A staple of the Montreal scene over the past ten years — including her work as part of the dark electronic duo Essaie Pas — Montreal-based Marie Davidson's carved out a dynamic, charismatic sound as evidenced by her most recent work, the just-released Working Class Woman. Davidson lets us into her thought process more than ever, frankly delving deep into the psychological and physical effects of a life spent touring, as well as how her attitude towards her profession has changed.
But Working Class Woman isn't all sturm und drang; there are also feel-good epics like first single “So Right,” as well as the plaintive, reflective contentment found on closing track “La chambre intérieure.” It all comes together to resemble a multi-faceted and vulnerable portrait of Davidson, and it's intriguing to wonder where she'll take her listeners next. We chatted about her work as she was three hours outside Montreal, relaxing at her dad’s house in the country before her European tour.
This new album seems like a logical extension of your previous record, Adieux Au Dancefloor. Are there different personas that you’re inhabiting on each track?
Different vibes, and sides of my personality. Some of the songs come from a performance show I’ve been doing called Bullshit Threshold — you know, when you reach the threshold of the bullshit. [Laughs] On “Your Biggest Fan,” I’m personifying the fakes and posers you come across as a performer. Someone that's seen one or two videos of you online thinks they’ve figured you out, which is most likely not the case.
Your style is very over-the-top.
It comes from performance. “Work It” is really Marie — the playful Marie, the person talking to you right now who likes to have fun but also comes with some shadows. In that song, I use the shadow to bring it into the light and make fun. Workaholism is real, and the number of workaholics are increasing. It’s an addiction, as much as drugs, porn, or Internet.
The subject has been a bit conflictual in my own life, because I love my work and touring, but it's been affecting my health a lot. Instead of just being dark, I use dark humor to make fun, but the starting point is rooted into something real and something serious.
On “Your Biggest Fan,” you say “it’s not easy to stay sober.”
I wouldn’t allow myself to say something like that if it didn’t come from something personal. I come from a past where I used a lot of drugs, and it’s a constant battle to stay ahead of the game. But it’s a decision that I make, and I’m really happy that I make it. Even if I sometimes slip, I just consider it a slip. I drink alcohol sometimes, I crave natural psychedelics like mushrooms — but I really aim for a life without drugs. I’m not against drugs — I think everybody should try them — but I went too far, beyond the trying. It was a bad habit for me for quite a few years.
You deliver spoken-word monologues over beats — it’s so uncommon to have that much personality and emotion in techno.
It comes from French and American music, such as Robert Ashley or even Jim Morrison. I’m a big fan of The Doors — I like the more experimental stuff, like An American Prayer, where it's him more saying poetry over music. I don’t think I’m the only one that has done it. Maybe I’m the only one doing it right now.
When you look out at the crowd while performing, what are you thinking?
I love playing live, especially when the vibe is good — and the vibe has been good a lot of times. Once in awhile, the vibe is shitty and I’m like, “What am I doing with my life? Why am I doing this? This is pointless.” These are the nights where you go back to your hotel and you’re like, “Fuck my life.” It takes a great show to get back on my feet and be like, “Yeah, this is what I should be doing.”
Most of the time, I’m just connected to the sound that comes out of my machines. When I start talking, it’s to complement the sound and to bring it to another level. If the vibe is right, then I pay more attention to the crowd and maybe slip a joke here and there. But the main focus is always being at the service of the music — because I’m a musician, after all. That’s what I do.
How do you decide what you’re going to express in English and what you’re going to express in French?
It’s about the impact of the words. English and French sound very different, so the music that has been created influences if I go towards English or French. English is more sharp, and French is more sensual.
I was reading about the influences on the album, like [Alejandro Jodorowsky’s] Psychomagic, Alice Miller, and Gabor Maté. They seem very psychological and address trauma. Does the album represent personal trauma, or trauma related to club culture and techno?
I don’t know if I would use the word "trauma," but maybe my own inner darkness. It’s not as if something really awful happened to me. I don’t have a stigma — or maybe I do, but I feel like it belongs to me and I have no one to blame. The society we live in is fucked up. I have had my own demons coming out of living in this era. I like to feel responsible for my life, and I feel like if I have my own darkness, I carry these weights.
As I’m growing up, I’m learning how to realize that and allow myself to let some of those weights go — to take them off my shoulder, let them fall on the ground, and keep walking without turning back. It’s a lot of work. I did therapy. I’m going through Jungian psychoanalysis. It’s a lot about exploring your unconscious to understand yourself. It’s fascinating.
Did any of that psychotherapy come out in the album?
I started working with my psychoanalyst after finishing the album. I’ve been really interested in psychology over the last four years — it’s kind of like my second passion. I’m fascinated by the psyche, and the way the human mind works. It’s rooted into habits, patterns, emotions, history, and trauma. When I meet people, I can sometimes feel their own traumas, and I find it very fascinating.
Are there specific things you’re saying in French that English-speaking listeners might not pick up on?
I made [the album] so that anybody could understand if they understand English. The sentence that I sing first is “Pour qui se prend elle?” Which means “who do you think she is?” I’m saying for anybody that you can be something important or not. You’re always pointless to someone, no matter who you are. That’s something that I keep in mind.
“La chambre intérieure” is in French and English — I’m just saying that I’m here at my Dad’s, sitting in front of a field, and I see the mountains, these children on a truck, farming trucks that are carrying wheat. When I was there, I had to go to the hospital because they had to remove my appendix. After the surgery, I was going through a really hard spot in my life. There was a lot of questioning and ambivalence. It's a very existential track.
“So Right” has these really traditional pop song lyrics and it’s really positive. You’re feeling good, the music is nice, you could die happy. It seems like the happiest song on the album.
Yeah it’s the sweet treat to help you deal with all the heavy stuff [Laughs] Balance is very important for me. As much as there’s heavy and intense tracks, there’s also some candy in there just to feel good and enjoy on a purely pleasurable level.
Do you get catharsis from making the music and performing?
I can tell you one thing: music saved my life. Straight up.