"Unfurling her serendipidous sails of momentum"
Torontonian Leslie Feist explains treasures amid global expansion
Shibuya, Tokyo

By: Michael Lara

“Two are born to cross their paths, their lives, their hearts. If by chance one turns away are they forever lost?” Given an eternal, resonant lush life in faith by Timmons sibling-coalesced Cowboy Junkies alongside an honorary one in the opening track of their seminal ‘Lay It Down’ album in 1990, nothing has been lost to Leslie Feist on her own in crossing international highways with her Broken Social Scene brothers and sisters in helping them find their way. After duly enriching and rewarding the scouts of Fuji Rock Festival ‘07 (www.fujirockfestival.com) with her fellow trappers at the frontier borders of the Orange Court stage days before, Leslie returns to Tokyo to tell her tale of two cities and more. With 8 tales already dished out that day, ours’ is the sweet crescendo finale.

Leslie: It’s funny how the Americans have all the technical stuff (iPod with a microphone in effect). Everyone else today has been using old cassette Dictaphones and I’m like awesome!

Well, not me. This is a recent thing. I used to have an old recordable MD player, but at Fuji Rock ’01 it just died. I was stuck and shorthanded everything.

Leslie: Got really good at it real fast (chuckling)?

Well, had to. They (The Freestylers) were going where’s your recorder? And I’m like, right here (pointing to my head). Yeah, learn by doing, but a good skill to have (smiling).  So how much time do you have in Japan to enjoy?

Leslie: I have a couple days.

Right on. If you want to see old school Japan, I recommend Kamakura. It’s where the Big Buddha (Daibutsu) is and hundreds of shrines and temples.

Leslie: Whoa! Is that a neighborhood in Tokyo?

No, but it’s only an hour train ride from here. Take the JR Shonan-Shinjuku line.

Leslie: Yeah and I want to check out a ryokan (Japaneses inn) in Izu too.

Yeah, Shimoda is really good down there if you want the James Clavell ‘Shougun’ experience go check it out.

Leslie: Is that a town in Izu?

Yeah, that’s one of the spots where Commodore Perry landed and opened up Tokyo (then called Edo) to the outside.

Leslie: What’s it called again?

Kamakura (writing it out).

Leslie: Yeah, I want a village to just like, wander around in.

Shimoda is great for that. You can do that there, decompress and all that good stuff. I went there a couple years ago. You can go to a rotenburo, an outdoor hot spring either in wood or stone and just chill.

Leslie: That’s what I’m dying for. Can you write that down for me? That’s super handy. I’ve been given so many nondescript items here that I’ve been going, “Where am I? What’s going on?” That’s why I’m thinking a train ride into the countryside where no one speaks English would be good.


Leslie: This is all good, eventually you can ask me some questions if you like (big grin).  But lemme get this right, a ryokan is basically like a little guesthouse with something like 10 rooms with tatami mats and rice paper walls right?

Yeah. And they have fusimas and shoji.  Fusumas are paper only walls while Shoji are paper, wood and glass. It’s like what you see in all those movies.

Leslie: Yeah I want to live in a movie for a night (big broad smile).

Of course. Now Fuji Rock usually has hellacious weather, but we got lucky this year. When’d you get in?

Leslie: I guess we got there Friday night and I was totally jetlagged and woke up at 4am then climbed 3 hours up the mountain and it just spit a bit, which was totally awesome.  I kind of wanted that ‘cuz it was so hot. We came back to Tokyo after playing Saturday.

I was upfront watching you and you asked, “Anyone from Canada?” and they all erupted instantly.

Leslie: Yeah, I know, I was like, “What are all of you Canadians doing on this Japanese mountain? How did you get here?” I know it was totally crazy.

It was and here I have certified-organic American Spirits cigs. Are you a smoker?

Leslie: No, but the rest of the guys are.

Right on. Well, keep the pack.

Leslie: No way! They’ll be stoked. And it’s natural, so it’s gotta be better for you.

Well, anything that’s natural right?
But certified organic… What do you think for you is certified organic?

Leslie: (pondering) Oh, you mean…what products I think are organic?

You can take it wherever you want to go, but how about as far as your music or as a fan? You know, you played Ron Sexsmith the other day, whom you have collaborated with. I interviewed Nitzer Ebb last summer, I asked Douglas (McCarthy) whom he’d like to collaborate with. He replied, “Patti Smith. That’d be amazing  (with a HUGE grin).”

Leslie: Yeah. That would be. Well, certified organic would be purity un-tampered… I have this friend from New York, this guitar player called Tony Scher and he’d probably be considered that.  He’s out there. He’s made a couple of his own records. He sits in with me a lot whenever I go to New York and for years before I made any records. He would be just like, one of those musical encouragers, you know.  At the end of the day, his guitar playing is something… It’s a thing. All of my friends, any of my musical acquaintances stumps us all how to describe Tony’s vibe. So he’d probably be the guy.

But hey, what’s for you your favorite ice cream?

Leslie: Ah, it depends on the day. It depends on the weather. It depends on my mood. You gotta go fruit sometimes. And you know, that heavy, heavy sticky heat makes me a cookies and cream kind of person, but Neapolitan that’s funny ‘cuz that was my favorite as a kid (big smile).  You get those 3 stripes in the box (eyes wide open).  Remember the card box ice creams?


Leslie: And always, the pink would go away fastest. But actually that was the code word because my mom, a single mom, she said, “If ever something bad happens to me and I send someone else to school to get you, you have to have a code word so you know that they’re not lying to you. So our word was Neapolitan (eyebrows way up). And years later, I reminded her that and she said, “That never happened. No it wasn’t.” I spent my whole life remembering the word Neapolitan just in case, but she would’ve not  have remembered (chuckling).

So for right now, if you could have any flavor, what would it be?

Leslie: Right now? Maybe like Cookies N’ Cream, you know chunky cookie bits (big grin).

Are you an ice cream sandwich person too?

Leslie: Yeah, sure.

Like that old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials, do you have a certain way to eating one? Like the brownie part first?

Leslie: Nah, I just want every bite to have every bit in it.

So what’s the flavor of FEIST?

Leslie: Maybe kind of like a vanilla almond kind of thing.

Gotcha.  Well, some people say Nina Simone is a punker.

Leslie: Yeah, I could see that.

For you, who is the quintessential punk rocker?

Leslie: I guess the whole definition of punk rock is such a diluted thing at this point. We’re like at 35 years after the fact right? And I think an element was total destruction.  Self destruction and destruction of everything around you, fuck everything.  And I equate it as a positive thing ‘cuz what it is is some kind of retaining an access to your own truth, you know against odds kind of thing.  It’s now not so much about destruction. I call Peaches one of the all-timer punk rockers because what she is doing is completely honest. She’s not calculating consequences. Just doing it, not to say fuck this or fuck that, it’s just the only path to brandish the sword of truth.  Nina Simone was the same way.

Well, I want to say (bringing out a cowbell and knocking it), this year year has been…

Leslie: The year of the cowbell? That’s what you felt has been happening this year (smiling)?

Yeah, I was noticing one common thread with the acts from Thursday to Monday morning was that there was so much cowbell (both laughing).

Leslie: You know, it’s the good ‘ol time rock n’ roll vibe.

Yeah and like that famous Saturday Night Live skit with Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell, Walken says, “I got a fever and the only way it can be quenched is with more cowbell (both laughing).”  So for you, what do you want more of?

Leslie: Ah, I want more of less. You know. Actually I was just watching a video of the gig I did at Fuji, which is very rare I watch my own gigs, but I had to watch it to tell them which songs they could rebroadcast and I was looking around and thinking me and every member of my band could stand to do less.  You know, there’s a lot of space-filling going on and it’s been a major thing for me when making records to comb out the superfluous shreds of unnecessary. And I find that live, a lot of that stuff creeps back in because everyone’ concentrating on their own thing, not really listening on to the whole. So yeah, I could use more of less.

It started for you with ‘Monarch’ (her first album) right?

Leslie: (drawn out) Yah…

So, I asked Montreal’s Think About Life, if you were to play for any prime minister, who would you play for?

Leslie: (Instantly) Ah, I knew who they said. Trudeau right?

No. They said Kim Campbell.

Leslie: (Humongous burst into laughter). Wow! Oh my God, that’s awesome! That’s true. She was like Prime Minister for like 20 minutes and between a couple others.

They said for some sympathy.

Leslie: Just to lull her to sleep and make her feel better.

Yeah (both grinning). What about for you? Who is the ultimate monarch?

Leslie: Like who would I want to have in charge?

Yeah, like who would be your Royal Court so to speak?

Leslie: Ah, God, interesting… Well, I think we need Bulkava in there. I am working for the bottom way up because you need the imagination. So you have Bulkava, Toni Morrison and Louis Smith, Steinbeck hanging out as the bottom as the storytellers, like basic boundaries of the imagination of the kingdom and then you gotta work your way up to more specific minds like Machiavelli and Sontu. Maybe you’d even get, what’s the one guy’s name, ah Anthony Robbins, that motivational speaker to get some motivation in there. So here’s a method to filter all that imagination and maybe the apex of that pyramid would be… God, who would you put on the top up there? It’s gotta be someone with clarity, egoless so they can listen to their advisers, infinite patience too. It’s like, when you don’t know who it is, it’s the Wizard of Oz.  It’s just this grand power. It would have to be someone. It would have to be some figurehead.

Of course, like in Horseshoe Tavern (back in Toronto), there’s always an interesting banter between the bartender and customers, so who in this Royal Court would tend bar?

Leslie: Ah, the bartender… You’d have to have Keith Richards tending bar. The pirate spirit, the rocker, he knows his drinks and he is a bit irreverent: Doesn’t really give a shit if he gives you the wrong one. Now that’s conducive to a good party spirit. It’s just like take what you can get.

What about this album ‘The Reminder,’ takes this as a complement, but I thought of Burt Bacharach’s “There’s always something there to remind me.”  But what for you is something to remind you?

Leslie: Post-It notes (chuckling)! I have the world’s worst memory. Maybe that’s why I call it ‘The Reminder’ because for me I try to leave little sand traps and booby traps and scavenger hunt clues. I’m always setting clues for myself.  I often feel that living my own life is like reading a storyline that has already been written out and all of a sudden, I will just realize a page has been ripped out and I have lost the plot completely and it’s like when those little reminders come in. I’m constantly having to leave little triggers. I do that to myself. Songs are that. That’s what songs are.






All opinions expressed by Michael Lara are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.



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