For most of the ’90s and the early 21st century, Stereolab made a stellar career out of sounding like bookish Europeans let loose on permanent South American holiday. The UK band’s Kraut-rockin’ neo-bossa nova sprinkled with French-accented leftist lyrics created a transcontinental template for a coalescing electronic scene. It made them cult heroes to many, on par with the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. Others, less impressed, tagged the retro-futurist pastiche Marxist wallpaper. Regardless, their output has been prolific, their consistency remarkable and their collaborations extensive, including Sean O’Hagan (High Llamas), John McEntire (Tortoise), Jim O’Rourke, Mouse on Mars and Atlas Sound. After almost 20 years, the band called it quits in 2009. Laetitia Sadier, lead vocalist and co-founder with now ex-partner Tim Gane, is not waiting around to hear how the record settles. The Trip, her first official solo album was released on September 21, a few weeks ahead of the November 15 release for Not Music, the “second half” of Stereolab’s swan song, 2008′s Chemical Chords.
Together, Chords and Music showcase Stereolab in pitch perfect form–perfect for the museum, detractors kvetch. In contrast, The Trip captures a pivotal artist in the midst of reinvention. Recorded partly and notably with Richard Swift at his Portland studio as well as with avant-folk darlings April March, The Trip shares Stereolab’s encyclopedic tendencies and flourishes but it also deals viscerally with love and loss. In 2002,co-vocalist Mary Hansen died in a car accident. The album Margarine Eclipse is dedicated to her. Shaken by the suicide of her own sister, as well as the break-up of the band that consumed most of her creative life and defined her voice as much as her voice defined it, Laetitia channeled her meditation into music. Whereas the ‘lab was a tightly coiled, well-oiled juggernaut, Sadier solo is a looser, friskier animal. Among The Trip‘s new material there are a couple of whimsical cover choices, including Wendy & Bonnie’s “By the Sea”, Gershwin’s “Summertime” and a slinky down tempo disco version of Les Ritas Mitsoukos’ “Un Soir, Un Chien.”
We spoke with Sadier after her European solo tour wrapped up. She was at home in London with her boyfriend. Her son was playing video games. She had just come from her shiatsu class.
URB: How did you get into shiatsu?
Laetitia Sadier: A few years ago I went to doctors for a problem. They couldn’t do anything. They actually made everything worse. One day I saw a leaflet advertising shiatsu and I thought, “This is what I need.” So I went and tried it and absolutely loved it. It did things, it liberated emotions, things that no pill can ever do for you. I really saw the limitations of what I knew, of western medicine. Here, I thought, “This can go places that medicine cannot.” One summer I enrolled myself in one-week intensive shiatsu training. And that was it, I had the bug.
URB: How long have you been interested?
LS: Seven years.
URB: Are you certified?
LS: I’m an advanced shiatsu student. I have case studies to present. Today I did my first one. I was told it was pretty good for a first time.
URB: Is this your backup plan?
LS: I didn’t really think about it like that. When Tim decided to go on break, I thought “OK, here we have a natural break.” We’re not going to be working for the next 5, 10 years. I thought, “Well I’m kind of finished.” Maybe shiatsu would take a more prominent place. But then I was given money to make an album and I decided to put out it out in my own name. People like Richard swift opened his studio for me, to work together. Then I got all these people asking me to play gigs in Portugal, Belgium, and Spain, South America, France… So all of a sudden I was being solicited. And I thought again, “Maybe I’m not finished here.”
URB: You always had another band, Monade, and you’ve got this solo record now, so clearly there’s still a lot of music left in you–even if that was the last Stereolab record.
LS: The thing is nobody knows, no one can be so presumptuous.
URB: Peter Hook and Killing Joke were just in town playing; if they’re still going…
LS: At some stage you realize that’s the only thing you know how to do. You get to 40 or 50 and this is what you do and you do it well because you’ve done it since were a teen. And you enjoy it. You can’t really turn around and all of a sudden decide, ‘I’m a scientist!” I’m happy to have two chords to my art, so to speak. I have always been interested in health and the body and how it works. I was also interested in energy. This is working with energy, directly with muscles. It’s not man as machine, you put a new thing in and off it goes. It’s holistic and looks at the body in a more integrative way. The more I do this, the more I discover the value of such ways of apprehending the human entity. Then energetically, it goes beyond the human, through the walls to the universe. It’s one big bath of energy. Then you get into quantum physics and it’s like “Wow, what door did I open?”
URB: “Everything’s vibrating!” And then magic and science get confused and you can’t tell one from the other.
LS: I don’t see why there should be any difference between them.
URB: It must be nice refuge from all the craziness of being STEREOLAB.
LS: You can’t control what you mean to people, the amount of maybe, idolization that can go on. I’ve always been kind of oblivious to it. Not on purpose. Just because I didn’t see it. I could see the music had a strong, universal connection. We struck a chord some how. But on a very small scale because we were never a big, commercial band. There are only a few people on the planet who have even heard of us. In retrospect, I can tell how things are shaping up, what we mean to people, to music. It takes some distance to comprehend. At the time, you’re just concentrating on your task. It was never a plan to become successful or satisfy our egos or be on the front cover of NME. We did not control that at all. Tim’s priority was always Music, Music, Music. We understand the game of it. We signed a contract with Elektra, it’s not like we were completely naive. It was a good contract.
URB: With a BIG record label.
LS: But they were a cool label. The history of Elektra is quite interesting. It wasn’t some commercial-only venture. I think they would have liked if we brought them a few more hundreds of thousands of dollars. But I think they were happy to have an arty band on the label.