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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

We Hung Out with French Singer and Musician Laetitia Sadier Before Her Show at Brick and Mortar Tonight

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2015 at 10:25 AM

click to enlarge DAVID THAYER
  • David Thayer
French singer and musician Laetitia Sadier first made her Anglophonic mark in the U.K. when she joined the late-'80s band McCarthy, but it was Stereolab, which she founded with her then-partner Tim Gane, which helped establish her work in America. Fronting the often-shifting collective for almost two decades until its formal 2009 hiatus, Sadier’s cool singing and sharp, politically charged lyrics (often explicitly drawing on modern leftist economic theory and philosophy) combined with music that referenced classic French pop and stereo demonstration records as much as blasting drones and worldwide experimentalists. Even so, that’s just some of the reference points Stereolab touched on over the course of ten albums and innumerable singles and compilation tracks.

Sadier had started a solo career in 2003 with Monade, releasing three albums under that name as well irregularly through the decade; since Stereolab’s hiatus, she has released three more albums, most recently last year’s Something Shines. Continuing both her inspired musical fusions and more contemplative but often serious lyrical approach, it’s fine work in its own right, with a new single due later this month, “Dry Fruit.”

Sadier appears at Brick and Mortar tonight [Wednesday, Sept. 23] as part of a larger American tour; I had the chance to talk with her beforehand via Skype from Switzerland about her current work and approach.

It occurred to me, giving Something Shines a re-listen last night just to let it sink in again, that combined with the Monade albums and your other solo work so far, you've now established your own body of work and its own particular identity. Is this something you dwell upon, where you look back and go, "Gee, I've done a lot here?" Or is it something that could weigh a little heavily?

Well, I mean, it's a journey, as far as I can interpret it. There's people that weren't aware that I've done albums, that I carried on working on my own. In fact, I was working solo even when Stereolab was going. But a lot of people don't know that, and when I say, "I've made six albums," of course, it's a shock to some, like a surprise. At the same time, I still feel my journey is still ahead of me, you know? I've started it, definitely. I've had my baby years, my playground years, and all that. I'm always quite concerned with this quality control, and things being worthy, and having a raison d'être, you know? And being inscribed in shaping the reality. I feel there's always reason for everything, so I'm just one of those people who see meaning everywhere, all the time.

To focus more on your working process: do you find that there's a particular pattern that you've settled into? Do you want to try and change things album from album? Does it matter? Does it vary?

I think the work method is very important and I've had the biggest block I've ever had in terms of getting down to work, because I want to change the pattern. And I've always wanted to change patterns, but in the end I go "Fuck, I haven't changed the pattern. Here comes the pattern again." And it's also a concern of not being so controlling. I find that if I write the chorus first and then let the rest follow, I control more, and I would like to have less control over the creative process, let things emerge.

I find there's something more genuine coming out of that, but somehow it's harder, because I relinquish the little control that I do have on this thing. I feel I'm just forever trying to work out my process, and how to go about things, and how to approach things so that they are as genuine as possible. Things get done in that mess. I'm in the process of writing songs and starting to record new material here right now in Switzerland, with my boyfriend. And it's always a bit daunting, in the beginning, of how to go about it, where that little bit of creation's going to come from and emerge, and somehow, it does.

I was thinking how — I don't want to say it's remarkable, if anything it's depressing — but the fact that some of the subjects that you've addressed over all these years, in theoretical terms, economic terms, however you wish to view it, seemed to be coming even more to a head these days. How do you find the energy, find a new way to reinterpret what's now come? Is there any one answer to that?

It's quite tricky. I think my approach has always been one to question and understand the system and why things are as they are, because I don't think anything ever happens in a vacuum. There's always a reason why things occur — most of the time! But certainly, when it comes to economics and politics, all that we're living today is a product of decisions that have been coldly made by certain leaders. So, really, that is my démarche, my approach, is just looking at that and questioning it, and seeking to understand it, because I think when you understand things, you are much more empowered to dis-enable them.

But it's complex too, because people seem to be voluntarily serving the system, including myself. I sell records, you know? You come to my show, and I'll ask you to please buy a record. So, we're all in this system as well. We're all using it. But at the same time, I think it's a question of consciousness, of being aware that the system is dis-serving most people, more and more people, and that at some point, it could come to a point where it's dis-serving more people than it's actually serving. And that's when, I think, people have to take matters into their own hands and change the trend.

It's still a mystery why people are just so subservient to this, you know? That's a mystery to me, because it is quite clear, but I guess there's still a lot of people who have food on their plates every day, and football on television. If those two go, the spectacle and the food, it's then that people react — but so maybe why can't we just think things through now, while they're not so catastrophic, and that would transform things for the better, and just serve the most? It doesn't have to be a bloody revolution, to wait until we're starving and then take the weapons and go assassinate everybody. I don't think that a good proposal either, for humanity.

Do you find in composing your music now — this perhaps relates to the question of pattern and how you record and create — is there a favorite instrument? Do you use what is to hand? Is it a matter of what's there when the moment seizes you, or is it something else entirely?

I tend to write on my guitar, quite simply. But today I was playing with a slide guitar, and I thought, "Wow, this is brilliant. I need to get myself a slide guitar and play on that. That's just wonderful." So, yeah. I'm also realizing that it'd be good to use the keyboard more as a writing tool, but it 's a big shift for me, because I learned piano when I was a kid, and it was really traumatic, 'cuz I had a very smelly teacher ...

Oh dear!

...Who used to touch me, to decipher my playing, and it was just so revolting. I was forced to carry on the whole year, the whole school year with him, and I know I have a little trauma around that, but I wish I had such a good teacher so I could actually play really well. I go for what's easiest, and the guitar is what I can play best. But I realize, yeah, maybe I should put an effort into learning to play the keyboard, and use it as a writing tool.

You've obviously also just performed onstage now for many, many years, so how is it a matter of keeping things fresh on tour, especially if it's spots you've visited before? Or is it a question of routine you get into and you work your way through it? Or is it something else entirely?

No, it's still very fresh. We're a trio and we've been together for three years, and now things are really, really falling into a really exciting shape for all of us. So, I think the playing has never been better, and also, the fact that we're now very comfortable with our positions in the band. We can just move onto another level, and it's very exciting. It's at a point in time where we're ready to conquer America.

I wanted to end on a slightly different question, but it's something I've been curious about for a couple of years. I picked up a compilation that you appeared on online through La Souterraine. I know you've done some work for them a couple of times. What are they? Is it a label, a collective? I'm not too sure what they are, but I've enjoyed picking up work that they've released.

It's an initiative, the two guys. One of them was going to be my PR person in France, and he works a bit differently, and he is plowing the French lands a bit differently than traditionally plowed. He just realizes there's all these great artists and musicians in France, but they're just never portrayed anywhere, because they're kind of odd compared to the normality so enforced upon us. You're not allowed to be a freak in France. You get taken out and shot. Anyway, there's all these freaks making music that's really great, and they're talented. He decided to represent them, because he's also a PR person, so he decided to make it his crusade and represent these people, and give them a platform. So, he created La Souterraine with a partner, and that's how they diffuse this great music, the artists — being that it has to be French.
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