Leeds alt-folk band Crake release debut album penned around grief after friend killed in airstrike

A Leeds band have released their poignant debut album, penned around a tragic story of loss.

By Abbey Maclure
Sunday, 19th June 2022, 4:30 pm

Four piece alt-folk band Crake, led by enigmatic singer-songwriter Rowan Sandle, have spent five years working towards the record - finally released on Friday.

Humans Worst Habits revolves around the death of Rowan's friend Anna, who was working for a women's liberation group in Syria when she was hit by an airstrike.

The record explores the grief that followed and the lessons learnt from dealing with such a significant loss.

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Leeds band Crake, from left to right - Bassist Sarah Stratham, guitarist and pianist Russell Searle, lead vocalist Rowan Sandle and drummer Rob Slater (Photo: Ash Scott)

"I didn't write with any intentions," Rowan, 33, told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"It was only when I stepped back from the album that I realised she was there - and that the writing must have been some sort of process.

"I don’t think we talk about grieving enough. I worked on a grief and loss helpline for a while and it really sunk in how much we need each other to collectively respond to loss.

"Even if each experience of grief is personal it all grows out of an inescapable branch of being human."

Crake backstage on tour with Big Thief at Bogen F in Zurich, June 2019 (Photo: Benjamin Rauber)

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Crake had its beginnings in Brudenell Social Club in 2017 when a tipsy Rowan went around the room to ask some of her friends to form a band.

Bassist Sarah Statham was one of the founding members, initially as a drummer, before they were later joined by Russell Searle on guitar and piano and Rob Slater, Rowan's partner, on drums.

“I had no expectations whatsoever,” Rowan, who grew up in Woodhouse, said.

Crake had its beginnings in Brudenell Social Club in 2017 when a tipsy Rowan went around the room to ask some of her friends to form a band (Photo: Shaun Page/Warehouse 606)

“I just wanted an opportunity to learn how to translate writing into music.

“I’m so grateful to the band for having faith in Crake and the grace to see something worth pursuing in those early days.”

When the band were still little-known, they got a huge break.

They supported American musician Buck Meek at a gig at Brudenell and Buck found himself so enthralled with Crake's sound that he invited them to support his band Big Thief on their European tour.

Crake supporting Big Thief at Bogen F in Zurich June 2019 (Photo: Credit Benjamin Rauber)

“It was unbelievable," Sarah, 34, said.

"That doesn’t happen to little bands like us - our first tour was with one of the biggest indie-pop bands in the world, around Europe.

"That’s the magic that we missed being a part of in the pandemic."

Crake continued plugging away at their sound during lockdowns - Rowan and Rob were able to write together, before the band recorded the album over live streams and later in the studio.

They released a 7" single on independent label Saddle Creek and continued to build their fan base.

“Crake was the one consistent thread that carried on through the pandemic," Sarah said.

"It meant we were really focused and we’ve had momentous things to have come out of it - I’m so grateful for that.

"Crake was amazing for my mental health during the pandemic.”

As well as moving lyrics on grief, Human's Worst Habits explores the intricacy of human nature, cruelty and queer ecology - a perspective which views nature, biology and sexuality through the lens of queer theory.

Rowan believes that "life isn’t as black and white as we’ve been taught" and believes that nature holds the key to revealing the true nature of human experience.

On lead single ‘Winter’s Song’, Rowan sings that cruelty and coldness exists within us all - and questions how people can continue to grow and love while recognising that.

“It’s raw and organic, but at the same time ethereal and melodic," Sarah said.

"It’s got its roots in folk, but it’s more than just Rowan as a singer-songwriter. She’s at the centre of it, but we’re very much a band.

“We came with all our experience and brought that to Rowan’s quite innocent and naive musicality, which works really well."

Rowan added: "I hope that some of the themes of the album tap into a shared narrative of being human and that most of us are all just trying our best.

"That is maybe ironic given its title, but I think the album contains a lot of hope.

"If we can sit with ourselves at our worst then how much easier will it be to brace for the rest?"

Rowan was 28 when she decided to form a band

She had previously been knocked back when trying to enter the world of music.

Sarah, who would set up her own gigs early on in her career, encouraged other aspiring musicians to take note of Rowan's bold move.

"Find your people and be open," she said.

"If you see the potential for something, don’t be afraid to ask - Rowan is the perfect example of this. We weren’t that close at the time but she saw something in me.

“It can be intimidating, but make the opportunities happen for you.”

"I’m not the easiest person to be in a band with," Rowan added.

"Something about the process of making music means emotions come to the surface.

"But Rob, Sarah and Russell always react with such kindness and I love the safety of it all.”

Humans Worst Habits has already been described as "charming and intimate" by Dork magazine

And alternative music publication Secret Meeting said "Sandle’s distinct, hoarse vocal plays like another instrument".

And the support in Leeds is growing - with fans eager to catch a long-awaited glimpse of Crake in action during their album tour, which kicked off this month.

They will play a homecoming show at Brudenell Social Club, where the band's journey began, on Friday June 24.

Sarah said: "During Covid, we’ve not been able to fully explore getting out and connecting with the community.

"But because all four of us are so open and have friends in Leeds, it’s a really organic relationship with our community scene.

"We’re really appreciative and people seem excited about our first album, which is great.

“We’re a band who thrive off connection and we really respond to that.”

Sarah moved to Leeds from Manchester in 2007 and has never looked back.

“There’s such a tapestry of different styles of music," she added.

"The city is small and geographically accessible - I’ll cycle from one gig to another and can end up in five venues in one night.

"And among promoters and artists, there’s no competition - Leeds is encouraging and that’s why I’ve stayed here.

"It’s easy to find someone to give you advice and support you in some way.”