Interview The Cribs
Nick Rowan speaks to bassist Gary Jarman about album number five, Johnny Marr and going to back-to-basics
Interview: The Cribs
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“By the time it came to the third album [Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever], we were on a major label, at least in the USA, so we had to start working again,” bassist Gary Jarman tells me from his motel room in Seattle, “As circumstances would have it, that was our mainstream breakthrough and I don’t think we expected that. So all of a sudden we found ourselves playing a very different game. We told everyone at the end of the Men’s Needs… tour that we were going to take time off, but then Johnny joined around that time so we had to keep going again.”
“The two Warner Brothers records, the third and the fourth [Ignore The Ignorant], I just remember being so burned the whole time,” he continues, “and then the fourth one surpassed our expectations too and so again we just had to keep going, by the end of it we were pretty thrashed. This is the first real time off we’ve had off since the release of the first album [The Cribs] and that’s why we have that enthusiasm and excitement once again.”
The back-to-basics approach, adopted since Johnny Marr left the band in April 2011, extended to playing practice sessions in the basement again, like a regular garage band. Admittedly this time it was in Gary’s new home out in Portland, Oregon rather than back in Wakefield, but the three brothers (guitarist Ryan and drummer Ross making up the trio) being back under the same roof obviously triggered a lot of happy memories.
“It was like when the band first started again, you had that first flush of creativity and ideas – everything’s exciting and you’re kind of starting from scratch really,” he says. “And we are starting from scratch in a lot of ways…” A lot of bands fail to recover from a major line-up change, especially one played out in front of the media, but The Cribs appear refreshed and very much ready to re-engage. “It was honestly one of the most fun times we’ve had,” Jarman says of their time together in Portland.
I’m relieved when Marr’s name crops up naturally in conversation, as although almost a year has gone by, as an outsider it’s been difficult to ascertain quite how amicable the split has been. “Johnny did tell me several times that he wanted The Cribs to be the last band he was ever in,” Jarman says, “which was obviously incredibly flattering, but I don’t think I was egotistical enough to believe that that would be the situation.
“It wasn’t a complete surprise but at the same time everything that had been said was to the contrary. In the press we did say that it was going to be more of a permanent arrangement, and I was a little embarrassed about that,” he says. Still, there are no obvious traces of anger or resentment. On the contrary, the respect that Jarman holds for Marr still shines through.
“I really hope to maintain a close friendship with Johnny because he was one of my best friends for a couple of years,” he says. “It has been a little bit fraught at times, but not because of the band or because of Johnny, but because of the way the press decides to report it a lot of times. Johnny understands it anyway. He phoned me and said ‘I’m really surprised about the way people have been twisting my words’ and I was like, ‘I know man. It’s happened to me too.’”
Both Gary and Ryan had been considering putting the band on hiatus in order to record solo albums but Johnny leaving somewhat forced their hand. “It would be weird to lose a band member and then not regroup,” he says.
“When Johnny left, there was a lot of attention,” Jarman says. “So it was just perfect for us because we were in a basement in Portland, where it doesn’t really matter.” They also decided to remain in the States to record, including separate sessions with producer Dave Fridmann and with engineer Steve Albini, as they’d found the time away from the UK helped to improve their perspective. “You lose sight of that when you’re in England because it all becomes about playlists and Radio 1 and TV, which isn’t really a concept for a band of our ilk in the USA,” Jarman says.
“The US is basically an escape from the UK in a lot of ways, and I don’t mean that to sound mean or anything, but really if you’re in a band in the UK that does well to any kind of degree, it’s really kind of a rat race. For example in the States you have bands like Sleater Kinney and they’ll still be relatively underground. Now if you sell 100,000 records in the UK, you’re basically in the mainstream realm at that point. You get judged by their criteria and are expected to act accordingly. If you don’t, it becomes really intense.”
In a recent interview on BBC 6Music with Steve Lamacq, Ryan Jarman said the band “haven’t spent too long sat around trying to meticulously craft songs” this time around. Continuing along the same line of thought, he also stated he thought that “you should record the songs while you still care about them”. This is a relative change of approach compared to Ignore The Ignorant, although Ryan has stated in a recent interview in The Fly that “we always subconsciously kick against our last album”.
Picking up the thread, Gary Jarman says, “Ryan will always do that. One of the things about my brother is that he really sort of dictates the way that he behaves and, by that token, the way that the band operates to some degree. In his opinion we spent too long working on the last album, which I would agree with, so he wanted to record this one really quick.” Hence the sessions at Albini’s Electrical Audio studio, where they recorded four new tracks in just three days.
Jarman says Ignore The Ignorant was also a reaction to the previous record, Men’s Needs…. “That one was a much more negative album than the third one I would say, in that it’s more minor keys and certainly my lyrics were a lot more in that direction,” he says, “but I think that was to do with a lot more exposure to mainstream channels after the third one too, that’s really something we never expected to happen, so that’s quite a difficult thing to distil.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Jarman doesn’t single out either of these records as his favourite Cribs album. “If I think about our records as singular pieces of work, then the first one is probably my favourite because it epitomises the ideals of the band,” he says. With what could be a nod to any number of their early contemporaries, Ryan Jarman has been quoted as saying that he “never had the aspiration to just do a big debut record and then fade into obscurity…”
Instead their constant reinvention has led them down any number of unexpected avenues. “What happened with the second one was very peculiar, because to find yourselves in the charts after really not having the conventional promotional channels open to you was really baffling,” Gary Jarman says, “It was definitely something we took a lot of pride in.”
When they were starting out, The Cribs supported the likes of Death Cab For Cutie and Bobby Conn on UK tours. “We went on tour with a bunch of weird bands and we had our work cut out for us a lot of the time and I think that was something that was really good for us.”
One memorable Leeds Music Scene review of an early support slot at Joseph’s Well said, "The Cribs are to rock ‘n roll what the Chuckle Brothers are to stand up comedy. Expect the NME to declare them the biggest thing since Jet, and then watch them disappear after six months." And indeed a lot of the NME-hyped ‘New Rock Revolution’ bands did disappear within six months, but not The Cribs.
“We never tried to pander to the audience and I know that turned a lot of people off. But at the same time I don’t really regret that,” Jarman says. “Everything was so hip back then. Everyone had an awesome watch and everyone had the right T-shirt and all this kind of nonsense that we didn’t have any interest in.”
As it is, Jarman notes wryly that the new hip influences (citing Sebadoh, Pavement, Beat Happening, Dinosaur Jr and The Pastels), were some of their major influences all along. Rather than assimilate themselves to the popular sound of the moment, trends and tastes have finally caught up with them.
“10 years down the line,” Jarman says. “At least we don’t regret any of it.”
The Cribs play Leeds Metropolitan University on Saturday 3rd March. Their fifth album, with the working title of In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull is expected to be released in April
Posted on Wednesday 8th February 2012
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