French singer and musician Laetitia Sadier is on tour with her latest band Source Ensemble. Duncan Seaman spoke to her ahead of their Leeds gig.
Last month Laetitia Sadier ventured out on a short solo trek that stopped off at several English towns and cities that are seldom visited by touring artists.
It was, she says, “very nice” to play shows in the likes of Rugby, Hastings and Durham. “We’re talking away from the big cities and a connected life elsewhere. It’s quite anchored into reality and also wanting to create an alternative in a place where otherwise it’s probably dire.”
In January the 50-year-old French singer and multi-instrumentalist – who began her musical career in the highly regarded avant-pop group Stereolab – will take her latest band, the Source Ensemble, on the road again for a string of dates that include the Rockaway Beach festival in Bognor Regis and the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds.
“I don’t know if it differs because it’s just one big continuity from the Monade albums to the solo albums to the Source Ensemble,” she says. “But it’s true that I’d been playing with the same people for five or six years, also I felt I needed a keyboard player and another singer in the band – I thought that it would really flesh out the sound – so Nina [Savary] joined and she’s really brilliant. It just means more definition in the sound and the capacity to sing four-part harmonies. Maybe there’s more sophistication. I think we did all right when we were three because we all sang and we had a couple of effects, so that was fine, but I felt we needed to fill up that space, which the keyboards and synthesisers do. It’s just a continuity and hopefully an evolution.”
On the Source Ensemble’s first album, Finding Me Finding You, Sadier shifted her lyrical focus away from geopolitical upheavals towards discussing matters of personal responsibility. “I guess if there is a conclusion to be had it’s that we’re all implied in this situation,” she says. “Democracy is also a personal matter which begins at home and that we’re not going to move forward unless every one of us is connected to the project. I think we’re going to have to radically shift, but radical doesn’t necessarily mean brutal; sometimes you just have radical shifts because you must, that’s intrinsic to the law of physics. You have to change, you have to leave old habits and embrace new ones. And I do think even if politics is a collective project, the collective is made of individuals who take part, and that is democracy, so I guess yes, it’s a lot about that.”
Democracy is also a personal matter which begins at home and that we’re not going to move forward unless every one of us is connected to the project. I think we’re going to have to radically shift, but radical doesn’t necessarily mean brutal.Laetitia Sadier
She sees the current problems of western democracy as “a combination of things”. I do think that capitalism had a big role to play in the degradation of human values. To keep up profits you have to devalue labour and to devalue labour you have to devalue people, you have to be able to exploit them. That’s always the big problem with devaluing black people’s work and women’s work and imposing the patriarchy, the white male thing. There are also a lot of white males who are totally exploited, let’s not forget them. Malcolm X when he realised that it wasn’t a problem of being black or white, it was a problem of being rich or poor, that’s when he got assassinated because his speech did not match any more the black or white thing.
“But generally speaking, one could observe that black people are paid less than white people. I think that has a role to play in the demise of human value and the oversimplification of our problems and dumbing down, because when people are stupid they buy more, they’re more pliable, you can incite them more to buy stuff that they don’t need. I think advertisements are doing a good job and a lot of mediatic stuff as well, to not go into all the social media, the reduction of your attention span. I really feel that. Sometimes I take my phone and start looking at Instagram and half an hour later what the hell? And then if I need to focus on something for longer than a second I struggle, it’s really terrible. It is a fast thing that you lose your attention span.”
Sadier says she hopes her songwriting concerns have changed subtly over the past 28 years since she co-formed Stereolab with her then partner Tim Gane. “But I think generally that it’s still the same bit of land that I’m cultivating, which is how to bridge the personal to the societal. It’s really exploring that bridge and all the bridges that connect us. It’s a vast terrain to explore, of course, because it’s basically everything from the personal to the societal.
“But mostly I’m asking questions, I’m not solving any problems really, but I do find that being critical is very important to keep oneself in check and society in check as well at all times because there are freedoms that we have, if we’re not careful they are already taken away from us. We are already being permanently surveilled and our data does not belong to us, which I find completely maddening that people are accepting this s*** deal and despite all the scandals – Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, they are numerous – we’re just ‘All right, I might leave Facebook, it’s not trendy any more’ and another Facebook will come along that will steal your data, target you, blah, blah, blah.
“I think we have to be vigilant more than ever because at the end of all this there’s war. When we have handed over freedom and our ability to think and to express our truth then the next step is war. With the divide that’s going on our societies in France, in the UK and the US, in many places, in Germany, in Italy, the divide is more and more palpable today. Well, that’s a slippery slope, and when you know that war is the thing that makes the most money of course Donald Trump wants war.”
Her intention, she agrees, is to make music that leaves space for reflection. “I think art in general is really a great tool and at the moment it’s a weapon... I always felt that and some other artists may think very differently and that’s fine but I think if you have even one ounce of concern for your environment you will view your art as a tool for progress, for provoking thought and for evolution towards life-affirming goals as opposed to destruction. But of course that’s a debate one could have. It’s true there is a destructive part in creativity as well but at the moment from what I gather the future of our planet is at stake.
“The Earth is being cr***ed up in very serious fashion and the environment could be the number one concern that is facing us right now and nothing is done to cut down CO2 emissions. There’s words but basically the numbers in the past 10 years have risen by another 25 per cent of emissions, when 10 years ago we were already saying, ‘Oh my God, we have to cut them down’. Cars are still being produced, diesel is still on sale, more and more people own cars and run them including myself, we fly around the world which is extremely detrimental and there is absolutely no political will to look at this and have the balls to say ‘we have to change that’. It’s going to hurt some jobs but the economy is already f***ed up. I’m just really stating the obvious but it’s not being done in a consequential manner.”
Ten years on from the break-up of Stereolab, Sadier says she neither embraced nor shunned her old band’s legacy. “I don’t know, it’s just there,” she says. “And what I do is not too far from what is there because it was me then and it’s me now, so I don’t either embrace it or dismiss it, it’s just a continuity really, and if you listen to what I do and what Tim does in Cavern of Anti-Matter and you put the two together you basically have [Sterolab].”
Sadier reveals she’s working on her next record now. “It’s early days but I’m happy, I feel comfortable exploring that new space with new bits of equipment and I’m looking forward to seeing its face.”
The Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble play at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on January 16. www.laetitiasadier.net