What’s a few years among friends? Classic pop act Saint Etienne make their excuses and retrieve. David Dunn listened
HONEY-tonsiLed singer Sarah Cracknell has got a sore ear from having the phone pressed to it for a morning of interviews.
We can’t help but point out it’s probably because it’s had such a long break from the promotional circus.
“I might change ears, how about that,” she says, preparing to give reasons for Saint Etienne’s sizeable slumber. “Now I’m going to have to go back again, it doesn’t feel right.”
What does feel right is the timing for the band’s return, after a whopping seven years.
“We haven’t actually been missing. We’ve been quite busy doing other things, but it doesn’t seem like seven years.”
Even so, in this age of musical Tweeting where acts push out every sonic idea, at least SE have waited until they had something to say.
And now they don’t want to simply swim with the fish but to jump on and ride the shark, so they came up with new album Words & Music By Saint Etienne – out next Monday before Tuesday’s gig at The Leadmill.
To use another animal analogy, Sarah, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs have been waiting like a musical leopard on its haunches in a musical wilderness of landfill pop and factory RnB ready to pounce.
“Time whizzes by, but yes, ready to pounce sounds good,” laughs Sarah who denies being idle during their break. “We were doing so much stuff so we always thought we were out there. I had a single out with Mark Brown (2007’s The Journey Continues) and we’d been re-releasing, re-mastering, re-packaging, finding bonus tracks, going through the archive, doing film music. We put a couple of things out to the fanclub and we started this a year ago, so it doesn’t feel like seven years.
“We’re very album-orientated as well. We like the idea of doing an album and having a theme running through it, something to get our teeth into like that.
“It makes the whole writing process much easier; it flows when you’ve got something, an idea, to pin each song on. We’d started a couple of things and then it materialised, which is always a relief as it gives you a focus for each song.”
Of course, now being a little more mature than some of pop’s kittens, the likes of Sarah and Pete have also undergone the dilemma of music verses parenthood while Bob tried to finish a book.
“Pete and I have got kids of a similar-ish age where it doesn’t matter so much if we go off and do tons of gigs this year,” says the mum of two.
“When they’re younger you don’t want to be away more than three days, I was really adamant. They’re 10 and eight now, although they’ll miss me, of course. When they were very little I used to take them everywhere. Looking back I wonder ‘Was that actually fair?’, dragging these tiny children around America.
“I remember taking Spencer, my eldest, as a baby all round Europe on a sleeper bus. I suppose when they’re little they’d rather be with you than not. Now mine are always playing air guitar, jumping around and saying ‘when I’m in a band’ and you think ‘Oh God, please don’t do that’.”
Either way, there’s a youthful gait to SE’s fresh output, not least due to former midas touch men behind hit-making machine Xenomania providing a classy pop garnish.
“When they left Xenomania it seemed a stupid contact to ignore. Also we’d done a lot with Richard X, who remixed Foxbase Alpha.
“These people were around, but if anything I think we tried to reign it in slightly so the whole album wasn’t all uptempo and pop. That wouldn’t be quite right for us. All our albums have been fairly eclectic so it would be weird to suddenly not have an album like that.”
And there lies one of the reasons SE have managed to endure, though often maintaining the kind of career policy that upsets record label boardrooms.
“It makes us laugh when we look back at all the bumps and bad decision-making, like having He’s On The Phone and no follow-up single for...I don’t know how many years.
“Timing hasn’t ever been our strong point. I certainly don’t think we’ve looked at strategy very well. We just do what feels right at the time, which is probably a bit stupid really.”
So there’s no deliberate ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’ ideal at play, although it remains a refreshing stance in an age of marketing bombardment.
“The nice thing is we tend to pick up new people as we go along. A record will come out and there’ll be someone who’s never heard of us before and they might hear new single I’ve Got Your Music on the radio, like that and discover us. We actually have quite young fans, which is exciting.”
A comeback tour of just six dates begins on Leadmill Road. Sarah is excited at the prospect of belting out the likes of Only Love Can Break Your Heart and Nothing Can Stop Us again. But now she’s older and a mum does she ever feel less connected with some past glories or is it like bringing old friends out for the night?
“It’s like having a split personality. I have got my role at home with my kids and I’m very on that, active in their lives. And then I have this other life where I still feel as young and the same as 20 years ago when I wrote those earlier songs, so I don’t feel like I’ve moved on and I’m not that person any more. I’m two people, which sounds slightly worrying.”
So would she be going to clubs and having a bounce around if she wasn’t on stage? Daft question, it seems.
“I do do that,” she laughs. “One of the things with kids, and my mum was like this with me growing up, my friends always related very much to my mum and used to come and ask her for advice if anything went wrong or they would talk to her more than they could their own parents.
“Now I find with my kids and their friends, they see me as a bit of a laugh who they can muck about with. I’m not a serious parent. I’m a seriously good parent, but there is a fun aspect to my parenting.”
No house coat and rolling pin, then? “I relate to the pain of homework, things like that. I’ve done my homework.”
And look what happens if you try hard enough.
Saint Etienne will sign copies of their album at Record Collector from 3pm on Tuesday.