Since her days as a founding member of avant-pop band Stereolab, Lætitia Sadier’s music has engaged with everything from world-systems analysis to the surrealists. In an interview with Jacobin, she explains why she’s a radical but not a savior.

Lætitia Sadier performing in 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Lætitia Sadier may be our chanteuse for the end of the world. As cofounder and lead vocalist of the avant-pop band Stereolab, she has never shied away from politics, whether on albums by her band or through solo work since her debut, The Trip, in 2010. Stereolab, which formed in 1990 and recently regrouped in 2019 after a ten-year hiatus, established its left-wing credentials on LPs like Mars Audiac Quintet (1994), Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1996), and Dots and Loops (1997), with music that lyrically engaged with elements of world systems analysis, Situationism, and Surrealism, frequently backed by a compelling Krautrock, motorik beat. Rock critic Robert Christgau famously dismissed Stereolab’s recordings as “Marxist background music” — a label that only further endeared the band to fans, both politically and artistically.

Sadier’s new album, Rooting for Love (Drag City), is markedly different from her work thirty years ago. Yet, she hasn’t lost her radical worldview. In this instance, she levels her critical eye at the social and cultural crises brought on by COVID-19, the far right in Europe, and imminent environmental collapse. Amid the LP’s layered compositions and sutured sound collages is an unmistakable political message: Sadier situates love as a solution for these predicaments. With its textured, synth-pop melodies and nocturnal atmosphere, Rooting for Love might be described as lounge music for the apocalypse.

Following in the tradition of forerunners like Alexandra Kollontai, this isn’t a typical love song album, but one rooted and routed through ideas of resistance and radical social change, which Sadier delineates with style and conviction. She spoke to Christopher J. Lee about her approach to love and its revolutionary potential.

Christopher J. Lee

My first question is about the collective aspect of Rooting for Love, both in its recording but also in its stated emphasis on “gnosis” — the idea that there should be a collective striving for knowledge. Can you discuss what prompted this album, and what your political and intellectual motivations were?

Laetitia Sadier

It can be read on many levels. It’s just an orientation, you know, I can’t control anyone’s interpretation. It’s conditioned by so many aspects, but I wanted the album to represent the collective aspect of creation for sure. When I write lyrics, I’m driven by something that’s new to me, new questions, and I feel the answers will come later. What social concerns are at stake, in my environment and at large? Anything we do, anything that happens, is the product of interrelationships — we’re not isolated human beings. The connections run much deeper than we are led to believe.

Christopher J. Lee

There’s nothing on this album that’s about the pandemic in an obvious way, but this theme of interrelationships seems connected to this recent crisis. Did the pandemic contribute to your writing?

Laetitia Sadier

I got sick with COVID pretty much straight away in March 2020. I had long COVID. I kept on getting a little bit better, but it kept on coming back all the time. I didn’t do any work during that period. Some of the lyrics in “Panser L’inacceptable” speak of bodies that are separated and are longing to reconnect, like an exasperation with a system that seeks to separate us.

During the pandemic, the act of separating people happened in an extreme way. I understand why people started having conspiracy theories. Personally, I thought it was super traumatic because I am sensitive and energetically aware of connections. Mind you, you don’t need to be physically connected to someone to feel connected to them, of course. But I thought it was super brutal to have everyone apart, and through my album, I wanted to reconnect to the collective. On the other hand, being disconnected to the collective was an opportunity to connect more deeply to the self.

On a political level, what the pandemic revealed is a very weak, underfunded medical service for humanity.

On a political level, what the pandemic revealed is a very weak, underfunded medical service for humanity. There have been attempts to fight that trend, but strangely they have never picked up any momentum.

Christopher J. Lee

Did you further detect this shift in social connection after you started touring again? What were audiences like?

Laetitia Sadier

Yes. Recently, we played in Utrecht, and — someone sent me a photo from above — the people were standing in rows with their little square of emptiness around them. I’ve played a couple of pandemic gigs where everyone is sitting in chairs with their masks on, and it’s so depressing, you know, particularly in that environment where you’re supposed to be close together, you’re supposed to sweat together, you know? We went through this moment of separation together, to put it paradoxically. This album is the product of that moment of pandemic separation.

Christopher J. Lee

There’s a line from “Cloud 6,” the last track on the album, where you remark, “The world renounces its liberty because it is in fear.” It struck me that this line could apply to the pandemic, but also to recent politics in the United States and in Europe with xenophobia and the reemergence of far-right politics. We live in a world with different, escalating fears that people are responding to in different ways.

Laetitia Sadier

Fear is very human. It’s one of the most primary feelings, and it’s a natural response, a primordial reaction from the reptilian brain. But it’s also exploited by the powers that be to keep people at that level, so that they are less likely to efficiently organize to overthrow those very powers. When in fear or shock, you can’t think clearly, you’re more likely to follow the herd and collaborate with the executioner. Your frontal cortex is deactivated.

In America, it’s horrible how people are made to be completely paranoid: “Don’t take away my gun!” The world is perceived as a threat and menace to one’s own property. It’s like, “Whose property was this in the first place?” You stole it. That’s why you’re so fucking paranoid, you feel ashamed and illegitimate.

In America, it’s horrible how people are made to be completely paranoid: ‘Don’t take away my gun!’ The world is perceived as a threat and menace to one’s own property.

So, a lot of things are in place already, in people’s psyches, and I include myself in that. We are susceptible to being manipulated. In America, it’s particularly bad, where you have the right to have a gun and the perception of constant threats, which makes things even more volatile and dangerous.

“The world renounces its liberty because it is in fear” applies to the pandemic, but not only, it’s an old trick. Keep people in fear to better create scapegoats onto which we can project our own self-hatred. It’s important that we are aware of these mechanisms, to know that we project all the time, that we are likely to go and hate someone because they’re identified as Other, just to be left off the hook of our responsibility.

The album is also about that. It’s about the shadow we have in ourselves that we find too shameful or too unacceptable, which we can’t own. So we project it on our friends, on our family, on the neighbor, on the woman at the shop.

Christopher J. Lee

This relates to the title, Rooting for Love. This isn’t a conventional album of love songs. On the one hand, you’re “rooting,” as in promoting, love. On the other hand, you’re also “rooting,” as in digging, for love in new and different places.

Laetitia Sadier

Love is the opposite force to fear. That’s the choice we have in this moment. Either we choose to go down with fear or to rise to the much higher frequency of love. Love is a higher frequency than fear or jealousy or envy or anger. Love is more elevated. This shift has to happen energetically through our hearts. There is much more to reality than we can perceive with our eyes or our senses.

To go back to “rooting” for love, we have a choice at every moment to either accept this fear, which is manufactured, which is a construct, which is a narrative that we have integrated growing up in a particular environment, or we may also have dragged around for millennia through our ancestry. We can respond to that, or we can respond to love, to higher frequencies, which we can cultivate within ourselves.

I think we have a choice. The album is about how we are cocreators of our reality. I know that this might sound very cruel, you know, to some people, who go, “Well, you’re not under the bombs.” No, I’m not, and I’m very grateful to not be under the bombs.

Christopher J. Lee

You mean Gaza?

Laetitia Sadier

I’m not in Gaza. I’m not a Ukrainian, I’m not a Yemeni, nor am I an Eritrean. I think we have to be very careful because we’re at a moment on the planet where a lot of weapons are being made and put into circulation. It’s a big part of the economy, affecting how we perceive war.

They’re trying to normalize violence, the idea of the army and the deliberate use of force and violence against civilians, as if there are no alternatives to guns and war.

I went to central London around Christmas time, and there’s a big Microsoft shop in Oxford Circus. What was in the window of Microsoft for Christmas? While you would think Father Christmas or a Christmas tree, they had a massive military tank. This is just to illustrate how they’re trying to normalize violence, the idea of the army and the deliberate use of force and violence against civilians, as if there are no alternatives to guns and war. They are clearly paving the way for something sinister, and I remind myself not to engage in these narratives of destruction, to say no, no, no.

Christopher J. Lee

This speaks to the other aspect of “rooting” in the sense of the difficulty of finding love.

Laetitia Sadier

I hear different interpretations of this word. My interpretation and the album sleeve point to this: we are like a tree that receives love frequencies from the cosmos, which we embody and send out to the Earth through our roots. There is an exchange there because we receive love and grounding from the Earth, too. It is symbiotic. When you are grounded, you have a better understanding as to where you come from. That is a sacred connection, and you are less likely to be in fear or have anxiety when you cultivate this connection to the Earth.

I think this is the kind of thing that we can create as humans. We have the capacity to do this, to embody love. When I say love, it’s not, “I’m in love with you. You belong to me, I belong to you.” Possession is not my view of love.

Christopher J. Lee

This idea of connection speaks to another set of politics in your work that first appeared with Stereolab. On this album, you’re singing in both French and English. Musically, there are still traces of German Krautrock. Overall, as with Stereolab, there’s certain element of European-ness or internationalism with your music, which I’m curious about. The concept of “Europe” has been persistently tested recently, whether with Brexit, the war in Ukraine, or the malignant xenophobia of far-right parties.

Laetitia Sadier

It’s true. I counterpose love to fear, and unity to division. I’ve had so many people in the past ten years telling me that my lyrics had shifted their thinking. So, all of a sudden, it’s like, wow, I have a responsibility here with what I say because it’s going to impact certain people. I’ve always been quite open about my politics, though sometimes it’s more metaphysical than it is hard, on-the-nose politics.

For me, politics is the area that we, as human beings, have created, where we can debate things, and we can have conflicting ideas. Out of these arguments, a bit of truth comes out or maybe a way forward that would benefit the most, not just the rich. But it seems that even the idea of politics has gone down the drain. Because now when you say politics, people think Donald Trump. But these are jokers: Trump, for me, is an anti-politics. There is no room for debate or exchange of ideas with someone like him.

I’ve always been quite open about my politics, though sometimes it’s more metaphysical than it is hard, on-the-nose politics.

As for the idea of “Europe,” it’s amazing, I was thinking this morning how when Brexit happened, it didn’t happen overnight. It took two or three years, so we had this illusion that maybe it wouldn’t happen. I had friends telling me, “Oh, you’re leaving us. How sad.” But it was not over immediately. We thought maybe we weren’t going to leave.

But Europe has a lot of weaknesses, in the sense that it’s mainly built as a business, servicing lobbies, as opposed to a unification of people that works in the best interest of the people. Just because you have the free circulation of goods does not mean you have the free circulation of people. They should go hand in hand.

Younger generations really aspire to be European. But businesses are very angry because there are so many [EU] directives. There are quite a lot of weaknesses, usually designed to serve big lobbies. Big companies want to extract as much profit as they can, and then you have the extreme right thriving on that. “You see what those big companies are doing? Listen to me. I’m going to protect your interests.” And of course, they’re not going to. They just want to be in power and destroy everything. It’s really a mess.

The plan is to privatize everything, but this inevitably leads to bad services and chaos. Traditionally, a big war happens, and then it’s time to rebuild. Let’s work toward a different outcome this time!

Christopher J. Lee

Taking a step back, this album does mark an evolution in your politics. By what you have said, it seems clear that you haven’t completely abandoned the Marxist worldview invoked by Stereolab. On the other hand, you’ve engaged with different elements on the Left over the course of your career, whether the Situationists or Surrealism, which has informed the work that you’ve produced. Could you comment on that — and where your political thinking leads you now?

Laetitia Sadier

It’s true. I’ve always been a bit of a butterfly. I have never really committed to one thing. I could say that I’m on the Left, but even then, if you look at Keir Starmer, who’s supposed to be left-wing — he does right-wing politics.

But politics comes from a very intimate part of me. And it’s like a big bridge that goes to my family, my neighbors, London, and society at large. Cornelius Castoriadis explained this very well, how we impact society. Society shapes us and we shape it in return, and there is this circular aspect. It’s not all one way where you receive, and you don’t give back.

The plan is to privatize everything, but this inevitably leads to bad services and chaos.

This is something that’s been running through all mine and Stereolab’s albums. It’s this idea that we are much more active participants than we are led to believe. Rooting for Love is fanning this idea so that it becomes a big flame. We can shape our environment much more than if we go down the route of fear, where we are broken and in despair, letting the ultrarich steal global wealth and make a pig’s ear of this place.

I think it’s super important that we have something to contribute, that we have a purpose. When things collapse, something new is going to emerge. It’s important to think of what we want to plant now for our future. Trump is going to die. The oil companies: they’re going to die. A new era is going to exist, and it can exist in our favor. These paradigms will die because they’re not sustainable. And we can actively create new ones that serve the well-being of most living entities.

Christopher J. Lee

You’re invoking huge issues, but do you see a band or a singer-songwriter such as yourself leading such change? To draw a quick analogy, Lenin famously emphasized the party as the political vanguard. Do you see bands like Stereolab and similar art projects playing a similar role, leading a cultural vanguard for societal change?

Laetitia Sadier

No, no, no. That’s the idea of the savior coming from outside. An external force acting as savior. A big shift we’re experiencing is that the savior is not from outside but is within us. This is where gnosis comes into play. Know thyself and own and love all of yourself, even the most unacceptable parts. Stop expecting saviors to come from outside, which is what many on the Right believe. Own all of your power, don’t hand it over to the one who shouts the loudest.

I see a lot of people understand this as well. Like the penny’s dropped. They can’t expect it from outside of themselves but know that they must step up to play an active part. That’s a big, big shift.

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