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Emperor Tomato Ketchup, partially produced by Tortoise's John McEntire, is just as eclectic. "Metronomic Underground," the lead track, is among the most provocative numbers present: Its repetitions bear touches of funk and ambient music, yet they stubbornly refuse to capitulate to either approach. "I don't know if I could call it a conscious effort," Sadier says about the song, "but there is at its base the notion of being quite primitive and of using primitive beats and then grooving along with them--because it's a pleasant thing to do. But then, on top of that, we added electronics and what-have-you to give it another feel. It was inspired by Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders, who used little riffs like that and then took them wherever they wished. We did our own version of that."
That even jazz cognoscenti would likely miss these connections is an indication of just how thoroughly Stereolab subsumes its inspirations. The instrumentalists are fond of succinct musical figures, but they're able to use them in intricate and enigmatic ways. "When we record, we put in as much as possible--and sometimes we even put in too much," Sadier confirms, laughing. "The wider we cast our net, the more choices there are. That way, you have sounds that emerge--incidental stuff that sometimes turns out to be most important of all. The more the music is layered, the deeper it becomes. And the deeper you can get into it, I suppose."
To put it mildly, these sentiments do not reflect the kind of hit-singles mentality that has long been endemic among American pop artists. But Sadier cannot imagine conducting business any other way.
"It is possible to do things the way we're doing them," she points out. "It is possible to do it any way you like it; it's just a matter of what suits you best and what you feel you want to do. But I can't imagine us pushing Stereolab on MTV or something like that. I can't really associate myself with that at all. That's not why the band is there or why we started. That's not for us.
"I'm very happy with the way things are going--we're able to be creative and yet we're making a living out of it. It's not that bad doing it on a more intimate level, where you can actually see the people you're playing to, instead of trying to project things to the infinite--to the point where you just can't see or feel yourself anymore."
Stereolab certainly can't be accused of the latter: In fact, the musicians are so reticent about the fame machine that none of their CDs features photographs of them. Sadier denies that this is intended as a comment on the music industry's predilection for objectification. "Honestly, it's just never occurred to us to put our pictures on there," she insists. "Perhaps one day it will, but it hasn't yet." After mulling over the matter for a moment, however, she acknowledges that the absence of band imagery on the discs might have its advantages. "If I was a Stereolab fan and had never seen the group live," she says, "I'd really be wondering, 'What do these people look like?' It would feel a little mysterious, definitely. And I think the music does, too."
Stereolab, with DJ Spooky and Ui. 9 p.m. Monday, October 28, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $10.50, all ages, 443-3399 or 830-
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