Hello Sarah. It's really good to chat with you and this is really embarrassing because I don't think my batteries are working?
You always should make sure your batteries are working.
Words to live by. [Fumbling background noise] OK, how's the new album doing as far as the feedback you've been getting? It's a massive change of direction from your last full-length record. It seems that the band's gone from Motown to Kraftwerk.
It's going very well so far actually. It's going down particularly well with the dance music press‚Äîand my auntie loves it. [laughs] But yeah, it's getting a good response, I think. In Britain, it seems like the broad sheets like it‚Äîit's gone quite highbrow.
But getting back to the second part of your question, the change in music styles was very much a natural progress for us. It wasn't like we thought, "Right, now we're going to do something really different." It wasn't like that at all‚Äîit just evolved. We actually recorded a lot more songs at the time and left a lot of the up-tempo stuff off the proper LP.
Will they be available on b-sides and the hard-to-find imports?
Yeah, stuff like that. We wanted to keep with the flow and the general mood of things‚Äîit's all quite melancholy‚Äîit seems to work.
When you were recording this last album, what was going on behind the scenes? Was there panic that there wasn't an obvious radio-friendly hit? Bob [Stanley, keyboardist for the band] even said in a previous interview that it isn't a singles album and it's most likely career suicide.
No, we really weren't panicking. The album's a body of work. We really weren't recording the songs with a view towards any of them being a single either. However, I think "Heart Failed" makes for a good single‚Äîit goes down very well live, actually.
How much of a say do you have on the actual music of the records? Do Bob and Pete [Wiggs, the other third of Saint Etienne] come up with the music and you put the lyrics to them or do you get into it as well?
No, we all talk about it before and we spend so much time together anyway, that these things come up in conversation sitting in the pub and stuff like that. Directions are usually plotted out that way and then we try and remember that great idea we had from the night before.
How much did the surroundings of your recording atmosphere dictate what the sound of the album will be like? I ask because Good Humor was recorded in Sweden and Sound of Water was made in Germany and they sounded nothing like the work you've done in the past in London.
I think it plays a big part in it‚Äîespecially lyrically. You do get a different feeling from your atmosphere. When we record away [from home], we usually rent a flat and all live together and we're very focused.
Is that pretty hard living together‚Äîyou being the only girl in the band?
[Laughs] No, not at all. We always have really good laughs‚Äîwe all get on very well. I mean, it's sounds very boring because people are always asking, "Do you three have a lot of rows between each other," but we don't and I know that sounds boring.
So the Pete and Bob don't get pissed when they read things like, "Sarah Cracknell and her band Saint Etienne" or like when they position you in photos to where you look like you're the main attraction and Pete and Bob are just your backing band?
They're just realisitic. In every band situation the singer's always more in focus than the rest of the band‚Äîit's just one of those things that happen that's impossible to avoid, you know?
Back to one of your past albums, I was wondering where you got the inspiration for the song "Downey, CA?" I ask only because I grew up in that city when I was younger - about 8 or 9.
Did you really! What's it like?
Old houses; middle-class; families with 2.5 kids and a dog‚Äîat least while I lived there. Actually, I used to live about three blocks away from the Carpenters house‚Äîwe drove by it every day on the way to school.
Really? Good grief. I've never been there unfortunately.
Oh, I was going to ask you if you've ever been there? I was really excited when I found out you named a song after my old hometown. You describe the city really well in with your lyrics.
Ahhh, that's excellent, I'm pleased about that. But we're always doing that‚Äîwriting about places we've never been to.
So will you be promoting the album with an American tour?
Yeah, we are touring America in the fall, as you call that time of the year over there. End of September, I think.
Will it be a full-blown tour with a lot of dates or a small, abbreviated tour like you did for the Good Humor album?
No, it'll be a big one‚Äîbut it got a bit scary though because our agent out there got in touch and said, "Well, I'm looking about 20 or 25 dates." And we're thinking, "Oh my god, how long?"
But that's a small tour by American standards.
[Laughs] I know, but that's far too much for us. I love touring, but the idea of too many gigs would mean being away from home for about six weeks.
Will Saint Etienne be a full band again with all the same touring musicians?
No, only half the band will be the same, but we lost our bass player‚Äîhe got poached by Paul Weller. Now we got a new bass player who's great‚Äîhe's played with Black Grape‚Äîand a new guitarist and one new backing singer.
How was you impression of the band's first proper tour last year? There were reports that fans were following the band around from town to town and hanging around your hotels.
What's that? [laughs] Stalkers?
Yes, they were stalkers, but they were very friendly stalkers with good intentions.
Friendly stalkers‚Äîoh, that's all right then. I didn't realize it at all‚Äîwait a minute? How did they know where we're staying? [Laughs]
There are always people who know that kind of information who are willing to let people grease their palms.
We'll we were very overwhelmed by the amount of people who came out to see us and by their responses. American audiences are much better at having a good time and letting their hair down than British audiences are.
Why do you think that is?
They're just less inhibited and‚ÄîI don't know they just know how to enjoy it‚Äîthey know how to go for it.
Do you ever wonder why you're not as huge in America as you are in other countries? I mean, the music Saint Etienne makes is head and shoulders above the bands that have been stealing what you've been doing for ten years.
No, not at all. We're really pleased with being on a smaller label and we're happy with how we're perceived in the States. There are nice-sized pockets that are really into what we're doing. Mind you, getting bigger might ruin everything though. You never know, it might spoil things between the band. I mean, maybe if we had massive hits, it might put a lot of pressure on us to recreate that success, whereas where we are now, we can do what we want to do‚Äîwe can experiment and make drastic changes in our work and we're not under any pressure from anybody.
Plus I can still take the bus around and go shopping and people come up to me, but I can still do whatever I like. People are still very respectful and very nice and they just come up and ask for an autograph and it's not a problem.
Do you find that your male fans get a bit more jittery then before you became famous?
Yeah, they tend to stand and point and go red. [laughs]
What about girls?
Quite a while ago, I found that the most criticism I was getting‚Äîand normally on a bitchy level‚Äîwas from female journalists, which I found really surprising and very disappointing. It's hard enough being a girl in a male-dominated industry like music and to be slagged of by other women [for no real reason] was rather disappointing.
Well you know, it's because they're jealous.
[Laughs] Well, but then that still very disappointing.
Alarcon co-founded outsideleft with lamontpaul in 2004. His work for o/l has attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of readers, oh and probably the fbi too.