THE UNIVERSAL SELF Laetitia Sadier

Humble
themes but lofty goals mark the erstwhile Stereolab frontwoman’s newest musical
incarnation.

 

BY MIKE
SHANLEY

 

Laetitia Sadier’s last album, The Trip, was recorded following the death of her sister, an event
which fueled some of the album’s music. Despite such a heavy subject matter, it
concludes rather ambiguously.  A stark,
piano-and-voice take on the chestnut “Summertime” is followed by “Release, Open
Your Little Earthling Hearts,” 29 seconds of organ chords and acoustic guitar
picking that end this particular trip rather abruptly.
But there was a method behind it. “The intent with
this last piece on The Trip was to signify that we all have to
release, and relinquish and let go of just about everything we have in life,”
Sadier explains in an email. “The piece is about opening and letting life go
through us as much as we can, while not holding on to things that are
essentially transient.”

 

Silencio, her
new album for Drag
City, takes the
opposite tack. It ends with an extended bit of silence. Not dead air, but the
sound of tranquility recorded at Eglise St. Blaise (Church
of St. Blaise) in Vichy, France. “Invitation au Silence”
begins with an introduction (in French and English simultaneously) in which
Sadier explains how a visit to a church and experiencing absolute silence once
made her feel “instantly connected with my deeper self, my cells, to a profound
dimension.” The recording made in Southwest France
attempts to recreate that feeling
and she invites listeners to join her. For roughly 100 seconds, the
reverberations of the building do indeed block out the world and create a
calming effect.

 

Considering the tone of the lyrics that precede it, the
come-down of the final track feels necessary.

 

Ever since she crashed onto the international scene as the
lead vocalist of Stereolab, Sadier has always exuded a subdued quality in voice
and delivery. Speaking by phone from England,
she is no different. Yet the lyrics on Silencio were born out of political frustration. “We live in an era where… yes, you can
make yourself numb-er and numb-er to the situation,” she says, pausing
frequently in mid-thought to make sure she expresses herself clearly, “as to
what our responsibilities are, you know, in the face of how we’re being
governed basically, what forces are at work. Particularly when it comes to the
idea of democracy and how that’s being totally flushed and shat on.

 

“So what do we do in the face of that,” she continues, “when
it’s becoming more apparent that our rights as citizens are being taken away
from us, in particular in America I
would say, but everywhere? In the name of terrorism, in the name of – we borrow
too much money, in the name of all that stuff. Surveillance a go-go, in the UK and in your country.”

 

Her frustrations play out blatantly in “Auscultation to the
Nation,” a song with lyrics that were lifted verbatim from a listener on a
French radio talk show, who opined about the state of international monetary
system. And then there’s the heavily-worded “There’s a Price to Pay for Freedom
(And It Isn’t Security).” But although the titles might look like something
from a Crass record, the songs themselves contain Sadier’s breezy pop that has
become a distinct style for her. Without a lyric sheet on hand, it’s easy to
miss the message of the latter’s abstract lyrics and get lost in the slow sea
of lush keyboards and Sadier’s penchant for phrasing English words differently
than us (“SO-sigh-et-tee” = “society”).

 

 


Laetitia Sadier – There is a Price to Pay by 10th_StreetLA

 

Don’t mistake Sadier for an angry woman either. Before
playing “Price” at a recent show during her North American tour, she chuckled
her way through the introduction. On the phone, a month prior, she disagrees as
well with the thought that the songs could be considered apocalyptic. “I don’t think it means the end of the world
or the end of humanity,” she says. “It’s just about being aware of what’s going
on and fighting it off when it becomes too oppresant. I think it’s another way
of getting people to stay in line, by bringing in all these ideas and images of
apocalypse.”

 

When pushed about what the price for freedom really is, she becomes playful too. “Ah,
what is the price of freedom? It can
vary, but you have to give yourself the means to transform,” she says. “It
might be your bad habits… or [desire to work] towards a better system. Freedom
is at every step of the way, even when you walk out the door of your house. You
have a certain freedom of action. But it’s risky.

 

“Of course this title is about all the security that has
been put in place in the last, I don’t know, 20 years, like high security to
basically police the people.”

 

Sadier realizes that standing up to the powers that be is no
cakewalk, especially for those who have to make it to work every day in order
to survive. “It’s a fine balance of being pissed off enough, but not too
depressed,” she says, and laughs.

 

Although certain themes recur throughout Silencio she feels uncertain whether it,
or The Trip, could be considered a concept
album. “I want to speak about something in particular. So [an album is] always
motivated by something quite specific. So in that respect, maybe it’s a concept album,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t know. I’m
led in a lot of cases, and I allow myself to be led by the work rather than
leading it, strictly, in the controlling fashion. But of course, yes, there’s
always an idea out there from which the music and lyrics emerge. Then it’s a kind
of ‘Who leads who’ game. So I don’t [think], ‘Oh, this album could finish in
this specific way or this precise way or this slippery way.’ It just happens.”

 

The way she works takes a lot of direction from “the Tim
Gane School of Music” referring to her Stereolab bandmate. “Tim wrote very,
very fast,” she says. “He would write only to make a record. He would just, in
a condensed way, work and work for the aim of recording in one month or two
months. Or in three weeks. And I do exactly the same thing.” (Gane,
incidentally, shows up on Silencio as
a co-writer of “Next Time You See Me,” one of the album’s strongest
full-fledged pop tunes.)

 

As much as she’s preconditioned to this work habit, she
feels confined by it. “When you work in emergency, you don’t experiment as much
[as you would] if you have time,” she says. “And you do it quickest way you
can, which is the way you know. And I realized I did that again on this record.
And now that I’ve identified that, I know how not to work next time.”

 

 


Laetitia Sadier “Find Me the Pulse of the Universe” by Drag City

 

 

One element of surprise on Silencio can be found among the instrumental credits. Sadier, whose
former band arguably brought about a resurgence in Moog synthesizers among
indie rockers, trades in the ancient keyboard for a Moog app. She and
multi-instrumentalist James Elkington (who is drumming on the current tour)
both use the app on the album – and Sadier has no regrets. “It’s an app on an
iPad. It’s fun, though,” she says. “It sounds like a new instrument in its own
right. It’s extremely versatile,
extremely celestial. Very, very deep.

 

“Five dollars for a Moog app is very acceptable,” she says. “I think it’s a happy
development. We should rejoice.”

 

As she discusses this new convenience on the phone, she
mentions a debate she has with a friend over whether
technology could lead to future peace. “I’m seduced into the idea,” she says. A
month later, in an email from the road, she has been getting opinions on the
subject. “Generally, people tend to see hope in the
social networks as being a catalyst to participate in building world peace,”
she says. “Mostly [it’s] a way to see that we as humans are more similar to one
another than dissimilar. Which in turn, as we get to know each other better and
recognize one another, would mean less to fear of one another, and more to
embrace.

 

“I personally see in technology a way to deal
with our more unpleasant chores, to free up time for enjoying the mere fact of
being alive and doing the things we truly desire to do,” she admits.

 

After surveying the political and technological landscape –
and wrapping it in some solid arrangements of crisp, clean guitar chords
-Sadier closes Silencio with
“Invitation au Silence.” It presents a respite from the music and allows the
rare chance for people to reconnect with their thoughts, according to the
singer. “It’s about showing the way, pointing finger in a direction – ‘Hey,
look. Try that because it’s really nice,'” she says, casually. “It’s just so
nice to connect with oneself, and yet I think everything is done out there to
disconnect us from ourselves. Which I think is also a way of distracting from
reality, making people dream their lives, like fantasize their lives, but not
actually live.”

 

Compared to the final seconds of The Trip, the album sounds radically different, yet Sadier explains
both albums have similar endings. They just take different routes to get there.
“The silence at the end of Silencio is more about deep inner connection to the self. Because
if you don’t look or listen into yourself you will never find out who you are,”
she says. “The Trip‘s ending was
about letting go of material manifestation and becoming more spirit, connecting
to the universe.”

 

That ability to reconnect with oneself, she says, actually
helps to break away from the formatting set in place by those in charge. “What
you gain access to is the universal self, and [that is] what unites people in a
completely different way, I guarantee you,” she says. “It’s much, much bigger
[and] freer, for lack of being able to describe it really. But of course that
will be described in as many words as there are people accessing this
universality. And not fearing it.”

 

She pauses and possibly realizing the weight of her words,
adds with a laugh, “I guess those were the humble themes on the record.”

 

[Photo credit: David
Thayer
]

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