By Vish KhannaWhen Feist asked Bry Webb to open some upcoming Canadian shows, the invitation didn't come out of nowhere. The two have been acquaintances for more than a decade when both were part of Toronto's burgeoning Three Gut Records scene, a vital spark plug in the city's DIY music community. For her part, Feist is an unabashed fan of Webb's old band, Constantines, whom she shouted-out on live TV when collecting Juno Awards for Let it Die in 2004.
"Bry's songwriting was made bigger and more exploratory through the Cons, but to me it always had its roots in his own playing and singing," Feist tells Exclaim! "I could sit down to try to learn a Cons song and lift the essence right out of the fray since it was already present in the melodies and lyrics. Plus on a guitar level, I absolutely admire how unique and connected his playing is. I'd say he's my favourite guitarist I've watched all these years.
"Lyrically, I'm not sure what it is, but he looks at things from a perspective that sheds a deeper light on things. It's more poetry than play-by-play, but at the same time, he's telling us really evident stories. And it all culminates into something you feel more than think about, which is a feat."
The Cons and Feist eventually worked together on a B-side for a single, with Webb and Feist pulling a slinky, dark duet on the classic Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers hit, "Islands in the Stream." Something about the collaboration stuck with Feist and, when it came time to record "The Bad in Each Other" from her new album Metals, she called on Webb to lend his talents.
"The song is talking about the stark truth of misconnections and imbalance, and to balance out the story, I felt it wasn't fair to have just a woman telling her side of it, as if it was fact," she explains. "It would only really be fact if the man agreed, and so I thought of Bry. His voice has an authority to it and I've always believed that he believes in what he's singing. I was grateful he agreed to sing on it."
When the Constantines broke up last year, Webb concentrated on raising a family and being a dad to his new son, Asa. As it happened, he also experienced a crisis of faith with his music and all but retired with an astonishing array of unreleased songs. Some of them now appear on Webb's brilliant new record Provider, which was inspired by his son, but almost as much by Feist, who encouraged him to complete the record in time for their upcoming tour together.
"I don't know if I'd even know how to make a record if [Asa] hadn't come around but, the other side of that is, Leslie's support has been such a push over the last year to keep making music," Webb says. "She's been a friend for such a long time but it was such a surprise. She'll be viewed as one of the classic voices of our time so it's unbelievable that she's interested in what I'm doing. When she asked me to be on her record, it was a real confidence boost for sure. And with the tour, she presented me with this incredible opportunity and she very much had a huge part in Provider coming out and existing. I hope she doesn't regret any of this."
Based on Feist's uninhibited adoration of Webb's music, his fears seem unfounded. But she does seem surprised that she may have had any role in lifting him out of some malaise.
"I saw him play solo at the Rivoli at one of Jason Collett's songwriter circle nights maybe eight years ago," she recalls. "I felt like I was seeing Bruce Springsteen do Nebraska or Jeff Buckley, or Dylan, but of my own time. Anyway, that one show of his was a massive influence on me. So when I heard he was making a solo album, from our mutual friend Howie Beck, I was so, so happy.
"A few months later I heard the whole thing had stalled and it felt like a sort of quiet tragedy if Bry Webb of all people was going to end up defeated by the house of cards that finding a label or some kind of help can often feel like. It's entirely to his credit, though, that he's parlaying a duet and a tour into a release. I'm grateful he found the motivation."
Below, you can find all Feist's upcoming tour dates with Bry Webb.
11/21 Calgary, AB - Jack Singer Concert Hall 12/1 Toronto, ON - Massey Hall 12/3 Montreal, QC - Metropolis 12/5 Ottawa, ON - National Arts Centre 12/6 Quebec City, QC - Grand Theatre du Quebec