Marie Davidson Talks Touring, Psychology And The Power Of Not Caring
Since the release of Adieux Au Dancefloor in 2016, Marie Davidson has seen her profile rise exponentially. More recently, a tour with her most notable side project, Essaie Pas, has seen her repeat the international touring process with little time for rest.
The artist has channeled her witty observations of juggling club acts into her forthcoming full-length, Working Class Woman. The release is surprising in its forthright and hilarious investigations of being a touring musician, and it’s all the more unanticipated for being released on Ninja Tune—a label not noted for its association with icy-cold electronics. We sat down with the French-Canadian to talk about the forthcoming release, her new life touring and her own shrewd psycho-analysis.
You played at Sameheads’ New Dance Fantasy party last year, and you arrived at the moment when I was playing your track “Naive To The Bone”. You came over to tell me it was your track, which I thought was pretty funny!
Oh that was you! Yes I totally remember. Nice to meet you again!
How did the new record on Ninja Tune come about?
I wouldn’t know how to answer this question. I guess they saw me perform and they liked the previous record. You would need to ask them! My job is to make the music. They came up to me and made a proposal, which I got really enthusiastic about and said yes to. I didn’t really think about it, to be honest. I just thought, “Why not?” I wanted to try a different thing, and for me Ninja Tune is great. I have to be honest—I don’t really follow labels. I’m not a fan of the music “industry.” I see it as a different thing to being an artist or being a producer and making music. I care about artists—I follow artists, you know? But I don’t really follow labels. I knew Ninja Tune, though, because they’ve put out great records and I was really enthusiastic to work with them, but I don’t know them well.
It’s quite a change moving from Cititrax to Ninja Tune since the music they release is stylistically very different. Did you already have music you were looking to put out on the label?
I was not looking for a release actually, but I did already have new music. By the time a record comes out it’s been at least a few months—usually a year—since I’ve done that record. So I usually have new tracks and things I like to play live to keep it exciting for myself. In addition to the new songs I was performing live, I also have another show, a multimedia show which is a mix of theatre and sound pieces.
This is Bullshit Threshold, right?
Yes exactly. I do this with two guys from Montreal who do live visual synthesis and video processing. I have a lot of material from that show and then some new dancier tracks that I was playing live. So it was actually really easy when they approached. I met them after my show at Sonar. At the time I was still living in Berlin, and I asked myself if I could actually do this record. It was exciting, but the question was whether I had the material. So I sat down and wrote down all the tracks I had on a piece of paper, and I had like 12. I then had to wait until January to go to the studio to finish the record. Not all the tracks made the album but it did happen very naturally, I have to say.
Do you find that when you are on the road it makes the process of making new music easier, or harder? Or does it make the process a different one?
It makes it different for sure. I used to compose, make the record and then tour. This one was the opposite. I made the tracks and then played them while touring, and I must say it makes it easier, it really does. Also, the album itself is based on the life of a working musician. So it helped to have so much time to reflect on all of this on the plane, at the airport, in transit, at the soundcheck. I tour mostly solo, so I really had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to say. Having said that, I would not tour that much again. It was really hard. It helped the creative process, but I wouldn’t do it again!
What is it that you find hard? The frequency of performing, getting tired of performing the material?
Well, performance is the thing that makes it all worthwhile. It’s like a candy! Without the playing there’s just no point for me. You have to tour. It’s the only hour that’s worth living. All the rest is just a series of steps to get to that hour. Even sleeping is just…you just sleep because you know you need to be in shape to be able to go to another place and do the same thing again. Quality of life, according to my tastes, is actually quite low on tour. I tour with a lot of gear—I’m not the kind of person that comes 15 minutes before or just gets on the flight. I don’t use USB keys, you know? I travel with a bunch of gear, so I have to always check in, wait for it, get it back, set up, pack down. I’m on tour with just me and a lot gear. My energy is going towards keeping up with the gear, keeping up with my body, making sure it’s going to make it to the next gig. If I party, which I do sometimes, there is always a price to pay for that decision. But really, the playing, the actual playing is the one part of the day that is really worth it.
How does it make you feel?
You get a rush like from drugs, or adrenaline, and after that you get a tail. Sometimes after a really good show I feel like, “This is is it! I am the luckiest person on earth.” This is what you have to keep in mind the day after when you feel like shit. You know, nobody cares about you then, or knows who you are! You feel like some kind of primitive person at this stage because you get to feel awesome and you get to go on stage and share what you really care about and what you really believe with a bunch of people who are also enthusiastic. And you get paid for doing that! But yeah, the day after when you are hungover and sleep deprived you are a nobody. It’s hard, but it’s also good. It’s a good reality check, which is healthy!
How do you go conceptually from Adieux Au Dancefloor, which puts a spotlight on some of the more dystopian elements of club music and nightlife, to the next phase of the story? Is the new album a companion piece?
Yes, exactly! There’s a connection for sure. The album is about working. It’s an album that talks about honesty and vulnerability. It’s an album where I allowed myself to play with humor and to show my vulnerability. It’s like a grown-up album. I mean, I’m 30 now and and I don’t care, you know? It’s an album I made for myself. It talks about my life at this moment, about working, about pursuing goals. It’s about self-hatred as much as it is about self-love. It’s about empathy, it’s about looking into these work habits I think I have, and that I think a lot of people have nowadays. I guess it’s my reflection of the era we’re in. The socio-political climate I gravitate towards. It’s an album where I have started to work with my psyche, trying to access a level of my consciousness that I was not aware of before. So I guess in this way it’s an experimental album.
Is that true also musically?
No, not in terms of the music! The music is actually not very experimental at all. It’s an experimental album on a psychological level for me personally. I have no idea how it will resonate with other people, but this is how it happened for me.
Within your music there is humor which is very deadpan. I don’t feel the tragi-comic aspect is always recognized by others
Yes, I like that! Tragicomedy. The album is actually very tragi-comic.
Dark and light sit together, and to have one without the other loses some meaning. As your profile increases and more people resonate with your music, do you find it gives you confidence to say the things you want to to say more easily?
Yes, definitely. Absolutely. The more time goes on, the less I care about what people expect from me or my music. As time goes on, I find it easier to be more honest and to be myself without a mask or a costume. I’m taking off a good layer of protection with this album, and it really feels great. It feels amazing. At the same time, I’ve been working hard on my career and traveling a lot and playing a lot. I’m making money for the first time in my life! It’s a bit of a change for me. Not that I care if that would go away, I really don’t need much.
On the other side, I’ve also been working on myself a lot. I’ve being doing therapy in the last years and I started with psychoanalysis. I find it really fascinating, and I really do this just for myself, I don’t do this for anyone else. What I find really interesting is the closer you get to yourself, the less you need to please other people. Not because you don’t care about them. I care about people a lot! I just don’t care what they think about me. Except a few people, of course. It’s the same with my friends. I’m not some kind of superstar—if anything I’m still quite underground. And I think this is where I will stay. I feel good about that because it leaves me a lot of freedom. I don’t feel the need to fit some kind of format or expectation. Even though I know I’ll lose old-time fans, because I will change somewhere along the way.
I’ve started integrating more overt humor into my work. Some people perceive me as a very dark and enigmatic woman. And I am dark, and I can be mysterious, but I can also be totally guts on the table! I still have a mother a father, a family. I wash my dishes and I clean my clothes. Like everyone else! And I’m interested in that part of life also. It still has meaning and it’s fascinating. I’m very interested in this part of the self and diving into these kinds of thoughts.
Is that what interests you about psychology?
The more interested in it I become, the less I care about superficial aspects or preconceived ideas about the persona. Like the persona of “me” that people identify with or the stylistic choices of how people present themselves. How people perceive me is just so vague and arbitrary.
It has no relation to you actually as a person—it’s how people want to perceive you.
Yes, I guess it has more relation to the music than to who I actually I am. So I feel more freedom now in focusing on my own thoughts and my own feelings. Being able to go deeper into myself is freeing, because then, perhaps, a new concept can emerge.
Do you see your music as purely a vehicle for what you want to say lyrically? On the new album you said there is nothing drastically different with the music.
Well there is a little evolution. You have not heard anything, right?
No, not at all.
The two singles are way more “dance” and the album is way more “dance and psychological.”
So everything turned up to 11, then?
Yes, exactly! Everything except the last track is turned up to 11. There is a change in the music, definitely, but I don’t want to say too much. I want you to make your own mind up. Everybody that heard it noticed it. I guess you could say it sounds more “modern.”
So were you trying consciously to make the songs sound more contemporary?
No, it was not something I even noticed. It’s just from what people told me, and I guess it’s a reflection of playing so many shows and wanting to make something more diverse. Maybe I’m just getting a bit better at it! I don’t feel that I’m the master of anything sonically. I have to admit to you that on a musical level I still consider myself a debutante.
But that’s a benefit also, right?
It is a benefit. It gives me a lot of freedom, and I still have so much to explore. That’s a good thing.
Is your music based on what you want to say or to convey musically? Is there a difference?
For me, sound is language. It’s a language that has more chance to be understood than words. I mean, there are instrumental tracks, but where there are lyrics, the lyrics add so much more because the words are also part of the music. I say things that have to be musical, but through that musicality I always find a way to say important or meaningful things. I don’t have to work really hard for it. I just need to focus, to be in touch with myself. And it will always come out. Sometimes things I have been saying or thinking for months will just come out and it’s always very honest. It’s always very true.
So the music guide the lyrics?
Yes, very much. There’s also a message in sound. Sometimes I will just be in my studio working, and I’ll use a sound and I’ll be like, “This sound is so funny!” I’ll be laughing and thinking, “What does this sounds say? Ah yeah, this sound is saying, ‘Yeah, fuck you!’” Or, “This sounds is saying sweet things.” The sound of a monster creeping or a kick drum is like a woodpecker! I just listen. I make the music and I do what the sounds tell me to do. This is how it works for me.