Interview: The Cribs

jason stives interviews ryan jarman of the cribs…

For a band that has seen increased interest over the past 10 years in their native land, UK indie rockers The Cribs have maintained a strong level of street cred amidst continued success and growing popularity both home and abroad. The Wakefield trio’s indie rock sound that fuses catchy pop hooks with distorted guitar riffs has kept fans interested while garnering critical acclaim in a turbulent time in music. Since the release of their self titled debut in 2004, the band has had a fair share of career defining events that would derail most bands but hasn’t for them thanks in part to the strong kinship of the band’s three members, twin brothers Ryan and Gary Jarman, and younger brother Ross.

Photo Credit: Steve Gullick

After two acclaimed releases, the band had their first taste of big time success with the 2007 release of their third album, Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever which gave them a UK Top 20 hit, “Men’s Needs.” Then in 2008, the band was given the ultimate sign of credibility when they became a four piece thanks to the inclusion of former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr as an official fourth member. The result of this lineup change was 2009’s Ignore the Ignorant, a glossy slice of mainstream glory that garnered the band their first of two Top 10 albums in England and strong coverage in mainstream media.

That second UK top 10 album, the recently released In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, comes after a turbulent year that saw the exit of Marr after 3 years, a change in locale for one of its members, and a public break up for lead singer Ryan Jarman and his long time girlfriend, UK indie pop darling Kate Nash. Out of all this, the band has released quite possibly their best effort yet, a full blown fuzz rock record celebrating American alternative music of the 90s, helped in part by the producing skills of the legendary Steve Albini. After a successful series of shows across the UK and North America this past April, the band will be returning to the US next month with a series of shows that include a stop at the intimate Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia.

In light of this upcoming tour, Pop Break’s Jason Stives conducted an interview with lead singer Ryan Jarman about the implied vibe of the new record, the experience of working with one of the greatest guitarists of the last 30 years, and how to maintain credibility in the changing landscape of pop music.

Photo Credit: Steve Gullick

Pop-Break: From listening to the new album a bunch of times, I have been getting this very heavy American 90’s Alternative vibe from some of the tracks like “Back to the Bolt hole” and “Glitters like Gold.” What were some of the influences of this album?

Ryan Jarman: It’s difficult to say as influences are very subliminal I think, we don’t really sit around or discuss what we are into or what we want to do with the record, it’s all very instinctual and just comes out. I do think though that as a band we’ve always had a deep seated US alternative influence as that is what we were all into growing up in our early teens, so that is definitely a valid point. Around that time, Britpop or whatever you want to call it was really big in the UK and we were not into that at all. We were much more into the bands coming out of the US that we were turned onto by listening to Nirvana, then through that Sonic Youth, then through that all the Olympia Riot Grrrl scene and on and on. There was so much good, interesting and vital seeming stuff coming from the US that what was going on in the UK in the ’90’s seemed very mainstream and commercial. I think that’s why we’ve always felt like misfits of sort in the UK, the fact that we don’t have that Britpop influence whatsoever.

PB: On Ignore the Ignorant it was obvious Johnny Marr’s inclusion on that album created a specific, polished sound. You had the great Steve Albini as a producer on this record. Was his inclusion as a producer done to get a specific sound with what you guys were aiming to do?

RJ: The reason we wanted to record with Steve on this record was because we have always been massive fans of his sound. Growing up, a lot of the records that I was into were recorded by Steve and his raw, live sounding records have always been a benchmark sound to me. We’ve intended on working with him since the first album now and for one reason or another we never got around to it, I have no idea why. I think that when we found ourselves back to being a 3 piece, the sense of liberation that accompanied that led to us following our gut instincts and that immediately led us to Steve.

PB: How much did personal issues play into the writing of this album? Is that something that always comes up on each album? To paraphrase the movie, Almost Famous, do you have to be happy to write a happy song, sad to write a sad song, etc?

RJ: They played a large part I think, but then they always do. I don’t think you have to be in a specific mood to write anything but I think the way you live your life has to be interesting to you in ways that keep you inspired. I’ve never been the kind of person that enjoys being comfortable, much to the frustrations of a lot of the people around me, I feel that when life becomes comfortable it becomes anodyne so I guess the sense of things always being a bit jacked up fuels my urge to write songs. I don’t know.

PB: Do you guys like being autobiographical in your songs? I feel like being too personal in tracks can lead an audience to look past the music and more at the public figure status of the band.

RJ: Our songs are always autobiographical I think, but we never put too fine a point on it. That’s not to say we are purposefully cryptic, but I’ve just never been a big fan of lyrics that are too obvious as it seems a little narcissistic or something. I guess we like to write about our own thoughts and feelings but also try to keep people at arms’ length. I don’t want people to feel like they know everything about me. That said though, I did make a conscious decision on this record to be more open and honest lyrically purely because that’s where my head was at at the minute.

PB: I know Gary lives in Portland, Oregon now. How has the writing process been different when one of you lives on the other side of the Atlantic? Has it made you grow as musicians as well as brothers?

RJ: It has altered the dynamic that’s for sure, but that’s not a bad thing. I enjoy the process of going to Portland to write as it gets me out of Wakefield and changes the way you write, it’s good to change your environment when you’re writing I think. It’s different too because sometimes now we head to practice with song ideas we have come up with ourselves which was never the case in the past, all our songs came out of jams. That still makes up the lions’ share of our writing process, but we do go into writing sessions with our own ideas too now that we then work on together as a band. Ultimately, I think anything that changes the way you go about things is a positive thing as it stops things becoming stale. After 10 years of writing together, if we were still in our old studio, as much as I miss that place, it would feel a little like Groundhog Day I think…

Photo Credit: Steve Gullick

PB: I know Johnny Marr left around the time you guys were beginning to work on this record. Going back to the beginning of his tenure for a second, at what point after Johnny joined the band did the novelty of being a fan boy ware off and you guys were like “Oh ok, he is one of us now.?

RJ: There was never any sense of feeling like a fan boy as although I’ve always been a fan of The Smiths and Johnny’s playing, I’ve never really had that sense of being star struck by anyone. Plus, we got on so well as friends right from meeting each other that all that stuff goes out of the window I think. I think he became one of us as soon as we started writing together, as that is something we had never done with anyone else before. We wrote the basis of 4 songs in our first practice together so that was proof enough for us that it was a relationship that was going to work, even if only for 3 years, it was going to work, so I guess we knew fairly quickly. It wasn’t ever something we spoke of either. I suppose in the back of our minds we knew that the press was going to be interested in Johnny joining but we never sat down and discussed it becoming an official thing. We were so enthused on the record and were working on it so hard that we never had that conversation.

PB: Could you see yourselves working with him again or do you feel that the three piece set up is the definitive way for the Cribs to record and perform?

RJ: Three piece is the definitive way. It was fun, but this is The Cribs.

PB: I know Johnny just played with you again at a show in Manchester. It’s obvious that his leaving was an amicable thing and not a personal thing even though the press has played it out to be the tremendous loss. How do you deal with the media when personal issues make it into the papers?

RJ: I take very little notice as we’re pretty experienced with that stuff now. I’ve had to deal with the British tabloids commenting on my private life in the past so that sets you up to deal with these things pretty well! Plus, we speak with Johnny often so no matter what people are saying or suggesting we know what is really going on so we can laugh at it. That said, it is very frustrating that a lot of people want to make out as if it’s a huge loss to us because although we loved playing with Johnny, really our biggest album came before he joined so I think that’s something that is often purposefully overlooked by the press.

Photo Credit: Steve Gullick

PB: Gary said recently that the three years in between albums came from “waiting for the corporate indie ship to sink.” With that in mind it’s funny how five or six years ago there was a plethora of great bands including yourselves coming out of the woodworks in the UK and now many have either disappeared or pulled back a bit from the limelight. Do you feel it’s far too difficult for a band now to stand out amongst the wave of pop music that has basically eclipsed the music charts?

RJ: If you start with the wrong intentions, or start specifically to be a mainstream concern, then you are doomed in the first place anyway, regardless of the current trends or musical climate. That’s the main reason we felt very little affinity with all the bands coming out of the UK a few years ago, it was all about wanting to be the biggest and having a lot of front and bravado. We just do this because it’s what we do; we have no real choice in it. We were bored teenagers living in a nowhere town and we started a band for something to do and something to make us feel like we had purpose, that’s it. Not to get in the charts or anything. Although that makes it even more perverse that we are celebrating our second UK Top 10 this week in the charts with all the pop stars!!

PB: You guys have been recording now for the better part of a decade. This is your fifth album which most acts can’t even say they have reached! How do you look back on your career as band up to this point? What is a personal memory since you guys became a band you feel was an ultimate high point?

RJ: It’s been a bizarre 10 years but I wouldn’t change a thing. Maybe headlining the tent at Reading and Leeds festival in 2009 was a high point. The stage manager cut the PA before the last song because apparently we had over-run, so the crowd sang the entire thing, guitar riffs and all, and it was louder than if they hadn’t cut the PA at all. Pretty overwhelming.