Saint Etienne are an English Pop group comprising Sarah Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs. They are named after the French football team AS Saint-Étienne.
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. Some of these earlier recordings included skits by satirist Chris Morris.
In 1991, the band also released two singles - "7 Ways to Love" and "He Is Cola" - under the name "Cola Boy" with different singers; 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".
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 Tough reached #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 #12 and #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 #8 in the UK album charts, the singles performed disappointingly, with "Pale Movie", "Like a Motorway" and "Hug My Soul" reaching #28, #47 and #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 Etienne Daho's "Weekend a Rome" that they had created for a collaborative EP with Daho entitled Reserection. It reached #11 in the UK charts.
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.
In 2000, they shifted toward a more atmospheric type of electronica in 2000 with the release of Sound of Water.
Finisterre was released in 2002. A follow-up DVD by photographer and film maker Paul Kelly was released on 4 July 2005.
In November 2004, they released their first US compilation of greatest hits, called Travel Edition 1990-2005.
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".
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.
Their song "Hobart Paving," with slightly altered lyrics (eliminating the title reference in favor of "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.
They have recently recorded the theme song and incidental music for Maryoku Yummy, a children's television show currently showing on The Hub.