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Polaris 2017: 5 things you didn't know about Feist's Pleasure

Jennifer Van Evra

In 2011, Feist released Metals, her most successful album to date, debuting at No. 9 on Billboard. It was named album of the year by the New York Times and won the Polaris Music Prize — as well as four Junos.

Then Feist dropped out of the limelight, and didn't return until six years later. In 2017, she released Pleasure,an insightful and often angular record that won accolades from critics and fans alike.

The album is shortlisted for this year's Polaris Music Prize, and for each album on the list, CBC Music is offering five things you might not know. Here are five things about Feist's Pleasure.

1. Pleasure features well-known collaborators including Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales

The album features a host of well-known musicians, including longtime collaborator Chilly Gonzales on piano, Colin Stetson on horns on “The Wind,” and Choir! Choir! Choir! in a cameo on “A Man is Not His Song.” English musician and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker also reads on the single “Century,” which was co-written by Feist, Cocker and Brian LeBarton. “Century. How long is that? Three billion, one hundred and fifty-five million, nine hundred and seventy-three thousand six hundred seconds. Eight hundred and seventy-six million hours. Or 36,500 days,” says Cocker in the song. “Almost as long as one of those endless dark nights of the soul. Those nights that never end.”

2. The album was almost entirely recorded live, giving it a rougher, less polished sound

Pleasure was mostly recorded live, three different times and in three different locations — California, Paris and New York state — giving it a sound that's much more raw than past efforts.

“It’s because the songs were recorded pretty much live. And it felt in keeping with the whole experiment of investing in imperfection. It’s funny. A lot of my guy friends will know how to intend for something to sound like that Beach Boys album, or that year, or that recording studio, where they’re retro-fitting these production qualities,” she said in an interview with Pitchfork. “But for me, it can’t just be sonic. If there’s backup singing, I’m like, 'Who are they and why are they there?' I get really narrative about it, really literary. So when it became clear to me that the hiss was embedded everywhere, I was like, 'All right, it belongs in this play’s cast of characters.'"

3. 'The Wind' was inspired by Georgian Bay

These days Feist is based in Los Angeles, but Canada makes several appearances on Pleasure, including a mention of Saskatchewan in “Get Not High, Get Not Low.” (“I was just really happy to get Saskatchewan in a song,” she told the Globe and Mail. “It’s kind of a mouthful.”)

The arresting song “The Wind” was also inspired by Ontario’s Georgian Bay and its windswept landscape. “A few years ago, I started going up to Georgian Bay," she said. "I started to see the Group of Seven and those famous Douglas firs that face the same direction. Spending time sitting on a rock, the wind is coming from hundreds of miles away, with nothing to stop it for days. The line, ‘And the trees for their hundred years, lean north like calligraphy.’ That’s the Douglas firs. That’s Tom Thomson.”

4. As well as pleasure, the album is about shame, loneliness and sadness

The album is said to reflect on “secrets and shame, loneliness and tenderness, care and fatigue and is at its core a study on self-awareness.”

“The day the word ‘pleasure’ sprung to my mind, it was a contrarian idea, because I was having too little of it at the time. I was experiencing things through a bit of a pall of feeling quite lost,” she told Pitchfork. “But I realized I could try to pivot away from pain and put my weight on the other foot — it was the switch that gets flicked, and some new light is shed on a situation. It just dawned on me that I might have been feeding my own fire of exhaustion and overwhelmingness, because I was investing in it. I started to think that I actually could change things by deciding to change them, and that something as ephemeral as a feeling or a mood wasn’t as uncontrollable as the weather. There have been times when I don’t get to pick between depression and resiliency, but when you have the wherewithal to try, that’s when you get stronger.”

5. Before creating Pleasure, Feist contemplated leaving music altogether

After the enormous success of Metals, Feist didn’t want to make another record just because it’s what she had always done — so she seriously contemplated leaving the business altogether.

“It was about wanting to make sure I was making another record because I needed to do it and not because it’s just what I’ve done so far. I didn’t want to think that 15-year-old me got to decide what I’ll do for the rest of my life because she just happened to be in a punk band. I was in my late 30s and I had that moment where I was like, ‘Can I open a hotel, or go back to school?’ — not even go back, but go to school for the first time,” said Feist, who got into carpentry, and built a deck, a screened-in porch, bed frames and benches.

“I sat around waiting to be struck by lightning, to be compelled; it was a quiet reckoning of whether or not this was gonna be an authentic need in me. Eventually I realized that something new might come, but it’s not ever gonna replace this [musical] language that I’ve developed with myself. You can’t really just walk away from that, but I was willing to. That’s the point.”

Explore more:

Below, Feist speaks to CBC q about Pleasure.