Interview: St Etienne

It’s been a busy year for Saint Etienne. The band celebrated the 25th Anniversary of debut record Foxbase Alpha in January and now they’re back with their brand new one, Home Counties.We caught up with Sarah Cracknell ahead of their show at Sheffield City Hall to chat about the new album, the fondness of home and musical guilty pleasure

Hi Sarah. What’s on the agenda today?
On my agenda today… I had to take my son to the doctors this morning, he had a blood test and passed out. Poor thing! I’ve been doing some interviews and then I am going to go for lunch with my Husband. We’re going to get some Thai Food I think. I love Thai Food! If I had one type of food that I had to eat for the rest of my life, that would be it.

Your new album Home Counties is released on 2 June. With your debut album Foxbase Alpha celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, how would you say the band’s style has changed in light of the new record?
Erm, well it hasn’t actually. It has elements from a lot of our previous albums in there. And it is very similar to our first album in the way that it has lots of little interludes and segments between songs. So with that I think the current record goes back to a lot of our old records.

Was it a conscious decision to go back to your old style?
No, it just turned out that way. We wrote with a few different people and we recorded with a guy called Sean, a really brilliant, creative multi-instrumentalist. He coloured it all in so well that it has so many different elements in it. Some of it sounds like Good Humour, which we recorded in Sweden years ago, and some of it sounds like our earlier albums. The only idea we had when we started was the home counties theme, which we didn’t stick to rigidly but it was useful because plucking ideas out of thin air is quite tricky sometimes. We pinned the main idea on the home counties: what they mean to us and what we think they mean to other people.

What do you think other people think of the home counties?
They’re a bit of a dirty word now, a place where people think that everyone is a Tory. We are basically trying to reclaim it as not being quite as bad as what people think. I left the home counties when I was around 16/17, and I think, with the distance you get after moving away, you begin to appreciate where you grew up more a bit more. So yeah, I’m sticking up for the area a bit!

Do you have favourite track on the album?
I did really like ‘Heather’, which was fun because it’s a slight departure for us. I think if you heard it you wouldn’t immediately think ‘oh, that sounds like Saint Etienne’ and it might just get in your head a little bit. I like doing things that sound totally different.

With that in mind, do you think it will appeal to the older Saint Etienne fans?
Yes, as our earlier albums were also quite eclectic. It has lots of interludes and nice touches that I think will appeal to the people who started off on this journey with us.

What first attracted you to making music?
I kind of fell into it really. I was a big music fan anyway and then I met someone in a pub when I was15-years-old. Back then you could get served in a pub when you were that age – in the good old days.!He said he was thinking of starting a band and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I said “Oh, I can sing”. This wasn’t strictly true, but it all started from there. I don’t know whatever possessed me to sing in a band. I don’t know where it came from or how it happened. From there I fell into a string of bands for a while but there were complications and we never got a deal. I wanted to do something different so I went to drama school for a year. When I finished and started doing some fringe theatre and then I met Bob through a mutual friend. They wanted someone to sing on the next single and I just fell into it. But I’m glad I did, obviously!

Your first album came out back in 1991. How was the music industry changed since you first started out?
Everything changes so fast. It has changed massively for us with the internet age with people downloading music for free and people making their own music from home. That’s the brilliant side of it: the technology. Anyone can make an album at home today, which I think is fantastic. And the way that music is released is very different. We used to put a single out and then a week later the album, whereas now things kind of dribble out digitally. I also think that people don’t listen to albums so much now. I mean, obviously people do, but some people seem to just cherry-pick, you know?

Do you have any current musical guilty pleasures?
I quite like about half a dozen Coldplay songs. Isn’t that awful? Something came on the radio yesterday and I was singing along and then I thought ‘Oh no, this is Coldplay again!’. Maybe half a dozen is pushing it. There is just something that I like about them and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.

Can you name one of the songs?
I like the most recent one. I think it was a collaboration with someone. See, I can’t even name one so it’s not that bad!

And finally, what’s next for Saint Etienne?
I don’t know really. I can’t possibly think past Christmas, that is as far as we have got. We have the British tour, the European jaunts, the US tour and then a few gigs at Christmas. It’s already overwhelming, but in a good way. It is peaks and troughs, this Saint Etienne lark!

Home Counties is released 2 June and Saint Etienne play City Hall Ballroom on 10 June. Tickets available: City Hall

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