Singer-songwriter Saint Clair has been on our music obsession radar for a while now, not least due to her track Human Touch which, as well as appearing on a recent Sync List line-up on Spotify, most certainly figures as one of our favourite tracks from over the past year or so.
But there’s even more to this talented artist than we initially realised. Real name Emma Topolski, Saint Clare is also ¼ of one of our other obsessions – the very fine Childcare, who (regular Sync readers may have noticed) we do quite like to bang on about.
French-speaking Londoner Emma comes from a gifted family of painters, actors and journalists but is the first of the brood to pursue music, starting out as a gigging jazz singer and subsequently working across a range of different genres and providing backing vocals for the likes of Laura Marling and Dua Lipa. Anyone who has been lucky enough to catch Childcare live will have seen for themselves the diversity of her talents though, equally at home holding the spine of the band’s sound on bass and backing vocals as she is taking the vocal lead – such as on the superb new track Bamboo.
Sync caught up with Emma to find out more about her carefully evolving solo project, and the challenges of juggling it all with band life…
SYNC: Please tell us a bit of the background to Saint Clair; how did things get started, and what’s the story so far in terms of material and releases?
SAINT CLAIR: I was touring as a session musician but always knew I wanted to do a project of my own. I derived the name from my mum’s Scottish roots in Sinclair Bay; I’m also bilingual in French and wanted something phonétique so Saint Clair seemed like a perfect mash-up.
I started writing and learning to produce, meeting and collaborating with different musicians and once I felt I had a ‘sound’, started self-releasing through my own imprint, Dearly Beloved. I’ve kept things very in-house so far, working mainly with friends on everything from remixes to artwork and have done the first two EP’s thoroughly independently.
SYNC: You’ve worn many musical hats – and continue to juggle a number of projects. How do you manage to divide up your time between your solo work and the demands of being in a band?
SAINT CLAIR: Having multiple projects on the go certainly has its challenges, especially when you want to invest proper time and effort into all of them. However, so far I’ve only ever benefited from having lots of musical outlets; the eclecticism inspires more than it distracts or hinders and keeps me on my toes! Plus it’s less lonely.
SYNC: There is clearly a wide range of influences at the heart of your music. How would you describe your sound and where you ultimately come from musically?
SAINT CLAIR: I’d say my sound is dark, epic, electronic pop. Fundamentally, I’ve always been drawn to classic songwriting like The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Jeff Buckley or jazz standards so I definitely find myself searching for a hook or building towards a soaring chorus. However, I love the soulful modern electronic sounds of Frank Ocean, Bon Iver, Banks and James Blake so try to blend the two.
SYNC: Human Touch is a song we obsessed over when we first heard it, and still do! It seems to us that this is a prime example of a ‘light touch’ production-wise allowing the song to reach its potential. How tough is it to achieve this kind of balance?
SAINT CLAIR: Thank you very much. I had the melody for the chorus already as well as Tame Impala’s New Person, Same Old Mistakes as a reference for the verses so that inspired the sparseness. My friend Ben (who produced the track) is a brilliant multi-instrumentalist and always seems to find the perfect mix of real instrumentation, interesting harmony and programming. The version you hear was made entirely in one afternoon, start to finish.
Saint Clair – Human Touch
SYNC: More recently, I’ll Stay is a power-packed piece of work – please tell us a little about that song… and the video of course, which must have been ridiculously fun to make!
SAINT CLAIR: I’ll Stay took a few attempts to get right but I think it’s become a stronger song as a result. I was in the throes of watching someone I deeply care about destroy the things most precious to them and was struggling to understand the motivation behind that behaviour. Writing I’ll Stay was a cathartic way of dissecting the problem whilst vowing to stick around.
I developed the video with brilliant Irish director, Jamie Delaney. We knew we wanted to focus on a personal struggle; inner-demons and the battle for control. In this case, we follow the story of a woman desperately trying to suppress her irresistible (sometimes irrepressible) urges in the face of mounting pressure and in the process, risks losing everything. Our initial idea somehow evolved into this huge cinematic production where more and more amazing people came on board to help realise the vision. We even had a Russian combat choreographer on set to teach me how to strangle my best mate convincingly, attack my Mum on the tube, and hit Mike over the head with a laptop.
Saint Clair – I’ll Stay
SYNC: Your musical collaborations and connections read like a list of many of our most-loved artists – Laura Marling, Dua Lipa, Kyla La Grange for starters. Who is on your list of artists/producers you would love to work with one day?
SAINT CLAIR: Impossible but amongst others… BOOTS, Son Lux, Outkast, James Blake, Mike Dean, Blake Mills, and Pharrell.
SYNC: We admit to often being a little sceptical about covers, and yet I’m Still Standing is super-special. What led to that choice and how did you go about re-working such an iconic song?
SAINT CLAIR: I was on a long-ass flight back from Australia and had run out of films to watch and Tetris to play so put on Disney’s Sing as a final distraction. The gorilla does a version of I’m Still Standing and the song just really struck me. It couldn’t be more different to my music so I set myself the challenge of producing it to make it fit the rest of my songs et voilà: a musical exercise became a release.
Saint Clair – I’m Still Standing
SYNC: So what does the future hold? Is there further material already in the pipeline, and any plans for solo live shows?
SAINT CLAIR: I’m releasing a mini-album with accompanying visuals in collaboration with my sister. It’ll be an exploration of grief and loss.
Saint Clair – D2 EP
Saint Clair – Train