Leslie Feist: Winner of the 2012 JUNO Award for Artist of the Year

Apr 09, 2012

By James Sandham

Well, music lover, the 2012 JUNO Awards have come and gone. There were some surprising wins: Michael Bublé’s Christmas comes to mind, which won Album of the Year, an unusual accomplishment for a seasonally themed release, especially in the face of such competition as Drake’s multi-million-selling Take Care. And there were some unsurprising wins, too: Justin Bieber won the JUNO Fan Choice Award, though he wasn’t there to collect it. And the ubiquitous Adele picked up the award for International Album of the Year for her smash sophomore disc 21, which is, after all, the best-selling album of the past decade, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, having sold in excess of eight million copies in the United States and over one million here in Canada, where it spent 28 weeks at No. 1.

The evening’s big winner, however, was Leslie Feist – or simply “Feist,” the mononym by which she is best known. The melodious Toronto-based chanteuse took home the award for Artist of the Year, beating out such stars as Michael Bublé, Drake and deadmau5. She also won the awards for Adult Alternative Album of the Year for her fourth solo release, Metals, and Music DVD of the Year for “Look At What the Light Did Now.” These three awards come five years after her international breakout album, 2007’s “The Reminder,” which spawned the inescapable global hit “1234” – thanks in no small part to its role in an iconic iPod campaign – and which won her a 2008 JUNO for Single of the Year.

While The Reminder may have been the first album to bring Feist to the attention of the mass market, her musical career had actually begun many years earlier. She had released two albums prior to it: Monarch (Lay Your Jewelled Head Down), her first solo release in 1999, and Let It Die, which won the 2005 JUNO Award for Alternative Album of the Year. And she was also a member of the independent, Toronto-based, multi-musician collective known as Broken Social Scene, who were famous for their massive, emotionally charged live shows and who are now unfortunately on hiatus.

You could say, however, that Feist had always been a musician – or at least always an entertainer. The daughter of Harold Feist, an abstract expressionist painter and teacher, and Lyn Feist, who studied ceramics, Feist was already performing (though not under that name) at the age of 12, as one of a thousand dancers in the opening ceremonies of the Calgary Winter Olympics. It was an experience she would later cite as inspiration for the “1234” music video. At the age of 15 she founded the Calgary punk band Placebo (not be confused with the English group Placebo, who were behind the 1990s hit “Pure Morning”). She provided their lead vocals and, thanks to those pipes, helped land her group an opening spot at the 1993 Infest music festival. It was there she first met Brendan Canning, whose band hHead had performed right before hers and who would go on to become a pivotal member of the yet-to-be-founded Broken Social Scene collective.

Three years later, in 1996, Feist moved from Calgary to Toronto. By 1998 she had hooked up with Canadian rock band By Divine Right and become their rhythm guitarist. She toured with them for the next few years. During this time she also moved in with a friend of a friend, Merrill Nisker, the woman behind electro-punk act Peaches. This in turn brought more touring – to England this time, where Feist worked backstage at Peaches’ shows as a sock puppeteer. Feist also contributed vocals to Peaches’ 2000 release, The Teaches of Peaches.

After Feist’s first major label release – 2004’s Let It Die – she moved to Paris where she continued her collaborative efforts with such artists as Kings of Convenience and Jane Birkin. After touring internationally she returned to Europe in 2006, ready to record its follow-up. The Reminder came out in 2007, first released in Europe in April, and then a month later in North America. Propelled by the power of “1234” it sold millions internationally, charted around the globe and spawned multiple singles. In other words, it completely blew up and made Feist a superstar – a rare occurrence for someone who had emerged from the world of indie rock.

Since then Feist has remained, shall we say, active. While she told the Canadian Press in 2008 that she was going to step away from the pressures of the music industry, consider her next career move and “rest for a minute,” she has nonetheless been featured in the 2009 CTV television film “My Music Brain,” collaborated with Grizzly Bear in support of AIDS charity the Red Hot Organization, performed with Broken Social Scene and, of course, released her fourth JUNO Award–winning album, Metals as well as the music DVD “Look What the Light Did Now.” All this among other endeavours too numerous to list.

What she will do next is anyone’s guess. Word is she plans to cover a song by progressive metal band Mastodon, and have them cover one of hers, both of which will be released as a split 7” on Record Store Day. Whatever she does, her long history of accomplishments suggests it will indubitably be something to which we can look forward.

Feist – “The Bad in Each Other” from Metals