Saint Etienne singer Sarah Cracknell talks to Tim Burrows about her daily routine, the band's recent tour to America and how walking through muddy fields is good for your soul.
Sarah Cracknell, 45, joined the band Saint Etienne in 1991 to sing vocals on their third single, Nothing Can Stop Us. They released their eighth studio album, Words and Music by Saint Etienne, in May, and began a British tour in Edinburgh on December 11. An expanded version of their 1996 album Casino Classics is out now (saintetienne.com). Cracknell lives in rural Oxfordshire with her husband, the band's manager Martin Kelly, their two sons, Spencer, 10, and Sam, eight, and their rabbit, Cookie.
Home We've had the house for over 10 years – the oldest bit was a damp shell when we bought it. It was built in 1635 or something. It took a long time to do up while we were living in London. I remember coming down here with my kids a few times when there was no running water and no bathroom. It was challenging, a bit like camping.
Routine I'm quite lucky as I have a double life. When I'm here, which is most of the time, I get up in the morning, have two cups of tea before I get the kids up and make their packed lunches and take them to school. Then I go and see friends, go swimming, go for walks. But when I'm working it's a completely different thing.
Picture This picture (below) of me with my dad [Derek Cracknell] was taken on the set of [the 1969 film] Battle of Britain. It is extremely special to me as he died just before I joined Saint Etienne. He worked in the film business with people like Stanley Kubrick and I spent a lot of time on sets. My parents would take me out of school and I would go on location, because he used to go away for a long time.It just felt normal.
Walking It's one of the nice things about living in the country – I've got a friend who I go trudging off with quite regularly. We usually go for six hours, and it's quite vigorous, through muddy fields and over stiles and up hills. Regardless of whether it's beautiful weather or a bit drizzly, it is really good for your soul.
Birds You are really aware of the seasons out here. I love it – sometimes you can't hear a car, nothing, which I like. You become a bit of a twitcher as well. We get tons of birds in our garden – woodpeckers, jays and red kites.
Touring Our recent American tour was amazing – they hadn't seen us in a while so I think they'd been storing up their enthusiasm. But being on tour for weeks on a sleeper bus is grim. You're all in bunks, it's grimy, and you get so shattered. Every time the bus brakes I'm always convinced we are going to crash because we had a bit of a crash once in the past. We were approaching Calais; Spencer was a baby and I had him in the bunk with me. A car cut up the bus, which went over on one set of wheels and everyone started falling out of the bunks. Now I fear the worst – it's not good for sleeping.
Band memories I've got a box of Saint Etienne stuff in a lock–up somewhere, but I've hung on to some things at home. This sign (pictured below) was made for the first ever Mercury Music Prize, for which we were nominated. This feather boa (pictured below) is around 15 years old and is a bit threadbare. I wear boas on stage all the time; I don't know – I suppose I wanted to add a bit of glamour. I had visions of arriving on stage on a crescent moon hanging from the ceiling, wearing gold lamé, if we ever became hugely famous. But that's how I started, wearing a John Lewis feather boa.
Clothes When I was a teenager I used to circle jumble sales in the local paper and come back with bin liners full of clothes. I have collected 60s clothes ever since. I think I suit shapes from that era. I got this coat (pictured below) from one of my backing singers, Siobhan – she is now one of Prince Charles's PAs.
Souvenir Recently I was at a wedding and was on a table with Chrissie Hynde. I was saying I hated touring and being away from my children and she was like, ‘No, man, this is what you do, they’re not gonna hate you for it.’ Some people find it easier, but it makes me really anxious. Our two-week stint in America was the longest I’ve ever been away from them. I cried on the plane on the way out. Thank God for Skype. I often bring souvenirs back for the kids, like this wind-up Martian toy (pictured below). I found it in Oregon in an old-fashioned toy shop. It’s a little bitof Americana.
Drama I went to Italia Conti [Academy of Theatre Arts] for a year. I begged my parents to let me go, so it took a year for me to confess that I absolutely hated it. I felt like a fish out of water. It was all about kicking your legs in the air and doing show tunes. I wanted to do drama. Then, from the age of about 15 I was in bands. In 1988 I went to a drama college and came out wanting to act, did a few fringe plays but then met Bob [Stanley] and Pete [Wiggs, her Saint Etienne bandmates] through a mutual friend. It was a surprise because I thought I had put being in bands behind me. If someone had said to me we'd still be going in 20–odd years, I'd have laughed.
First records I think the first time I got into the way a record sounds was Rock On by David Essex when I was about eight – it's such a bizarre record, really out there and forwardthinking production–wise. It made me really excited about things sounding new and different. I liked glam records by bands like T.Rex and the Sweet because the sound was so unusual.
Instruments There are quite a lot in the house – they're mostly Martin's. I got this Wurlitzer Butterfly Grand (pictured below) in a music shop in LA. I was lucky getting it back here. A friend has a company that transports stage equipment and he was transporting the stuff for Riverdance to England. He smuggled it in and delivered it to my door.
Nights in Martin and I do that DVD box set thing – we're on series four of Breaking Bad. It's addictive. We did the same with The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood and Mad Men. We usually watch two episodes in a row, but Martin always tries to push for a third.
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