Saint Etienne
On Their Past, Present & Future…
October 2009
Questionnaire: Steve Bateman

First rising to prominence in the early ‘90s and making an indentation on the music scene with a succession of spectacular singles, Saint Etienne – Pete Wiggs, Bob Stanley and Sarah Cracknell – are now rightly regarded as “indie aristocracy,” “electro-pop legends” and as “indie-dance vanguards who create cool and credible pop!”

Having recently released London Conversations: The Best Of Saint Etienne, and also steadily re-releasing their back catalogue in the form of expanded, luxury and remastered Deluxe Editions. Which serve to highlight the trio’s restless quest for musical reinvention throughout their career, whereby ‘perfect pop melodies collide with sonic experimentation’ – topped off with Sarah’s warm caramel and heart-melting vocals. When asked by, ‘How does it feel looking back over your catalogue?’ Bob replied: “It's quite weird, like digging out your own old diary. There are bits which are quite embarrassing, but it's mostly lots of good, strong memories. It's twenty years' worth – that's half my life. And we're still doing it! We're reissuing all of our old albums with bonus discs of outtakes and unreleased stuff.”

And then, in answer to Pitchfork’s question, ‘You guys have always been generous with releasing this kind of material, between fan club records and b-sides and whatnot?’ Bob said: “Yeah, it's pretty amazing there is anything that's not been dragged out before. I grew up buying records from Prince or Felt, people who put out an album or two a year and weren't afraid to look a bit foolish, because then they'd come back and do something different. I think that's the attitude we had when we were releasing things. We weren't afraid to put out the fan club album things that we didn't think made the grade for the main album. Somebody might like it, and we obviously liked it or we wouldn't have recorded it.”

However, Saint Etienne are by no means a nostalgia act and are keen to keep their collective finger on the pulse / push things forward. And with new material expected in 2010, they have already collaborated with the cutting-edge producer / pop genius that is Richard X, on the sashaying double a-side single, Method Of Modern Love / This Is Tomorrow. As well as confessing their love for new electro artists such as Ladyhawke (also one of my personal favourites), Little Boots, Lykke Li, MGMT and Heartbreak – all of whom they have most likely had an influence on anyway. The band have also diversified through the years by moving into solo projects and interests outside of Saint Etienne, including films, documentaries, soundtracks and journalism.

Long associated with London and its thriving music scene, The Times once wrote, "Saint Etienne deftly fuse the grooviness of Swinging Sixties London, with a post-acid house backbeat," and although the city is still very important to the group, it is now considered to be much more of “a spiritual home.” Having been hooked on their songs for sometime – plus given their own fanzine background – I contacted Saint Etienne’s Manager, Martin, to see if the band would be interested in answering a Q&A for R*E*P*E*A*T, with Pete very kindly returning the completed Questionnaire to us soon afterwards.

As one writer so eloquently put it, “In Saint Etienne's music, you'll hear the brightest pop and the most tragic soul, melancholy and pure joy – they'll make you believe in British pop again.”

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.Growing up, what was your biggest source for discovering new music, and can you remember the first press coverage, radio airplay or TV exposure that Saint Etienne ever had?
“A combination of Bob, John Peel, Kid Jensen and Smash Hits. Our first press appearance was a sneaky mention Bob made of us in a list of up-and-coming bands. I almost crashed my car once listening to daytime Radio 1, when Simon Bates read out one of our self-penned press releases full of daft in-jokes and then played the b-side of Nothing Can Stop Us – saying he preferred it to the a-side.”

2.Music critics often argue that “the best music is as much the expression of a state of mind, as a construction in sound.” What are your feelings on this, and do you think the traditional printed music press will be able to survive for much longer / continue to have an impact, with the ever-growing number of webzines and bloggers?

“It’s a bit too cerebral an argument for me. The best music creates images in your mind and physiological changes in your body, but they may not always be the same ones intended by the composer. Great music is sometimes only great because of who you were and where you were when you heard it. Online blogs and webzines make it so easy to click and hear the track you are reading about, and can be literally up to the minute, so it’s easy to see the paper version fading away. It’s harder to relax in front of a computer and we spend so much time in front of screens that it won’t die out completely.”

3.Of the artists / groups who started their careers at the same time as you, are there any in particular, who you still keep an eye on + as this is a Q&A for R*E*P*E*A*T, can you tell us about your connection to the Manic Street Preachers?

“Stereolab, Broadcast… erm, can’t think of many more. Bob and I saw the Manics first ever London gig upstairs in a pub (called The Horse And Groom I think), they were so different to anything that was happening at the time and so passionate and charming that we were blown away. Kevin Pearce told us about them and soon Jeff at Heavenly fell in love with them and signed them. Soon after I started going out with a girl who wrote a Manics fanzine!”

4.At what point in your career, did you stop and think to yourself, “We’re starting to become a success”?
“I’d just handed my notice in at my job after our first single came out and went for a drink with my boss who had been supportive but dubious. Someone came over and said, “Are you in Saint Etienne?” and shook my hand. It looked like I’d set it up.”

5.As a primarily electronic-based group, of all the beats, effects, loops, samples, textures etc. in your songs, which have been the most rewarding to create – and has the evolution of your sound been something that you always knew would happen, or has this been more of a natural progression?
“I think I will hark back to the early days of recording when we would find things like a drinks mat and record hitting it with various things, sample it and turn it into a weird sound buried in the mix. Our sound has evolved naturally and by always wanting to do something different with each album. We have collaborated with many people over the years and have learnt something from each of them. Still haven’t learned how to play properly though.”

6.Is there a track that you consider to be ‘A Perfect Pop Song’, and which tracks should every aspiring DJ have in their record box / what are some of your personal ‘Club Classics’?
“There’s hundreds of perfect pop songs, can’t whittle it down to one.”
Some random personal ‘Club Classics’…
Baby Don’t Leave Me Now – Holland Dozier
Circle Sky – The Monkees
Flash – The Marquis Of Kensington

7.You recently played Foxbase Alpha live, which was to celebrate the Deluxe Edition reissue of your full-length debut album. But if you could handpick some of your favourite artists / bands to play their albums in full, and release a Deluxe Edition, who would they be and which records?
The Left Banke – Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina
The Poppy Family – The Poppy Family
The Lovin’ Spoonful – Everything Playing

8.If you had to sum up each Saint Etienne studio album with 1 word, what would they be?
“Not sure if these descriptions will attract new listeners but…”

Foxbase Alpha – Innocence

So Tough – Freedom

Tiger Bay – Decadence

Good Humor – Purity

Sound Of Water – Bierpinsel

Finisterre – Urban

Tales From Turnpike House – Suburban

9.Do you think challenging LPs are a mark of a good artist / group, and have you ever taken a chance on a record that has ended up becoming one of your all-time favourites?
“There’s good challenging and bad challenging! When it’s good, it’s about pushing boundaries and experimenting, but the results are ultimately listenable. Both Bob and I rate Dazzle Ships by OMD as one of our all-time and most influential faves.”

10.HMV has been running a ‘My Inspiration’ advertisement campaign, which features photographs of musicians and groups, along with an act / lyric that means a lot to them personally. But if Saint Etienne were asked to appear, which artist or band + lyric of theirs would you choose, and also, can you remember when you first felt that you were beginning to grasp the art of songwriting / do you see a thread running through your lyrics?
“We were asked but I can’t bleeding well remember what we said – think it was a line from Galveston by Glen Campbell. Nothing Can Stop Us was the first proper song that we wrote that stood up to the cover versions we’d made our name on. In my lyrics, there is often a sense of escape, or the need for escape.”

11.Do you have a favourite Saint Etienne era / any favourite artwork, looks, photographs and videos + during this time, what has the devotion of your fans meant to you… I know that both your fan club and fan club only releases have long been a staple throughout your career?
“I enjoy reminiscing about the 1992 – 95 period. We were really overdoing it then and behaving fairly badly, I had big hair and fat sideburns. Our fans have been great and very loyal. We’ve seen quite a few younger fans joining the ranks recently, which makes us feel good too.”

12.Heavenly is also obviously very important to Saint Etienne, so can you tell us about your relationship with them?
“Jeff from Heavenly heard our first demo tape and said, “I’m just starting a label – want to be on it?” Since then, we’ve always been affiliated to Heavenly (even if they’ve not always released our records) as our manager Martin is Jeff’s partner in business and Sarah’s in the biblical sense!”

13.Has the band surpassed your expectations / what have been some of your personal highlights over the years?

“Our expectations were very minimal, certainly didn’t think we’d still be going in 19 years. Highlights have been TOTP, Glastonbury, traveling to Japan, The States and all over Europe. Scoring and being involved in making films with Paul Kelly. It’s been a blast.”

14.If you had to place 5 Saint Etienne songs in a time-capsule for future generations to hear, what would they be?
Lover Plays The Bass
Like A Motorway

15.Lastly, chips or cream buns?
“At the moment, the cream buns have the edge.”

A very special thanks to Pete, and to Martin @ Heavenly Management, for all of their time and help.

“Smash The System”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?