Things can get a little blue for a left-leaning Brit in an American red state. But Tim Gane, the musical mastermind behind Stereolab, sounds bemused as he wanders a hunting-supply emporium in small-town Nebraska.
“It's a big store that sells many things,” Gane says over a scratchy cell phone connection. “Nebraskan food things. Hunting stuff, you know for people who like to catch big fish and shoot big game. I don't know what everything is, though, as I'm not much of a hunter myself.”
Why he's there isn't clear, but he laughs heartily when asked if it's the kind of place where Sarah Palin might like to shop. A chat about politics naturally follows. Though Gane doesn't presume to speak for all of England, he suggests there's a general consensus building there.
“I think everyone was very happy when Barack won his nomination,” he says. “Then they got a bit scared when the Palin lady entered into it. Everyone's very scared of the Republicans winning. I think that's everyone in Europe, really.”
Gane's opinions are hardly surprising. Stereolab, which got its start in London in 1990, has long held a reputation as a leftist—even Marxist—musical act. In part, that's due to French bandmate (and former romantic partner) Lætitia Sadier's ambiguously socialist lyrics (mostly sung en français). Granted, Gane's behind the music and not the words, but then again, his first band, an '80s indie-pop outfit, was called McCarthy, an ironic nod to right-wing McCarthyism.“I suppose I got into music at the very end of punk and the beginning of what's called post-punk,” Gane explains. “I was very much into the vaguely anarchistic music scene that was sometimes kind of punk and sometimes kind of electronic. This has been my general demeanor ever since.”
Despite his strong political convictions, Gane says he's not the least bit politically active.
“I've never voted. I suppose I still sway slightly toward the anarchist bent. For me, being creative with music is kind of—I wouldn't say political, but it's a way of expressing something that had to come out.”
He does, however, find the game of organized politics fascinating, especially the one that goes down stateside.
“I've always been particularly interested in the American elections. They're such entertainment! Everything has to be bigger than life. And, you can't ever say what you really want to say. [Both candidates] say such similar things, you know? I think it would be difficult for an atheist to run for government in America. It's not the same in England or France.”
And what about that Palin lady—she who supports shooting wolves from airplanes and speaks in colloquial one-liners? Does the rest of the world now think the average U.S. citizen is Palin's Joe Sixpack?
“If that's the message Americans want to give, they're doing a very good job of it,” Gane says. “Of course, when you come here and get to know Americans individually, you realize it's not such a cliché.”
Though Gane agrees that the world is in a crazy way right now, he claims he remains hopeful for the future, especially when it comes to his 10-year-old son.
“He's a very bright and optimistic child,” Gane says. “It would be wrong of me to counter that with the fears of an adult. When I was brought up, I don't remember anything like that, but if you look back, the years before I was born [in 1964] were the closest we'd ever come to nuclear war [with the Cuban Missile Crisis]. There have always been times when there were very, very bad situations happening. But in the long term, there's always hope.”
The years following Gane's birth—a tumultuous period with many modern-day parallels—happened to yield some of the most interesting music in history. Over the course of nine albums, Stereolab has culled from major reference points like '60s lounge-pop and '70s krautrock. For Chemical Chords, the band's latest album and first proper full-length since 2004, Gane turned to Detroit.
“To a certain degree,” he clarifies, “I was interested in the world of music that would include Motown and also Phil Spector and the girl groups of the '60s, especially in America. I think it was some of the most complex and resonant music ever made.”
But, Gane says, what he's done with Chemical Chords is not an obvious replication—not even close—though it's possibly the band's poppiest, most ebullient album to date.
“The rhythms which emanate from the original music are still complexifying [sic] today,” he explains. “I think it's partially a cultural thing and partially the sound and the instruments. I was interested in the infrastructure, the architecture, but the content of [Chemical Chords] isn't at all related. As always, we start with an idea, and then it's off and running.”
As a loudspeaker blares muffled blue-light specials in the background, Gane suggests another idea that might be worth getting up and running.
“I think the rest of the world should be allowed to vote in your upcoming election,” he says. “That's the sensible thing to do.”
Stereolab plays with Richard Swift and Monade on Friday, Oct. 24, at Belly Up Tavern. 858-481-8140. www.stereolab.co.uk.