NEW YORK—As Feist celebrated her 35th birthday earlier this year with an intimate dinner among friends, she was momentarily distracted by the intense flickering of a television in a nearby room.
The images were bizarre -- motorbikes on a stage accompanied by pyrotechnics and music. Whatever it was seemed outlandish and jarring. What, she wondered, could be the spectacle?
It wasn't until she got closer to the television that the frenetic, choreographed commotion made sense. It was the telecast of the Grammy Awards. Only three years earlier, she was part of that scene, performing "1234," the song that would make the former indie artist a global sensation -- in a different out-of-context performance.
Now, watching the awards, the images she saw confirmed how surreal that experience had been -- and how she just doesn't fit into that poppy, musical world.
"The Grammys, and the magnitude of that spotlight, it wasn't a place where I felt at home. Like what I do doesn't really happen there," Feist said during a recent interview as she sat on a quiet patio at her downtown Manhattan hotel. "It's such a potent and brief moment, and it doesn't really speak to the truth of what touring and being a musician is. It's mostly fanfare, inflated and very intense. I wasn't feeling very comfortable in that kind of setting."
Now that Feist is releasing "Metals," the follow-up to her breakthrough, heralded 2007 album, "The Reminder," she's back in her comfort zone. Her fourth album has a darker tone, but still has that otherworldly, mystical quality that has made her one of music's more original voices.
"It's just heading into a much more personal and bold and more uncompromising direction, taking all kinds of risks, which I respect," says her longtime collaborator Chilly Gonzales, one of the album's producers and songwriters. He compares her new album to territory occupied by Kate Bush and PJ Harvey -- ambitious, daring, but most important, a new direction from "The Reminder" era.
"She's in a great position to push," he added. "I wish more people would be more like her ... take those moments when they have those brief little moments and say, `Let's not replicate that.'"
It would have been tempting to try. While the Canadian singer already had a name and critical acclaim, it wasn't until she decided to let Apple use a clip of her video for the whimsical "1234" for an iPod Nano commercial that the mainstream public became fascinated with Feist. The clip, which featured dancers in brightly colored outfits, swaying with a sparkly dressed Feist as if it were a scene from a Broadway musical, entranced millions. From "The Colbert Report" to "Sesame Street," Feist and her video made the rounds, and the song became a pop hit.
Looking back, Feist isn't sure she would agree to let her video be used in such a commercial way.
"When I made that decision, I was in a really different place and I really didn't know; like, no one could imagine that would happen. It was incredible in a lot of ways as well, but it's put me in circumstances now where I wouldn't necessarily feel that that is something that could be helpful," she said. "I landed somewhere different than I started, so now I would have very different perspectives on all of that, for sure."
When the whirlwind was over, Feist had hit a wall. Including her tour for "The Reminder," she had been on the road for seven years, with almost no time to sit and contemplate new material, or spend time with family and friends. So she retreated, taking about two years off -- though she collaborated with friends like Broken Social Scene and put together a documentary of the experience of "The Reminder," last year's "Look at What the Light Did Now."
"It's so funny, I almost don't even remember having time off," she said, laughing. "I didn't do anything specific except not go to a different town every night. I just did everything you can't do while you're moving. I planted a little garden and I adopted some dogs. I got a place in the country and just like hung out in the woods a lot. ... It took about a year and a half of just floating before I got interested in reframing things, which is ultimately what songwriting is."
Musician Mocky, another longtime collaborator who worked on both "The Reminder" and "Metals," said he was gratified that his old friend remained intact, personally and professionally, after the whirlwind that became "The Reminder."
"She's still the same amazing musician, amazing performer," said Mocky, who is a producer and songwriter on "Metals."
"She's not a cookie-cutter kind of artist. I think more than people realize, she's like a very gritty, excellent guitar player, singer -- that's where her focus is. She's just focused on the music, and I think the way that she handled that was great."
Some of the album frames things in a period of turmoil and loss. Songs like "How Come You Never Go There" and "Comfort Me" seem to describe the end of a romance. Musically, she veers somewhat from "The Reminder" with songs that seem weightier. There is no magically delightful song like "1234." It's a different chapter, by design, even though she worked with many of the same collaborators, this time in a remote compound in California.
"It was like being taken out of our daily lives and plopped into this total timeless place, and Feist sort of at the helm ... taking us on a journey," Mocky said. "When we came out the other side, this album was there, and just had this solidness to it, this realness to it. It's beautiful."
And it's the new journey that Feist, who's embarking on a fall tour, is focusing on. While she's appreciative of the new audience "The Reminder" brought to her, she knows what most people discovered was a fragmented version of herself. With "Metals," she's hoping to fill in the picture.
"I made the record that I wanted, so yeah, I couldn't be more rooted right now -- like I kind of regained the grip on the steering wheel again," she said.
Nekesa Mumbi Moody is the AP's music editor. Follow her at http://www.twitter.com/nekesamumbi