Laetitia Sadier on how music and politics go hand in hand, and how to struggle is to live
Laetitia Sadier was the charismatic singer of the influential and experimental Stereolab, a band she started with guitarist Tim Gane after a short stint in the political post-punk band McCarthy in the late '80s. Combining krautrock drones and hypnotic rhythms with a lounge-jazz sensibility and a willingness to make the most out of simple elements brought together to create a rich, cinematic sound, Stereolab was impossible to pin down, and it was a challenge to pinpoint its more obvious influences.
See also: Laetita Sadier at the hi-dive, 10/10/12
Stereolab went on hiatus in 2009, and the following year, Sadier released her first solo album, the critically acclaimed The Trip. While very different from Stereolab in fundamental ways, Sadier's solo work nonetheless benefits from the cool soulfulness of her voice and her ability to speak to specific personal experiences with a poetic depth and capture the human condition in a larger sense.
Sadier's lyrics have always been sharply political, but in the same sense as Gang of Four or Fugazi, they look at the essence of the issues that plague us not only with a critical eye, but with compassion. We recently spoke with Sadier about the loving social critique of Jean Renoir, the importance of silence and the artwork for her latest record, Silencio.
Westword: The song "The Rule of the Game" from your new album was inspired by the Jean Renoir film. Does that song have some resonance with how in 1939 -- the year that film was released -- fascism was already in power, and with what we're going through today?
Laetitia Sadier: Yeah. Alas, there is a big resonance obviously in the fact that the power is in place. I'm not taking my responsibility. They're turning things around -- i.e., it's the people who have to work for the banks and who have to work for the system, rather than establish a system that would work for the people and for most people. So there's a big responsibility there that should be decried, and I am very surprised that it isn't more decried every day considering the absurdity of the situation.
Also, what struck me about this movie is the way it was shot and the way Renoir approaches a very tender subject, which is humans deluding themselves and kind of being corroded by the bourgeoisie or the delusion that one day they can live as bourgeois, you see? I find that really kind of pervasive, you know, that now we've all been brainwashed very deeply, very subconsciously, to act in very irresponsible ways and forget reality.
I think it's getting more and more obvious that the system is not working for a lot of the people on the planet. I think people know that there's enough to go around, even for nine billion people. The planet can support a lot, and it has, and it does, and the only reason why [a sizable] percentage of the people on the planet do not eat when they're hungry... There's enough to house everybody. The only thing that's stopping us from being housed and well-fed is this system.
I think that's quite obvious, but at the same time, it's like, "Why aren't people reacting? Why aren't they shifting the system around?" I think this movie really shows why. It really shows being different, the ghosts, the monsters that don't care and are completely caught up in their fantasies and their little games and their little clothes and whatnot. And they're cut off from their deepest humanity. They're rendered completely selfish, basically.
That really struck a chord with me because I know I suffer from this selfishness and that I'm not out there giving...I don't know what I'm supposed to do, even. But certainly I have concern, but I really feel that on an individual level, we are all implicitly involved in not creating a better world. That made me really cry for two days, because the mirror that was put in front of me was so accurate but also very loving. The guy didn't go, "You asshole and blah, blah, blah." He did it with love, and that [deeply affected me in a way that a more judgmental treatment of the subject might not].
Why do you feel that commercialism and the marketplace overwhelm our ability to go deeper and to disconnect ourselves from our inner selves?
Yes, yeah, yeah, hence the title of Silencio. I think in the press release they talk about "commercialism" and the "marketplace." These are not my words, because I think it's an oversimplification of what's at hand. I don't necessarily want to name things in a narrow way. But, yes, of course, hyper-consumerism makes a big racket, and it's all about the numbing of senses and preventing us from knowing ourselves.
I think someone who knows [herself or himself] is more secure and less fearful, is less malleable. They're less controllable than someone who's insecure, doesn't know, who's fearful; you can make them buy just about any shit, which is what's happening. All this want of conformity, wanting to conform, whilst imagining that one is super-individual and original -- the delusion again.
I think those forces are cynically at work. [Instead of so much] randomly happening, there are people that know exactly what they are doing. On that subject, I saw, years ago, a film back on the Internet called The Century of the Self, a documentary by Adam Curtis. It speaks in a very well-researched way of how these things came about and how the nephew of Freud used the unconscious and learned how to manipulate people through their unconscious. How well it worked! It's phenomenal. Bravo.
I do believe that humans have free will. But it depends on what you develop in life, if you develop yourself into a little zombie following this [or that], or if you develop your stronger self, your higher self. I think this system is about developing the worst in people.
Adam Curtis made another documentary called The Power of Nightmares. I only watched the first half-hour, but he talks about a man who kind of looked at American society in the '50s or something and he thought it was despicable: "They're really selfish. All they're interested in is trimming their hedges and doing a little garden, mowing their little yards and having their car in a very individualistic and materialistic way."
This man saw other things in humans like spiritual aspects. He thought then that Americans were going down a really narrow path. He was a Muslim, and he ended up in a prison, where he was tortured, and there, he realized that the system bred brutality and barbarism. So it's not just about us trimming our hedges. It leads to the worst. We don't experience it firsthand, you and I, but it's never too far from that, particularly in America, where anyone can have a gun.
All social and economic systems affect you in unexpected ways in the overall sense, and it flows down into specific experiences. For instance, Frantz Fanon wrote a book called The Wretched of the Earth, and he talks about what was happening in Algeria in the years leading up to its liberation from France and how the repression was affecting the oppressors and the people they were oppressing in ways deeply psychological that they didn't realize until later.
So we have a lot of awareness to achieve. My record was about that -- in a very small way, of course. But I think that even if it's small, it's there. No matter how tiny, it's there, to reach out for some of this awareness.