I have the cover of Feist’s third album, The Reminder, tattooed on my upper left arm. Some people recognize the lines shooting out from Leslie Feist’s silhouette immediately. Most people ask me what it is, or what it means (ugh). For people without tattoos, there is this assumption that all tattoos must have some deep personal meaning. People with tattoos know that this is not always the case; sometimes a tattoo just looks cool or funny or beautiful or whatever. It doesn’t always matter.
When someone asks what The Reminder artwork on my bicep is, I often judge the questioner based on how they’ll judge my answer.
Sometimes I tell them it’s “just a woman.” Sometimes I say it’s Feist. I can’t help but cringe if the immediate follow up question is: “Oh, you mean like the girl that sings the ‘one, two, three, four’ song?” Always asked with a slightly disparaging tone. Yes, she sings that song, the one from that ubiquitous iPod Nano commercial. Or maybe they know “My Moon, My Man,” which also received considerable airtime as a single off the album. These are the hits and some people will use them as a frame of reference with which to judge me, not just for my musical tastes but now my body, too. So I’d rather say it’s just a woman and avoid this conversation altogether.
The tattoo does mean something. It means that I fucking love Feist and I fucking love this album. And those songs that everyone knows? They aren’t any less good because everyone knows them. If anything, they are probably the least memorable tracks on what I, as a proud Feist fangirl, believe to be a virtually flawless album.
The Reminder has followed me wherever I go since it was released on 4/23/2007 — 10 years ago this weekend. My dad was an enthusiastic music buff and his taste dictated mine (for better or worse) for as far back as I can remember. He bought The Reminder CD and it quickly became a staple of our Sunday morning line-up, sandwiched between Simon And Garfunkel’s Bookends and Joni Mitchell’s Blue.
We were not a religious family, but every Sunday when the first resounding declaration of “I’m sorry” heralded the launch of the next 50 minutes of domestic bliss, we became worshipers at The Church Of Feist. Her’s is a voice unlike any other; it soars and glides over you, enveloping you in her fanciful turns of phrase. When “I Feel It All” bounces in on full blast I can picture dancing round my kitchen as a teenager in my boxer shorts and socks, riling up my dogs into a flurry of chaotic joy and screaming “I love you more!” That feeling is captured perfectly in the ecstatic video for the song, with Feist running in a field banging oil drums to life, erupting in a burst of sparks that turns into a full-on fireworks display.
Those Sunday mornings at home in Toronto were infinitely precious to me. The Reminder’s release coincided with the culmination of my dad’s tireless efforts to launch a passion project combining his love for his adopted city of Toronto with his desire to celebrate its diversity through arts and culture. He wanted to put Toronto on the world’s stage and bring the world to Toronto. His ideas were often ambitious and he became a famed civic entrepreneur through his ability to infiltrate and collaborate with all walks of Toronto city life. A Toronto newspaper once deemed him the “greatest mayor we never had.” His dream was realized when he co-founded Luminato, the Toronto Festival Of Arts And Creativity, in June of 2007, the same year Feist released The Reminder.
Away from his public image as a city builder and champion of the arts, my dad was just, well, my dad. He had a keen intellect and a goofy sense of humor and a deep, unyielding love for his family. When he passed away in 2009, The Reminder took me deeper still. These were our songs. They helped connect me to his memory and our shared passion for the arts, music, and our beloved city.
Though Feist grew up all over Canada, Toronto was the place she launched herself as a solo artist. She started out living in the city’s ultra-hip Queen West neighborhood and was roommates with Merrill Nisker aka electro-punk artist Peaches. In 1999, Feist recorded her first LP, Monarch (Lay Your Jeweled Head Down). Monarch was a quiet underground hit with a limited release. When you listen to the album, it’s hard not to be enchanted by the youthful charm and orchestral arrangements of the newly-minted Feist. It’s like reading your high school journals; there is a purity and underlying truth in your sentiments, but you have yet to find your voice. The blueprints are there, though, for all that she would become.
For a long time, the Canadian indie music scene harbored experimental, unpolished gems like the musical collective Broken Social Scene. Over the course of the band’s active years, Feist was a core member, rotating availability between female vocalists Emily Haines (of Metric) and Amy Millan (Stars). Feist’s voice always stood out on tracks like “7/4 (Shoreline),” from the band’s eponymous album released in 2005, and “Almost Crimes,” from 2002’s You Forgot It In People. I actually prefer Feist’s spare, piano-driven version of “Lover’s Spit” on Bee Hives — the B-sides accompaniment to You Forgot It In People — to the original BSS recording.
In 2004, Feist released Let It Die, a romantic and whimsical album that is composed of both covers and originals. Feist recorded the album in Paris, and the Francophonic influence on the album is evident throughout, especially on songs like “L’amour ne dure pas toujours,” a Françoise Hardy cover.
When The Reminder was released, it received a number of accolades far outside the usual scope of Canadian indie success. It won Album Of The Year at the 2008 Juno Awards (the preeminent Canadian music award ceremony) and was certified gold in the US. Then, of course, came the aforementioned iPod commercial, along with a slew of other songs from the album being featured in television shows and feature films alike. The attention was unprecedented, but certainly not undeserved, as Feist skyrocketed from the Canadian underground into the spotlight.
The Reminder could be classified as “easy listening.” It is technically a pop album, after all. I can remember seeing the CD on sale at Starbucks next to the fair trade chocolate, and it wasn’t out of place. It has undeniable coffee shop vibes, the kind of pop music that doesn’t roar with energy but fits seamlessly into most settings. When I work the Sunday morning shift as a bookseller in West Hollywood, I play DJ at the register, and the album perfectly soundtracks relaxed book browsing. Ten years on, it remains immediately likable.
But when you’ve listened to this album as many times as I have, you’ll come to believe that each song on The Reminder has its own life, and its own language and tone. The way Feist’s voice hovers above you in her desperate cry from “The Park,” or when she drags you down into the languid depths of “The Water.” The infusion of atmospheric recordings creates a visual space for the songs. “My Moon, My Man” conjures a film noir heroine as it trails out to the clack of rushing heels on concrete and eventually bleeds into the natural soundscape, complete with the same chirping birds that accompany “The Park.”
My sister once remarked to me that she thought “Sea Lion Woman” was without a doubt the most incongruent (“random,” to be exact) song on the album, which I get. Its energy is frenetic and jarring and harder to take than some of The Reminder’s other songs. What I didn’t know for some time is that “Sea Lion Woman” is a cover of an American folk song, popularized by Nina Simone in her rendition as “See-Line Woman.” The history of that song is a testament to Feist’s enduring inspiration drawn from other artists. Feist is a master of covers, personalizing and breathing new life into songs by artists like Ron Sexsmith and the Bee Gees. A personal favorite of mine is her cover of Canadian royalty the Tragically Hip’s “Flamenco,” which she recorded last year upon hearing of lead singer and friend Gord Downie’s diagnosis of terminal brain cancer.
Likewise, The Reminder has inspired a slew of stunning covers by other artists of the indie persuasion. Bon Iver recorded a haunting and equally melancholic live cover of “The Park,” and James Blake included a characteristically sparse cover of “Limit To Your Love” on his self-titled debut album.
I met Feist once. It was at a secret show that was a part of a series called the Courtyard Review, which took place during Luminato (the poignancy was not lost on me). This was in 2013, two years after The Reminder’s follow-up, Metals, came out and four years after my dad’s passing. Feist was performing along with Canadian indie bands AroarA (Broken Social Scene alumna) and Snowblink in a super-group called HYDRA. The location of the concert was announced the night of, and I was one of the first to arrive. It was extremely intimate, with a crowd of no more than 50 people. The group opened with “How Come You Never Go There,” the first single off Metals. Feist is an expert collaborator, and the group sang songs from each of their respective catalogues, with the three female vocalists creating exemplary intricate harmonies.
After the show, Feist climbed down from the small stage and made for the door. I was so nervous, I couldn’t speak. My sister shouted at her: “Feist! This is your biggest fan!” and pointed at me. And to my total surprise, she turned around and approached me. I tried to describe to her what her music had meant to my family, especially me and my dad. How fitting and bittersweet it was to see her perform at the festival my dad had created. How her music had become a kind of religion we unabashedly preached, a gospel we followed, and how it connected us still. She was warm and gracious and receptive to my inane ramblings of her greatness, immediately disproving that adage about never meeting your heroes. I think I cried.
I carry The Reminder with me still. I revel in exposing its richness to people who write it off too quickly and familiarizing each new home I inhabit with its distinct calm. I had to buy the LP a second time, after the scratches and bumps of so much use had accumulated into an unlistenable mess of static. People started to tell me the album reminded them of me, and I liked that. Because as much as this album reminds me of my dad, The Reminder reminds me of me, too. It is a common thread connecting all my past selves. Much like the cyclical chant from my favorite song on the album, “Past In Present,” there is “so much past inside my present.” I change and change, but this album is exactly what it purports to be: the reminder of who I was. Who I still am. I got it tattooed on my goddamn arm. That’s gotta mean something, right?
Read our recent Q&A with Feist about her forthcoming album, Pleasure, here.