since Feist put out her last studio album, The Reminder, an outstanding effort for which she picked up four Grammy nominations, an iPod commercial, and an appearance on Sesame Street in which she teaches kids to count to four. It took time to quell the urge to respond to The Reminder, especially given its success. “It would have been like bouncing from one trampoline to the next,” says Feist, who started her first band, a punk outfit, at the age of 15. “I took the time off I needed.” After a year and a half, following her last tour, she felt a “healthy void” and a “familiar silence” that let her shed all remaining traces of that album’s success. “It was truly a new chapter.”

Metals bears Feist’s hallmark talent for arrangements, as well as her emotional, ambiguous lyrics. Yet it’s a dark and melancholic departure from The Reminder, the pop hooks of which rendered that album a favorite for remixes by the likes of the Postal Service, Bon Iver, and Chromeo. Luckily for Feist, her longtime collaborators, musicians Chilly Gonzales and Mocky, understood that she’s no one-trick pony, that The Reminder was just a taste of her musical potential. image

“I brought them some new songs that had nothing to do with anything I’d done previously,” she says. Perhaps it was all those long winter evenings sitting in on sessions of shape note singing by local choirs, a tradition Feist says was brought over by Mayflower-era pilgrims. “It’s a bit fire and brimstone,” she says, smiling. Because of their long-standing “musical brotherhood,” Gonzales and Mocky were able to work with Feist’s needs, which, in this case, called for arranging the music beside a wood stove in a cabin, then jetting to the cliffs of Big Sur, where they holed up on a 350-acre heritage farm with the other members of the band, including keyboardist Brian LeBarton and percussionist Dean Stone. The “calm-pound,” as she describes it, also included a friend who worked at Brooklyn diner Marlow & Sons, and who prepared them meals and confections like fresh goat milk and lavender ice cream.

While The Reminder had a lot of “clean lines” and “stacks of vocals” interlaced above its rhythms like a “sonic loom,” in Metals, rhythm acts as a central core around which the melodies spin. “Boom, kaboom boom, kaboom, boom,” Feist interjects, lifting her hand and moving it rhythmically in a characteristically colorful audio and visual demonstration. “That’s the pulse that yanks the melodies down into it. It’s a lot more like a dust storm.” Another unexpected quality that came from recording the album live was catching the odd sounds produced in the room, which Feist was reluctant to clean up. “I loved hearing this sonic pressure,” she says. “It needed to happen. Cleaning up these songs would have been like giving them the wrong haircut.”

In a 2007 article, Gonzales told The New York Times, “I had 100 percent in my mind the idea that we should have as much material as possible that could be played on the radio or resonate with a huge bunch of people.” In retrospect, Feist says it’s funny to hear his comments about The Reminder given its subsequent success, since there was no way they could have planned for what happened.

This time around, if Feist played editor of Metals, Gonzales provided the rigor and drive that structured her creative flowerings. “Gonzo wears an Anthony Robbins set of glasses,” she says, referring to the famed life-coach guru. “He triangulates everything in the world as it relates to ambition. He has a real fascination with human motivation. He speaks of these things in Rocky-like terms.”

Feist fans expect a lot. While her first two albums were well-received, it was The Reminder that had crowds breaking into impromptu chants of “I Feel It All” at a concert in Mexico City, where she played with Broken Social Scene, a band of which she’s a sometime member. Says Gonzales, “On this album, Feist was emboldened by The Reminder’s big reach to jump even further. It’s a less conventional sound, so I admire her for using her bully pulpit to take even bigger musical risks.”

Our coffee arrives and Feist opens a cylindrical pack of sugar and sprinkles it gingerly a few times over her cup. “This is absurd,” she says, “but I like 20 grains of sugar. It just takes that tiny acrid edge off.” She tastes it, judging its edginess, and says, “That might be more like 30 grains.”


Photography by Mary Rozzi

Industry Insiders: Patrick Grant, Tailor Made Brit

Patrick Grant is the dapper proprietor of bespoke tailors, Norton & Sons on Savile Row in London. In 2008 alone, he landed on both the UK Esquire and GQ magazines’ best dressed lists. Suffice to say he knows what looks smart, not only on himself, but to his legion of natty clientele at Norton & Sons who seek perfectly tailored suits. Since 1821, the shop has created garments for likes of royalty and beyond, with Grant taking over the reigns in 2005 and also spearheading a resurgence of E. Tauz & Sons, a cousin-label, yet for the ready-to-wear set. E. Tauz & Sons is set to debut this autumn within stores in London and Japan. Blackbook caught up with Grant over morning coffee in New York City at the Thompson LES Hotel.

Why are you in New York City right now? Three times a year we do this trip with Norton & Sons where we take appointments with our private clients based in the United States. We take the top floor suite at Lafayette House on East 4th Street.

Who from Norton & Sons typically comes with you across the pond on these trips? My head cutter, David Ward. He actually started his career on Savile Row at Norton & Sons, then left and came back about a year and a half ago. He’s great, and for a head cutter, he’s very young with a fantastic eye.

What does a head cutter do? The cutter is the architect of the suit who is ultimately responsible for its look, shape and fit. The cutter is also responsible for the quality of the tailoring, and all of the tailors work underneath the head cutter. He’s also the man who measures you and cuts the pattern in which your suits are made. David will cut all the jacket patterns and he has an under-cutter below him, or an apprentice. His name is Alex. David cuts the pattern, Alex then lays that paper pattern on the cloth, cuts it out and then the coat maker sews the jacket and the trouser maker sews the trousers. They sew them together very loosely, which they call a base so it can be altered on the client. David cuts something that is very harmonious with each individual person’s proportions and shape, so they look good.

What’s your role at Norton & Sons? Aside from representing and owning the shop, I would be the person you would meet if you came through the front door at Norton & Sons on Savile Row. I am responsible for selling you the cloth. My ongoing responsibility with the client is the delivery of smooth service. Ultimately, I’m dealing with the customer and making sure that what they ask for gets made.

There must be a vast selection of cloth? In the shop we probably have in excess of 8000 cloths. From six and a half ounce very very light weight wools up to 32 ounce Cavalry Twill. My job is to know all of these cloths and help my clients choose something appropriate for their summer suits, winter suits, spring suits and also structure their wardrobe. We will help clients assemble everything; not only suits. All of their casual clothes, weekend clothes, suits of course, shirts, jackets, ties.

How about knickers? We actually get those requests. Some people just know what they want. We are here to help our customers and provide a service, whatever the request may be. One client sent me a DVD of a James Bond film and the client said, ‘Fast forward to this particular scene. I want the suit Daniel Craig is wearing.’ We often get asked to recreate the suits worn in the film North By Northwest.

Wasn’t Alfred Hitchcock a client? Yes he was, a long time ago. John Kent, who is now 62, was our head cutter until a couple of years ago. Alfred Hitchcock was one of John’s first clients.

You’re very discreet about your clients. Who are some of your notable clients you can share? We’re happy to talk about the people we’ve worked with, like Giles Deacon, Christopher Kane, Rag & Bone, Richard Nichol, but we prefer to keep our private customers private.

How are things on the business side? We had a fantastic year last year and this year is even better. We’re taking on more staff and expanded our workshop because hired four more tailors. We’re finding that good tailors want to work for us and because the house is doing well, David is such a well respected cutter and everyone is seeing a really high standard of garment coming out of the shop. Good tailors want to work for good cutters. Plus, of course, our ready to wear collection, E. Tauz & Sons, which is just about to hit stores.

Where do you shop in New York? Bergdorf Goodman is such an amazing shop and I check out Barney’s to see what they have in and see what New York menswear is doing. I also like to just walk up Madison Avenue and see all the shops uptown as well.

Any favorite restaurants? I’ll either go to Balthazar or Gemma at The Bowery Hotel, have a really nice breakfast and read the papers. I’m pretty boring when I come here, however that may change again in the future. I really do try to stay up past ten at night, but it just doesn’t happen too often anymore!

Straight Up: Sean MacPherson

pf_main_seanmcph.jpg Sean MacPherson and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore must use the same beauty treatment. Both have the gangly strides and the “dude” demeanor of a Valley teenager, and the energy of a golden retriever. “It’s taxidermy,” says MacPherson, who we caught up with while he galloped on a treadmill in Manhattan. “I’m pickled in alcohol.”

The bi-coastal MacPherson, 42, fresh off the success of the West Village’s Waverly Inn—which he co-owns with longtime business partner Eric Goode—recently opened Bar Lubitsch in Hollywood, a Russian-themed vodka emporium. The Mao-red space has already become the hot ticket for a subtly-chic tribe of Angelenos who aren’t looking for a trendy, micro-mini-wearing set, but are looking for a sophisticated outpost to chill in (with 200 vodkas behind the bar). No surprise that his partner, Jared Meisler, managed cool-and-collected Bar Marmont when MacPherson owned that hot property too. In Los Angeles, MacPherson still presides over the enduring Swingers, the Mexican cantina El Carmen, and the accommodating Jones. In New York, he co-owns The Park, the Maritime Hotel, and together with Goode, he’s just opened two new boutique hotels, the posh former brothel Lafayette House (where Ross Bleckner and Julian Schnabel have been doing time), as well as the antiques-crammed, architectural salvage outpost that is the 135-room Bowery Hotel.

Growing up “between Malibu and Mexico,” MacPherson may have picked up a little of both place’s laissez-faire vibes. “I’ve worked my whole life,” he says, “but I’ve never had a job.”