Q&A: Feist on her new ‘zeitgeist awareness,’ women’s marches and Leonard Cohen

TORONTO — Leslie Feist stumbled across one of her latest intellectual fascinations on the wall of a coffee shop.

The singer-songwriter says she was walking down the street when she caught a glimpse of a poster for English scholar Mary Beard’s 2017 book “Women & Power: A Manifesto.” It was enough to make her stop in her tracks.

“It looked so unapologetically clear — women and power,” she says.

Endlessly curious about the human psyche, Feist bought the 115-page book and dove into Beard’s work, which presented her with new ideas about female silence an how the timbre of a person’s voice can determine their influence. Beard urges readers to think beyond simply calling out misogyny, but to also consider its origins, which she argues stretch back to ancient Rome and Greece.

Feist was stunned, later posting on Instagram that she considered it “required reading” for 2018.

“There is a zeitgeist new awareness that’s coursing through me,” she explains, pointing towards her recent participation in women’s marches held in the United States.

“I see a book like that, and I’m like, ‘Yeah I don’t have a manifesto for this new feeling that I have,’” she adds.

Feist plays a number of East Coast concerts later this month, including Sainte-Therese, Que. (May 18), Saint John, N.B. (May 19) and Fredericton (May 22). She’ll also perform dates in Moncton, N.B. (May 24) and two in Halifax (May 25 and 26).

The musician often surveys cultural constructs with her own investigations of what makes people tick. While she was promoting her latest album “Pleasure” last year she designed a quiz for strangers, which she called ”The Pleasure Questionnaire.” It asked people to take a more cognitive approach to their daily life, challenging them in one case to describe a lonely day in one sentence and dig deeper into their perspectives in others.

Feist spoke to The Canadian Press about what she gleaned from the answers and how Montreal poet laureate Leonard Cohen’s perspective has inspired her own outlook.

CP: Before you started touring for “Pleasure,” you were presenting the album as a deliberation of sorts in your search for truth through ”The Pleasure Questionnaire.” What was your intention with this quiz?

Feist: I suppose what I was thinking was: What parallels do we all have in our private struggles? Everyone’s kind of hiding out in the open and we’re all doing it next to each other. What would happen if we all knew that those things you think are so shameful are actually completely common? (I asked questions like) choose five words to describe a negative memory and 20 words to describe a positive one.

CP: Were you surprised by the results?

Feist: The thought of reading the responses was secondary to the exercise of answering those questions. In a way, the questionnaire (was designed to) lean your mind positive and see the experience of spending 10 minutes thinking about who loves you, who you love, and why. It’s the first bicep curl towards bench-pressing 250 (lbs.) It’s a pivot to the forward-leaning foot, instead of (being) stuck in the past.

CP: It seems like you’re in the midst of an awakening of sorts, reading “Women & Power” and examining how we negotiate relationships and perspective. Is there more to this search for answers?

Feist: I was in Los Angeles for the Women’s March (in 2017) and in New York for the second Women’s March. It was a very new experience to have thousands and thousands of women (in one space). Everyone has a different opinion, and a different reason they’re using that march and a different thing that’s driving them to it. It’s not just one agenda but the feeling I had in a kind of collective loudness, even if everyone is yelling something slightly different — the feeling is showing up unapologetically in your life.

CP: Your introspection has a few parallels to Leonard Cohen, who was always on a search for a deeper meaning within himself and the greater world. Do you find yourself drawn to his work?

Feist: I found him to be a symbolic mentor because I didn’t have a chance to know him. The way he lived his life half pointing outwards, and mostly pointing inwards; (his) private meditation practice, living in a monastery and insulating himself inside of a spiritual commitment. The discipline that takes, not being able to hide from yourself, and then folding it outward into songs. There’s no one more eloquent. I’ll spend the rest of my life humbly attempting to have as genuine an internal life as he might have.

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