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Daniel Day-Lewis spoke with poet, Eileen Myles in this 2002 interview. Photography by Terry Richardson.
 

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Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.
 
  JERRY HALL
STEPHANIE SEYMORE
MARC JACOBS
  ASIA ARGENTO
DENNIS HOPPER
ABEL FERRARA
BRIAN WILSON
WILL OLDHAM
DJ SPOOKY

Sarah Cracknell, 2000

WITH SHEILA BURGHEL AND JESSE PEARSON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JUERGEN TELLER


In Saint Etienne’s music you’ll hear the brightest pop and the most tragic soul, melancholy and pure joy — they’ll make you believe in British pop again. Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs are the musical core of the band, and their record collections must be a patchwork of all things lovely. The Saint Etienne sound is steeped in mod confidence, ‘60s girl groups, Beach Boys sublime, techno grit and the odd well-placed sample.
Out in front of Bob and Pete is Sarah Cracknell, living proof that a certain rare breed - the chanteuse - is not extinct. Since the first Saint Etienne album, Foxbase Alpha, came out in 1991, Sarah has been a warm voice in the ears of fans all over the world. She manages to sound familiar from the first time you hear her. On Sarah’s recently released solo album, Lipslide, she strikes out on her own with a dozen wonderful character-driven stories. It seems as if every track on Lipslide is a letter to a lover or a friend — like she made up people in her head just to write a song about them.
A brand new Saint Etienne full-length, The Sound of Water, is out this month. After the expanded line-up featured on their ’98 release, Good Humor, it’s a return to the synth-driven feel of their earliest studio work. But wherever Bob, Pete, and Sarah take Saint Etienne, they make us all want to join their club.
We called Sarah at home one afternoon in London, the heart of all things Saint Etienne.



Sheila: When you were a teenager were you as glamorous as you are now?
Sarah:
God no.

Jesse: What were you like?
Sarah: Oh, dreadful. I’d wear these horrible sort of mohair twinsets with Dr. Marten’s and wooly tights, and I looked a bastard. I looked pretty bad.

Sheila: I’ve heard that your mom managed some girl bands or something?
Sarah:
Yeah, she did at one point. She managed a group called Crush, and the She-Rockers as well, a long time back. She used to hang out with bands when she was a kid at school. She’d go jiving at lunchtime in the Two Eyes Coffee Bar and places like that. And she used to hang out with Johnnie Kid and The Pirates. [laughs] She used to have them ’round for tea at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother was terribly sweet and used to cook them all a nice big dinner, with pudding and everything ... a rocking thing around the table.
Sheila: Was your mom supportive when you started in music?
Sarah: She actually tried desperately to persuade me not to do it.

Jesse: Why was that?
Sarah:
My father was in the film business, and they just didn’t want me to go into any kind of entertainment area. But they couldn’t stop me. I started singing in a band when I was fifteen, in Windsor, where I’m from. It was a pop type thing. Four boys and three girls — none of us were older than seventeen. We once had a review of a gig we did in the NME, and it said: “Girl Group, all female band.” Because the boys all looked like babies.
[everyone laughs]

Jesse: What were you called?
Sarah:
It’s such an embarrassing name. I can’t bring myself to say it.
Sheila: Was that when Bob and Pete discovered you?
Sarah:
That was much, much later. I’d stopped being in bands and I’d gone to drama school for a year. I’d come out and done these sort of worthy fringe plays in London, all these political plays and things — none of which I really understood then. And I’d also done some techno records with a friend of mine under the name of Love Cut dB. Bob and Pete heard those, and Bob at the time was going out with a girl from Windsor who knew me. She put us in touch and I had them all ’round to dinner.
Jesse: Were you looking to join something new when you met them? Or was it just: “I’ll meet these guys and see what they’re about?”
Sarah: Yeah, basically. I knew and loved their cover of Only Love Can Break Your Heart. So I was quite excited really. Don’t tell them that! I was initially only supposed to do one single with them. They were going to have different singers on every track. But we just sort of gelled, I think. We had the same sort of reference points — ’60s pop and girl group stuff ... Can you hear the cat?

Sheila: What?
Sarah:
Did you hear a cat meow?

Sheila: No. Is that yours?
Sarah:
It’s next door’s cat. They had a baby a while ago, and I think the cat gets a bit left out. But she comes in through a cat door left by the last person who lived here.
Oh, here she comes. Ow! She stuck her claws into my leg.

Jesse: So she comes over to play ...
Sarah:
... and then she goes home. I don’t feed her or anything. It’s great. I have a cat with no responsibility.

Jesse: What’s it like when you randomly meet fans?
Sarah:
It’s normally a nice encounter. Saint Etienne fans are nice.

Jesse: I would assume they’re pretty calm, pleasant people.
Sarah:
Yeah, they are.

Sheila: Have you ever gotten any crazy fan letters?
Sarah:
There’s a series of letters that keep getting sent to me from this guy who’s been writing for quite a long time actually. And he needs help.

Sheila: Does he confess his love for you?
Sarah:
No. He’s always going on about how his alarm clock radio is trying to infiltrate his mind and how perhaps he should burn it, how everyone’s watching him ... stuff like that.

Jesse: And he thinks that you’re the person who needs to hear about it?
Sarah:
I feel like writing back: “Now, I’m really not qualified ...”

Sheila: Do you have a boyfriend?
Sarah:
No. I’m single at the moment.

Jesse: I keep hearing that you’ve got a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio.
Sarah:
It’s terrible, isn’t it? I know. I’m really disappointed in myself. I can’t help it. I actually fancy Leonardo DiCaprio. There’s no denying it. I just do.

Sheila: Even though he’s been known to put on the pounds?
Sarah:
Even more so, actually. I think that’s a very British thing.

Jesse: How’s that?
Sarah:
It’s a British thing to like someone who’s a bit of a fuck up. Someone who’s flawed. To me that makes him even more attractive — the fact that he obviously drinks too much. And he’s not a perfect film star. He doesn’t look great all the time. That's good. It makes him more human.

Sheila: It seems like I’ve read a lot of female journalists putting you down. Why do you think that’s the case?
Sarah:
To be honest, I don’t know why. I figure that women in the world of music need as much support as they can get. And to be knocked by one of your own is a bit of a disappointment really. The female journalists are always the first ones to print my real age. They’ll ask my age and not ask Bob and Pete.

Jesse: I’ve heard that you’re a real car enthusiast.
Sarah:
I have a 1970 Porsche 911. It’s chocolate brown with a beige interior. It’s just gorgeous. It came from California, so it’s a lefthand drive.

Jesse: Any misadventures there?
Sarah:
No, but I did have a problem in America. I went to Florida and I hired a car and drove all along the Panhandle to New Orleans. It was a soft-top car, some Japanese sports car that was really fast. I was driving along this long road in the middle of nowhere with no traffic, so I put my foot down. And there was a traffic cop lurking in the bushes who came screaming off after me and flashed me and everything. So I pulled over. I was with our manager, Martin. When we stopped, Martin got out of the car. We didn’t realize it’s not a good thing to do. And this cop pulled a gun on him and was going: [American accent] “Get back in the fucking car!” And we were like: “Aahhh!” I was shitting myself. It was really frightening, because I’ve never had a gun pointed at me before.

Sheila: That’s America for you.
Sarah:
And then he said, “You, get out of the car. Have you got your driver’s license?” And I didn’t. But I had a photocopy of it ... so I had to go and get that. And he took me over to his car, where he filled out the ticket. But the funny thing was, he was shaking so much himself. He said, “Tell your friend never ever to get out of the car because as far as I’m concerned he could have a gun. That’s why I pulled out my gun.” And he was shaking so much that the ticket was completely illegible. So I never paid it. And hopefully I’m okay, because I’ve been back to the States a few times since and nothing’s happened. But it was really frightening. I said to the policeman, “You’ve made my legs shake so bad that I won’t be able to drive the car now.” [laughs]

Sheila: Have you ever been approached to do a film?
Sarah:
A couple of times, but they haven’t been anything I’m interested in. I would really like to do a film. I mean, obviously, I went to drama school because I like acting. It’s a bit of a weird one though, because I’m not sure that people in bands should necessarily be in films. I think it looks a bit like, if you’re in a film, then are you just playing a part in the band? Are you just role playing? Which, of course, I’m not.


Sheila: What’s on the British charts? Like what’s number one over there right now?
Sarah:
I don’t know. It might be Oasis.

Jesse: Didn’t they open for you a long time ago?
Sarah:
A long, long time ago. Originally I thought they were brilliant. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had them support us. They were great. But it’s very difficult to just look at them musically or creatively now, because in the media you’re bombarded with images of them out having fights, and all the stupid shit that goes on.

Jesse: And Liam flipping off the camera ...
Sarah:
You get bored of it. And it taints listening to the music. I haven’t got the new album.

Sheila: What does London mean to you?
Sarah:
I absolutely adore London, especially at the moment. It’s changed so much for the better in the last five years. It’s almost off-putting there’s so much to do. Musically it’s exciting. Architecturally it’s exciting. Just down the road from where I live are all the beautiful houses around Portobello and Notting Hill, and it’s gorgeous. The only thing that puts me off is that it’s such a fast pace of life that it’s quite exhausting. I don’t know whether you can live in London all your life or if it knackers you out too much and you have to move to the country for the peace and quiet.

Sheila: That’s how we feel about New York.
Sarah:
Oh, but I love it.
Jesse: So when are you coming back to tour?
Sarah:
Probably in the autumn. I look forward to it. The last tour we did was on a sleeper bus with bunk beds and everything. That was such good fun. The time we did it before, we were getting up and flying every morning and that was awful.

Jesse: What’s the policy in Saint Etienne about partying before a show?
Sarah:
We used to do it far too much.

Jesse: Were there ever any regrettable instances?
Sarah:
Oh god, loads! [laughs]

Sheila: I saw you play in New York ages ago and your drummer was so insane on stage.
Sarah:
Oh dear.

Sheila: He came on with as many bottles of beer as he could carry and he almost passed out behind the drums.
Sarah:
That was Spencer. He’s lovely. There was one gig, it might have been that one, where I had to force speed up his nose — medicinal only, of course. He was lying collapsed on the floor before we went on. [laughs]

Sheila: You’ve just put out your own record apart from the band — Lipslide. How did you write the songs for that?
Sarah:
I go into my little music room in the back and I tinker away and write things. They were just written for the hell of it. And some I’ve had for years. One song, “Coastal Town,” I wrote when I was about seventeen. So the songs were a bit more personal to me, and I just wanted an outlet for them.

Sheila: Do you write when you’re sad or you’re happy, or just any time?
Sarah:
I write when I’m bored. [laughs] Yeah, the mood takes you sometimes when you’re least expecting it. Often, when you’re really supposed to be somewhere else.

Jesse: There are a lot of Saint Etienne songs that seem to be about comforting people, like, "Things aren't so bad."
Sarah:
Yeah. I know what you mean. Songs that are quite uplifting. “Things’ll be all right in the end.” It’s that melancholy thing. I think all three of us are really big fans of melancholy — but nothing too maudlin.

Sheila: What’s your favorite outfit to wear on stage?
Sarah:
Oh, I got really bad on tour actually. I had these really cheap but fantastic trousers that I bought in Henny’s. They’re white, sort of hipster bell bottoms — not massive, not so flarey, just really fabulous. I was wearing them to all the gigs and everyone kept saying: “You’re not wearing those trousers again?” I kept sending them to the cleaners in every hotel. And everyone was like: “Stop wearing the trousers!” [laughs] So I’ve had to retire them, which I’m really disappointed about.

Jesse: Are you into retail therapy? Are there things you like to collect?
Sarah:
I must admit, I tend to buy collectible furniture. We did a video yesterday at an exhibition of a furniture designer named Werner Panton, and the funny thing is, I’m actually sitting on a Werner Panton chair right now. It’s from 1958, and it’s cone-shaped. I like things like that. If I had more money I’d buy lots of really lovely old furniture.

Jesse: What’s hanging on your walls?
Sarah:
I’ve got a big poster above the fireplace from a film called Darling, with Julie Christie. And in the back room I’ve got a brilliant picture of Twiggy.

Sheila: Do you collect records?
Sarah:
I don’t. Bob does, big time. I’ve never known anything like it. He’s just obsessive. My record collection is pathetic in comparison.

Jesse: Are you a big mix tape maker?
Sarah:
No, but I love it when people do them for me. Trying to get people to do them can be quite difficult. Bob’s always promising to. He’s got this CDR machine now, and he’s always saying, “Yeah, I’ll do you a soft rock compilation.” Which, finally, he did.

Jesse: What’s on that? Journey?
Sarah:
[laughs] It’s not American soft rock. It’s this weird genre — some Japanese thing.

Jesse: So what are you doing tonight? Are you going out?
Sarah:
I am going out actually. And it’s funny, I got all ready before the interview so that I could just go. But then that cat from next door came over. She’s white and she molts like you wouldn’t believe. I mean, her fur just falls off in handfuls. And I’m wearing all black, so I’m now completely and utterly — you wouldn’t believe it if you could see it — covered in this white fur just everywhere. [laughs]

 

 
 
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