Laetitia Sadier has one of the most recognizable voices in all of indie rock. For well over a decade she provided the sanguine vocals for Stereolab, arguably one of the most profoundly influential — and deeply underrated — bands of the past 20 years. After that band called it quits in 2009, Sadier struck out on her own, releasing two excellent solo albums and collaborating with the likes of Mouse On Mars and Atlas Sound. Sadier is currently touring the states in support of Silencio — her first new album in two years — and I had the good fortune to speak with her about her new record, the state of the world, and the freedom that comes along with being a solo artist. She is both very charming and very, very French.
Stereogum: How did Silencio come to be?
Sadier: Well, the title came to me while visiting a church, actually. Once I had the title I knew I had to make another record, so then I just set about writing the songs. The title was just this meditative sort of idea — the idea of quiet, of pausing and having a reflective moment with oneself, and what comes from that.
Stereogum: I like the idea of starting with a title — a kind of guiding principle — and building everything else around that. How did having that word stuck in your head then influence the kind of songs you made for this record?
Sadier: You know, I always work from the gut, from instinct. I always trust in the process and that in the end everything will somehow tie together — which generally works out. It’s true that the title of the record was just about having a deeper connection with the self, but it’s also about having a more meaningful connection with other people, too. Something more meaningful than just, “What can you do for me and what can I do for you?” So much of our connection with other people is really just about exploitation of some sort — what can we do for each other, or fulfilling some need for another person — rather than really understanding other people or truly trying to know them. I find that really scary, and we don’t even always realize that it’s happening. We’ve become so perverted from our deeper, truer nature: the nature of what it is to be human, what it is to feel things. We’re not here on Earth just to calculate things all the time, to simply acquire things. I knew that between this notion of silence and personal connection I also felt this need to talk about politics and what is happening in the world — the financial crisis, the bourgeoisie, and the perverted thing our culture has become. I knew that it would somehow all tie in together somehow. I am always trying to hold up a mirror — a loving mirror, not a horrible mirror — to myself and to other people. I just want to make art that can show us how to be a better, much more loving version of ourselves, do you know what I mean? I don’t mean to talk in all these abstractions. Am I making sense?
Stereogum: Yes. I love it. I love talking about music that really attempts to address philosophical ideas. It’s refreshing.
Sadier: Oh good. Well you know I think we have a lot of choice about the kind of people we ultimately become. It’s important to try and visualize a better version and a better way to try and operate. It’s also about connecting the “I” to the “we”: We are also conditioned to be so self-centered; it’s nice to connect the personal to the collective.
Stereogum: We are so distracted by technology and the pressures of always being so aggressively busy, it’s nice to encounter art that reminds you to pause and reflect and take stock of things. I always think of that as a way of resetting all of your internal dials. Certain art — certain music, especially — helps to “reset” or refocus you. It moves everything back to the center. It reminds you how to be a human being again and not just a task-accomplishing robot trying to tick everything off of a to-do list on your iPhone.
Sadier: It’s so important. There has to be a balance, and I feel like we are always perpetually out of balance. It’s very hard to think about the future or to really consider what we want out of life when we are so constantly bombarded with information and stimulus.
Stereogum: You’ve been making music — both on your own and with Stereolab — for well over two decades now. Has your process changed radically over the years?
Sadier: Not radically enough. [Laughs] You know, you always want to change and take more risks — and I really wanted to change things with this album — but it’s hard not to avoid falling back into a way of working that is comfortable to you. I’m always starting with a sound, and then a melody, and then how my lyrics will work on top of that. You know, I’d really like to do something totally different the next time around, but it’s funny, I always try and get away from myself, and the more I try to do that, the more I end up finding myself again. There’s always the next album; there’s always a new opportunity to throw everything out the window and start again.
Stereogum: This is your second solo album, so you’ve been through this process before: the process of making something totally your own. Still, having operated within the confines of a group for so long, does it feel odd to be working solo?
Sadier: I’m much happier doing my own work. I never really enjoyed … well, I shouldn’t say that. I did adore the work that we did in Stereolab, but Tim [Gane] was really in control of everything. I was just the singer, just the voice. It was fine, but I wasn’t happy. Now it’s really lovely to be able to pursue my own vision. It’s really exciting. To be able to choose who I work with and go with my own instincts. I only have good things to say about working on my own. I’ve learned a lot.
Stereogum: You are about to hit the road soon. How does it feel playing live on your own?
Sadier: Well, for the past few years I’ve been playing alone. At first it felt weird not having a band, but also liberating. Now we are going out as a trio, which feels good. It feels really healthy to be going out and playing shows for people.
Stereogum: Was there ever a point when you thought maybe you were done with making music?
Sadier: When Stereolab finished I worried about what might happen, but I also needed a break. You have to go away from it for a while before you start to need it again. I knew that I wanted to play, I wanted to tour, I wanted to make music, but only if it was under my own name and the responsibility — and the pleasure of it — could be all mine. I’m not sure if I ever would have had the self-confidence to do it had it not been for Stereolab, so it feels like things have worked out the way they were supposed to. But there was a time when I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t know if anyone would want to put out my record or if anyone would be interested. But now it feels very good and I’m looking forward to playing shows again. And I’m curious to see how I am welcomed by people. It’s been a while, so I hope they welcome me.
Laetitia Sadier’s Silencio is out now on Drag City.
10/03 Seattle, WA @ Barboza
10/04 Portland, OR @ Bunk Bar
10/05 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
10/06 Los Angeles, CA @ Culture Collide Festival
10/10 Denver, CO @ Hi Dive
10/11 Lincoln, NE @ Bourbon Theatre
11/05 Manchester, UK @ The Deaf Institute
11/06 Glasgow, UK @ Captain’s Rest
11/07 Edinburgh, UK @ Sneaky Pete’s
11/09 Dublin, IE @ The Workman’s Club
11/10 Galway, IE @ Roisin Dubh
11/12 Cardiff, UK @ The Globe
11/13 London, UK @ XOYO
11/14 Brighton, UK @ Sticky Mike’s
11/16 Ghent, Belgium @ Muziekcafé Charlatan
11/17 Cologne, Germany @ King Georg
11/18 Berlin, Germany @ Berghain
11/19 Munich, Germany @ Orangehouse
11/21 Vevey, Switzerland @ Rocking Chair
11/22 Paris, FR @ Point Ephémère
11/25 Bordeaux, FR @ Le Comptoir du Jazz