Laetitia Sadier: The Protest Issue Bonus Interview | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Laetitia Sadier: The Protest Issue Bonus Interview

Never Silent

Sep 10, 2012 Lætitia Sadier Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share

Given the numerous ways that an indelicate hand can render them ever so ineffectively, it’s possible that there’s no more challenging assignment for a songwriter than penning a potent political song. If true, there are very few songwriters who have walked that tightrope for longer and with more deftness than Laetitia Sadier, an artist who has proven that a soft touch is often more powerful than a punch when politics are involved. First as a member of ‘80s indie pop band McCarthy, then one-half of legendary electronic act Stereolab (with occasional stints in post-rock side-project Monade mixed in between), she has spent the last 25 years crafting music that made Marxism seem like an unthreatening and natural corollary for Krautrock beats, shimmering melodies, and glistening drones. Now on her own with her second solo release, Silencio, she turns from the personal themes of her 2010 solo debut to again subtly (and not so subtly) infuse her sociopolitical worldview with her work, creating an album that proves that her ongoing critiques of consumerism and the world financial markets have never been more timely.

(Sadier was interviewed for, and is quoted in, an article in our Protest IssueGiving Back: Indie Rockers Making a Difference. This is a bonus web-exclusive interview, featuring portions of the interview not included in the print magazine. For more of our interview with Sadier pick up The Protest Issue. There’s also a whole separate interview with Sadier exclusive to the digital version of the issue. You can buy a copy of the print version directly from us here. Or you can download the digital version for iPads, Macs, PCs, and Android devices here.)

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): What do you think makes a good protest song?

Laetitia Sadier: I don’t know. First of all, you must have a clear intent as to what the song is going to do. I know some of my songs may have come across that way, but I never had the intent of making a protest song, per se. I don’t know if I’ve ever even defined what is a protest song, but I’d say that a good protest song is a song that will make you think about a received idea, which there are a lot of. Because they are received ideas, people will act according to those received ideas without noticing that they are received ideas. The received ideas will shape your behavior and achievements. I’m saying that because I was thinking about this. I just came back from Hampstead Heath, which is the other side of London, and I walked from the Tube to my house, which is a 15-minute walk. And I walked through a pretty rough estate, where there is often a lot of trouble. There are a lot of stabbings there, and there’s a whole culture around that in South London and other areas. And I was walking through the estate, and I was a bit on edge. And I remembered seeing a program about America and how black people were given starting points to make it into higher education. Did you hear about that?


And I was wondering why that is. I don’t think it has anything to do with intelligence, per se. But I think it has something to do with what is expected of you—that received idea. In the States, I think it’s the same. What is expected of you [here] is that you stab each other. If you stab each other, you are a man. If you succeed in school, you’re gay; therefore, you are to be destroyed. So all these received ideas mess up the true nature of people. I think a good protest song is something that will challenge that received idea in a way that you’re stuck. You’re in a corner and you have to think about it. Two plus two is four, and that’s it. You have no choice about thinking about the outcome of this stupid received idea.

So as a songwriter is it your goal to challenge those received ideas?

Yes, of course, when I can. Definitely. It’s a received idea that the individual is the opposite of the community, like the spiritual is the opposite of the material. Of course, I want to bridge all of that as a songwriter.

As a songwriter, does it feel as if your songs all come from the same place or do they have different goals attached to them?

I don’t want to divide unnecessarily, but some have a different purpose. But, generally, it is to express and put out ideas and emotions out into the world in a song shape. I guess, in that way, they are one in the same. But, of course, it’s not the same if I write a song for my little sister or I write a song addressed to the George Bush government.

Do you think that it is your responsibility as an artist to challenge those received ideas?

I think governments have a responsibility in that sense, a responsibility to look after a population and make decisions. Generally, I think we’re all responsible for everything that we do and say. We are responsible, and I think we can endorse responsibility for every move and thought, and it can go quite deep. On the other hand, as an artist, I think the consequences of my actions and what I say or do, I don’t think will have the same direct impact of the decisions they are making about the eurozone right now. They don’t have the same consequences. But there can be repercussions, of course. I know for a fact that listening to McCarthy in the ‘80s changed a lot of my views on the world and how I looked at things. Or reading books.

Do you think that art is inherently political?

Yes, I think so. I think one has to struggle to fight in life, and the ones who fight are the ones who live. And I think this fight or struggle is political, when you become conscious of it. Alas, we live in a world where there are a lot of forces that have a grip on people’s economic reality, and that strangles them. Particularly, at the moment, we’re going through a terrible crisis. We may not feel it completely, in that we have something to eat and football on television, but what’s going on and what’s at work is pretty detrimental to society and the individual. Not all but the majority it is going to effect.

When you see the complex and confusing things going on in the world, it is difficult to take that and express it in a way that makes sense for people?

Did you hear the record?


There’s a song on it called “Auscultation to the Nation,” and if you listen to the lyrics there, it pretty much says it all and in a simple way, about being governed by the rating agencies and the financial markets. These guys are not democratically elected. We don’t know these guys, and yet they are governing us. That’s kissing democracy goodbye. The very idea of democracy is seriously lost at the moment. At least we were all asked every once in a while what we think. That idea is not perfect. The voting system still lacks a bit, but we’re still being asked and there’s still this idea that we all participate and it’s not just some institutional body that decides for everybody what goes on.

So when you’re writing a song like that is it difficult to strike the proper balance or find the tone that you want?

No. I think, for instance, on Silencio there is a song about fire, about passion. And the idea is that we’re living beings and we’re not here to just fucking consume and buy and be consumers and customers. There’s a whole dimension to being human that has nothing to do with commercialism. You cannot buy fire or passion online. It’s also a way of decrying, of denouncing, just bringing light to this other side of being human. And it’s free. It has nothing to do with money, in fact. It’s a roundabout way.

So what would be a gratifying response to your record? If people heard it, what would you want them to say?

You know what, I haven’t thought about what I’d like people to say. I put out an intent to get people talking and being aware and more alert as to what we’re being told. I’m just really happy to put those ideas out there and for people to talk about them, because I think at some stage we have to be aware of the forces that are facing us, and they are a real threat. They’re not good or positive forces. They are deadly forces, and that’s how I view it. As people, it would be good to be in the lively side of things, which is to be creative and cultivate beauty and talk as much as we can about all these issues and make people around us as aware as possible. We need to get organized to overthrow the system and move on to some other thing that works better for everybody.

It seems like now is a really critical time for artists to be playing a role in all of that.

I think so. Definitely. It might take a while, but it has been like that for decades, but it’s more tangible now because it’s deeper than other crises that we’ve had. Not everyone is feeling it yet, but a lot of people are. Slowly but surely, the decrepitude of the public system means that everybody is losing their subsidies and housing benefits, and that’s going to create more and more tension inevitably. And if the tension rises, we must have the awareness that the outcome of this can also be directed. It can be guided rather than just being a bloodbath, like, “Hey, everybody, buy weapons, because people are going to come steal our TV.” I think that’s a pathetic way of responding, and I’ve heard people respond like this in America, where you can actually get yourself a weapon. I think that sucks. Hey, we’re all in the same boat, actually. So what do we do?


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