Saint Etienne was formed ten years ago by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs. They mixed northern soul and pop with a fresh take. Sarah Cracknell soon joined the band on the single "Nothing Can Stop Us." One can't think of a person more English than the stylistic Sarah Cracknell. Whether you think of Julie Christie or Marianne Faithful, you can see Sarah Cracknell in their place. Even though they were from the suburbs, Saint Etienne soon made London their home. Many of their early songs were about living in North London.
Saint Etienne's first album, Fox Base Alpha, was a classic, and along with Primal Scream they ushered in a new age. The death of baggy: The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays were over. Along with Suede and Pulp, Etienne threw down the seeds for the Brit-Po movement, but Etienne was always too versatile to be categorized.
Sarah Cracknell soon became a style icon and featured in many magazines. Sarah was like a Warhol superstar. Her look was emulated all over the world. Saint Etienne toured with bands like Pulp and Oasis before they both became big in 1995. Several top singles and appearances in Top of The Pops cemented Etienne's reputation on the British imagination for years to come. They had achieve ten top twenty singles. There was no place to go but up and out into space.
The band got involved in the new DJ scene when they had some of their singles remixes by the likes of Andrew Weatherall, David Holmes, The Chemical Brothers, and Underworld.
They have now eight albums: Fox Base Alpha (1991), So Tough (1993), You Need A Mess of Help To Stand Alone (B-sides 1993), Tiger Bay (1994), Too Young To Die (Greatest Hits 1995), Casino Classics (Remixes 1996), Good Humour (1998), The Misadventures of Saint Etienne (Soundtrack 1999), and Sound of Water (2000).
Some of their early albums mixed film dialogue with instrumentals. Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs got involved in the record business and spinning records at clubs. This gave Sarah time to do her own solo record, Lipslide. She's released a second version this year, and has also released Kelly's Locker.
Etienne has become less popular in England over the years. Their label Creation has died. But there has been much interested in them here in the United States. They have released a few records on Subpop, the home of Grunge (remember that fad?). The album, Good Humour, was a wake-up call to America. They had been a cult band here until then. I saw them play one of the most energetic shows I had ever seen at The House of Blues in Hollywood in June 1999. Bob Stanley doesn't play live with Etienne anymore, but he sometimes spins discs before the show, as he did at the show I saw a few weeks ago in September. Pete Wiggs and Sarah are joined by six other musicians and singers, and the new lineup is very special.
There has been several releases and Etienne has played here a few times recently. I was looking forward to talking to Sarah and Pete. They were playing at The Palace in Hollywood. I was to meet them at the sound-check I got there an hour late and they were still doing the sound-check I had heard stories about Kid Loco chasing their manager around the Fillmore, and breaking his arm.
I met the manager, Frank. He seems unorganized. He told me to wait in the lobby. The Palace was empty. I had been coming to this place for almost twenty years and it seemed so big back in the day. It does have a lot of rooms. After about an hour, the sound-check was delayed again, and I was introduced to the band and we were told to try to do the interview now and it might be interrupted so they could do the sound-check, which seemed to have been going on for three hours.
AL: Test, test. Here we are with Pete and Sarah. So the tour just started?
PETE: We've done Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco as well. So there's been four shows. It's been going well.
SARAH: Pomona tomorrow. Then a long drive to Chigago. (laughter)
PETE: A killer.
AL: Since you've been involved with Subpop, you've been over here a lot touring. More than in the past.
SARAH: Yeah. Well, we never toured in the past. It would be like two gigs in New York City and one in Toronto. That's all we ever did.
AL: Just New York and LA?
SARAH: Didn't even play LA.
PETE: Just New York in 1994 I think.
SARAH: It was a CMJ thing.
AL: I thought that you had toured with Pulp.
SARAH: We did but not here.
AL: Why didn't you come over before?
PETE: It had to do with management and advisors. They advised us not to come. They didn't want us touring in the US. We wanted to tour.
AL: Why did they prevent it? Not enough like Bush?
SARAH: They said no one would come. We were surprised about how many people did want to see us play live. We benefit from a crossover thing which seems to work here as well as the UK. I am a friend of the drummer of Bush. He played me the first record and I was being very nice: "There, there... Very good." It's very generic.
AL: For some bands, if they just stay together for five or ten years, then finally America catches up with them.
PETE: Yeah, that's what happened to us. We've been together for ten years. Surprise, surprise.
AL: What about the Internet? There seems to be a lot of Etienne websites and newsgroups. Do you read any of those?
PETE: Yeah. We don't really look at it, because it's like prying. Gerard, the keyboard player, looks at it, and that information filters back to us. We ask him "What's the reaction to the new album?" He tells us if it's good.
AL: There's been a number of solo albums and group albums in the last two years....
SARAH: Busy bees.
AL: Then you show up on all these records by David Holmes, Paul Van Dyke, and who else? Wu Tang Clan? (laughter)
PETE: We would if they asked.
AL: The new record, Sound of Water, you worked with To Rococo Rot. How did you get hooked with them?
PETE: It came from listening to Kriedler. It's a one-off thing really. We read about them in a magazine.
SARAH: We're going to have to cut this off to do the sound-check We'll come back. Sorry.
So they left to do a sound-check A photographer friend of mine and I sat in the lobby and listened to them do a few songs in an empty hall. They stopped and I looked around for them. Some roadie told me that they had left to eat dinner. So I thought it wasn't going to happen. I went to get some food myself. I came back and watched the show. I ran into the manager Frank. I gave him my phone number and told him to call me, and maybe we could continue the interview over the phone. He never called. I had tickets to the next night in Pomona but I wasn't feeling good, since I had given blood to the Red Cross. Saint Etienne is a fun band though. They have another EP coming out in January.
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