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Canadian singer Feist's success has been as easy as ‘1234'

Thor Christensen
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

Feist

The Reminder

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2007-05-01
UK Release Date: 2007-04-23
Amazon
iTunes

"Oh my God," says Feist. "No! I'm not getting up there. I won't fit!"

The singer is trying to do an interview via cell phone, but she's also busy playing cram-the-band-into-a-taxi so she can get to that night's show in Detroit.

"There's four of us wedged into the back seat and everyone's talking within one centimeter of me," she says, apologizing. "I'm just a little distracted."

Welcome to the frenzied world of Feist.

Since September, when "1234" showed up in TV ads for the iPod Nano, she's gone from obscure singer-songwriter to hipster sensation. The Reminder has sold more than 1 million copies worldwide, earned her four Grammy nods and won the admiration of Barack Obama, who asked her for her autograph.

Where did she meet the possible future U.S. president?

"Just hanging out at Denny's," she deadpans. "No, we were backstage at `Saturday Night Live,' and he asked me for my autograph, so I asked him for his."

It's no big deal, really. As a Canadian, she can't vote for Obama anyway.

Born in 1976 in Nova Scotia, Leslie Feist moved as a child to Calgary, where she sang in various teen punk bands and once opened for the Ramones.

Later she moved to Toronto, shared an apartment with sex-obsessed cult diva Peaches, and joined the indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene. In 2004, she released her first proper solo album, "Let It Die."

But that electronic-tinged CD only hinted at the kaleidoscope approach of "The Reminder": One of 2007's best albums, it journeys all over the map from torch jazz to folk-funk to intricate chamber pop.

"Let It Die was a perfect vacuum-packed studio record," she says. "But with "The Reminder," the songs were allowed to breathe and find their own charm."

The one tune that wound up charming everyone was "1234," a tale of lost love and hope that was written by Australian singer Sally Seltmann.

Feist added new lyrics and fleshed out the nursery rhyme refrain with banjos, trumpets and strings. From the moment the iPod ad aired, the song spread like a virus, hitting the top 10 and winning a Grammy for female pop vocal performance.

The reaction surprised Feist as much as anyone.

"It's hard to pinpoint why so many people responded to it," she says. "I'm the least qualified to explain it."

Today, she's got mixed feelings about the song that made her a star.

"'1234' is a bit of a double-edged sword. It brings people's attention to you, but all they know is that one thing," she says.

"It can be a little frustrating. But you can't look a gift horse in the mouth: We're on tour and people come to see what we do."

On the road, she performs with help from Clea Miniker, a shadow puppeteer whose work is projected above the band as they play. But this isn't Feist's first brush with puppetry.

She used to rap while doing a sock-puppet routine in Peaches' show. And now, if her career gets too hectic, she'll unveil her master puppet backup plan.

"I could franchise myself as a puppet version," she says, laughing.

"I'll let the puppet do the talking. I'll let the puppet go out on the limb."

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