Singer-songwriter Saint Joan spent 18 years in Los Angeles developing a career under her name Fontaine before she moved to Charleston in 2018. Despite having roots in Columbia, returning to South Carolina didn’t exactly come naturally.
Saint Joan hasn’t yet played a single live show in Charleston, but the ’80s sound she achieved on her 2020 album, Ashes, crafted in collaboration with local electro pop-rock outfit, Human Resources, has garnered national attention.
Her new single, “Call Your Name,” dropped March 3. Produced by local alternative duo, Babe Club, the stripped down ballad consists of a drum loop and organ sounds by Corey Campbell, with harmonizing vocals from Jenna Desmond.
“I was going for a Portishead meets Dido, kind of an ethereal sound. It’s very minimal,” Saint Joan said of the new song, which drew inspiration from the vocal style in Babe Club’s Talking Heads cover, “Road to Nowhere.” “This was supposed to be in your face vocal-heavy. There’s so much emotion behind that.”
When the 2006 Fontaine album, The Chemistry Between Us, was released, folks in L.A. compared her to Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star or Margo Timmins from Cowboy Junkies. But the retro electric synth sound heard these days from Saint Joan was cultivated in Charleston.
Having written her first song on a Cassio keyboard she got for her 10th birthday in 1989, Saint Joan has reverted back to her original method of songwriting after 20 years of writing exclusively from the acoustic guitar. “In quarantine during COVID I taught myself how to play the piano, so I went back to keys,” she said. “The new song was written on a piano, and it was the first song I wrote in quarantine.”
The song “Still,” from her 2020 record with Human Resources, just aired on Feb. 25 in a scene from the Netflix hit reality show, Love Is Blind, earning that single track around 12,000 new plays between all streaming platforms. For that, she gives all the credit to the HR boys.
“It was never my intention that the Saint Joan record sound ’80s, that is completely them,” she said. “Now that recording is getting noticed because those guys made it current. I had nothing to do with it, it was a total accident. I always thought everyone hated ’80s music, so hey, I’m glad it’s back.”
Her song placement in Love Is Blind is a result of the Ashes album landing a sync licensing deal with Sony’s BMG records, a label also associated with names from Band of Horses to FKA twigs to Johnny Cash and Blondie.
“Spotify is so saturated with millions of artists that it’s very easy to get lost in the shuffle — it’s a bummer,” she said. “But if you’re on some TV show that has millions of viewers, all of a sudden people are going to hear you, and that’s where I’m really blessed right now.”
Ashes came together after a season in her life where she didn’t think she would ever make music again.
“I said, ‘I want to go in and make this record for me so that I can prove to myself that I can make one more album. I didn’t go into it thinking I’m going to make money. I went into it like, ‘No one is going to listen to me, and I’m going to have like five followers on Spotify and I don’t care.’ ”
With another song and music video in the works, Saint Joan is reclaiming the conviction she had back when she was a teenager playing at a bar in Columbia.
“I listened to a tape of me playing live at Art Bar at 17 years old, and I couldn’t believe it — there was so much power in my voice. I had so much confidence. My younger musician self, she was absolutely fearless. I’m going into 2022 like I’ve got nothing to lose. If I ever felt doubt about myself, I don’t have it anymore. I just want to make music because I’m so, so grateful that I can.”
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