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Interview: Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab

"It's gone beyond ersatz to utterly absurd. Pop has completely eaten itself."

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Interview: Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab
4AD Records
Stereolab are one of the most endearing and enduring outfits in indie music. Since forming in London in 1990, the Groop have dealt with many dramas: the divorce of founding members (and sole constants) Laetitia Sadier and Tim Gane, the 2002 death of keyboardist/vocalist Mary Hansen. Yet, it hasn't dented their output one bit: Stereolab one of the most consistent, prolific, and consistently-prolific bands in existence. With their ninth LP-proper, Chemical Chords, released upon the world, I was lucky enough to converse with Sadier, Stereolab's French-born vocalist.

Was there ever a point where it felt like, with death and divorce and all the dramas befalling the band, that Stereolab would cease to exist?
“When Mary died, of course it was very hard. And it still is. But it was also an opportunity to do something different, to live in a new format; a new way to be Stereolab.”

Is the band a reliable constant in your life?
“It’s like a family. It’s always changing, of course; there’s no complete reassuring constant that exists. But, as far as that’s possible: yes.”

Does your side-project, Monade, feel like something different to Stereolab?
“Of course it’s different. It’s me who writes the songs, it’s me who’s in charge of what it’s going to be like. It’s my territory to do what I feel like, it’s my freedom. I don’t have to fight off other people. In Stereolab, Tim decides; he has final say for everything. So, in that way it’s different, but, musically it is too. Anyone who knows music can tell the two bands are the work of different composers, but all the time I hear: ‘it sounds like a stripped-down Stereolab.’ But, maybe that’s just my voice, that’s the Stereolab association.”

Wouldn’t your voice be, for some, the number one defining quality of Stereolab?
“To a lot of people, yes. A very strong particularity, for people, is the sound of my voice.”

People have started calling you the “once prolific” Stereolab. Is that accurate?
“Well, things are different, there’s no denying that. But, I feel like we are as prolific as before, it’s just the outlets that’ve changed. Tim wrote 31 songs for this record. And, between Margerine Eclipse and Chemical Chords, another 12 songs came out on our compilation Fab Four Suture. Tim was also busy writing music for a film (La Vie d'artiste). I worked on two Monade records. We’ve been quite busy. Instant Zero is always in use.”

Was this record a long-time-coming, though?
“Well, out of those 31 songs, there was this rush to mix the 14 we chose so the record could come out in April. But, we had to postpone its release until August. This meant that we had time to finish up the other 17 songs. So, now we have all these songs; maybe we’ll use them for another whole record, a sequel. And there’s going to be a scattering going on for sure, because everyone wants a little exclusive piece of the action; for different versions, or tour singles.”

Fans have strongly identified you as a band prone to releasing things on different formats. Do you identify with that yourselves?
“Sometimes, you don’t necessarily write songs to go straight on an LP, on a full-blown album. There’s a seriousness to releasing an album, so Tim is often looking for other ways, more playful ways, to be releasing records. He always has worked like that. Tim is very dedicated, the only thing I’ve ever seen him do is music, but at the same time he’s not precious about it. For him it’s a playful form that’s not serious.”

The new album sounds quite playful. Is that a quality you hoped for?
“Absolutely. We don’t predetermine that, we didn’t think of what the outcome would be beforehand. There’s a lot of being guided by the ‘layering’: one layer would guide the next layer. It turned out quite interesting. Quite playful!”

Were there lyrical ideas in your head that you wanted to articulate?
“They’re still the same old themes, but I was looking at them in a different light. I go to a school that’s close to the city, in London, and I see these very well-dressed city people who are all chasing something. I hear businessmen talking on your phone, and I think: ‘My God, do you even know what you sound like? How odious you are?’ I feel that there’s a sense of prostitution in the system; that we have to parade ourselves, to ‘sell’ what we do. People have been so conditioned to do this, and they derive a sense of arrogant power from this, this certain attraction to being made an object. We’re all still stuck in this crazy system that’s still based on exploitation, that’s still based on master/servant.”

The ‘same old themes’ are about the structure of society?
“The structure of society mirroring the structure of the mind. We don’t have to live like this, but we accept it, because somewhere it serves an unconscious urge to be objects. That’s a theme I find fascinating: that we refuse freedom because we refuse the responsibilities that come with freedom. In this culture of propaganda, of fear, no one is wanting to stand up to take responsibility. I feel like this system isn’t working. I think capitalism is an interesting system, but it doesn’t take any risks any more.”

Especially when it comes to art, right?
“Exactly! It’s all Mamma Mia! Back to Mamma Mia! again. Just this time with Meryl Streep singing. It’s not even ‘fake’ anymore; it’s gone beyond the ersatz into the utterly absurd. Pop has completely eaten itself. It’s not even like we’re cultivating these artistic riches and then exploiting them. It’s just exploitation of exploitation. We can’t help ourselves.”

When critics call your lyrics ‘Marxist’, as a pejorative term, how does that feel?
“I don’t think it’s pejorative! I never read Marx, so I can’t claim to be a Marxist, but I know that there are principles in Marxism I agree with, strong points about discovering how the system works, and the hope that one day the capitalist system will be made obsolete, and another more human one will emerge. I find it interesting to observe the tendencies of economics. And I feel that it’s not beyond our means to change this system to suit what people need better. Now everyone is obsessed with ‘Save the Planet! Save the Planet!’ Maybe that’s the way we will get to a positive change.”

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