Deerhunter vs. Stereolab

A Conversation Between Bradford Cox and Laetitia Sadier

Oct 11, 2010 Web Exclusive Photography by Dan Park (Illustration) Bookmark and Share


Deerhunter and Atlas Sound's Bradford Cox has long professed his love for Stereolab, in particular 1999's Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night, his favorite album by the band. He went so far as to effusively explicate upon its merits on a Deerhunter blog post back in 2007. In an impassioned manner akin to the prime years of the fiery late gonzo journalist Lester Bangs, he also excoriated the publications that panned the album. So, needless to say, Cox was thrilled to engage in an extensive discussion with the group's frontwoman Laetitia Sadier, whom he befriended during an Atlas Sound/Stereolab tour in 2008. A brief collaboration between Cox and Sadier followed, as she sang lead on "Quick Canal," a standout track from Atlas Sound's 2009 album Logos.

Cox continues to be astoundingly prolific with the release of Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest on 4AD, while the future of Stereolab is uncertain at this stage. Drag City is releasing the bNot Music, an album of Chemical Chords outtakes, along with Sadier's debut solo album The Trip. Yet, this transatlantic conversation has little to do with these releases. It's more about a young artist's opportunity to transcend adolescent idol worship and fortify an unlikely friendship, one born of Cox and Sadier's professional and personal admiration for one another.

Bradford: So, I'm really excited to be doing this, and it's always interesting to talk about these kinds of things in front of the person you're talking about. But I was 10 or 11 when I first heard Stereolab, around 1993 or 1994. Transient Random Noise Bursts With Announcements, and I'd never heard anything like it. The sound of it was just really cathartic for me. I was really young, but I was just thirsty for something cerebral sounding, but very primitive also.

Laetitia: What were you listening to at the time?

Bradford: I was listening to The Velvet Underground, but I thought I was supposed to like it. My older cousin, from Athens, he was like Mr. Cool to me, and he exposed me to them. But with Stereolab, I didn't have to try to like it. With The Velvet Underground, it took me awhile to figure out where they were coming from, but with Stereolab, I just instantly got it. "Crest," that was my favorite then. Lockett [Pundt], my bandmate-to both of us it was an existential mantra. And we didn't know what the words meant. I've never been a huge fan of lyrics, but Stereolab's the huge exception, which is odd because it's often sung in French. But Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night is my favorite album of all time. Not to sound obsessive, but when that album came out, I was a senior in high school, and my parents were getting a divorce, I had my first boyfriend, and we drove around in his car listening to that album every night, and every time "Blue Milk" came on, it was like something true and pure. All I can do is preach this insane gospel. I know how silly it sounds.

Laetitia: You sound wonderful!

Bradford: But the line "Where is the father" in that song, I just applied that line to my own life. My father and mother had this very acrimonious split, and my dad just couldn't bear to see us. I felt like he'd see me and be reminded of the gigantic lifelong failure of his marriage, and he was really struggling financially. But that line probably has a completely different context to you...maybe you could talk for a second about interpretations.

Laetitia: Well, my father was an absent father. It's a different context in the song, but to this day the roles of the father in the lives of the children [are distinct]; they don't have such a prominent role as the mother often. It goes for many things...not just providing the money to the family, but being available to the family. They're often stuck in their jobs half of the time that they don't like, so that can be a form of absence. They're not available to their children. For me, a father is someone who's going to help you trust the world around you, and to take the first steps outside of it.

Bradford: They provide a sense of security. My mother's always been the one that encouraged my creativity to ridiculous extents, but my father was always concerned with me being able to support myself and become a man. And manliness has such a negative connotation, but it's important. My father raised me in this way, and there are certain values that are tied to religion, about just being good to your fellow man, to just be upstanding. And I got that from my dad. And my mom, she was very wild.

Laetitia: In a good sense?

Bradford: What I've noticed about culture in general is that mothers give you your sense of wonder and connectedness to nature. My mother was always making me aware of death. I don't know if that's weird.

Laetitia: In what way? The inevitability?

Bradford: Nothing that morbid, but she'd [show me] articles about teenagers dying in car crashes when I was in Driver's Ed, and she left an article about people dying of lung cancer on my bed when she found a pack of cigarettes. With my father, it would've been more like, 'I just want you to know the implications.' He would've been more about discipline. Less talk, more action. But I have a certain depression related to culture. Through Stereolab I became interested in Surrealism. I thought it was almost related to witchcraft in a sense.

Laetitia: The unconscious?

Bradford: The unconscious, but I got really attached to Surrealism. The concepts of the liberation of the spirit, like the Eros. I'm an obsessive researcher, and I immediately found that the father of Surrealism was [André] Breton. And then I found out it was 100% capitalist. But people like René Crevel, he was one of the co-founders of the movement. He was very involved in the beginning. He was a homosexual and [they] later decided that it was an abomination. They were so conservative.

Laetitia: Yes, I know. Man Ray was married, and his wife, she invented solarisation, and he totally stole it and made it his. He was a total misogynist.

Bradford: I read Free Rein, I read Magnetic Fields. I also became really interested in Patti Smith and Rimbaud. But there was this darkness in it. I was so fixated on what Cobra was. Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam, a collective art movement mainly based upon sculpture. I bought a book called CoBrA, Martin [Pike, both artists' manager] might've told you, at this hotel we were staying at in Amsterdam. At the time Cobra and Phases was so cryptic. Kind of like The Residents, you know what I mean? Who are these guys, with this album Eskimo?

Laetitia: Yeah, it's beautiful.

Bradford: But the ego, all of that with Breton! I feel like Surrealism is a teenage boy's form of withcraft. It's, "I want to see some pussy, I want to see some tits, I want it to be subconscious, I want to investigate my perversion, but I want to control the perversion." They spoke so much about automatic writing, unconscious writing, and I feel like so much of it was them wanting to explore what they found interesting and they wanted to control the output. They wanted to copyright it. They wanted to create a movement, but there's so few movements that aren't created out of self-interest.

Laetitia: What's interesting in Surrealism is wanting to push the boundaries. They weren't super involved guys. They weren't Buddha, they weren't Jesus. They were very egotistical, but still they had a certain intellectual outlook that really kicked the rest of the intellectuals and the rest of things that everyone agreed on, they kicked it to the back side. It was good for that. You have to look at the movement, and not the trial of the movement.

Bradford: Oh, it's not a trial, it's just a personal disappointment. Like, are you familiar with what happened to René Cruvel?

Laetitia: No, what happened to him.

Bradford: Breton kicked him out of the movement. They were best friends, and eventually Cruvel was like "fuck it," and he put his head in an oven. What happened to Guy Debord?

Laetitia: Well, Guy Debord was an alcoholic and he had gout and he knew he was going to die soon, so he just finished it off himself.

Bradford: You don't feel like it was an existential terror.

Laetita: [Breton] was a big monster, a big monster, a big tyrant, but people let themselves be led by this guy.

Bradford: You look at people like Rimbaud.

Laetitia: Yeah, exactly. He was a genius, he wrote some absolutely beautiful poems, and then he stopped everything and went off to sell weapons.

Bradford: Yeah, it's fucked up.

Laetitia: Yes, it is. It is fucked up. [Laughs]

Bradford: This attraction to the Eros and to the unconscious, I feel like it's this teenage boy religion, and as soon as you grow out of it, you go off to sell weapons. You're no longer gay. You get married.

Laetitia: But not everybody's like that. I think it's true. One evolves, one changes. Once upon a time I thought, "Revolution, something dramatic, something radical." But now I can't think like that anymore. It's just not sustainable. And now I'd just like to see some steps taken.

Bradford: I'm also at this age where I feel like the revolution came with you guys. Not to talk about such heavy topics like Surrealism and politics, but I feel like the revolution in music came and went. Why couldn't I have been around in 1982 when The B-52s were in Athens?

Laetitia: Well, you have no control over this thing. But like me, I think you're an idealist.

Bradford: When I was young, I wanted to be a part of a scene, a music scene, a part of culture, but as I've gotten older, I want to have a few friends, like you, but I just don't care about scenes anymore.

Laetitia: Maybe not wanting to have heroes anymore but cultivate your own personal hero within yourself. I remember the first time I met you was at a church in London, at an Atlas Sound show, and it was absolutely divine. Do you remember? It was your birthday as well.

Bradford: I normally don't get nervous around people anymore, but when I met you I felt like, "This person had such an impact on my life, and I can't let them know because it would freak them out." But spending my birthday with you was really cool, because I was really lonely in London. But that night was like a cure. I was staying alone at a hotel, and I don't have any friends in London. I was just holed up alone, and I didn't know how to walk anywhere, and Martin [Pike] was like, "Well, Laetitia's coming tonight."

Laetitia: I was stunned by the beauty of your voice, and I thought, "Oh wow, I'd love to sing with him," and we did! [On the recording of "Quick Canal," from Atlas Sound's Logos.]

Bradford: When I was on stage that night, I thought, "Oh, my biggest dream would be to sing with Laetitia." And I felt uncomfortable asking you to do it, because so much collaboration that happens in the indie world, and I hate that word indie, but in the underground rock world, it's almost opportunistic, like, "Hey, let's make ourselves more relevant by joining forces." And I wanted to work with you...especially after we had conversations while touring together. You're such a warm person and a good spirit.

Laetitia: That tour we did together later was so grueling, and I was so glad to have you around.

Bradford: It wasn't like I'm a musician and you're a musician. It was like a real friendship, and you personally reminded me of a friend of mine from high school, Sarah. We had so many interesting conversations, so when I got home I wanted to ask you to collaborate.

Laetitia: What's very beautiful is that you acted on it, because we talk about that a lot, but you made that song and you sent it to me. Unfortunately, we couldn't do it in person together.

Bradford: Well, there's always the future.

Laetitia: Yes, definitely. I was just in the process of listening to the new Deerhunter for the first time...

Bradford: Well, I'm more obsessivethat's less shocking when you realize I'm connected to a piece of electronic equipment 24 hours a daybut I've listened to your new record over and over again, and the biggest compliment I can pay to your band is that they remind me of a smell or an old house I lived in or a specific light in the fall. I know that sounds a little precious, but it's the truth. One thing's that always struck me about the reception to Stereolab is that people so often view it as this detached thing, this wallpaper music. You have no idea how many restaurants are playing Emperor Tomato Ketchup or Sound-Dust. It's a very emotional and cathartic band. I'm going on and on and on, but that's my job, and this morning I was talking to Martin, and we were talking about Cobra and Phases, and I said, "You know, it really is, it was an album that changed your direction. It is an important album." And I've talked to Tim [Gane, Stereolab co-songwriter/guitarist] about it, and I've talked to you about it, and you guys must think I'm crazy.

Laetitia: Only a little bit. [Laughs]

Bradford: And I think it has every bit of the human pathos in it. Were you aware of that when you were making the record?

Laetitia: No, we'd never be so presumptuous.

Bradford: Songs on there are like aural Xanax to me. I feel really lonely and uncomfortable and out of place, and it's an anti-anxiety thing for me.

Laetitia: Music can definitely affect you physically. I've been putting a lot of records away, and I'm going to listen to it tomorrow. I'm looking for a couple of songs to cover, and as you know, I'm playing on my own for my solo album [The Trip], and I'm aware that people would like to hear one or two Stereolab songs. I don't want to play "Ping Pong" or some of the more popular songs. Just something that doesn't get played, so I'm going to listen to Cobra. Do you have a suggestion?

Bradford: Well, as a musician, there's no way I'd say "Blue Milk," my favorite song of all time. It wouldn't work solo. "Come and Play in the Milky Night" is gorgeous, but you've played it so much I don't know how you'd feel about it. But stuff off Sound-Dust, maybe "Les Bons Bons des Raisons."

Laetitia: Yeah, that's a good one. "Velvet Water" would be a good one. I'll play the record. It's getting late here so I need to go soon, but I wanted to say that I think it's important for you to stay with your essence and not be distracted with ego or wanting to please. Just stay with stuff that's true.

Bradford: That's the best advice I've ever gotten. Most of the time it's "Get a good lawyer." Or with Americans, it's just "Surrender to the noise." [Laughs]

Laetitia: We're too old for that. [Laughs]

Bradford: The natural inclination I have is to let you know what a great person I think you are. And I know you're a great mom.

Laetitia: OK, if you say so. I always have my doubts.

Bradford: Alex [Laetitia's son] is a very, very energetic and interesting kid, man.

Laetitia: I'm his mother, so of course I'm in love with my kid.

Bradford: He came onstage and did interpretive dancing, and I just thought it was...most kids today are so guarded, and free expression is becoming so dormant. With the Internet and Facebook, it seems like people are less guided by...

Laetitia: Their inner-selves. They expect the entertainment to come from the outside. I don't think there is a consciousness or an awareness that expression can come from within. Alex, when we invited him to dance...we should say that we had to hide him in our dressing room, as he wasn't allowed in the venue. But when he was invited onstage with us, he was taken aback. You were onstage and [the audience] were happy to see you, we were there, and there was Alex onstage as well!

Bradford: In the 10 years that I've played shows, without a doubt that is my all-time favorite memory onstage. There's something very comforting about a mother and son together. Because we exist in this subculture, where a lot of people have kids. The idea of raising a child is interesting to me. I'm the Godfather to someone, I have a Godson. I have nephews and a niece. I wish I had a kid, like you. If I had a kid he would be my hero.

Laetitia: You're putting more expectations on your poor potential kid.

Bradford: Whatever they do is fine with me. [Laughs] My dad is a conservative Republican, and I'm sort of a challenging rock musician. I've done some pretty far out things when it comes to performance aesthetically, and my father has already supported. He looks through his superficial values, his politics, and he sees his son, and he's proud of his son. He might not understand what I'm doing. For instance there was a picture of me in The New York Times covered in fake blood wearing a little girl's Easter dress deep throating a microphone. A really disturbing image. I can't believe they printed it.

Laetitia: I know why they printed it. [Laughs]

Bradford: But my father put it on his refrigerator, and it's there to this day all faded and yellow right next to his church bulletin. [Laughs]

Laetitia: That is beautiful.

Bradford: It's love, so I'd like to be like my mom and dad. They've supported me through all this stuff. I think it's what's given me my bizarre independence away from scenes and heroes. My heroes are my parents, who went through all these incredibly tough times, and never failed to support me. They put me ahead of them in so many ways.

Laetitia: That's very heroic indeed, yeah.

Bradford: That's heroic, and I don't know what that's like. I sit there and talk about homosexuality, but people who know me know I'm more asexual than anything. I'm not sexually active. I'm not interested in relationships. And part of that is the idea of wondering if I'm capable of putting someone else's happiness ahead of my own.

Laetitia: It's really beautiful that your parents had the strength to do that.

Bradford: I think what made them do it was this old fashioned conservative fear, maybe of God.

Laetitia: Or maybe a sense of duty?

Bradford: Well, I think that when you look at your child, I think, or I suppose there's this unwavering devotion to that baby, something I'm not able to imagine.

Laetitia: Well, it's not automatic. It should happen, but there are times when it doesn't happen. But with Alex, for their generation, I can't recall being so involved with material goods and brands. Brands were like something I couldn't afford. So I wasn't going to base my identity around branded goods. I based my identity around bands like Young Marble Giants and Joy Division because that was what I had. But it's such a part of childhood to be attracted to sweets.

Bradford: And monsters.

Laetitia: And I've found that this generation has been won over. It's won over our generation as well, but I have this sense that I can have this house with a million objects in it and still be very unhappy, and kids today, they might think that "this is it." I was singing about the bourgeoisie on our new record [Not Music], and it really felt like in the '70s that there would be some sort of revolution, and we came really close to turning over the government, and we would have had to create everything from scratch. But of course we retreated, and the bourgeoisie said this doesn't work, and it became about goods and all this material stuff. So it seems like the cycle of capitalism, of maybe taking people away from a more spiritual world, removing people from their natural selves, it's really worked on our kids. But I hope that people realize, "I don't have it, I'm not happy. I have it, I'm happy for five minutes, and then I'm unhappy." Maybe people will realize this. I'm sure consciousness will [help them] avoid that. I like to hope so anyway. Strange times.

Bradford: There's a certain type of people in the world I have a lot of admiration for...this is where I become ridiculously ineloquent, but I was hoping we could tour together again in the U.S. eventually.

Laetitia: When?

Bradford: Anytime next spring or summer. I could play alone, and if you played solo, it would be easy.

Laetitia: Really?

Bradford: No pressure.

Laetitia: That would be wonderful.... Bradford, it's really lovely to speak with you. I absolutely love talking to you. And, as you know, our new record Not Music, it's the night side to Chemical Chords, and it's really my side of the album. And you did a really beautiful remix ["Neon Beanbag"]. It's amazing. I'm so proud of you.

Bradford: When Martin told me you were using it, I literally had to sit down and pass out. You have to understand, your advice to me about hanging on to your essence, and for me that's about music, it's the saddest thing for me. You've been doing this for two decades Laetitia, and I know that I'm kids to you guys, but I've seen so many of my friends lose their passion for music. And with Stereolab, I never fail to have a flutter of excitement.

Laetitia: Well, keep it going. I don't know if Stereolab will do anything again. We may, or we may not. But I'll keep playing music. And that being said, we can kiss goodnight from me.

www.myspace.com/deerhunter

www.deerhuntertheband.blogspot.com

www.myspace.com/laetitiasadier

www.stereolab.co.uk

www.myspace.com/stereolab

www.koly.com/stereolab



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anonymous
October 13th 2010
5:12pm

this is absolutely wonderful

rashed
October 14th 2010
1:56am

Fantastic, thanks for this.

Discount Art
December 21st 2012
1:50pm

This attraction to the Eros and to the unconscious, I feel like it’s this teenage boy religion, and as soon as you grow out of it, you go off to sell weapons. You’re no longer gay. You get married.