Sarah Cracknell: ‘I like being in a gang. I’m in safe hands’

Saint Etienne singer Sarah Cracknell on her new solo album and the pleasure of recording it with close friends

One day in 1987, a Windsor teenager recorded her first solo single, an indie-pop confection called Love Is All You Need. “I thought it would be a smash hit, obviously,” she now says with a laugh. “It sold about two.” Three years later, Sarah Cracknell met two Croydon schoolfriends, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs; soon after, they recorded their first song together as Saint Etienne, Nothing Can Stop Us. “I’ve come a long, long way,” she sang, her breathy vocals as English as holiday camps and strong tea; in an instant, the 90s’ most glamorous homegrown indie pop star was born.

Back then, the girl with 60s movie-star looks had a feather boa permanently shimmering around her shoulders; these days, she’s more often in wellies, she says, living in the Oxfordshire countryside with her husband and their two sons (Spencer, 13, and Sam, 10). It’s fitting, then, that her first long-playing solo project since 1997’s Lipslide – her new album, Red Kite – is a gorgeous, bucolic affair.

What’s more, it was recorded in a barn next door to her home. “Which meant I could pop home and feed the children!” she says jokingly, nursing a half-tankard of cider in an old-fashioned London pub. The barn wasn’t made as a studio, she adds, but its two rooms and old dome lights helped create a wonderful, warm sound, and meant Cracknell could work into the night, then fall into her own bed.

Sarah Cracknell ft Nicky Wire - Nothing Left to Talk About (teaser edit).

Red Kite was made with Colorama’s Carwyn Ellis, a Royal Academy-trained multi-instrumentalist, and Seb Lewsley, who both collaborate often with Edwyn Collins. Cracknell shares Ellis’s interest in unusual musical instruments and they wrote together in her house around her Wurlitzer Butterfly Grand. Their reference points included Ennio Morricone, Joe Meek and Marianne Faithfull, and the results show it : On the Swings glistens like a soundtrack to lost 60s cult cinema, while Hearts Are for Breaking is a swinging piece of melancholic pop. Folk duo the Rails and Manic Street Preachers’ Nicky Wire also pop by.

Cracknell likes creating filmic worlds in music, she says, and it’s no surprise to learn that her late father Derek was Stanley Kubrick’s first assistant director (his credits include 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and Aliens). “I don’t really like being autobiographical,” she explains. “I like a lot of songs that people write about themselves, but for me, it just doesn’t sit right. I’m quite a private person. Plus I’m not a moaner!”

She looks back at her solo past wryly: that first, pre-Saint Etienne single was a “cottage industry affair… which I find horribly embarrassing”, its cover designed by a friend of her mum’s, but she still likes the song. Lipslide was portrayed in the press as an attempt to ditch Bob and Pete, which it definitely wasn’t, she says. “It was a lonely experience, touring that… and I had a horrible record company. Actually, I won’t!” She stops herself: no moaning allowed.

This time, round however, it feels good, she says. She’s playing some dates this summer, with the Colorama boys and Oxfordshire friends in her band. There’s some Saint Etienne news in the pipeline as well. “I like being in a little gang,” she smiles. “It’s a much nicer thing to do. With people you know and trust… I’m in safe hands!”

Red Kite is out on Cherry Red Records on 15 June


Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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