Saint Etienne are an English indie dance/indie pop band from London, formed in 1990. The band consists of Sarah Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs. They are named after theFrench football team AS Saint-Étienne.
Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs were childhood friends and former music journalists. They originally planned that Saint Etienne would use a variety of different lead singers, and their first album, Foxbase Alpha features several vocalists, including Moira Lambert and Donna Savage. However, after working with Sarah Cracknell on "Nothing Can Stop Us", they decided to make her the permanent vocalist, and Cracknell has written or co-written many of the band's songs.
Saint Etienne were associated with the "indie dance" genre in the early 1990s. Their typical approach was to combine sonic elements of the dance-pop that emerged in the wake of the so-called Second Summer of Love (e.g. samples and digitally synthesized sounds) with an emphasis on songwriting involving romantic and introspective themes more commonly associated with traditional British pop and rock music. Early work demonstrated the influence of '60s soul, '70s dub and rock as well as '80s dance music, giving them a broad palette of sounds and a reputation for eclecticism. Years later, The Times wrote that they "deftly fused the grooviness of Swinging Sixties London with a post-acid house backbeat". Their first two albums,Foxbase Alpha and So Tough feature sounds chiefly associated with house music, such as standard TR-909 drum patterns and Italo house piano riffs mixed with original sounds, notable by the use of found dialogue, sampled from 1960s British realist cinema.
In 1991, the band also released two singles, "7 Ways to Love" and "He Is Cola", under the name "Cola Boy" with different singers (one of them being future radio personality Janey Lee Grace, who recorded and appeared in the video for the former); their explanation for publishing under a nom de plume is that the tracks were "too cheesy for Saint Etienne. We'd have been finished overnight". The band would later produce an updated electro-house version of "7 Ways to Love" for Japanese singer Nokko for her 1993 album "I Will Catch U" (also known as "Call Me Nightlife" for the United States, Canada and Europe), in which she added lyrics to the song in both Japanese and English.
During the early 1990s the group enjoyed extensive coverage in UK music weekly papers NME and Melody Maker and gained a reputation as purveyors of "pure pop" in the period immediately prior to the Brit-Pop explosion. So Toughreached No. 7 in the UK album charts. Their most popular singles of this period were "You're in a Bad Way" and "Join Our Club" (which reached No. 12 and No. 21 in the UK charts).
Tiger Bay (1994) represented a change of direction: the entire album was inspired by folk music, combined with modern electronica. Although the album reached No. 8 in the UK album charts, the singles performed disappointingly, with "Pale Movie", "Like a Motorway" and "Hug My Soul" reaching No. 28, No. 47 and No. 32 in the UK charts. In a 2009 interview, Bob Stanley said that in retrospect the band "got ahead of ourselves a bit" by releasing such an uncommercial album, which "definitely could have done with a couple more obvious songs".
In 1995, they released their biggest hit single, "He's on the Phone", a reworking of Étienne Daho's "Weekend a Rome" that they had created for a collaborative EP with Daho entitled Reserection. It reached No. 11 on the UK chart.
Stanley has said that with hindsight it was "a bit stupid" that the band "didn't release another single for two and a half years". Instead, they released a compilation album, Too Young to Die (1996), and then returned in 1998 with Good Humor, which de-emphasized the contemporary dance music influence on their previous work, replacing it with a more traditional sound. Also in 1998 they covered "La, la, la" on A Song for Eurotrash, a compilation of re-imagined past hits from the Eurovision Song Contest.
13 June 2005 saw the release of the band's new album, entitled Tales from Turnpike House. It was preceded by a single for the track "Side Streets". A second single, "A Good Thing", was released in the United Kingdom on 31 October 2005. Early editions of the album were accompanied by a six-track sampler CD for a planned album of children's songs entitled Up the Wooden Hills.
After years floating around various record labels, the band came back to original label Heavenly for their 2009 career retrospective, London Conversations: The Best of Saint Etienne. The album contained two singles, a reworked "Burnt Out Car" and new track, the Richard X-produced "Method of Modern Love". The album also contained as a third "new" track, a remix by Richard X of the previously vinyl-only "This is Tomorrow".
1993's non-album single "Who Do You Think You Are" is a cover of a song by Jigsaw. The song was also covered by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods and by Candlewick Green, a winning act on the UK talent show Opportunity Knocks. Saint Etienne recorded it as a duet with Debsey Wykes, former singer of Dolly Mixture.
In 1993, the band collaborated with Kylie Minogue for two songs: a cover of "Nothing Can Stop Us" (intended at the time to be her first single release for her new label) and "When Are You Coming Home" (unreleased).
For the band's first greatest hits compilation, Too Young to Die (1995), Eurodance producer Steve Rodway reworked the track "Accident" from the Reserection EP, producing the renamed single "He's on the Phone." The single, co-credited to Daho, gained the singer additional exposure to English-speaking audiences.
Rodway's co-producer Brian Higgins produced the band's following single, "Burnt Out Car," released in 1996.
The 2005 album Tales from Turnpike House features David Essex as a guest vocalist. Several tracks on the album were co-written and co-produced by Brian Higgins' songwriting production team, Xenomania.
Sarah Cracknell has collaborated with Marc Almond on his single "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten" for his album Stardom Road.
In addition to the Richard X collaboration on the "This is Tomorrow"/"Method of Modern Love" single, 2009 also saw the limited release of Foxbase Beta, the producer's reworking of the band's debut album Foxbase Alpha.
The 1998 album The Misadventures of Saint Etienne is the soundtrack to the independent film The Misadventures of Margaret, starring Parker Posey. After the soundtrack was completed, the film's producers opted to replace it with a more 'conventional' soundtrack, although a number of tracks can still be heard in the background of the film's final version and Saint Etienne received top "Original Music" credit on the film. The band also recorded a duet by Cracknell and Posey titled 'Secret Love' for the soundtrack, but due to legal entanglements it has never been released.
The band has also stepped out from behind their instruments and microphone stands to produce films, including two documenting the landscape of the city of London: Finisterre (2002) inspired by the 1967 short film The London Nobody Knows, and What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day? (2005), which has a more specific focus on the dilapidation of the Lower Lea Valley. The band have produced a new film, This Is Tomorrow, in their new capacity as artists-in-residence at the newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall in London, telling the story of the Hall's first 50 years. This Is Tomorrow premiered on 29 June 2007 as part of the RFH's opening season with the band performing the film's soundtrack live. All three films were directed by filmmaker and long-time collaborator Paul Kelly who, over the years, has directed a number of the band's music videos and provided artwork for many of their releases.
"A Good Thing" is featured both in Pedro Almodóvar's award-winning 2006 Spanish film Volver and in the Grey's Anatomy episode titled "Tell Me Sweet Little Lies", the fourteenth episode of season 2 in 2006. This track was co-written by Cracknell, Mark Waterfield and Lawrence Oakley.
Their song "Hobart Paving," with slightly altered lyrics (replacing the title reference with the line "Hold on princess...") and an altered title ("Catch Me"), was covered for the soundtrack of the film Bandits (1997), and was an integral part of the soundtrack album (one of two promotional videos released for the soundtrack was for the song) which became the best-selling soundtrack album to a European film soon after release; actor-singer-guitarist Jasmin Tabatabai still performs that version in concert.