For her new album "Metals", the Canadian went searching for silence and a clear horizon, recording in an oceanside barn in California.
Licensed from her 2007 album The Reminder, the track "1234" became a Youtube hit, turning Feist from indie singer to mainstream pop artist almost overnight -- even earning her a guest slot on the Sesame Street children's TV show.
But after three years packed with gigs, television appearances, video shoots and non-stop touring, it was time to stop and "take a deep breath", the soft-spoken singer told AFP in an interview in Paris.
"There's no way you can predict something like that happening," Feist, whose breakthrough album went on to pick up six of Canada's Juno Awards and four Grammy nominations, said of her sudden success.
"It kind of created a bit of a fire. I ended up not really understanding what was happening, so that was part of the reason to take a break."
For the following two years, Feist sought out silence.
"I had had so much volume around me for so many years that I found myself really not wanting to listen to music. I really enjoyed the sounds of the trees, the sound of the street, or the sound of dogs barking."
Until last Autumn, when she hunkered down in her garage, and in the space of three months wrote the 12 tracks on "Metals", her fourth studio album which hits the shelves on October 3.
"These songs really are more of an album than anything I have done before," Feist told AFP. "I had taken long enough away that I lost my habits, and I felt very new again musically."
"Metals" sweeps in an arc from melancholy and anger, to light and hope, with Feist's clear, smooth vocals backed at times by strumming folk guitars and bright drums, at others by heavy punk rock chords.
Bittersweet lyrics speak of the way "a good man, a good woman can't find the good in each other", of a struggle that "held me down tight, took all my fight" -- of a "cycle of devastation and recovery" in the singer's own words.
-- 'Possibility to adapt' --
"All we need is a horizon line" to "get some clarity, follow the signs", she sings on "The Circle Meets the Line" half way through the album, one of several tracks in which nature, cliffs and the open sky are a vivid presence.
Once the songwriting was done, Feist called in fellow Canadian musicians Mocky and Gonzales to work on the arrangements, and then went looking for a place to record.
Based on what the songs were about, "and they had a sort of elemental basis," she says "you squint at a map in your mind and you picture -- where does it make sense to go find these?"
The place, it turned out, was a barn in Big Sur, a natural enclave on the Californian coast beloved of artists from John Steinbeck -- who set several works there -- to Joan Baez.
"It's incredibly unlikely we would find a place that perfect," Feist said. "It's just a giant wooden empty space with light pouring in and two wood stoves at either end to keep it warm."
"You can see the ocean, between two hills, and every night that's exactly where the sun would set. And the whole thing was built kind of, at keeping in mind the elements."
For a title, Feist wanted a concept that could "blanket" the album.
"Metal has been a major building block of every civilisation," she said, whether turned into weapons, tools or jewellery, technology or scaffolding.
"Metal is such a changeable substance. It doesn't exist at the surface of the earth. So it's a crazy amount of effort and ingenuity and imagination to find it and turn it into something else."
"I felt like it had enough movement in it, that it can change depending on what each song wanted from it," she said. "Each song became a little stronger once I'd found the title."
After years spent performing the same hits, Feist said she aimed this time around for a kind of universality in her lyrics, for "songs that I can bring with me when I'm 80."
"I tried to plant the possibility for it to adapt with me," she said. "I tried to be really responsible for the fact I know I'm going to be singing these songs for the rest of my life."