After touring the 2012 album Words and Music by Saint Etienne and helping piece together the live soundtrack for Paul Kelly’s How We Used To Live, Sarah approached multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Carwyn Ellis (Colorama/Edwyn Collins) with a view to collaborating on new music. As a keen fan, Sarah felt certain that “I knew if I was going to make a solo record, I wanted it to be with Carwyn. I absolutely love Colorama records. He played me a whole load of instrumentals that he’d been working on and I thought it was the best thing I’d heard in ages. After we’d talked and he agreed to write with me, we emailed back and forth going into detail about what we wanted to achieve on the record. I wasn’t sure how to respond as basically I just wanted to steal his sound!”
While Red Kite nods to Colorama’s West Walian widescreen psych-folk sound, it’s definitely an album that’s uniquely Sarah’s. It flicks reflectively through a dusty teenage record box and alights at Pet Sounds and I Hear A New World; Ignite the Seven Cannons and 16 Lovers Lane; Disney soundtracks, Robert Kirby strings, Nanci Griffiths songs and the odd bit of melodic Welsh power pop. From the acoustic pulse of Take The Silver to I Close My Eyes’ astro-lounge music; the musicbox lullaby of Favourite Chair to the fuzztoned Hearts Are For Breaking, Red Kite is a record that joyously revels in its influences.
“The first influences Carwyn and I started talking about were records by Marianne Faithful and lots of baroque pop music like the Left Banke. From there, we started taking inspiration from records by Ennio Morricone, Joe Meek, the Beach Boys. We were drawn to records where the productions are properly out there; records where an odd instrument or noise sits right at the top of the mix and becomes the hook. I wanted to accentuate the wrong thing and try to stop people in their tracks. On the more upbeat tracks, Felt records from the Cherry Red years were a real cornerstone, records that had space and air in them.” Red Kite was recorded in a makeshift studio in a disused barn in rural Oxfordshire in two week-long sessions. Carwyn and longtime Edwyn Collins sideman Seb Lewsley did most of the heavy lifting with Ellis playing the majority of parts aided by locally based musician friends. Additional help was drafted in from London duo The Rails (adding backing vocals to Take The Silver) and Manic Street Preacher Nicky Wire (who duets with Sarah on Nothing Left To Talk About).
“I’ve always loved Nicky; he’s such a sweet man. His voice has got a lovely quality, it’s just so pure. There’s been an entwined Etienne/Manics history for so long (Sarah and Nicky were on Heavenly at the same time, Saint Etienne re-recorded/remixed Journal For Plague Lovers’ Jackie Collins Existential Question Time) and I’m pretty sure we’re the two most dedicated feather boa wearers in pop music.” While Saint Etienne have successfully written multiple soundtracks to journeys through urban Britain, Red Kite is very much the sound of the great outdoors. It’s the meditative view from the countryside rather than the giddy backseat glide through London’s outskirts – a clear reflection of the environment that the record was written and recorded in.
“Where I live now, I’m surround by nature; it’s definitely had an effect in the same way recording in a city would. I also think the constraints of what you can do recording wise as a parent affected things too. People always bang on about their kids and it gets really boring but making this album, it genuinely was fantastic to be able to record near home, walk back through open fields and still be part of a family. It meant I could try ideas out then wander home, get on with my life, think about things then go back and try something different. It really couldn’t have been more perfect.”
It’s a process that’s clearly worked. Red Kite is a nothing short of a career-defining record. And, if we’re lucky, it won’t be eighteen years until the next one.