Published Oct 05, 2018Speaking to Exclaim! from her father's place in the Quebec countryside, Marie Davidson is describing the jet-setting lifestyle she's been living for the past two years when, suddenly, the connection drops out. "I'm in the country, so sometimes the network can be a bit weird for a moment," she apologizes.
Still reeling from the success and velocity that 2016's Adieux Au Dancefloor thrust her solo career into, as she prepares to release its followup, the Montreal artist says it's a necessary break from the sensory overload of touring. She usually tries to come here at least four times a year — once every season — but it's been a while.
After releasing Adieux Au Dancefloor through Veronica Vasicka's Cititrax imprint, Davidson spent the next year logging nearly 70 gigs, setting up temporary residence in Berlin and touring on weekends. Describing the punch-clock tedium of her itinerary ("airport, driver, soundcheck, hotel, gig, hotel, driver, airport, new driver, new venue, new soundcheck, new hotel, gig, hotel..."), she measures her exhaustion against a reality check: "The weird thing is that I'm living the DJ life, but I'm not a DJ."
Indeed, just as Davidson summons every sound from scratch with a setup that's entirely hardware-based, she's switching back and forth between English and French and adopting different characters, fusing spoken word with dance music, often climbing atop the table to interact with the crowd beyond the front row.
It's a routine that demands a clear mind and daily practice, and that restless workaholism is all over "Work It," the lunging second track on Working Class Woman, Davidson's new album and debut for Ninja Tune. "You wanna know how I get away with everything? I work. All the fucking time. I work," Davidson intones over a sweaty house groove that rises and falls with dipping bird tom drum burpees. "Work. Work it. Work. Work to be a winner. Winners work it good. Sweat. Sweat to be a winner."
Flexing with the leotard flash of a vintage exercise program, it's part mock motivational guru, part brutal honesty, as Davidson uses the excess of the form to criticize the rat race as much as her own participation in it.
"I've been a workaholic for the last five years of my life," she says. "It's almost pathological. And to break it down, I really have to give a lot of time to it and make an effort to care about my health, and not only care about my music and my career."
Braiding club culture with the stress and tension of nine-to-five life, it's artfully rendered dance music for a world that answers emails off the clock and a slice of detox for the touring producer.
"Your Biggest Fan" reads like a cutup of unmuted mentions and all the punishing interactions Davidson might endure with casual club-goers post-set. Synth arpeggios rush to work overtime after a bleating alarm clock breaks a power nap dreamscape on "Lara." "The Tunnel" is a stress-carved, jagged noise piece that has Davidson reckoning with a glass ceiling sunk so low she's crawling through the broken shards. A shrink infantilizes her while disembodied voices gaslight from the sidelines on "The Psychologist."
It's the perfect followup to the nightlife critique that propels Adieux Au Dancefloor, itself a moody if dynamic reflection of the duelling experiences of fascination and disgust Davidson felt touring clubs in Europe as half of coldwave duo Essaie Pas in 2015. She anticipates losing some of the fans she picked up in the process as she sacrifices danceability for some set pieces favouring more hostile atmospherics, but as she traces her relationship with the road back to when it functioned as an escape from her day job working as a waitress, she says stepping away from the club was ultimately what injected the project with new life and brought this record to fruition; the constant gigging was blocking her ability to compose new material.
"At the beginning, when I was starting to tour, I was touring as much to party and meet people and hear new music as much as I was trying to do my own. And then I got really serious about it and then I started touring all the time. And now I realize it's not healthy. I had to pay the price for it. I'm kind of recovering this summer from a little bit of a burnout."
As she gears up to perform in support of the release, she's equipped with new strategies for self-care — methods for establishing boundaries with fans she meets at gigs and making a point of figuring out what she's going to eat at four in the morning after a show.
"I'm turning into someone quite healthy and focused and it's not boring at all."
She's not slowing down — just adjusting where she invests her energy. With Working Class Woman in the bag, Davidson says she's already working on a followup and teases her involvement in a new project she calls a supergroup ("we're gonna make pop tracks"). Une jeune fille et la mer — a short film featuring a soundtrack composed by Davidson — is currently touring festivals, and Essaie Pas released their second album, New Path, on DFA back in March.
"I'm just in tune with myself, and I'm honest. I create with honesty, so if I hear something and it gives me an idea, it makes me want to participate, then I do it. If I don't feel it, I just don't participate, and I don't get involved in someone else's work if I feel like I can't really add anything good to it."
She hopes Working Class Woman encourages listeners to step back from the performance of busyness and reconnect with themselves. "It's healthy to explore happiness. But it's also healthy to explore your own darkness. And if you want to evolve – if you want to become self-aware, if you want to be more mature – you have to go down there. You have to go deep and you have to explore your own darkness," she muses. "This is what I did with this record. And it's been doing me very good."
Working Class Woman is out now on Ninja Tune.