It’s hard to tell whether Marie Davidson is laughing with you or at you. The Quebecoise producer makes club-adjacent music that makes fun of clubbing and dance music culture; her latest record, Working Class Woman, features capitalist hard-work chants disguised as self-empowerment anthems (or maybe it’s the other way around.) And despite expressing a deep, earnest appreciation for psychology, there’s a song on the album that does little other than make fun of psychologists.
All Davidson’s music is funny, no doubt—a dark and oftentimes masochistic kind of comedy runs through her entire output—but when art is so mired in the thing its satirizing, some brain power is required. It is unnerving for dance music, so usually associated with carefree nightclubs and intense catharsis, to force a listener to think so discursively about the music’s implications. But that’s Davidson’s modus operandi; she provides the punchline, and you have to figure out how she got there.
Working Class Woman, out October 5th, complicates Davidson’s spoken-word satire. On 2016’s Adieux Au Dancefloor, Davidson was concerned with her deteriorating relationship with nightlife and club culture. The resulting project was an anti-club manifesto that ended with a literal farewell to the club, despite the fact that much of the record contained some of the most dancefloor-friendly minimal wave and EBM that she’d ever made. But having bid farewell to the club life, Working Class Woman—Davidson’s first record for Ninja Tune, after releasing Adieux on Minimal Wave imprint Cititrax—looks internally. She recounts all the fucked up stuff that happens to you when you’ve worked yourself to the bone to make a living in music.
Where Adieux positioned Davidson as a kind of omniscient, detached commentator, Working Class Woman draws lines between club culture, Davidson’s music, and her own mental health. The record’s paranoid overture—a rattling, cavernous track called “Your Biggest Fan” features Davidson’s layered vocals whispering all the nasty or disingenuous things she’s head people say about her at shows—gives way to a revue of the horror and humour of Davidson’s mind. “Work It,” an early highlight, is a hustle-harder anthem for creatives whose best hope of success is working 24/7 just to scrape by. “The Psychologist” lampoons psychoanalysis, before giving way to “The Tunnel” a few tracks later, a bloodcurdling and analytical account of Davidson’s anxiety nightmares. It’s heavy content, but when discussing Working Class Woman over the phone from Montreal, Davidson is incredibly forthright about its inspiration, unafraid to go deep on her love/hate relationship with psychology and call bullshit on our capitalist shackles. But Davidson wasn’t without solutions as to how to free ourselves from these dystopian mindsets. “People should try to know themselves better, and get off the internet once in a while,” she tells me, “Be in reality, live, talk to people in real life, not only online.”
NOISEY: You’ve said that psychologists like Gabor Mate and Alice Miller, who both write a lot about trauma and child abuse, really influenced you on this record. What drew you to those two in particular?
Marie Davidson: I read both of them but not fully. Of course they talk about child abuse, but not only child abuse. They just talk about childhood. Gabor Mate maybe is more in the abuse sphere because he worked with addict people most of his career. He's a doctor from Vancouver, and he worked a lot on addictions. He talks a lot about addictions. As someone myself who have and has had a lot of addictions, I really relate to what he has to say.
When it comes to Alice Miller, I think she just talks about childhood. She talks about trauma, but not only trauma. It's more about how important childhood is in the way we grow up and we end up being, how much of an effect it has on our personalities in a way of acting in life.I found it very interesting because a lot of work on psychology is based on that. You cannot deny that what happens in the first years of your life will form you, whatever that is. It can be positive or negative.
What do you think you've learned about yourself since starting researching into psychology?
I learned that I was not who I thought I was, and that my perspectives on life are much larger than what I thought—that what has importance to me is not what I thought it was, that actually I'm interested in so many other kind of things, and that I barely know myself. The more I seek out to get to know who I really am, the more it's shattering my preconceived thoughts on how I wanted to live my life.
Work is a constant theme on the record, from the title of the album to “Work It” and “Workaholic Paranoid Bitch”. Why has that concept been drawn out on this album in particular?
How old are you?
Do you have a day job?
This is my day job.
Okay. And how long have you had this job for?
I've had it for about eight months.
Do you like your job?
Yeah, I love it.
Do you sometimes fear you could lose it?
Well, that's it. All these questions I just asked you, I asked the same questions to myself. So I feel like these days work, [and] work ethics are quite harsh. We live in a society where production is quite valued, it's put upfront. Production and accessibility, availability. You have to be everywhere all the time. Even in your personal life you're supposed to be productive, do things. So many people around me are stressed out by their jobs. And also other people are stressed out because [of] the lack of a job, which is also very problematic.
It's like, there was an era where people would make a lot of music or art about love, right? That was maybe the most common theme, love. We don't live in a love era. Relationships and sexuality, yes, of course, but love ... If I'm talking about unconditional love, it's not a very popular theme at the moment. Let's say if I made an album about unconditional love in 2018, how would that sound? Marie Davidson's new album is on unconditional love. That would sound a bit weird, right? Well, that's why I made an album on work. I think it's quite accurate, don't you?
Yeah. I think about my job constantly.
That's it. Well, yeah. Don't let your jobs steal your life away. You're very young, you'll find other jobs. And you can maintain this job and also get new ones. It's really important to give yourself a bit of free time also. I was working even on Sundays until not so long ago. I don't anymore. I take the Sundays off.
Just the Sundays?
Just the Sundays.
With music, there's such little boundary between work and personal because your workplace is clubs and bars. At what point did you realize that you have to scale it back? Do you think all the work was taking its toll?
I realized about a year ago. I was really low in energy and having a little bit of health issues. This is when I got it. My body was sending me pretty clear messages.
Why do you think this record is so internally focused, compared to the last record?
I think even on the last record, it's quite based on how I feel and who I am, but this one, the difference is that I was really just putting it out there without any disguise, or without any blur. It's just like straight-up what I thought, how I felt at the moment.
Do you think it's a bad thing to be egotistical?
No, not at all, especially in art. I think it's a bad thing to be egotistical all the time in your personal life, but in your own art, this is the place where you should, you know what I mean?
You should be fully yourself and fully indulging into your feelings, and exploring your ego, and your dark sides, and your fantasies, and your positive sides, and everything, whatever you want. Art. It's art. In real life you should show a bit more empathy and interest for the world around you. That's what I started to do.
Adieux Au Dancefloor and Working Class Woman both have clubby tracks on them, but both records are very critical of dance music culture. Do you mind if people listen to your music at the club and engage in all the things you don't like about the club?
I'm not judging. One thing for sure is that I'm not judging other people and I really think that people should make their own experiences and learn through these experiences if it feels right or wrong for them.
I'm all about discovery and I've down my own experiences. And I hope that people can be a little bit aware while they are experimenting and going out. I just hope for them to be aware.
What do you mean by that?
Aware of what they're looking for mostly, why are they going to a place, what are they looking for, what are they escaping for, what are they reaching up for, and aware of other people and maybe how fragile some other people can be, and also aware of the consequences of what substance they will use.
And it can be very positive. It doesn't have to be negative. Don't take me wrong. But I think it's good to be aware that what happens in the club is not just what happens in the club. It's not true like what happens in the club stays in the club. It's absolutely wrong. What happens in a club will stay with you for the rest of your life, as much as what happens in the bus, and what happens on the train.
I don't believe in safe spaces. There's nothing like a safe space in this world. It doesn't exist. It's utopia. And I don't think that you can go out for one night, or three nights, four nights, and be like, "This is just these three, four nights in my life." Everything we do has an effect, it leads to another thing.
So it's good to think about that when you go out. Just to be aware of the fact that it's life, we're not pausing life when you go out and you have a good time. Life goes on. Time is still rolling.
Why do you believe there are no safe spaces?
Life is not safe. It's not possible. Life is not safe. Life is not a projection of how you want it to be. Life is life, nature is nature.
You've said you got very into psychology, but then there's this track, “The Psychologist,” which feels almost satirical, with all its vocal samples. So why does duality exist where you're very interested in psychology but then the psychologist is making fun of therapy?There [are a lot of therapists in this world, and there's a lot of therapy, and there's a lot of interest on psychology, and as much as it's wonderful, it can also be pretty much bullshit. This is kind of like the play on the game in this track, is to know, is the psychologist a good one or a shitty one?
And I don't know myself. I like it to be both, because the guy who did the voice for “The Psychologist” is actually my friend, so it's not as if it was an actual psychologist I was working with that I sampled. But it's kind of like a possibility in this track, that the psychologist is sometimes you want someone to be strong for you, want someone to think for you, you want someone to heal you, but that's not always possible. First you have to do the work yourself.
But also this person is supposed to be there to guide you, but if he's a good guide, he/she/they will be able to guide you towards yourself. But if they're not a good guy, they'll just going to make you waste your money and your time.
This concept of having to put in the work yourself, what kind of work do you think that is?
That work about asking yourself what do I really want, who am I, what makes me so angry, what makes me sad, what makes me happy. Sometimes it's very confusing. For a lot of people I feel it seems to be very confusing. They don't even know what they want. At least for myself—I was in my 20s, I was very confused. I had a hard time figuring it out. Took me a few years.
Do you think you know what you want now?
Yes, yes, I do. Actually I do. I'm not sure if I know exactly how to get there, but I know what I want.
What do you want?
How did you come to that realization?
Spending a lot of time alone, touring a lot, making my music, reading on psychology and doing therapy. Mostly spending a lot of time alone. And [having] true experiences, you know? It's experiences—through loss, and experiences, you can come to beautiful realization. It can be very beautiful. It can be quite inspiring. Sometimes it's the opposite—it's loss, and grief, and pain. Life is about both.
Marie Davidson's Working Class Woman is out October 5th on Ninja Tune. Find it on Bandcamp.
Shaad D'Souza is Noisey's Australia & New Zealand editor. Follow him on Twitter.