Leeds foursome Crake are the latest band to take part in Saddle Creek’s ongoing ‘Document Series’, which sees acts sharing exclusive records featuring unreleased music, along with a specially-curated zine by the artist. Their contribution, ‘Enough Salt (For All Dogs)’ (b/w ‘Gef’), is a charming and intimate alt-folk number, which follows on from a trio of EPs since their formation after a New Year’s Eve pact in 2016. Singer/guitarist Rowan Sandle and bassist Sarah Statham tell us more.
Hi guys, how’s it going? Are you having a good week?
Rowan: Yes, very good, thank you. I’ve got a few weeks off work, so I’m catching up on all those things I don’t usually have time for. For instance, I’m currently watching the screened version of Pirates of Penzance, questioning its plotline whilst falling in love with Linda Ronstadt all over again (and no doubt infuriating the neighbours trying to emulate her high notes). I also have the time to try out a few song ideas on the four-track, and to tend a little bit to my small garden. You’ve caught me at a good time.
How did you lot get together then, have you known each other long?
Sarah: I have a really clear memory of Rowan approaching me at the Brudenell Social Club in our hometown of Leeds on New Year’s Eve in 2015. It was 3am, and she was dressed as Princess Leia, with me suited up as an overheating brown bear. This was several hours after being part of a Flaming Lips covers ensemble, featuring the other two friends who made up the original Crake four-piece – who she sequentially propositioned. I initially agreed to get involved on a very non-committal basis due to not having much spare time. But I wanted to help support the potential I saw in Rowan and to be part of getting some new music off the ground. Things grew quite a bit from there. The line-up’s changed since, with Rob [Slater] joining on drums when I left the kit and moved to bass. He joined on the same initial proviso as me, which was to collaborate until a suitable replacement came along. But here we still are! Russell [Searle, guitar] came on board when we were offered the tour with Big Thief last year, taking the place of Emily – who we are still good friends with – and adding a second guitar to the mix.
What’ve you been up to so far? There was the Big Thief tour, and a few EPs?
Sarah: We’ve done a couple of short runs around the north of England and put out a couple of singles and videos like Little Chef and Oil which we filmed on the Piano Raft which you should definitely look up. In terms of the live side of things, Rob, Russell and myself are quite used to touring through playing in other bands, but the dates with Big Thief were something else altogether. They and their crew are so beautifully kind and grateful, generous and caring that it was nothing but a pleasure to be a part of those shows. Mirroring the band’s collective disposition, their audiences in every city were similarly respectful and attentive. As a result, it wasn’t your average support slot, where you might have a handful of the audience who are curious enough to be present in the moment with you, but most are half-watching – if noticing the band that’s playing at all. It didn’t go unnoticed between us that we were in a special position and definitely embraced every moment. We released our third ep ‘Dear Natalie’ during that tour, after having put out the song ‘Glycerin’ in the run-up. As soon as we returned to Leeds, we began thinking about what we could do next. Well, if memory serves Rob and Rowan picked up a pair of guitars as soon as they came round to being back at home the next day and got working on new stuff.
How has the band’s sound developed since your early days?
Rowan: I’m not a musician myself by trade, and as much as I love my guitar, it has only ever been a conduit so lyrics can leave the page. I have the absolute luxury of being in a band with well-seasoned musicians who saw some potential in my songwriting, added brave and imaginative sound somehow without me ever feeling smothered. Each EP has seen a progression, and I think a key turning point was playing with tape loops and the Prophet in Little Chef on the second EP. Suddenly this timid song grew into something commanding yet still surprisingly intermate and confessional as it had been originally intended.
What’s your new song ‘Enough Salt (For All Dogs)’ about? How did it come together?
Rowan: Like most Crake songs, ‘Enough Salt’ has arrived from several iterative stages of chrysalis. I actually found the originally written lyrics the other day and laughed to myself how different a song it was then. The narrative, however, stays the same. This is where I start whenever I write, and I don’t surrender much control. It is only when I’m sure the narrative has hardened that I pass it over to the rest of the band so they can make it all warm and soft again. So, ‘Enough Salt’, even when unrecognisable in form from what it is now has always centred around the same story, told to me by a much-loved old housemate. Over the washing up, he shared with me the origins of the old term of endearment ‘Salty Dog’. Salt, so it goes, used to be used to ease bouts of fleas in dogs. Through either scarcity or expense, the practice was reserved for only the most loved dogs. Enough Salt questions whether our affection and kindness need be salved only some, or whether we can salt all our dogs.
The accompanying zine sounds interesting, can you tell us a bit about it?
Rowan: The Saddle Creek ‘Document’ series have always come accompanied by a zine centred loosely around the theme of Home. It’s a lovely thing. As the above explains, I’m very narrative-focused in my writing, so the zine was a chance to explain more about the song’s origins. The link to ‘home’ being that the song wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the gentle, steady relationship I shared with my old housemate. The narrative of the accompanying b-side also fits the theme nicely, as it centres around the Isle of Man – my dad’s place of birth – and the events which inspired the song are based there. I won’t give more away.
Are zines something you’ve dabbled in before?
Sarah: I’ve contributed to putting a couple together for my label Bomb the Twist a few times. It’s a really powerful and accessible medium. I have a bit of a collection at home and try to get to zine fairs, distros or independent book shops when I can, whether in Leeds or when on tour. The zines I’ve been involved with so far were made up of contributions offered by people who I’ve connected with through putting on gigs and linking up to all sorts of people through music and art – whether I’ve met someone at an event or we follow each other on the internet. It can be a way to work together to communicate a point or share something new. Zines are so versatile. They can be tiny, A4 fold-over issues about a single topic, made by someone who feels that something is important to document share, or they can be entire community projects. Because Rowan illustrates and likes to draw and paint, I suppose the format works for us quite well. It’s another way to present and situate the songwriting. Being in a band is a pretty expansive pursuit, and it can involve so much more than the music itself.
What else have you lot got coming up?
Sarah: We’re due to get back into a room together towards the end of August and see how it feels to pick-up writing again after some time apart forced by the pandemic we’re living through. Considering the implications of Lockdown and how that’s impacted the operations of a band who live between three households, we’ve managed to keep moving forwards. Mostly as a result of the timeliness of having finished the recording side of the upcoming Saddle Creek release just before we were separated.
We have a list of songs that we feel sit together nicely and dream of holing up in a cabin somewhere in Sweden to record as live as we possibly can. That’s been the way we’ve tracked all three eps and is the method which seems to work the best for us. Setting down the core components of each song as an embodied and synchronised whole, in a way that we’re presenting parts as they’ve been written between us in a room, but with plenty of space for overdubs and additional ideas. Although we enjoy playing with texture, our songs aren’t particularly dense or layered-up – so that one lead guitar line that Russell comes up with could completely transform a song without the need to compensate or change what any of the other instruments are doing. So as soon as we can, there’ll more writing and commitment to something in the form of a full-length album. There has been the exchanging of parts through remote messages, and home-recordings for demos, but things like harmonies are often written in the studio, which is one of the most fun parts of being together in a studio environment. We’re looking forward to being back there again.
Where would you like Crake to take you?
Rowan: For me, Crake is an excuse to listen harder. The more I experience the world as a series of potential narratives, the more I want to consume it. I hope Crake allows me to continue to meet others who see the world in this way too. I was so happy on tour with Big Thief. Not only did it begin this unreal relationship with writers that I respect so much, the relationship between us as a band also felt exciting and new. Anywhere I can be even half that happy again, that’s where I want to go.
Sarah: Music has such a way of opening up routes of relativity, which is what draws me to it so much as an activity and practice. Whether it’s to contextualise physical surroundings, or unveil prospective emotional connections to a place, in real terms, it can offer tools to explore and potentially explain – if not arrive at – a place through using it as a means to ask questions. Which is kind of addictive once you’ve opened the tap. Plus it’s a fun and meaningful way to spend your time, whether by yourself or with others. The reason I’ve kept on with Crake and continue to value it so much is primarily the capacity it has to provide a way-in to so many external and internal layers of life. Rowan’s very exploration-centred approach to writing lyrics, as well as just having an excuse to get together with kind-hearted and inspirational people – the band, the wider community, are reasons enough to keep an open mind to whatever direction the continued application of ourselves takes. More travel, in various senses.
Is there anything else we should know?
Rowan: I just glanced up from the computer to think how to answer this question, and the first thing to meet my eye line was an open copy of a book called ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ written by Robin Wall Kimmerer, gifted to me from a dear friend. It’s a beautiful undulating collection of soft but brave essays written to bridge together her understanding of the natural world from knowledges gained as a biologist but also through Indigenous wisdoms. It’s so good, I want to tell everyone about it. I’m not really sure that’s how I’m meant to answer this question, but there it is.
Crake’s new single ‘Enough Salt (For All Dogs)’ b/w ‘Gef’ is out 18th September.