Taking the stereo out of the lab

"I don’t see that me not playing Tel Aviv will in any positive way change the peace process; I think that boycotts add fuel to the fire’

By
August 29, 2011 22:14
Laetitia Sadier, lead singer of Stereolab.

Laetitia Sadier. (photo credit: Courtesy)

‘Playing alone is what I need in order to gain complete autonomy and strength as a player.

It will make me a better band member when I form or join a band in the future.” After fronting what has been called one of the ‘most fiercely independent and original groups of the Nineties,’ Laetitia Sadier, the vocalist and keyboardist for longtime British underground favorites Stereolab, has stepped out on her own, away from her musical home of almost 20 years and over a dozen albums.

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Unpredictable, and flying in the face of musical trends with their combination of Kraftwerk-inspired electronics, lounge music and vintage 1960s pop, Stereolab, formed by Sadier and her then-husband Tim Gane in 1990, created a detached post-rock vibe heavy on cheesy keyboard sounds and repetitive sociopolitically oriented lyrics sung by the French-born Sadier in alternating English and French.

It wasn’t music for the Top 10, but Stereolab succeeded in forging a solid following of fans who desired something more challenging than the Oasis and Blur-cloned Brit pop of the day.

“Our vision and desire was to sound unique and to focus on the music rather than our image or PR or being famous or making loads of money,” said the 43-year-old Sadier in an email interview ahead of her Israel debut on September 8 at Levontin 7 where she’ll be performing songs from her first solo album, The Trip.

Called by Pitchfork a “breathtaking, rich collection of torch songs and subtle, meandering melodies that clear away the distracting frenzy and Byzantine flourishes of her past groups to expose the humane beauty of her voice,” The Trip feels like a coming-out party for Sadier with its warm balladry devoid of the detachment Stereolab brought to the mix.

“I didn’t choose the material for The Trip: it chose me!” said Sadier, whose ethereal persona enables her to get away with saying such things. The songs on the album range from her own striking originals, to obscurities like an upbeat version of 1980s French pop group Les Rita Mitsouko’s disco rocker “Un Soir, Un Chien” and a propulsive adaptation of 1960s US folk singers Wendy & Bonnie’s somber folk ballad “By the Sea.”

According to Sadier, with Stereolab on an indefinite hiatus since 2009, performing by herself on keyboards and guitar seems like the right move to make, even though she explained it as a work in progress.

“I like the lightness and spontaneity of being alone; It does allow more possibilities to play as it is cheaper to have one person travel as opposed to a whole band,” she said.

“Performing alone has meant a lot of adjustments – and possibly still more to come. But I’m enjoying it more and more as it takes on a shape I like. What I really enjoy is having to fill the space, acoustically, with just my voice, guitar, energy and emotion.”

“I guess it could seem intimidating to go one’s way alone, but somehow I am finding my sight thanks to the support and trust of people who have showed me the possibility of this reality. I don’t mean to sound cryptic here, but it is a fine line between being guided – by outside forces, people, love – and being self determined. Both are at work here.”

BOTH FORCES were also at work back when Sadier met Gane in Paris in the late 1980s when she was working as a nanny and he was guitarist in a band called McCarthy.

She followed him back to London and when McCarthy broke up, the couple immediately formed Stereolab, with Gane writing the bulk of the music and Sadier most of the lyrics.

Throughout their heyday in the ‘90s, the band’s music was adopted by many social protest movements, with some even claiming that their songs carried a strong Marxist message, a claim the band distanced itself from. However, Sadier still has the spirit of a rebel in her, and she reacted with enthusiasm over a question about whether she was aware of the current tent city social protests taking place in Israel.

“I’m in Spain now, and the news on TV was reporting about the the tent protests in Israel. I’m sure there is a lot of discontent in Israel, as there is much around the world.

But a people can demonstrate and be assertive – as it looks like is happening in Israel right now, asking for better conditions of living – or, they can just set off, explode like was the case recently in the UK, where there were no particular demands made upon the government, just an opportunity to loot and steal sport shoes, TVs and chocolate bars,” said Sadier.

“This latter form of social unrest I find to be criminal and do not support. It does more harm to people and society at large than brings about positive social reform; it just gives the government a window of opportunity to escalate the liberticide and repressive work towards its people. I hope the Israeli people get a better deal out of their uprising and really show their strength and power in their discontentment. I hope they will be heard and prompt the government to make real changes in the system as to bring about the building of a better, healthier, more just society.”

Despite her liberal bent and admittedly some pressure via various pro-Palestinian groups in England urging her to cancel her Tel Aviv show, Sadier staunchly separated her political views and her work as a musician, saying that the two have nothing to do with each other.

“In my mind there isn't a link between me playing a country, and endorsing any of that country’s government policies. When I play in the US it doesn’t mean that I agree with President Obama’s policies at home or abroad,” she said adding, “I would seriously be aggravated if someone didn’t come to play, perform or exhibit in France because they thought that Sarkozy’s government policies regarding immigration are evil.

“I think that art is a totally free space where nothing should be banned or anyone boycotted. It isn’t a moral space. It is a space where we can all meet regardless, where we can experiment, research with no limitation, but in a safe environment where no one will get hurt.

“I am aware that the situation between Israel and Palestine is a great cause of suffering, but I don’t see that me not playing Tel Aviv will in any positive way change that situation; in fact I think that boycotts usually add fuel to the fire. In the long run they make things worse and the ones punished are often innocent people who do not have a direct power of decision.”

As bullish as Sadier appears to be about coming to perform in Israel for the first time, she’s also delighted to be unfettered by the framework of Stereolab for the first time in her professional career.

“I personally welcome this hiatus in the band’s life. We have been at it non stop for 18 years!” she said.

“There isn't any sadness really, but a lot to digest! I am happy to be walking my path alone, meeting new people, making new experiences, and gaining more autonomy.”

That journey, which Sadier’s ‘Trip’ is all about, continues next week in Tel Aviv.


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