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Étienne Daho

Combining West Coast-style surf rock, Velvet Underground-like urban verse, stylish synth pop, and the romanticism of French singer Françoise Hardy, Algerian-born singer/songwriter and producer Étienne Daho has been a gold- and platinum-selling artist in France since breaking into the Top Five there with his fourth album, 1986's Pop Satori. He went all the way to number one with Corps et Armes in 2000. Along the way, he collaborated with the likes of Hardy, Astrud Gilberto, Chris Isaak, Jeanne Moreau, and Saint Etienne. In his fourth decade as a beloved idiosyncratic pop star, he hit the Top Five with back-to-back albums: 2013's Les Chansons de l'Innocence Retrouvée and 2017's Blitz. The son of a French soldier and a chemist, Daho was born in Oran on January 14, 1956 and raised by grandparents who operated a combination bar and grocery during the War of Algeria. Recordings of Sylvie Vartan and Françoise Hardy on a jukebox inspired Daho to dream of becoming a singer. Settling with his family in Rennes, France, in 1965, Daho continued to broaden his musical scope to include the British rock of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and, eventually, the experimental rock of David Bowie, Roxy Music, and the Velvet Underground. Visiting London for the first time in 1966, he became enamored of the British city's flourishing music scene. Returning to Rennes, Daho worked as a dormitory monitor at the city's university. When he organized a concert at the school featuring rock bands Stinky Toys and Marquis de Sade on December 20, 1978, he unknowingly took the first steps leading to his career in music. Stinky Toys' Elli Medeiros and Jacno encouraged him to continue writing and singing, while Marquis de Sade lead guitarist Frank Darcel took him under his wing, helping him to learn the intricacies of musical professionalism. When Daho made his stage debut at the rock festival Transmusicales in June 1979, Darcel and other members of Marquis de Sade accompanied him. After releasing an independent single, "Cowboy," Daho signed with Virgin France. His 1980 debut album, Mythomane -- produced by Jacno and featuring Marquis de Sade musicians -- was certified gold a decade after its release. Performing in Rennes clubs with French singer Arnold Turboust, Daho began to attract attention. Receiving some radio airplay with his singles "The Big Sleep" and "To Leave This Evening," he released his second album, La Notte, la Notte, featuring the single "Week-end à Rome." Although it showed hints of a promising future, its sales paled next to those of Daho's next release, Pour Nos Vies Martiennes, which was certified gold (with sales of more than 100,000 copies) on the day it was released in June 1988. The success continued with 1989's Live E.D., which went to number 12 on the French album chart. Featuring a pair of Top 40 singles ("Epaule Tattoo" and "Duel au Soleil"), his fourth studio album, Pop Satori, climbed to number five in France. He returned to the Top Five in 1988 with his next album, Pour Nos Vies Martiennes, which went to number four. In 1991, Daho recorded his sixth studio long-player, Paris Ailleurs, a tribute to the Motown and Stax labels. Pre-release orders of the album were so strong that it was certified gold before it was released, and the record attained platinum status by 1994. In 1995, he was on the charts with a cover of Edith Piaf's "Mon Manège à Moi" while U.K. group Saint Etienne were topping the British charts with "He's on the Phone," an English-language cover of "Week-end à Rome." Saint Etienne went on to collaborate with Daho on his 1995 EP Reserection as well as on the Top Ten-charting full-length Eden, released the following year. Recorded in London, Paris, and New York in 1999 and issued in 2000, Corps et Armes became Daho's best-charting album to date, topping France's album chart and reaching number three in Belgium. In 2003, Daho released the Top Five full-length Réévolution. Moving from Virgin France to Capitol Records, he delivered another hit album, L'Invitation, in 2007. It peaked at number two, and he followed it in 2010 with Le Condamné à Mort, a collaboration with iconic French actress Jeanne Moreau. Not a traditional pop album, it consisted of a reading of the Jean Genet poem by Moreau set to music by Hélène Martin and featuring singing by Daho. In the meantime, Daho had found steady work as a producer, collaborating with artists including Marianne Faithful, Sylvie Vartan, and Lio, just to name a few. Returning him to the Top Three, Les Chansons de l'Innocence Retrouvée arrived on Polydor in 2013. It included appearances by, among others, Nile Rodgers, Debbie Harry, and Brooklyn indie pop trio Au Revoir Simone. He reached number four on the French album chart with his twelfth solo studio LP, 2017's Blitz, which saw Daho partnering with a revived Virgin France. The covers compilation Surf, Vols. 1 & 2 followed on Parlophone in 2020.
© Craig Harris & Marcy Donelson /TiVo


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