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Interview: Feist on her 'Pleasure' album + upcoming debut headline New Zealand show.

Interview: Feist on her 'Pleasure' album + upcoming debut headline New Zealand show.

Leslie Feist is unparalleled when it comes to humanising thorny feelings in song-form, and on her latest album 'Pleasure' she unravels threads of human emotions, tugging on themes of disconnect, loneliness, rejection, and other driving forces behind "escaping pain and going towards pleasure", all in the name of exploring emotional limits.

And this coming November 25th, Feist is set to bring her soul-searching ideology to the Powerstation in Auckland, with a promise to perform her 'Pleasure' album from beginning to end, as well as a very near perfect back-catalogue setlist.

Coup De Main caught up with Leslie Feist recently to discuss her Pleasure Studies questionnaire, true love, and changing your instincts...

...if someone were to prioritise you above anything else that could have dazzle and could have a sparkle to it, then that would be the ultimate.

COUP DE MAIN: Last time you were in New Zealand was for Laneway Festival 2012, and I have an incredibly fond memory of you playing air-guitar and pretending to lip-sync during 'How Come You Never Go There’ because the sound cut out on your microphone and guitar. Do you plan on presenting us with an equally as unique set this coming November?
<chuckles> I hope not! I remember that - there had been sound problems and somehow all of the power cut to half of the stage and I just needed to buy myself three minutes while they solved the problem. So! I hope that there will be something unique, but without me having to dodge a bullet like that. <laughs> But I'm glad you remember it fondly.

CDM: I’m looking forward to you playing your 'Pleasure' album from beginning to end at your upcoming NZ show. Why did you decide that this tour’s setlist would run through the entirety of 'Pleasure' before any of your back-catalogue?
Because it's where I'm at right now. It's what I'm engaged with, it's what I care about, it's what I'm interested in. And it just felt that if an album is called 'Pleasure', shouldn't the experience be a pleasure for me? <laughs> So I'm doing what I want!

CDM: Back in 2007, you first sung "I know more than I knew before," and then "I don't know what I knew before" in 'I Feel It All'. A decade on now in 2017, do you feel like you know more or less than you did back then?
Oh! Good question. I think that it goes without saying, I've probably collected a few more clues to this puzzle that we're in here, called life, and I say that with a total grain of salt. I probably know less, in the sense that I don't have quite as much naivety, and naivety can make you believe that you know everything. But I know more, in the sense that I've lived longer and I've gotten tired of tricking myself, so I'm much more interested in the stark truth than I used to be.

CDM: Your five albums all feel like really vivid time capsules of you at different points in your life from the nineties to 2016. In retrospect, do your five albums feel like pieces of a Leslie Feist puzzle that fit together? Or like past lives that you’ve slipped out of the skin of, with each new record?
Maybe a little of each... That's a good way to present both of those situations. I have a real relationship with each of those albums, but the person that I was when I made each of those albums is a little bit more hard for me to remember and communicate with. So in that sense, there are chapters that are gone and I don't really have a hearing for anymore, but also those pieces of the puzzle meant a lot to me, so I guess both of those things are true.

CDM: I was really excited when I found out I’d get to talk to you today, because there’s a question in your Pleasure Studies questionnaire that I’ve been dying to know your own answer to. So please answer for me this: "Describe a beautiful memory that has never happened to you."
<chuckles> Ahhh that's so nice! That's so funny; I haven't answered the questionnaire. Isn't that funny?! This will be the first time.
CDM: Leslie!!
I know! I just thought of questions that would lead people's minds positively, you know? But, the best memory that's never happened to me? Well... I went to Bhutan and the government assigned me this beautiful local woman to be my guide, and she took me up to the top of this mountain where there was this temple that had hot springs in it and we climbed up in the middle of the night in pitch black darkness and she guided us perfectly so that we arrived at the hot springs just as the sun rose on top of the mountains in The Himalayas. There you go! That's a memory that's never happened to me, that I wish had. <laughs>

CDM: Your song 'Any Party’, to me, is like the epitome of true romance. There’s something about the idea of, "I’d leave any party for you," that just seems so pure of heart. In your opinion, what’s the most romantic and pure of heart thing that someone could do to show you that they love you?
Maybe that's where the feeling inside of 'Any Party' came from. It was the thought that if someone were to prioritise you above anything else that could have dazzle and could have a sparkle to it, then that would be the ultimate. It's no matter where you are, no matter who else is there, no matter what's going on, we're the closed circuit. Like the closed circle; the trusted two to leave that place together.

CDM: In 'I’m Not Running Away' you say, "It got hard for me to believe in true love." Do you still believe in true love now?
Maybe I'm just redefining what true love is. Because there is a very naive version of that, that I was believing for my teens and twenties that didn't do me any favours. I think it overplayed the simplicity of it, or it didn't educate me on the specifics, and the sticky parts and the difficult parts and the distorted parts. And so true love is being redefined for me right now, that's for sure.

CDM: On your 'Metals' B-Side song 'Woe Be' you sung, "Woe be to the girl who loves a songwriter / When he’s at a microphone / She ends up feeling so alone." And now in 'A Man Is Not His Song' you say, "A man is not his song / A song is a promise." Is this you trying to warn all of womenkind never ever to date a musician?
<chuckles> That's hilarious! Maybe you're the best Sherlock Holmes on earth. You'd have to warn any man to never date a woman songwriter too, it goes both ways. I think it's because it's what I know, it's what I know more than anything else in the world, is this relationship between being a normal person in the world and trying your hardest to encapsulate the difficulties of regular life into something a little bit more heightened than regular life, in songs. Something that's a bit more broad strokes, or instructive, or archetypical, or more like a fable - turning real life into fables. So I use songwriting as the playing ground where those ideas can happen, but I don't think I'm necessarily picking on songwriters anymore than investment-bankers, or airplane pilots, or journalists. <laughs>

CDM: William Burroughs once said that, "Possibly all pleasure is basically relief from a condition of need, or tension." Do you agree or disagree with him?
Hmmm... I haven't often agreed with what William Burroughs' perspective on life is, so in this case, I don't think I'm going to take that one. We have very different experiences of living.

CDM: Alternatively, Alfred Hitchcock once said, "Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare." Do you think there are different kinds of pleasure?
Well that much I can agree with, because I think that it's such a continuum. It's such a fighting-scale, and relative to what people's feelings on the matter are. It's sort of like what they say, 'One person's trash is another person's treasure.' It depends on time, context, experience, what you're compelled by, what you're adverse to, and all of those things will give you your own continuum of pleasure and pain. And that can be emotional, and that can be physical, and that can be sensory, and my experiences and what I was talking about was more, 'What has compelled us to survive all these years?' Because ultimately it's all these individual small decisions that each person made, that each organism made, from the single cell organism that moves itself and propels itself towards the heat to then become a more complex organism, all the way through to my ancestors escaping a famine and taking the risk to get on a boat and come over to North America. Those are individual decisions that added up, but essentially were about escaping pain and going towards pleasure, and kind of are the same thing. Escaping a famine; going towards hope. Do you know what I mean? They're kind of the same thing, like two sides of a seesaw or a teeter-totter. I guess I was just talking about that moment in life when you're compelled forward, and it's not necessarily about escaping something, it's about moving towards something. But! At the same moment, it can be true that you're escaping something and not moving towards something, you're more concerned with getting away from something than you are with moving towards something. And that whole thing, if you name it 'pleasure' instead of pain, is kind of the same word; they're two sides of the same coin. I just thought that there was a lesson for myself to realise that you can name something by any name you want. Last year, if you had a great year or a bad year, you can just decide to call it a great year.

CDM: Do you think emotions are a knee-jerk reaction? Or a subconscious decision we make to feel a certain way?
Maybe those are one and the same. I mean, I certainly wouldn't pretend to know, but I think it could be said that whatever your instinct is, could be the same thing as your subconscious driving you. A few years ago, I remember saying to someone that the best news was that my instincts had changed; that I'd worked towards changing my instincts. Because you can't decide which way that knee-jerk reaction goes, but you can do other things to cultivate a situation where the knee-jerk is in the direction you hope it will go, rather than taking you in a really wrong direction.

CDM: In your song 'Pleasure' you say, "Get what I want / And still it's a mysterious thing that I want." Why do you think human beings always feel like the grass is greener on the other side?
Maybe that's the thing that's kept us evolving, is that we don't just sit on our haunches, there's always a sense of seeking, hunting, gathering, growing, learning, evolving. It can happen in minuscule ways, or if you look at a timeline that goes for a million years, it looks like leaps and bounds, but at the end of the day, we're all just kind of stretching out in front of ourselves trying to get towards whatever's next. Whether it's a meal, or sex, or to escape the earthquake, or to fall in love with the person that compels you most, or whatever the thing is that we're driving forward towards into the future, that's something that been's a beautiful endemic fact of all and every species - this moving forward thing, this being compelled aspect to being alive.

Feist will play the Powerstation in Auckland on November 25th. Click here to purchase tickets from Ticketmaster now.

Watch Feist perform 'Century' live below...

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