Singer Leslie Feist began her career in music as a teenager punk rock player in the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In her twenties, after relocating to Toronto, Feist broke free from her roles of indie rock guitarist and performance artist sidekick and went on to have a top 30 pop record in France. From a young punk to a worldly chanteuse, by the time Feist released her second album, Let It Die, the international press began catching on to her gifts. Canada's national entertainment magazine Exclaim boasted of her matured sound: "The self-assured stage presence, the laissezfaire good looks, and that unbelievable voice all make Feist seem larger than life …"
Born on the East Coast of Canada in chilly Nova Scotia, Feist grew up in Calgary, Alberta, where she sported a purple mohawk as a teenager. In high school, she was asked to sing in an all-girl punk band called Placebo and after winning a battle of the bands contest, Placebo played their first real show opening for the Ramones in 1991. Placebo toured across Canada for five years until Feist lost her voice.
Feist's vocal chords were so strained that in 1995, she sublet her house in Calgary and went to spend three months in Toronto to work with a doctor who specialized in vocal chord injuries. The doctor told her not to sing for six months. The vibrant city set something a fire in Feist and she decided to take up permanent residence there. Because she wasn't supposed to sing in the manner she was used to, she spent six months in her basement apartment with a four-track recorder and her guitar. She taught herself to sing and play in an entirely different manner than she had been accustomed to in the punk band. "It felt like an exciting self-project to not speak. I wrote a lot of letters, bought a guitar and a four-track [recorder] … I would have never approached singing in a quiet, melodic way when I was with [Placebo]. Once you're by yourself, you realize singing monotone won't cut it," Feist told Krissy Teegerstrom of Venus.
Immersing herself in Toronto's music scene, Feist played bass briefly for Noah's Arkweld and logged some time with the bands Bodega and Royal City. In the meantime, Feist had quietly recorded a solo album. Before it was released however, she was asked to play guitar on tour for indie rock band By Divine Right. Feist spent almost a year on the road with the band; six months of which was spent opening for The Tragically Hip to crowds of up to 40,000.
Her debut record, released under the moniker of only her last name, Monarch (Lay Down Your Jeweled Head), came out while she was on the road, and when she returned, she began to book solo shows in Toronto. The video for the album's coy and catchy song "It's Cool To Love Your Family" got moderate airplay on MuchMusic, Canada's music video channel. Monarch was a bouncy pop affair with help from some of Toronto's best independent musicians.
In 2000, Feist lived in a Toronto house with other musicians including Chilly Gonzales (real name Jason Beck) and Peaches. As part of the emerging electroclash scene, Peaches recorded her raunchy cultclassic album Teaches of Peaches, on which Feist contributed some vocals. For Peaches's part performance art, part rap, part electronic music shows, Feist dressed up in aerobics outfits, often rapped in Spanish, and even donned a sock puppet. Feist even went on tour overseas with Peaches as her sidekick Bitch Lap-Lap.
Feist also sang on Gonzalez's European album Uber Alles in 2000 and after he relocated to Germany, she toured with him across Europe. Feist described these shows to Fader magazine as: "a modern vaudeville duo with costumes and dances and skits and freakouts and surprises and magic tricks."
Back in the cold winter in Toronto in 2001, Feist and a few of her friends collaborated on a musical project that would be called Broken Social Scene. In between touring with Gonzales in 2001, Feist added her vocals to the band's 2002 album You Forgot It In People and began to tour North America with the band. The record went on to win a Canadian Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year in 2003.
After returning to Europe to work with Gonzales, Feist and her friend began to write and record some of her old demos for what Feist hoped could be a new solo album. She moved to Paris and co-wrote songs with Gonzales, which was a first for Feist. "I just sort of changed the way I thought about writing and my own problems I was writing about. I supposed it was just a method to put the sweet back in the bitter, so you wouldn't just have a bad taste in your mouth," Feist told Fader.
The resulting collection of new songs had a much sultrier and darker tone than Monarch. They were the songs of someone who had a broken heart and one who had done some serious breaking herself. With help from Gonzales and Renaud Lang, collectively known as the production team VV, Feist's sophomore album Let It Die was released in May of 2004. Out in Canada on Broken Social Scene's label Arts & Crafts and in France by major label Universal Music France, Let it Die quickly earned Feist the best praise of her career. Toronto's Now magazine described her new sound as: "A mix of smoky Euro cabaret jazz, saloon piano, Latin shuffle and sultry blue-eyed soul that shows off the power of Feist's new found vocal restraint."
Recorded in Paris, Let It Die was a split of gripping original songs and awe-inspiring covers. New versions of a Ron Sexsmith song, a Bee Gee's disco ballad, and even two jazz-era standards were re-worked with Feist's breathtaking vocals. Eye magazine heralded Feist's fresh way of singing and called Let It Die: "… A stroke of genius. Feist's crystalline voice shimmers over a sea of handclaps and horns."
While living in France, Feist became somewhat of a celebrity. She was the only Anglophile signed to Universal Music France and the label couldn't have been happier when Let It Die went gold and became a top 30 record, selling over 85,000 copies. The video for "Mushaboom" aired regularly on French TV and the follow up single, "One Evening," faired well in both France and Canada, where Feist was quickly becoming the next big thing in independent music. In July of 2004, Feist appeared on two tracks on the Norwegian duo Kings of Convenience album Riot on An Empty Street, one of which she co-wrote. Subsequent tours with Kings of Convenience, Montreal pop band Stars, and much-buzzed about appearances at the annual South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, filled up Feist's schedule in late 2004 and early 2005. All of her hard work was appreciated in April when Feist received two Juno Awards from her native country of Canada for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Album.
For the Record …
Born Leslie Feist on February 13, 1976, in Nova Scotia, Canada; raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Toured Canada in teenage punk band Placebo; moved to Toronto, 1995, played guitar for By Divine Right, 1999; released solo debut Monarch 1999; toured with Peaches, 2000; joined Broken Social Scene, performed on their album, You Forgot It In People, 2002; moved to Paris, 2003; released Let It Die in Canada and France, 2004; released Let It Die in the United States, 2005; won two Juno Awards, 2005.
Awards: Juno Awards, New Artist of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year for Let It Die, 2005.
Addresses: Record companies—Cherry Tree, 2220 Colorado, Santa Monica, CA 90404, website: http://www.cherrytreerecords.com; Arts & Crafts, 3110 American Dr., Mississauga, ON, Canada L4V 1T2, website: http://www.arts-crafts.ca. Website—Feist Official Website: http://www.listentofeist.com.
While Feist's profile was increasing in Canada and Europe, little was heard of her in the States until she struck a deal with a new Interscope imprint called Cherry Tree. Let It Die saw its American debut in May of 2005. A different picture graced the record cover in the States; a close up polaroid of Feist and a former lover, it was an apt snapshot of the album's emotional context. High-profile magazines like Entertainment Weekly and Spin quickly jumped on the Feist festivities. "To say Feist's voice is sultry would be an understatement: her alto is packed with layers of sensitivity and sensuality, and each song off of Let It Die shows a slightly different face of her emotional range," Spin wrote. To jumpstart her introduction to the United States as a solo artist, Feist toured in the spring of 2005 with British Sea Power and in the fall of 2005 with the Great Lake Swimmers.
Monarch (Lay Down Your Jeweled Head), Bobby Dazzler, 1999.
(With Broken Social Scene) You Forgot It in People, Arts & Crafts, 2002.
Let It Die, Arts & Crafts, 2004; reissued Cherry Tree/Interscope, 2005.
Exclaim (Canada), April 30, 2004.
Eye (Toronto), June 10, 2004/ August 19, 1999.
Fader, November 2004.
Now (Toronto), May 13, 2004.
Spin, http://www.spin.com (May 21, 2005).
Venus, http://www.venuszine.com/stories/music/1240 (May 21, 2005).
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