Leslie Feist, the Canadian singer and guitarist who plays under her nom de rock, Feist, would seem to be a thoroughly modern pop star.
Her song “Mushaboom,” the standout among the original compositions on her sterling 2004 album, Let It Die, can be heard in television commercials for Lacoste cologne. “My Moon My Man,” the bouncy ditty from this year’s elegantly simple The Reminder, is used in Verizon ads for the LG Chocolate mobile phone.
And her visibility is about to increase dramatically, thanks to the campaign for Apple’s new iPod nano, which features the indie-music crush-object bopping along Busby Berkeley-style in the video to her song “1 2 3 4.”
Feist’s stylishness has made her music an ideal soundtrack for the selling of cool in the digital age (though she turned down an offer from McDonald’s to license “Mushaboom”).
But she still looks at the world with what she calls “my analog mind.”
“Making records has always made sense to me,” says Feist, 31, on the phone from New York before another recent TV appearance, this one on “Late Show With David Letterman.” “And making videos with my friends. And making artwork with my friends. It’s tactile. It’s hands on, and I can understand it.”
What she doesn’t understand, Feist says, is the Internet. And that’s why when you Google her, and wind up on www.listentofeist.com, a dazzling multimedia experience doesn’t await you. Instead, you get a reproduction of a handwritten note from Feist explaining that she took the site down because “I couldn’t recognize myself in it.”
“I know when something looks cool,” says the Toronto- and Paris-based singer who, in addition to her solo career, is a member of the Canuck collective Broken Social Scene, and goes out with one of its leaders, Kevin Drew.
“But when it comes to how to do that on the Web site, I don’t have a fricking clue. Every four months, I would hold my breath and grit my teeth to see what (the Web site) looks like, and it would just break my heart, and really look like a corporation, and have no life in it. Which is really opposite of my intention of why I’m doing this.
“And then someone told me how many people were going there every day, and it was tons of people! That’s the doorway where people do their first investigative goofing around and curiosity quenching. And it was just not that place.”
Feist doesn’t intend to be a woman without a Web site forever, and you can still access the essentials on her MySpace page. She now has a Webmaster who works for the Brooklyn indie band Grizzly Bear and who’s working for her on creating “something that’ll be a little more low-fi, a little more me.”
Of course, it’s Feist’s “low-fi”-ness, her “analog mind,” that makes her so appealing to ad men—not to mention music-programming coffee-shop baristas—who are looking for a chic, soulfully human sound.
That inviting elan suffused “Let It Die,” a piano-based set that mixed understated disco moves with delicate balladry, like her gorgeous rendering of Ron Sexsmith’s “Secret Heart.”
Both that album, which won her a European audience before she had an American one and occasioned her move to France, and “The Reminder” were produced by Gonzales, the cohort of Feist’s old roommate in Toronto, the electro-rock singer Peaches.
(Before she became known as a solo artist, Feist toured with Peaches under the name Bitch Lap Lap, holding a sock puppet and rapping in Spanish. And before that, she toured Canada as the teenage lead singer of a punk-rock band called Placebo.)
“The Reminder,” which was recorded last year in a mansion outside Paris, is a more cohesive piece of work than “Let It Die,” and uses Feist’s guitar as its foundation rather than the piano. But like “Let It Die,” it includes a cover of a traditional song that the singer originally heard on the Harry Smith-compiled “Anthology of American Folk Music.”
On “Let It Die,” it was the spare, spooky, schoolyard rope-skipping song “When I Was a Young Girl.” On The Reminder, it’s “Sea Lion Woman,” a song popularized by Nina Simone in the `60s, which Feist kicks into high gear with a gnarly guitar break.
“I love those kind of homegrown melodies, from this era of people sitting around singing and listening to music in their homes, which has now been completely flipped,” she says. “Music is now an isolating experience—in a great way. You have your iPod and your really good headphones, and you go into your music, voyage into your own choice.
“So to me, all these folk songs felt like vestiges from the past, like a raft floating across the ocean and washing up on the shore,” she says. “What land did this possibly get sent from? I like bringing those marooned melodies into a new context, because the melodies are so pure and they’ve usually got enough rhythm in them that you already hear a full song. I think I’m going to do one of those with every record I make until the day I die.”