With Feist set to release her latest album Multitudes, Uncut sits down for a Q&A session with the Canadian singer-songwriter. Read the full feature in the MAY 2023 issue of Uncut.
Your daughter’s birth and your father’s passing clearly had a profound effect on your life in countless respects. What was it like coming back to making music?
Songwriting felt simultaneously superfluous but also necessary. The times were so tight, with a new infant in my arms and lockdown all around us. The idea that music would be shared or a communal experience again felt very faint, so writing became an even more inward-facing task – it gave me somewhere to go with my mind when I couldn’t go anywhere with my body. It was a relief to focus on something ephemeral, maybe a bit escapist. The paradox in speaking about my dad is that my dad was an extremely private person. All I can really say about losing him is that writing songs also felt like a way to continue our conversations, which were always searching and curious and filled with laymen’s metaphysics, history and family lore. My dad was a painter and had a primary and private vocabulary he continued to develop until the day he died – when paintings were still drying on the floor, so to speak. To look for him in my own practice was to find only myself, and in that way force my heart to grow a few sizes. Love gained and love lost is an imperfect equation and only adds up to a million more questions no-one will ever be able to answer. But it gave me a heightened sense of gratitude.
What did you learn about what the songs needed via the Multitudes live performances in 2021 and 2022?
Well, the fact that we played those shows twice a night served the idea that the show was a workshop or incubator for new material. When we first conceived of filling this void caused by the pandemic, to use these massive theatres in a way they were never intended for, I got the chance to try anything I wanted. So the songs were being sanded and sanded until they felt like they’d hold water, and while they were so open to change, so was I. The container of the show was meant to make an old thing feel fresh again, the way the audience and I have related over all these years, with maybe a secret goal to lean myself way in and make room for them too. That ultra-closeness and feeling of emotional proximity had a lot to do with the songs becoming what they did.
What were the challenges when it came time to record them?
I’d say my main ethos going into recording – which was a train of thought I was following in the lyric-writing as well – was to try to cause myself to be as unobscured as I could. I wanted to shake the soft lens or beguilement of reverb, the pressure of signal noise, to close the gap between the causality of the self and the projected sense of self. It was about maybe letting the question of what life owes to art and vice versa be answered by just not hiding in production or metaphor. The production just followed those thoughts. Robbie heard me and understood that to the degree that he found a way to record my voice and guitar, which I wanted to do live but I’m not sure has been done quite that way before. It was exciting and clear and gave me a kind of vertigo. And Mocky really safeguarded the idea that we begin with me solo and build from there.
One of the most striking aspects is the variety of your own vocals – did the new songs necessitate a new way of using your voice, too?
I wrote these songs alone in a little converted shed next to my house and all I had was a digital eight-track and a nylon-string guitar. I worked hard on having the guitar push a lot of music and then fleshed out chords my hands didn’t quite know how to expand by singing big stacks of harmonies. So the amount of voices were there from the start, and also knowing we were building our show in surround sound gave me the chance to think of how these groups of singers could move, travel, carry an idea in one ear and out the other. I wanted them to ascend or evoke distance or be the feeling of many people raising their voices as one. So the voices were essentially another instrument.
Do you think there’s a more hopeful feeling to Multitudes than Pleasure or Metals had? It feels less hermetic, more engaged with the world.
I’d like to think that, so I’m glad if you do. The flipside to a crucible of life and death being revealed is that time materialises, concretises. For better or for worse, it becomes clear this is a finite experiment and I’d like to engage in it more fully, more mindfully. I’d like to be conscious that what each of us puts out into the world has consequences and I’d like to feel hope and love and to champion my own early attempts to become an optimist. It may also be that nurturing a new little person showed me how little I’ve taken care of myself over the years. We could all use a hand but wouldn’t it be something if we learned to provide ourselves the baseline of softness and a kind ear to our interior monologues? That way, we all have a little extra warmth to hand over when someone needs it, rather than looking outside of ourselves for solutions.
Feist’s Multitudes is out on April 14 via Polydor Records