Almost Famous: Marie Davidson on Working Class Woman
We chat to Marie Davidson about her love of psychology, living in Berlin and finding herself on her fourth solo album, Working Class Woman
Marie Davidson is just about the nicest interviewee you could hope to converse with. Softly-spoken but candid, she's articulate, funny, very self-aware, and as equally happy discussing her cat Bolu and her Scottish heritage ("I like the idea of going to play in Scotland because my name Davidson is from Scottish heritage. My great, great grandfather was a Scottish immigrant,") as she is her forthcoming album, Working Class Woman.
Perhaps the ease with which she discusses her upcoming release is due to the fact that, as Davidson puts it, "I'm very excited because I love this album." Working Class Woman will be the French-Canadian artist's fourth solo record (Davidson is also half of the Montreal-based minimal wave duo Essaie Pas with her husband Pierre Guerineau; the duo released their fifth LP New Path earlier in 2018) and she describes it unashamedly as "an egotistical album – and I’m okay with that.
"I really like the music, for myself on a personal level, you know," she states firmly. "I'm not trying to convince anybody – if they don't like it, it's none of my business, but on a personal level I'm very happy about the album. I feel like I've finally reached what I was trying to do with those previous ones, you know, I was still finding my way. I feel like it's the fruit of six years of experimenting and finding my own language and finding my own sound."
Composed "half in Montreal and half in Berlin," Working Class Woman is more self-reflective and more darkly humourous than any of her previous albums. Accordingly, the sound of Working Class Woman is also more direct – in parts, even aggressively confrontational. Take, for instance, the track Work It, where Davidson spits in her self-described 'spoken text' over a skittish industrial beat: 'You wanna know how I get away with everything? / I work / All the fucking time.' Building on the more straightforward dancefloor appeal of 2016's Adieux au Dancefloor, her new release explores a tougher electro soundscape as Davidson delves deep into her own psyche, examining her workaholic tendencies and the psychological strain brought about by a career immersed in dance music and club culture.
Davidson laughingly describes Berlin as "kind of like the Disneyland of clubbers." She says: "You can basically go out on a Thursday night and go back home on a Monday afternoon. You can do that without any problems. You can not stop if you want to. I've never done that, four days for me is too much. The first time I went to Berlin I did a three-day thing, it was amazing... I'll never do it again," she laughs. "Once was enough!
"Unfortunately my body doesn't allow me to do that, some people can; I feel like people that are a bit more disconnected from their bodies, they can afford that, but I can't. I get really sick or... I get fucked up. I get fucked up in the head also. I get very depressive and I can get suicidal," she admits frankly with a slight, wry laugh. "So I stopped doing that."
One thing Davidson is keen to stress though is that "the album doesn't [specifically] address the club culture in Berlin. I think that a lot of people have been asking me a lot about that so I want to clarify, I happened to live in Berlin at that time, but I think in any city you can really lose yourself in going out. For me, it was also living in Berlin, but touring Europe all the time, playing festivals, club gigs. [The album] talks a lot about also travelling, airports, that schizophrenia of like, you know, you go from centre stage and a lot of attention when you're performing to basically nothing. You go back to the airport and you're lost in a mass of people. Airports can be very hostile. And then you go back home and you're just on your own."
The physical and mental repercussions of touring are also examined at length on Working Class Woman. Opening track Your Biggest Fan sets an ominous tone with fizzing synths, as Davidson adopts the persona of a faux-fan, drawling obsequious platitudes: 'I loooooove your music / Are you in a band?' For someone so acutely self-aware, how does Davidson reconcile a career that brings with it an inevitable element of fame?
"I find it hilarious. I'm a musician. I make music... that could lead to fame, I could be a rockstar. But I'm not!" she laughs. "I'm a performer, I'm a little bit of an actress too. I like to perform and play and dance and sing, but I'm not famous, you know what I mean? I'm really not famous. I'm very happy that people care about what I do. I take it very seriously. I feel lucky and I feel like I have to honour this attention that I get – I treat all of my fans with a lot of respect. When I can, I always take the time to talk to people who come up to me... but to be honest, I'm not famous. I'm almost famous," she laughs. "I like the freedom that I have, that I can do whatever I want with my art."
This artistic freedom has allowed Davidson to craft a record that satisfies her own creativity and also opens the door for her to incorporate the subjects she feels most passionate about. It’s a piece of work that she is "very enthusiastic about," as she puts it. "I'm sure some people won't like it," she laughs, "but that's great also. I don't make art that is 'even', I'm not that kind of person. And I feel that with this album even more, it's like some people will love it and some people won't. And I know I'll probably lose some of my fans because it goes a bit into another direction but that's totally fine.
"I'm happy because I made the music for myself. I'm very pleased with the music. I find it fun, I find it heavy, I find it deep – it questions a lot of things and it addresses a lot of things. And I'm happy that I managed to introduce a little bit of psychology into it because psychology is my other passion in life."
Listening to tracks like The Psychologist, Workaholic Paranoid Bitch and So Right (the latter of which has been released as a single with a remix by John Talabot, who Davidson describes as “an amazing DJ, a really, really good DJ. One of the best,“) we suggest it would seem fair to describe Davidson’s new album as 'intellectual dance music'.
"You're totally right!" Davidson says. "The album is mostly inspired by my life and my touring but also by films and books, a lot. I was influenced a lot by the movies of John Cassavetes... and writers, especially Carl Jung. I was reading a lot of Carl Jung when I was in Berlin a year and a half ago. [Also] Gabor Maté, a Canadian doctor who dedicated his life to understanding addicts, people really in need of help. I was also inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky who wrote an amazing book called Psychomagic, which is kind of like my bible,” she admits.
If all this psychological analysis seems at odds with the concept of a working-class woman, rest assured that in Davidson’s eyes the two are most certainly not mutually exclusive. "I really don't like classes," she states ardently. "I really don't have the ambition to rise into society, you know? I'm not trying to social climb. I'm just happy to do what I do and to make music for a living. The whole album is about working, so I wanted to make a play on words with the woman that is working, you know? But also, I am a working-class woman. I've worked all my life.
"Fortunately, or unfortunately, I didn't go to school. I stopped after college to pursue my musical career. So I had to work, you know? I had a waitress job for nine, ten years. I had my share [of shit] from people. I always thought it was funny, I never took it personally. Well, maybe a few times I took it personally! But I always knew I was more than a waitress, you know?" She pauses and then continues, “And even if I was 'just a waitress', what's wrong with that? I have much respect for working-class people. No one is better than another, I really believe that."
Working Class Woman is released on 5 Oct via Ninja Tune