French multidisciplinary artist Nina Savary was born into the world of entertainment, taking to performing like a duck out of water, brought up backstage, behind the scenes of theaters across Europe in the ’70s. Making her debut to the stage at the mere age of four years old at la Scala in Milan, touring with her parents’ explosive and free theatre company Grand Magic Circus. Now an adult, Nina is a renowned performer; a singer, dancer and actress, she has been involved in many artistic projects such as musicals, opera as well as collaborating with musicians such as Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier and Julien Gasc, Eddy Crampes, Marker Starling, and her partner Astrobal, aka Emmanuel Mario, a producer, arranger and composer with whom she formed the band Institut and the project Vivre! in 2020, along with Arnaud Dumatin.
(Photo Credit: Louis Decamp)
Laetitia Sadier is a French musician and a founding member of the legendary avant-pop band Stereolab, who now performs solo and with her band as the Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble; Nina Savary is a French multi-disciplinary artist whose album Next Level Soap Opera came out last month via Tin Angel Records. To celebrate, the friends and collaborators caught up about it, and much more.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Laetitia Sadier: How does it feel to have unleashed, finally, this long, long awaited record?
Nina Savary: Well, it’s very challenging, but it’s also really exciting. And I’m so happy to finally get to share this with the world, and all our friends, and people that are interacting with the songs and finding their own meaning in them. It’s really thrilling.
Laetitia: I remember hearing, I think it was maybe four or five songs, and playing them to our friends in Belgium, Veronique and Marc from Aksak Maboul. I think it was in 2016…
Nina: When we were touring Europe.
Laetitia: Yes. So you had those four or five songs ready, and already it was really promising. That Chris Cummings song, which I was so envious of, because it’s so great. You had the Blossom Dearie cover, “That’s Just the Way I Want to Be.” That was also pretty much there. I can’t remember which were the other three, but the whole thing was so promising. And then more came on the way.
We’re now at the end of 2021, and finally, it’s seeing the day. So much has happened, of course. I wanted to know how you lived through this, and if anything came out of this time for you in particular?
Nina: Well, yeah, it was a very disturbing time, because everything we were doing stopped violently, so we found ourselves in a kind of isolation and it was really uncertain when we could go on tour again. But at the same time, it gave us an opportunity to think and process. I think it was very helpful for my personal research, in the way that it allowed me to maybe take more time to reflect, and work on the videos, also to start working with the band on how to play these songs together. And in a way, it was really creative.
It’s true, the album took a lot of time to take shape over the years, but it really benefited from all the experiences that I’ve had, with collaborations like what we shared on tour together with the Source Ensemble, and all the encounters that I made through this time. So it’s a very special process to me, that takes a lot of time and patience and can benefit from this type of maturation I think — maybe like fermentation. Sometimes it takes different layers of work to start feeling the real meaning of what we were doing at the beginning, you know?
Laetitia: Yeah, as in a way to go deeper into the processes, and maybe get something that is a bit stronger out of it. Something that is taking a beating — like the rice fields. As soon as the rice starts coming up, they tread on it, and that gives the roots even more power to come up again, and they get trodden again on to, again, give more power, and you have a stronger rice this way.
Do you feel that having to spend time more alone — possibly, I don’t know if you still had many visitors coming through La Bergerie [a sheep farm in the South of France], where you live currently — do you think this time has given you more strength, now, to come out with this project in the world?
Nina: I think so, yes. And I think on a collective level, also, we were challenged to reflect and really redefine our relationship to the world with this isolation. So it gave a lot of importance to relationships, as well, and the way we communicate with other people, even if proper meetings were complicated.
We did have a lot of visitors at the house, because it’s a family house, so the family was really present over the year. And we continued recording all the time, so a lot of records were made during this past year other than mine, and I participated in a lot of different projects.
We started playing again with our band Institut last month in Paris, and I felt getting together with an audience and proposing something live again was really special, and maybe this break gave it even more sense and intensity.
I think as artists we have a lot of power, because we are used to adapting ourselves to very unstable circumstances. So it gives us a lot of independence and in a way, maybe we are used to progress with a lot of uncertainties. I guess this period, and the way things start slowly to go back to normal with different difficulties and consequences that we are not really able to imagine yet, it gives a lot of perspective and meaning to what we do. So it’s exciting as well.
Laetitia: Yes, in the sense that — I guess one could talk of hypersensitivity to the work that we do, and what makes us artists or creative people, and this sensitivity being a force that can exist in parallel with all the crap that’s going on in the world right now. And harnessing this force in meaningful ways — this is also a reality in this world, that we don’t have to be in power struggles all the time. I see this also as quite a feminine quality, of kindness and gentleness as opposed to using brute force. I mean, of course, there are men who are also very gentle, a lot of gentle men out there. But what we’re experiencing in the world, of very strong egos, a lot of psychopathic traits of the leaders, and having in parallel…
Your album is very exemplary of this, to be kind of interrogating the world and interrogating yourself, and, What am I doing in this world and how do I impact the world, and how do I cultivate myself in doing gentle things and things that make me happy? There might be very small things that bring meaning to my environment. But having in mind the sort of consciousness that what we do is also impacting, in a more general way, certainly, than capitalist forces and what harm they do to the planet and its inhabitants. But having in mind that we are also impacting with our very gentle, small, minute little ways in finding our paths here can be a great power.
Nina: Yeah, totally. In a way, my album is really an example for that, because it’s a personal work but it’s also very much a collective work since a lot of really good friends collaborated on it. It’s also the fruit of intimate friendships.
I think when I met Emmanuel [Mario] — who produced and arranged the record — I, thanks to him and his really interesting work, met a very strong community of artists and musicians that inspired me a lot and gave me a lot of trust in what I was doing and in my own individuality. Even though I’m not a real composer or a very good musician — I always made a lot of recordings with different people and I always sang, of course, and played, but coming from the theater, I’m more used to being part of an ensemble. I felt really comfortable working with other bands and collaborating with friends, and I’m learning so much through collective work. But also, I found that I really needed to go deep in my own sensibility to make my own thing and find my own way to express this sensibility.
I think for me, it’s really a very thin balance between solitary experimentation and reflection and processing your emotions and finding your place in a stimulating relationship to the world, so that you can live with this sensibility that can be also a handicap sometimes. The creative process has this really cathartic therapeutic power that helps find some beauty in every step of the way, and try to make it resonate with both yourself and other people. And this feeling of being part of a brotherhood, of a kind of fraternity of sensitive people, artists that are also searching in their own strange way, is really comforting. I think it gives us a lot of strength to find our way to live in a kind of parallel personal approach. It’s often hard, but it’s also very interesting and it’s never boring.
Laetitia: Yeah, it’s very gratifying. And it’s amazing how you found your community, because you have a particular background being the daughter of two very strong artists who are very anarchic and who are very free in their forms of expression, and ultra creative. [Nina’s parents are the actors Jérôme Savary and Mona Heftre.]
You also talk of the transgenerational aspect, you being the product of, and being impacted by past generations, which is something I find interesting. But just to sort of summarize what we’ve touched upon so far — you are an individual with your own complexities, and you are very reflective about your role, what you are doing here incarnated as Nina Savary, on this planet. And you are surrounded by friends who share the same sensitivity as you, and who support each other, and you feel you have been supported and trusted and you’ve been able to blossom. These wonderful fruits that you’re releasing, this wonderful album, is the product of that.
That’s a very wonderful situation to be in, and I think it’s also very exemplary [of the idea] that we need to express ourselves to come to fruition in ourselves. And we need others to do that — we need the trust, the love of others, the respect. It’s like the good earth within which to grow, the nourishment of others, to be able to come to life. That can be lacking for a lot of people, who feel unloved and unseen — they’re just in some dumbass job, and they don’t feel that support and recognition. It’s a beautiful thing that you can experience this, and be the product of that and shine your light as this as well.
I don’t know if you have anything to say on this transgenerational aspect of you — of course, everyone [is] the product of many, many, many, many generations. How do you feel it’s impacting your creativity?
Nina: Well, it’s a complex question that I’m asking myself every day. [Laughs.] But I think it has a lot of subtle ways to send us messages. In my life, it’s been very important, of course, being the daughter of two artists and sharing the adventures of this crazy company that was the Grand Magic Circus. I’ve always kind of been in a world of friendship, creation, and collaboration, so it’s very natural to me to find my place in this kind of configuration. I think in a way, in music, I found a similar structure with all these friends that surround us, and the way I collaborate with Emmanuel — who shares my life, also, and so many projects that we have together — and with the artists that helped me go through this album creation.
But to come back to family and transgenerational aspects, I guess as artists, we always try to somehow transcend history and give it another meaning, and find new ways to approach it, making it ours and appropriating our own story to be able to share it with an audience, and maybe find a way to evolve and transform ourselves. So I think — I’m certain creativity has a lot to do with the unconscious, and this unconscious world is really tainted with our past and our ancestors’ past, and the way they inscribed themselves in the world and reacted to it.
Laetitia: That’s something I’m thinking a lot about at the moment. On a more therapeutic and healing level, I see that we carry in our DNA, in our unconscious memory, we carry a lot of trauma that dates back to probably the beginnings of humanity, and life being extremely traumatic. And it still is to some degree, but maybe less than 40,000 years ago, possibly, or 20,000 years ago or 5,000 years ago. But still, there’s a big traumatic charge that we have, and we are still enacting it because it’s a pattern.
I feel that, also through our art, and maybe as women — but I’m hoping that a lot of men are doing that too, because we all need to do it, but maybe women are more conscious of this because they’ve been more repressed for longer — [we are] processing and appropriating the stories, which means bringing them to the fore, bringing them to the light, and presenting them to the community. All the doubts and all the fear and all the shame or the anger that may afflict us, and using all this darkness and bringing it to the light in order for it to heal — you know, the healing process of art and creativity — I find very interesting. Basically, I’m just saying exactly what you said, but with different words. [Laughs.]
I see some people who write music, who do their art, who have their creative processes, and it’s a very intellectual thing. And when I do my music, I always do it much more from an emotional, more instinctual [place] — more like trying to find my way with my body, with, you know, I really engage all my senses — and intelligence, of course, but it’s a much more holistic process than just purely like, And now I’m going to make a reggae song. I just don’t want to intellectualize the creative process. For me, it’s something that is sacred and holistic and involves all senses and it’s not a cold calculation. I wonder how you feel about that?
Nina: Well, I totally agree. I think it’s really a matter of setting a clear intention, and then letting yourself go and find your way through it, so it’s very intuitive rather than intellectual. I never try to think of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it or what it means while I’m doing it. I think the proper meaning really appears nearly by itself when you feel that some work is finished, and it’s really more about layers of attention to details, and improvisation. Also, finding that often the mistakes are more interesting that what you really intended to do in the beginning. So there’s a direction, but then you never know when it will end and how it will appear in the end. It’s a very mysterious process, and it has its own kind of magic that has a lot to do with our availability physically, emotionally, to resonate with all the possibilities that appear on the way.
For instance, when you go on stage with an album and you present it live to an audience, you really experience the transformation of the songs through the way they interact with the other musicians, the audience, the moment, what happened during the day, what happened collectively — an event can change the whole meaning of a song, and suddenly you hear it with a new understanding. So I think it’s really an evolution that never stops even when the record is finished.
Laetitia: Yeah, songs will have a life of their own. I like what you say when it comes to the creative process. You have to trust yourself enough to be able to let go. Of course, you set yourself a direction — or, god knows what sets this direction — but there’s going to be an idea that triggers the making of an album or a song, and then it really is about relinquishing control as opposed to wanting to take control. Because when you take control, the song is very boring — and as you say, it’s accidents on the way, it’s like being on a journey, and things are going to happen that are at least seemingly beyond your control, and they are going to contribute to this song being unique and original and fresh. I want to underline the idea of having enough trust in yourself to relinquish control, and be led by what you’ve put into motion. You are led; it’s leading you.
It’s like having a child. It’s not your property. You’re responsible for the child, but it’s going to find its own way in life. It’s going to have its own characteristics, and that’s beyond your control. All you can do is be responsible for the child and its well-being. Same with songs — you’re responsible for making them come to life, and sort of incarnating them through musicians, through instruments, through recording them, and then connecting them onstage. And as you say, even then, they still have a life of their own, depending on the events of the day. Also in their recorded form, people are going to hopefully buy your record and listen, and then they take on as many forms as there are people listening. And that’s also quite magical, I think.
Nina: Totally. Maybe it’s a bit like in life — we are just responsible for what we can do with our feelings and the way we relate to them, and trying to be flexible enough to get to this transformation ability that allows us to interact with what surrounds us. It’s a learning process that never ends, and that’s part of the beauty of it, I think.
(Photo Credit: right, Louis Decamps)