For over two decades British songstress Sally Crewe has been writing and recording songs with an intuitive and visceral alternative edge. Born in the U.K., Crewe cut her teeth in America, releasing her first studio album in 2003. Crewe has played with backing band The Sudden Moves – an early incarnation of which included members of Spoon – and has worked to meld sounds from both sides of the pond into her work. With her latest solo record Later Than You Think out on September 22, Moxipop was afforded the opportunity to speak to Crewe about her career, the latest album, and finding her voice as a musician who encompasses much more than just the power-pop label.
MXP: You’ve been a lot of people’s musical radars for a while now both with the Sudden Moves and your solo career – what’s different this time around with your latest record?
SC: Technically, actually not much. As it always had been with The Sudden Moves it was me brining complete songs to the people I was playing with and having them come up with their parts, but the way the song would begin and start and what would happen in the middle I was always pretty firm about. I think I decided it was a little bit of a farce to continuing under a band name (laughs) The trigger for me was the last time we recorded a few years ago I noticed that people were listing the band as “Sally Crewe” and people were talking about the band as “Sally Crewe” and it sort of sheds that part of the name quite naturally, I just sort of outgrew it. So it was never really a huge thing, just sort of transitional. You know, save ink, save paper, less characters to type out.
MXP: A lot of people have been throwing power-pop around in regards to the new album. Do you think that’s a fair description of your work?
SC: I think it’s a fair description of a few moments on the album. There are definitely some songs that are pretty straight up verse-chorus-bridge, very catchy. I do have some songs with the power pop sound. I don’t mind that term, my only hesitiation is with any kind of genre is if somebody doesn’t like that genre it’s going to put them off and they’re going to miss the trip-hop song or they’re going to miss the song that’s not at all powerpop. So, I think it’s fair enough unless it falls upon the ears of people who are turned off by it.
MXP: It seems that recently power-pop has had a more of an English connotation and a British legacy rather than a United States convention. Early on in your career when you were working with American musicians did that inform your style at all or did you stick pretty closely to your musical roots?
SC: It’s difficult to know because there’s version of my life where that didn’t happen. If I had done all my albums with different musicians along the way I don’t think it would’ve turned out all the much differently. Going back to my earlier point, I usually flesh out my songs 95-100 percent before I even let anyone else hear them. So whether or not by way of living in this country for 11 years has influenced me, it probably has. I probably talk about things I wouldn’t have talked about otherwise had I stayed in England. I think I use phrases and terminology from both sides of the pond so I equally confuse people here and people there (laughs.) I try to be as confusing as possible to as many people as possible, just to be fair.
I was three years into a day job and feeling like I had plateaued, I was hitting that little period we all get to in life where I felt like I needed to get on with what I wanted to do in life.
MXP: Your guitarwork on Later Than You Think is really impressive, it’s especially spiky this time around, if I may use that adjective. Were you listening to anyone in particular that inspired that mode of guitar playing or was that just something that came organically?
SC: I’ve always liked spiky guitarwork myself. I think I’ve just got much better at the guitar. We did an EP last year – not many heard it, there were four originals on that – and on that record up through this one I’m writing and playing lead guitar parts. Up until that point I just stuck to rhythmic stuff. Part of just has to do with getting better and just getting more confident. This record was completely mapped out in demo form at home in GarageBand, so I had the luxury and the time to sit with the songs and come back two weeks later to a song and say “Oh, I’ve come up with this little guitar lick, I’ll add that.” I ended up coming up with a lot more in that department due to having time. With the previous records it was sort of going into the studio, laying the thing down and you’re against the clock. It just allowed me to take my time. I didn’t have anybody needing a record by a certain time for this album. I’ve been drumming in my spare time and I can tell that’s made me a better guitar player. I’m not really sure how one makes the other better, but it’s a thing.
MXP: So this time around lot more of a calculated bit of alternativeness? You seem to belong in this camp of musicians that seems to be ushering out bands that are needlessly jagged without having any sort of bite to them. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of foresight with what we might call today’s “pop-punk.” There’s no refined state to that music in terms of having teeth, which I find quite the opposite in your work.
SC: Yeah, I feel like the whole thing has evolved. I feel like the songs coming out of me now are a more evolved version of the stuff I used to write. There’s a lot in common with the older songs, but there’s just more cylinders firing now. There’s more dimensions to it. I think anyone who likes the simplicity of the first record will like Later Than You Think, I’ve just fleshed them out more because I had more time to do so. Plus, I’m older, and better and being.
MXP: Tell us about the title of the album, Later Than You Think. What does that refer to?
SC: It started out as the title track, it was a song before it started out as a title, essentially. It came out of a lyric when I was writing “Later Than You Think.” I don’t sit down and name it that way, I just come up with the songs and they kind of name themselves. There were a couple things that went into it, though. I was three years into a day job and feeling like I had plateaued, I was hitting that little period we all get to in life where I felt like I needed to get on with what I wanted to do in life. I was thinking literally that it’s later than you think. I had also lost my beautiful dog, Jack last year, and he was first dog so it really hit me hard. It was like, “Holy crap, where did the time go?” I had this creature in my life for almost 15 years. People’s parents and friends die, but this was just monumental. There was no moment where I thought I had to sit down and write a song about it, it just kind of came out subconsciously. Then (my producer) George told me I should name the album that, and I liked it, so I did.
MXP: Getting into the tracks themselves, there are a couple on the album that deal with weather and the sky – “Chase Tornado,” “Satellite,” “Looking at The Moon” – even the album cover has this portentous storm depicted on it. Is that a more subtle and common theme throughout it?
SC: I’m sort of amazed and happy that you noticed that because I’d never noticed that myself. In “Looking At The Moon” the first line in that, “If you need me I’ll be looking at the moon,” I had just bought myself a telescope, like a nice big telescope. I had set it up outside and I was on Facebook and I was about to type that line as a status update. Though, right as I was typing, I thought to myself that it worked better as a lyric so I picked up my guitar instead. But other than that, I do like nature and to be outside. I’m walking around outside in my yard right now with no shoes on, I’m kind of like a little bit of an Earth hippie. There’s definitely a connection to the outside on the album. That album artwork is by Tim Crowder in Memphis. I was looking at the art he had circulating and I loved the way he painted the hedges turning into creatures of the night. It just had the right atmosphere to it. With “Satellite,” same thing. I like space, I like looking at the stars, and I like the emotion that it gives you. I like to think that I could capture just a little bit of that for the songs.
MXP: The opening track on the album “What You Do” was a very seering way for you to open up this atmospheric album. It’s interesting how the album has a very distinct visceral opening that gives way to a tranquil middle and then has another biting coda. Was that purposeful to give it the atmosphere of circular emotions?
SC: It was in the sense of the track listing. I always spend quite a bit of time pouring over the order so it’s a cohesive journey. “What You Do” was a sort of last-minute song that came about because we had extra studio time. I can’t ever help when a song hits me and I came up with it one evening within an hour. I thought to myself, “I really like this one I think we should record it tomorrow.” (laughs) The second track, “Chase Tornado” I had demos for going on six years. I just so happened that the songs we had just recorded complimented each other. Though, with “What You Do” I felt right away that we had a good opener.
MXP: As someone who listens to way too much music there’s nothing that bothers me more than when it seems like the producer or artist didn’t deliberate enough on the order of the tracks. You start to do make your own listings and move songs around to better suit you even though I wasn’t in on the creative process at all.
SC: Oh yeah, totally. There’s an importance of whether the end of last song on the album coincides with the end of the first. Also, with this album it was oriented for vinyl so there’s this side-flipping business that almost makes two smaller performances versus one long performance. I had to be even more mindful of that setup. I love all that stuff, though. I’ve been a music geek since before I could talk. Growing up I loved mixing tapes and having imaginary bands. I love all the minutiae of being in a band, so it’s nice to be able to have all my work cut out for me in that.
MXP: The album is officially out next month – is there anything you want listeners to know before they hear it?
SC: No. There’s nothing I want to add. I just want them to know that it is really later than you think. That’s really the best information I can give.
Later Than You Think premiers September 22nd via 8 Track Mind.