Quietly released last year was the first proper solo album by Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier. A touching tribute to her sister, who in Sadier’s words “went on a million year trip/and left everything behind”, The Trip saw Sadier step out from the shadow of Stereolab to make a very revealing album, not only in the way she dealt with her loss, but in how she paid tribute to artists that influenced and inspired her. An album that sparkled in its minimalist approach, The Trip showed a side of Sadier unseen, one that was filled with warmth and emotion, and those little philosophical quirks that you’ve come to expect.
Whilst in London to play a show at Cafe Oto on what was to be the hottest day of the year, Webcuts pulled up a couch with a very suntanned Laetitia to find out what a trip for her it has been.
How have things been for you since Stereolab wound down? You’ve been keeping yourself busy since the release of The Trip, playing the odd solo show here and there. Have you been enjoying yourself?
It’s been great. I didn’t know what to do when Stereolab stopped. I thought that’s it, I’m finished, but things didn’t quite happen like that. First I was offered some money to do a record, and then I lost my little sister and I needed to put all this grief into my art. So I had a reason to do a record, a very sad reason, and although I was really questioning if the world needed yet another record, somehow the universe decided that yes, I should, and then Facebook had people saying ‘Hey, do you want to come and play in Portugal or Belgium?’. All sorts of places.
It’s quite easy to do these things, to pack up a guitar and go, when it’s just you.
Yes. I went to Greece and that was my first show and I could barely play the guitar, and I can still barely play it. Then I went off on tour and supported Mice Parade on their European tour and that was really good to have the momentum of every night playing a show for ten days and then I toured Spain for ten days, and Germany for seven nights in a row. I played in New York and Brooklyn in June and then South America to Brazil and Chile.
Being a left-hander I’m fascinated by the way you play guitar, because you play left-handed but you don’t change the strings around. Is that the way you taught yourself?
Originally, I turned the strings around and realised that whenever I saw a guitar I couldn’t play it, because it was right-handed, so I got fed up with that and thought ‘Sod it, I’m playing right-handed guitar and I’ll play it upside down’. I’m not like a proper musician, a trained musician, so it’s (my playing) is all by ear and ‘oh, I like this chord’ and I don’t know what I’m playing, but they all have names apparently…
You’re playing solo at the moment, how do you feel being alone onstage after decades playing with a band bashing away behind you? Is there a certain clarity in being able to hear yourself think while on stage?
I can hear myself sing, which I enjoy very much! It’s a very different experience but I did find it was hard not being able to hear myself. It was really hard and it made it very frustrating at times because I wanted to hear myself and a voice cannot compete with a loud drummer or a loud amp, and a lot of singers in bands have exactly the same thing. So I did feel a bit crushed and alienated I must say, although I loved the music we were playing, really loved the music, and I still do. But now it’s very, very different. The responsibility is mine and I really enjoy having to fill up the space with a minimum amount of equipment. I always had a frustration with Stereolab that it couldn’t be simple, yet the songs were so beautiful they could’ve stood with just guitar and a voice, but with the dynamic of the band it was always full on, full on, full on… and I thought “How about sometimes we pare it down, and then go full on” but there wasn’t a question of that. I guess I’m repairing certain things with playing alone which I really enjoy at the moment, but I think once I’m stronger with this alone, I will be better prepared to play with new people.
Is that something you’re looking forward to doing in the future?
I think the future is more modular. It could be one, it could be two, it could be three. I’d really like to be a trio. I’d really like that.
As you mentioned before, recording The Trip was a means for you to express your feelings toward the loss of your little sister, but had you made plans to record an album before this happened?
As I said at the time I was wondering whether I should or not, whether there was a reason. A raison d’être, you know. My view on working in the creative field like this is that things are going to have a raison d’être, and Tim was like that. You just don’t do things because it is time, or it’s in the contract. For me it’s more with an emotion there, or a desire. I work really with a desire to do something. So I was questioning whether I wanted to, and things kind of fell into place, and it became a means to act therapeutically around a sad event, and it’s amazing how it worked as well. When I received the final object after it was made, with the sleeve and everything, I just burst into tears because there it all was.
Because of this, do you find it hard to listen to?
No, to me it’s not a sad record. I don’t particularly enjoy listening to my own stuff. Sometimes it comes on the ipod, or sometimes someone will put on, but no, I don’t listen to my own record particularly, but sometimes it’s nice. I’ve rediscovered my old Monade record, A Few Steps More recently, and I thought ‘Oh, that’s quite a nice record. I made a really nice record’, and I didn’t realise at the time that I made a really nice record. Maybe because there was a bit of a complex because of Tim, and he’s a genius and all that, and because of Stereolab and somehow my work could not possibly have the same value. It’s not the same value, it’s different, but I did realise it really has a value.
Your choice of covers on the album are quite interesting and diverse. Gershwin’s “Summertime”, Les Rita Mitsouko’s “Un Soir, Un Chien” , and Wendy and Bonnie’s “By The Sea”. Were these favourite songs of yours or ones that you felt fit within the emotional core of the album?
They all had different reasons to be on the record. “Un Soir, Un Chien” I loved and I always wanted to sing it, so it’s me completely indulging in a long-time fantasy. Richard Swift helped putting that together. With Wendy and Bonnie, I wanted to do a cover version, but it would have to be very different from the original. That was the idea. So I thought this is a really nice poppy song if you speed it up. So it’s a very silly little thing that we knocked together in an afternoon, and it was also honouring Wendy and Bonnie working together at a very young age doing really quite mature and beautiful stuff, and a record that fell into a trap with a bad contract and the record never came out properly until two years ago or something. And “Summertime”, one night I found these chords and I just stated singing “Summertime” over the top of it. When it came to picking tracks to go on the record, I didn’t want this one, because it’s so uncool (in a mocking voice) “Summertime”… but the song was like “Look, I want to be on this record. Let me be on this record”, so I thought “Well, Ok”. The idea about my work is to be guided by it, rather than over-controlling everything to suit my ego.
I would imagine that recording your own music is quite different experience, a more freer and involved one, than with Stereolab. Do you enjoy having that autonomy?
Yes. It’s funny how it’s being in charge, but it’s also letting go and not wanting to control the every aspect. The people I work with, like Richard Swift and how that happened and fell into my lap. It was like the most gorgeous thing that happened to me, getting to work with this guy and his bassist, Yuuki Matthews. Richard supported us in America, and I had asked them to come on tour with us but I could not enjoy them because of some trauma I was going through. Just right at the end I managed to speak a little bit to Richard and go for a walk and somehow we must’ve said ‘Let’s work together one day’. A few months later they come to play in London, the bass player played one note and I nearly fainted. He was such a good bass player. I’ve never really felt that about any bass player. Just one note… They were fabulous, and after the show, Yuuki gets off-stage and comes straight to me and is like “ So I hear you’re going to record with Richard and I would like to be part of this project’ and I was like ‘Oh really? Yes, yes!”, and it happened. So that process I found so enjoyable and I’m really ready to work with Richard again, and Yuuki if he wants to.
Where did you make the album?
In his studio in Cottage Grove near Portland. It was such a fun time. I met a community of people there that was so super, intelligent people, no big egos, people were down to earth, who get on with their lives, who are in charge of their lives rather than sitting and moaning on their asses complaining it’s not good enough or whatever, or having nervous breakdowns or taking drugs, well, they do take a little drugs, but they just do things. Life’s not easy. They understood that, they’re responsible for it. It put me in such a really beautiful space, so I’m ready to go back there.
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