The premise of Brighton Music Blog is nice and simple – write about bands from Brighton. So what am I doing interviewing Saint Etienne’s Pete Wiggs? The band have a greatest hits called London Conversations, and London Belongs To Me from Foxbase Alpha came 19th in Time Out’s 100 best London songs last year. Surely I can’t be branching out so soon? Don’t worry. The blog is still dedicated to Brightonians – Pete Wiggs is a Hove resident these days, so I caught up with him over a pint or two at his local to talk about moving away from London, his new album, and making remixes for a new generation of artists.
It’s funny because even now we still do interviews where people ask me my favourite London haunts. I’ve been down here for four years now. I still feel like a tourist now and again here. We’d always intended to move down here at some point, and now I can sometimes go a couple of weeks without going into London. I suppose it’s easier with internet – you can bat things around.
I grew up in Croydon, and Brighton trips were a special treat. I’ve got three brothers, and to mark if someone passed an exam, or did something, we’d have a trip to Brighton, and I always loved it. It hasn’t really changed, well it has but it’s still got the same appeal. And it doesn’t have that thing like many seaside towns of shutting down and getting scary when it’s not summer.
The new album, Words and Music by Saint Etienne is out 21st of May
Technically, it’s called “Words and music by Saint Etienne”. You’re supposed to say it like that. We were a bit stuck for a title, and Laurence from Go Kart Mozart came up with the title for us. At first, I was like “really?” and he said it’s got to be “Words and Music by Saint Etienne”, in full, not just “Words and Music”. The title really helps the simple theme of writing songs about music, about how music weaves itself into your life. It’s quite middle aged, this album in the sense that there’s lots of retrospection, lyrics about different stages of your life, and some of them are sad.
It’s got a bit of everything on it. It’s all very pop, and they could nearly all be singles on it, which we’re quite pleased with, but there are different flavours to it.
Are you striving to achieve a particular sound, or do you go about trying to make one song a 60s sounding track and a different song particularly pop track?
It just all falls together when you’re doing it. We’ve worked with quite a few different people that we’ve worked with over the years – a lot of the people from Xenomania, who were the producers of Action, left there and we worked with them individually. Nick Coler, he originally worked with KLF, he’s done a couple of songs, and Rob Davis who wrote Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, he’s done a couple of songs with us as well. So we have gone and deliberately worked with people who’ve had number ones!
Still chasing the hits then?
We’ve been a bit more censorious I suppose, cut out some bits, tried not to be too daft with the lyrics, been a bit more strict on ourselves.
Were the songs written evenly over the last seven years since the last album?
No, they’re all done in the last eighteen months. It always starts off that you don’t really know what the direction is, so we started recording backing tracks and then we had a few songs that we thought sounded like they were going somewhere and lyrically we hadn’t really thought of a direction. And we concentrated on those three songs, which were Tonight, I’ve Got Your Music, and another one called DJ which we’ve been playing live for the last year. By the time we’d written the lyrics for those we’d come up with the idea for the album. So it all came from that really, there was a burst at the beginning getting those ones ready, and then rest was pretty much done in the last two months in the run up to December when we thought “right, we’ve got to finish this bloody record!”
Have you been working on them down here and taking them up to the others, or do you all get together and work on them?
It’s different with different songs, but yeah, some of them are started here, and we tend to always finish them somewhere else. We’re in the studio less as the three of us as we used to be, but still a fair amount of time, but it’s been at different studios with different people. Mainly studios at peoples houses rather than big studios. And the Xenomania people have done quite well, so they’ve got quite fancy houses! And quite good studios in them – better than mine!
It’s got a lovely cover. I saw something incredibly similar doing the rounds of the internet a couple of months ago though…
We saw that too and thought “What a great idea, let’s call them up”! So we called them up and they did a new one for us. It’s a different map – our one is an area of Croydon, which is a nod to our roots because Bob’s from there too. We changed quite a few songs on there that we didn’t like so much – we got rid of Highway to Hell, and added loads of others. We’re doing a deluxe version that has a fold out map that looks like an ordnance survey map and it’s got a list of all of the songs.
What else is on the Deluxe version? There’s nothing at all on the internet about what the extra material is.
You’ve probably got an exclusive with me telling you about the map then! It’s actually got three discs – there’s an EP as well and… I don’t even know what’s in the package! I saw some of the artwork yesterday which is slightly different as well. That’s the super deluxe that I’m talking about. There’s another two disc version which has a disc of remixes of nearly every song. There’s quite a range – there’s some that are quite dancey, Erol Alkan’s done one and Time & Space Machine, Richard Norris, he’s done one. Then there’s some more mellow ones by Beat Connection, Two Bears and Kisses. Summer Camp have done a really good one…
Who you’ve just done some remixes for…
Yeah, we did a swap. Most of them have been done on a swap basis. So we’ve done one for time & Space Machine which hasn’t come out yet, Work by Two Bears…
What’s it like putting out your new album Heavenly again, compared to how it was first time around?
It’s good to be able to do it, for starters! We’ve always maintained the connection, via Martin our manager, who’s married to Sarah. Heavenly has spread apart now and does different things – there’s Heavenly Films, Jeff’s doing the Caught by The River stuff as well, and they don’t have the central London hub that they used to. It used to be a real focal point where you’d get everyone there.It’s actually licensed via Universal who we’re signed to, so this is our first major label release in Britain. Normally we’re completely independent in the UK and go with majors outside.
Do you and Bob still run the Eclipse imprint on Universal as well?
Yeah, we haven’t done anything on there for a while, but I think it’s still going. We did a Dusty Springfield compilation, a Pebbles album, quite a few girl group compilations, Impressions a and b sides, Glen Campbell a and b sides. It would be nice to get into that more. It gets harder and harder because so much stuff has been reissued!
There’s another compilation you’ve got coming out as well, the third in the “songs for” series, this time Songs For The Lyons Cornerhouse.
I can’t even remember what’s on there we did it so long ago.
Is it another label that’s does that and they’ve seen you’re putting out your new album and have decided to put it out now?
I do it with a friend of mine called Dem who I’ve known for years. We met in a weird way, via the Heavenly Social actually. A friend of mine you used to go there said “I’ve got a mate who lives in the same block of flats as you, he comes here quite a lot, we should meet up one day”. And as soon as we met we got on brilliantly, so we often used to end up either all going back to mine or his when we lived in Maida Vale.
He’s always been into electronic leftfield stuff, so we thought it would be a good idea to do a show that would be a meeting in the middle of our collective tastes, so it’s a bit like when you’re around someone’s house and you pick out things that you think the other person will like, so we’re playing to each other in a way. I try to do it every week but it slips here and there with me not being here. But I really enjoy doing it because it’s a way of keeping up with current stuff and we’ve sort of developed an aesthetic for the shot which has it’s own thing, so I enjoy finding things that even if they’re things we’ve got already I think this’ll fit the flavour of the show. It goes out Wednesday nights, but I think they’re repeating it most days now.
I don’t know who listens to it, if anyone. We record it at my house and take it in on a memory stick. We started doing it and get through a bottle of wine every show, but then realised that’s probably not a good idea, so now we don’t drink when we’re doing it. People have said that I sound like an opiated aristocrat. Is that good? Other people have said that I sound like Marc Bolan, which is a bit better, I think. Dem’s more vocal than me, I like just playing things rather than finding things to say about them.
Every now and then we DJ out together as The Seance. We did one the other week at the Sidewinder, we used to do them in the Pelirocco. We used to start too early – we’d start at 3 and go on until midnight, but no one would turn up until 8. I also did one of the Da Doo Ron Ron’s when it was still at Komedia. That was really good, not long after I moved down. It was quite nerve racking, because the last one had sold out, and I was wondering if anyone would turn up, but it sold out and it was a really good night. I did a Guilty Pleasures night at the Komedia too. Nowadays I’m mainly DJing at peoples parties in pubs.
When I interviewed Tom White of Electric Soft Parade recently, he told me that Good Humor was his favourite album. How does it feel to be an influence on a younger generation of acts?
It’s good! Sometimes you don’t know if you’re influential or into the same things, but because we’ve been going for twenty odd years now there’s a wave of younger people who are in their twenties who were too young first time around. A bit like me being into sixties bands growing up. They’re lucky in a way because they’ve got so many different decades they can go back to. But there’s definitely a cycle of things coming in and out of fashion. There was a point around ten years ago when the audience at our gigs was pretty much my age, now it’s gone back to when we started and there’s quite a lot of 18-20 year olds.
You’ve been making a lot of remixes over the past couple of years. Were they a conscious thing to raise your profile in the run up to the album?
Not really. It started off with The Drums, and Pains of Being Pure at Heart, who initially contacted us and asked for remixes. There’s also the thing of being able to make remixes at home, whereas before we’d need to go into a proper studio to do them.
What’s the process of making a remix – a couple of them were Pete Wiggs remixes rather than Saint Etienne remixes?
I’ve done most of the recent ones, but that was because Bob was off writing his book, and I got a new computer and wanted to use it. It makes more sense for them to be Saint Etienne mixes.
And there was one remix that Sarah did extra vocals for – An Old Photo of your new Lover
haha! I’d forgotten about that one. I can’t even remember who it’s by. Again, they contacted us. Sarah’s just done some vocals for the remix we’ve done for Time & Space Machine, which hasn’t surfaced yet.
You did a remix yourselves of Method of Modern Love as Cola Boy. Was that a one off revival?
It was, because shortly afterwards Andrew, who was the public face of Cola Boy died. We were going to do some other things, but it would be a bit wrong after that. He was an old friend of Bob’s and he was a big influence on us, and we used to hang out together and write fanzines.
You’ve also reissued deluxe versions of all of the old albums, and there was still extra material on there after everything that you’ve put out as fan club only releases and everything. Is there any more material out there, or is this the lot now?
We’ve pretty much cleared everything out now. As we were doing it, we were finding things that we don’t even remember recording at all. Which was quite exciting as well – tracks that had Sarah singing that nobody could remember.
When Tales from Turnpike House originally came out it had a different tracklist in the US to the UK release. How come those tracks didn’t appear on the reissue?
That was a mistake. It was a stupid mistake of none of us double checking things. We thought they had gone on. An embarrassing error.
The only album which hasn’t had the deluxe treatment was Casino Classics. What’s happened to that?
It is still coming out. I think the plan is for the remixes since the original Casino Classics to go on the extra disc. It was going to come out just before the new album, but now we’re waiting until afterwards. Sarah’s album Lipslide is being reissued too, so she’s found loads of extra tracks and demos she’s done over the years.
Saturday 21st April is Record Store Day – for last year, you brought out “Saint Etienne on 45 : part one”.
We haven’t got anything ready for this year, which we should have done. There’s the Pains of Being Pure at Heart remix on their 12″.
Did I read that Bob was almost going to be working behind the counter at Sister Ray on record store day?
Yeah. I think it was news to him, actually! I don’t think they’d actually asked him when they announced it!
Would you consider putting in a few hours at Rounder or Resident if they asked you?
I should do, yeah, yeah. Next year, maybe.
You’ll be safe this year, because it will have passed by the time I post up the interview!
I know Steve really well from Rounder. He’s another ex-Heavenly Social person. He went out with a friend of mine before he lived down here.
You’ve got a tour coming up, playing London Palladium on 28th May. Was there ever going to be a Brighton date on the tour? Are you taking the tour abroad or around any festivals?
We haven’t actually done a gig here since I moved here, which is a bit bizarre. Not for want of trying! We might be doing one at Christmas at the Concorde 2 though. We were meant to play Beachdown festival a couple of years ago and that got cancelled, and we also tried to include a Brighton date on the tour, but it coincided with Great Escape. We’re at a different festival pretty much every weekend over the summer. UK-wise, we’re doing Deer Shed, and Vintage, who have removed my face from the poster for some reason! And we’ve got a week of touring at the end of May. We haven’t done that for a while!
Finally, are there any Brighton bands, other than Electralane, who don’t “act lame and sound tame”?
I think Grasscut are pretty good!