Sanseverino

Born : 1962
Country : France
Language : French
Category : Composer / Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : Chanson

From acting to music, then back to acting before finally launching a solo career as a singer-guitarist – Stéphane Sanseverino trod the boards and travelled the road from an early age. Combining a passion for acoustic guitar and vibrant Gypsy rhythms with Bénabar-style lyrics about daily life, Sanseverino has forged a reputation as a brilliant live act with songs full of wit, humour and gentle irony.

From acting to music, then back to acting before finally launching a solo career as a singer-guitarist – Stéphane Sanseverino trod the boards and travelled the road from an early age. Combining a passion for acoustic guitar and vibrant Gypsy rhythms with Bénabar-style lyrics about daily life, Sanseverino has forged a reputation as a brilliant live act with songs full of wit, humour and gentle irony.

Stéphane Sanseverino, born in 1962, traces his Italian origins back to his grandparents, a pair of enterprising Neapolitans who emigrated to France in the 1950s. Stéphane's father, a plumber by trade, chose to work in the paper industry so that he could travel with his family. And thus it was that, between the age of three and sixteen, young Stéphane travelled the world with his parents, sampling the very different cultures of countries such as Bulgaria, New Zealand, Yugoslavia and Mexico.

At the age of twenty, Stéphane decided his future lay on the stage. The only problem was deciding which of his artistic ambitions to concentrate on first: learning the guitar, the banjo or training as an actor. He eventually plumped for the latter and, after taking a course run by the actor Serge Martin, he enrolled at DAL Théâtre for a three-year stint. Here, he mastered the art of Comédia dell’Arte and clowning, and also learnt to play banjo and guitar.

Stéphane went on to set up his own company, Les Frères Tamouille, performing circus numbers based on pastiches of American TV shows such as "Supercopter" and the "Six Million Dollar Man." Stéphane spent four years working with the troupe, mostly performing in the street or at open-air street theatre festivals such as Aurillac and Châlons-sur-Saône.

From street theatre to strumming guitar

Meanwhile, in the late '80s, the French music scene was abuzz with new talent as the alternative rock movement went from strength to strength. Indie bands such as Pigalle and Les Nonnes Troppo paved the way for a new breed of musicians interested in fusing punk attitude and Parisian street sounds.

Influenced by what he heard around him, Stéphane turned his attention away from honing his circus skills and picked up his guitar. By that time, he was soaking up a broad range of influential sounds and his tastes included everything from the legendary Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and Jimi Hendrix to Les Satellites, Les Béruriers Noirs, music from Eastern Europe and Pakistan, AC/DC, country bluegrass, java and 'musette.' Having established himself as a musician capable of playing a wide range of instruments, Stéphane went on to join his first band, Dans l’Intérêt des Familles, as a guitarist. Later, he would migrate to Les Maris Jaloux, a trio where he played bass.

Whereas in theatre six months of rehearsal were often required to put on a show lasting a week, Stéphane soon realised that in the music world it was just the opposite – one rehearsal could generate six months' work! Following a stint with rock band Doc Denat, Stéphane went on to form RMC ("Renverse-moi Chéri"), a group with whom he recorded his first compositions including "Rock'n’Roll Dérision." Alongside his budding career as a musician, Stéphane kept a foot in the acting world, playing the lead role in Patrick Bagot's short film "HP 69" when he was 30. After this, he went on to star in another short film, "Les Aventures de Francis 15".

While working on an increasingly diverse range of projects, Sanseverino began to develop more of an interest in music from Eastern Europe (particularly Romania and Bulgaria) and discovered a veritable passion for '50s swing. A couple of years further down the track, he hooked up with Sabine Pierron, a singer and musician with similar tastes. After taking part in a workshop on Romanian music, the pair launched their own project, mixing Gypsy culture and personal influences such as French 'chanson' from the 1920s to 1950s. In 1992, this evolved into the official creation of their group, Les Voleurs de Poules (their name, Chicken Thieves, is a reference to Gypsies, those eternal nomads who, according to Sanseverino, "are doubly excluded, because on the one hand they exclude themselves from society and on the other they are excluded by those who live a settled lifestyle." Les Voleurs de Poules featured Sanseverino  - aka "Le Nerveux" – on guitar, banjo and vocals and Sabine on fiddle and vocals. Sanseverino took charge of writing the group's lyrics and music.

Les Voleurs de Poules was originally intended to be a simple acoustic duo, but following a wildly enthusiastic reception on the local bar circuit, Sanseverino and Sabine enlarged the group, recruiting Marc Salvetti on bass and Nicolas Ferrenbach on drums. (In January 1995 Ferrenbach was replaced by Manu Ruquier).

Les Voleurs de Poules take to the road

Playing with their new full line-up, Les Voleurs de Poules went on to perform their first official concerts at Le Berry-Zèbre cinema in Belleville, Paris. After that, the group hooked up with the managers of another indie live venue, "A la Liberté", and representatives from "Life/ Live in the Bar", an association promoting live gigs on the bar circuit.

Les Voleurs de Poules became an important fixture on this circuit, playing some 500 concerts in five years. Travelling up and down the country, they entertained audiences in local bars and bistros and brought the house down when they performed at the "Ecole et Nature" concerts organised in Paris in September 1992. Other important gigs included an appearance at the "Jeunes Agents EDF" Festival in Soulac in August 1993 and a performance at the Cergy-Pontoise Carnival in March 1994.

The band also played two mini-tours of Brittany (in August 1994 and July 1995) and appeared at the legendary Olympia, in Paris, in January 1995, supporting Yann et les Abeilles. Tracks by Les Voleurs de Poules also featured on two leading indie compilations  of the day: "Life in the Bar- Le Recueil" (Quartier Est/ Musidisc) and "Radio Nova- Le Son de Paris" (Mélodie).

Les Voleurs de Poules financed the production of their debut album, "Tu sens les poivrons", themselves and this was released in July 1995 just as the group were performing at the FrancoFolies music festival in La Rochelle (12 - 17 July). Despite having built up a core following of fans, Les Voleurs de Poules were still a long way from being able to live off their music and Sanseverino had to earn a living doing a series of odd jobs on the side. At one stage, he worked as a roadie for French star Michel Fugain and he would, in fact, spend ten years learning the ropes, watching other people's shows as he worked.

Solo career

Thanks to their intensive efforts on the road and a series of marathon tours that would have exhausted lesser groups, Les Voleurs de Poules began to establish an excellent reputation as a live act. However, Sanseverino was becoming increasingly frustrated performing in semi-professional venues with dodgy acoustics, which were hardly equipped for the new electric sound the group had started experimenting with. He knew that if they wanted to progress, they had to reach out and touch a much wider audience.

Meanwhile, Les Voleurs de Poules were suffering from artistic differences and opposing opinions about which direction to follow. And increasing interest from the French media and the promise of future recognition were not enough to keep the group together. Les Voleurs de Poules split in 1999 and Sanseverino shut himself away to work on material for a solo album. He earned a living during this period performing as part of the back-up review to the comic double act Shirley & Dino  in the show "Achille Tonic."

Meanwhile, Sanseverino soldiered away, completing work on his debut album. "Le Tango des Gens" finally saw the light of day on 25 September 2001 and it won instant acclaim from the critics and the general public. Sanseverino's debut album not only won the 54th Prix de l’Académie Charles-Cros (in 2001), but sales of the album also earned him his first gold disc. In between a marathon round of interviews and media promotion, Sanseverino took to the road, headlining with Tété on a 50-date tour that kicked off in March 2001. The tour lasted until the end of that year and finished up with a series of performances in Switzerland.

The following year also saw an intensive period of touring for Sanseverino, with 80 concerts and a series of acclaimed performances at festivals such as Les Vieilles Charrues, Solidays and the Nice Jazz Festival. The tour ended on a high note on 14 December 2002 with a special "Nuit Sanseverino" organised at Le Trianon in Paris. Sanseverino was the star of the show, inviting a number of his musician friends including Bernard Lavilliers, Tété and rising new female talent La Grande Sophie to share the stage with him.

"Victoire de la Musique" Award

Sanseverino's intensive years on the road were finally rewarded in 2003 when he won a coveted "Victoire de la Musique" award for "Best Breakthrough Live Act of the Year."

Not one to have his head turned by mainstream success or media pressure, Sanseverino took his time when it came to working on a follow-up album. His second release, "Les Sénégalaises" - an album that proved to be every bit as quirky, caustic and Gypsy-guitar oriented as his debut - did not appear until February 2004. Following this release, Sanseverino took to the stage with his group. Performing against a cosy backdrop of lamps and Oriental rugs, they went on to bring the house down at the Printemps de Bourges festival in April, then kicked off an extensive tour.

Sanseverino, who was now being hailed by many as France's new Monsieur Swing, headlined at the Olympia, in Paris, on 28 June 2004. He took advantage of the occasion to express his support for striking artists and technicians who had taken to the roof of the Medef (the French employers' organisation) in protest at proposed changes to their status. Sanseverino had already expressed his support for the striking 'intermittents de spectacle' on several occasions.

2005 saw the release of a live Sanseverino album recorded at the Théâtre Sébastopol. Later that year, leading French record store Fnac released a 3-track CD "On aime, on aide" (raising funds to fight illiteracy) to which Sanseverino contributed two new songs.

In 2006, Sanseverino re-emerged on the live circuit as part of a trio, performing two stints at La Maroquinerie, in Paris (22 - 24 June and 28 June - 2 July).

Sanseverino went on to compose the music for "U", an animated film by French directors Grégoire Solotareff and Serge Elissalde, which hit cinema screens in October 2006. Sanseverino also dubbed the voice for Kulka, one of the main characters in the film.

2006: "Exactement"

In November 2006, Sanseverino released his third album, entitled "Exactement." This new album found him blending the chords of his trademark guitar with the stirring sounds of a big band. "Exactement" features a subtle mix of brass instruments, swing beats and Sanseverino’s usual torrential flow of lyrics. Songs on the new album involve clever wordplay ("Démolissons les mots" – Let’s demolish words), gentle humour ("Comment séduire une femme mariée" – How to seduce a married woman) and occasional forays into the social and political sphere ("Les ouvriers" – The workers).

Sanseverino kicked off an extensive French tour in December 2006, accompanied on stage by a twenty-strong group of musicians.

Sanseverino performed at the Olympia, Paris, on 15-16 January 2007.

In June 2008, performed at the Bouffes du Nord in Paris accompanied only by two accordionists, playing songs from his three albums. The concert was recorded for a live double album that came out in November:  "Live aux Bouffes du Nord". It included seven new songs, plus covers of François Béranger, Johnny Cash, Yves Montand and Les Wampas, as well as a video.

2009: "Les faux talbins"

His next album of new material came out a year later, on 2 November 2009, and was entitled "Les faux talbins" (a slang term for forged banknotes). The whole album is full of underworld slang and is a kind of homage to 1950s gangster films. The lyrics are about all the various forms of social exclusion and isolation, from that of psychiatric wards to the lot of prositutes and prisoners.

Musically, the album finds Sanseverino working without a producer, using for the most part live studio takes.  There is no swing on "Les faux talbins"; instead there is a distinct country flavour, with some rock’n’roll, bluegrass and French chanson added to the mix. Also featured is a cover of "la Salsa du démon" by the Grand orchestre du Splendid.

Sanseverino kicked off a tour for the new album in November 2009, and performed at the Bataclan, Pais, on 3-6 February 2010.

February 2010

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