The Montreal electronic musician talks working bad jobs, bringing humour to music, and her new album Working Class Woman
Performing in front of thousands of adoring fans is exhilarating. It’s also draining. The life of a touring musician involves going from city to city, airport to airport, timezone to timezone; far more time is spent in the interzones of departure lounges, backstage areas, and hotel lobbies than on-stage. Add to that studio sessions that might not go anywhere, press junkets, social media engagements, and – increasingly nowadays – commitments with brands and sponsors, and the lifestyle can be exhausting.
All this is, of course, the cost of doing a job you love – if you don’t like it, get a 9-to-5. But office jobs are becoming more and more tiring, too. The psychopathic work-‘til-you-drop mentality of a million LinkedIn profiles has taken over upper management, people are putting in longer hours for lower pay, and out-of-hours emails and group chats are blurring any idea of maintaining a work/life balance. Workers are often expected to use their social media as an extension of their job, tying their sense of self to their employment. And if you’re self-employed? Well, there are enough influencers out there on Instagram telling you that you need to hustle to succeed.
On her new album Working Class Woman, Montreal electronic musician Marie Davidson reflects on a year living in Berlin, the world’s clubbing capital. Davidson combines jackhammer percussion, steely synths, and acid-fried basslines with a spoken vocal (delivered in her deadpan French-Canadian accent) that takes a dry, acerbic look at contemporary DJ culture – the stresses, the stupidity, and the posers, but also the joy and the pleasure. She draws a parallel between this world and corporate office life with the album’s cover artwork, title, and press photos, created with art director Melissa Matos. The album’s sardonic sense of humour is matched only by its intense energy – it’s another essential entry into a discography that has seen Davidson release three previous solo albums as well as traverse ambient music, horror score disco, and coldwave with her groups Les Momies De Palerme, DKMD, and Essaie Pas respectively.
If you catch Davidson at a club or festival, she’ll probably be playing her own material live, using sequencers, synthesisers, and a vocal mic, but her new Dazed Mix stitches together other people’s music that she’s been feeling – and it’s a wild, diverse set. We caught up with her on the day of Working Class Woman’s release and ahead of her headline show at Berlin’s Prince Charles for Red Bull Music Academy (where, just two years, she attended herself as a student) tonight. Read our interview, and tune into Radio Davidson, below.
Hi, Marie! Where are you right now, and what are you doing?
Marie Davidson: I’m in Montreal and I’m about to get ready to go to the airport to get on a plane and fly to London.
Tell us about your Dazed Mix.
Marie Davidson: I think it’s a very fun mix. I decided to treat myself in this mix, to do something fun. There’s a lot of music that I like from the last four decades, and a few fresh cuts from some of my friends. I trust my instincts that if I had that much fun making it, other people will have fun listening to it!
Your new album is called Working Class Woman. What’s the worst job that you’ve ever had?
Marie Davidson: Oh wow. I guess my first job, selling clothes. I only did it for a week when I was 15, turning 16. I was selling clothes for a sidewalk sale towards the end of the summer, for a really cheap clothing store for women. My first boyfriend, who at the time I was really in love with, had just left me, and on top of that, I had to work on the day of my 16th birthday party.
I remember that Leslie Gore’s ‘It’s My Party’ was playing – the store only had a mix of 25 songs, so it would come up loads. The song talks about a party where the boyfriend, Johnny, ends up with another girl, which I thought was very ironic, to be stood there listening to it over and over again. I have a strange relationship with that song. Now I find it funny. I still kind of like it. Even to this day, I still listen to it on my birthday.
Why Working Class Woman as a title?
Marie Davidson: I think anybody, male of female, can relate to that. Most people have to work in life, and we live in a society that puts the most emphasis on work, so I think it has quite universal themes. I’ve been working day jobs and side jobs since the age of 16. I dropped out of school at 19, I’m not a trained musician who came out of school and got a job making music. I know what it is to work.
There’s a great, dry sense of humour on Working Class Woman. A lot of electronic music can be self-serious (or at least, a lot of artists like to project a self-serious image to the world), so how do you balance bringing a sense of humour to your work, while also taking the music itself seriously?
Marie Davidson: Everything I say in my music is at the service of the music. I would never say something that doesn’t sound musical – this is how I balance using lyrics that are full of dry humour without compromising the depth of the track. I use the words, the tone, and the sentences according to the sounds which are already there in the music.
“I’m not a trained musician who came out of school and got a job making music. I know what it is to work” – Marie Davidson
You adopt a lot of different voices and perspectives on the album. Do you consider these all to be expressions of things you think, or do you see them more as characters?
Marie Davidson: They’re both. Some of the voices are characters, I think you can hear that when you listen to what they are saying – for example, on ‘Your Biggest Fan’, you can hear that it’s comments from other people. Outside of that track though, I believe that the voices represent the many different sides of my own character.
The album takes a somewhat cynical look at a lot of ‘DJ culture’ today. How do you balance the more negative aspects of the job (the constant touring, late nights, airport lounges, etc.) with the fact that it is still a desirable job?
Marie Davidson: Every time I’m at the airport, which is almost every weekend, and feel like whining, I try to remember how nice it was the night before when I was playing. I focus on the positive aspects, and how lucky I am to do to be doing the job that I wanted to be doing my whole life.
A lot of the imagery around this album plays with the idea of office culture. What sort of conversations did you have to come up with these visual ideas?
Marie Davidson: This is a great collaboration between me and Melissa Matos, who I worked with on all the artwork and press shots. I came up with a bunch of references I had that related to working women, and she set up the great photo shoot. She came with props and ideas. I also brought my Pelican Suitcase to tie it all in with the music. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it myself with this one.
What sort of music have you been interested in lately that might’ve inspired the record?
Marie Davidson: I am not very keen on naming musical influences for this album because most of the influences were non-musical. But as musician, I have definitely been inspired by a few people over the last year – for example, Bernardino Femminielli, Pharmakon, Not Waving, Nina Kraviz, and Puce Mary.
What about outside of music?
Marie Davidson: Psychology. Carl Jung, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Alice Miller, and Gabor Maté have been fascinating to read.
Do you have any rituals before an album comes out?
Marie Davidson: It’s funny because I’m someone who has many rituals, but strangely I don’t have any rituals yet regarding an album coming out. Maybe I should?
Marie Davidson’s new album Working Class Woman is out now