On Working Class Woman, Montréal producer Marie Davidson lets us peek into her diary, while forging on with her bold musical quest, at the musical crossroads of electro, industrial, ambient, Italian disco, and techno.
“So Right,” the album’s first single, released in August, was clearly misleading, with its dance-pop leanings. Written for Bullshit Threshold – an interdisciplinary show she presented in Montréal in 2016 and Barcelona in 2017 – the song allowed the composer to step out of her comfort zone. “I’d never done something so approachable,” says the artist, who many know as one-half of the duo Essaie pas. “Initially, that song was part of the show, as a commentary on club culture and our era. Taken out of context, it was indeed too pop for me. I questioned myself a lot, but I decided to keep it, in the end. The label really liked it.”
With a strong undercurrent of reflections on “nightlife and show business,” her conceptual show became the foundation for the album, itself fed by the artist’s experiences during her latest tour in support of her Adieux au dancefloor record. “I ended up with 14 tracks, but in my eyes there wasn’t an album in there,” says Davidson. “I ended up filtering the songs to keep only the best ones, and built a pacing from them. The key was their order, the narrative. I came up with a story.”
That’s how Working Class Woman became an open book about the thoughts and angst of a singer-songwriter who’s trying to stay focused and keep her hopes up, despite an intense and exhausting workload. “We’re worlds away from the vague, dream-like songs on my previous albums,” says Davidson. “This one is an egotistical album and quite intimate.”
The opener, “Your Biggest Fan,” offers cynical testimony to the pointless encounters and meaningless conversations she encounters every night on tour. Later, in “The Psychologist,” Davidson paints a scathing portrait of the psychotherapy she began several months ago. She gets even more introspective on album closer “La chambre intérieure,” which the artist considers her most personal work to date. “I was at my dad’s in the countryside when I wrote that,” she says. “I was going through a difficult time, with many changes in my life. I was sitting on the edge of a car, near a fence, and I was thinking of my life, of what love is to me,” she recalls, still somewhat in the throes of melancholy. “I didn’t find concrete answers, but I did understand that to love, one needs courage.”
Artists from the world of electronic music are rarely so careful with lyrics. In its glowing review of her third album, Pitchfork claimed Marie Davidson for the “poetronica” movement. It’s a term coined in 2011 by The Guardian to describe We’re New Here, a re-mix album of songs the late, great urban poet Gil Scott-Heron, produced by Jamie XX. But to Davidson, the dichotomy between intimate lyrics and club-ready music has been self-evident from the start. “It really is a natural fusion, and the words often come before the music,” she says. “When I’m on tour, I’m constantly jotting down things on my phone: short sentences, jokes, ideas… They become the source of inspiration for my songs.”
Davidson was notably inspired by the city of Berlin, where she lived from October of 2016 to December of 2017. The German capital’s thriving electronic scene can be clearly felt and heard on her fourth album. “It really is like a clubber’s Disneyland over there,” she says. “If you want to, you can party non-stop from Thursday to Monday without once going to bed. The first time I went there, in 2012, I partied really hard, but that stage of my life is behind me now. I don’t party, now, I throw the party. I’m 31, and I just can’t anymore. Even on an intellectual level, it doesn’t appeal to me as much as it once did. I meditate and do sports, instead, and I’m interested in psychology. It’s a big change in my life.”
In other words, Working Class Woman is a watershed moment in her career and in her life. Davidson is proud of her artistic evolution so far, and will soon begin a European tour that will take her, among other places, to Poland, the U.K., and the Netherlands.
A sure sign of her popularity on the other side of the Atlantic, we won’t see her perform in Québec before February of 2019. But truthfully, she still has limited appeal at home, despite winning the Electronic Music Award at the 2017 SOCAN Awards Gala. Far from being up in arms about it, she nonetheless wonders how that is.
“If I relied solely on Québec to earn a living, I’d still be eating Kraft Dinner!” she says, with a tinge of bitterness. “I have a lot of respect for Montréal’s underground scene. It’s where I’m from, and there are a lot of inspiring and talented bands. But beyond that, it’s like a desert. There’s no place for the type of electronic music we make. Well, there is Mutek, but that happens once a year! I’ve applied eight times for a grant from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec (CALQ) and I was turned down every time. I still have hope things will change, but until then, I carry on. I’m lucky enough to earn a living with my music, and that’s all that matters.”