Sarah Cracknell

Gliding

Jun 14, 2015
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Sarah Cracknell is in an exceptionally good mood. She flashes a brilliant smile as she speaks that translates even across an occasionally choppy Skype connection. But why wouldn’t she find reason to grin? It isn’t every day that the Saint Etienne frontwoman releases a solo album.

In fact, it’s been eighteen years since her last full-length Lipslide. (An EP called Kelly’s Locker followed in 2000.) During that time Saint Etienne kept busy, establishing itself as one of England’s leading underground pop bands, releasing four albums: Sound of Water, Finisterre, Tales from Turnpike House, and Words and Music by Saint Etienne. Too placid for Britpop (which was winding down at that point, anyhow) and too pop for the forthcoming dance rock movement, the trio fell into a niche of its own making sweet, often sad narrative-based songs sung over equally melodic electronic instrumentals.

Last year, Cracknell saw a rare gap in her group’s schedule. (Bandmates Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs are currently embroiled in a book and soundtrack project, respectively.) Ready to work on material of her own, she hunkered down, inviting Colorama’s Carwyn Ellis to join her at the producer/sound engineer’s desk.

“I love the production of his records!” she says of Ellis’ work. “Really really love it, and wanted to totally steal it. Although saying, that they haven’t ended up sounding like Colorama records. They’ve got their own identity. Which is great.”

Although the face of a band that came to define London for many fans (after all, Tales from Turnpike House was a concept album about life in a London block of flats), it might come as some surprise that the singer (along with her husband and sons) reside in Oxfordshire these days. (Although Cracknell is quick to point out that she’s a short 45-minutes away from her beloved city, which she still calls a “second home.”)

The bucolic surroundings played no small part in determining Red Kite’s direction, helping her step away from her feather boa-clad Saint Etienne persona. Even the title, a reference to a unique species of bird found in her part of England, is a reminder of the earthy quality of the recordings. Or as she would put it, “cozy.” The group recorded a few miles from her home, using her family house as home base in the evenings.

“There’s nothing around my house apart from fields and trees,” she says, painting a vivid picture of life in the English countryside. “Cows. Deers. I’m sure that’s an influence. It must be! I wanted to do something that was pastoral-sounding for a change.”

The pair’s work, finished over two weeklong sessions before and after Christmas, shows off Cracknell’s range as a vocalist. Celestes, drums, and guitars cradle her feathery soprano. The production may be unexpected, not unlike her favorite album Pet Sounds, but there’s nary a whiff of electronic programming in sight—ones and zeroes replaced with gentle folk ballads, Ennio Morricone-inspired soundscapes, and instrumentals that wouldn’t sound out of place scoring classic French films. A like-minded emoter, Manic Street Preachers’ Nicky Wire joins up with Cracknell for breezy guitar duet, “Nothing Left to Talk About.”

“I wanted a voice like his, because he’s got that really brilliant slight fragility to it,” Cracknell says of Wire’s performance. “I didn’t want someone who sounded super confident. I wanted someone who sounded very slightly fragile. He fit the bill.”

Cracknell jokes about melancholy being her favorite dimension. And certainly Red Kite’s cast of characters, some who had been lodged in her subconscious long before the writing process, attests to her ability to spin a sorrow-filled story. But even her imaginary dreamers, heartbreakers, and outcasts aren’t immune to Cracknell’s sunny optimism.

“I find the idea of writing very autobiographical stuff a little bit scary,” she admits. “Self-indulgent! I like the cinematic writing about these imaginary people. Some of them I feel a little sad for. But I’m sure they’ll be alright in the end.”

(www.facebook.com/SaintEtienneOfficial)



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