“With our band, the rulebook is different to other bands” – Ryan Jarman of the Cribs interviewed
This last 12 months has seen a barrage of 10 year anniversary shows by bands of varying quality from the mid-00s trad indie boom. For the Cribs, touring the UK to celebrate 10 years of ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’ was a bittersweet experience – having (vocally) loathed being lumped in with the post-Libertines bubble at the time, the band now seemed to enjoy their status of having outlasted the bulk of their contemporaries. ’24-7 Rock Star Shit’, the new Cribs album produced by Steve Albini, was released shortly after the tour (at two months’ notice!) and went straight into the top 10. It was their fourth album in a row to enter the top 10, and Louder Than War sent Fergal Kinney to speak to Ryan Jarman of the Cribs about the new record, working with Steve Albini and reflecting on the Cribs’ varied career.
You’ve never been a commercially minded group but you’ve been really vindicated with the new record in getting in the top 10, did you have any anxieties about releasing the album at such short notice in the height of summer?
Not really no, the whole thing kind of came from us and the thing was we wanted to do everything unconventional with this record anyway, because it was you know, for a start it was something that we needed to get out of our system. Dedicated followers of the band have been wanting us to do anyway, to make something much more stripped back. So that was the idea for the album, and it wasn’t meant to be an album it was meant to be a stopgap EP – that was originally the idea – just some extra content or whatever you want to call it in this day and age. We just wanted to get it out as quickly as possible and we knew that meant there wouldn’t be a long protracted pre-release schedule, so we kind of wanted to hit people with a new song every week then put it out after two weeks. It’s just trying something different – there is no rules anymore in the industry and I’ve kind of come to realise with our band the rulebook is different to other bands, because we’ve got a hardcore fan base. When this record went top 10 it kind of made us feel pretty vindicated. I feel like often the powers that be and the mainstream are very very fickle especially when it comes to our band so we’re not going to plan anything around what we could or couldn’t do or get. We just wanted to do it how we wanted to do it, people either get on board or they don’t and we’re not going to worry about. We’re just not that way inclined.
You mention the demand from your fans for this record, was that as a result of when you put out ‘For All My Sisters’ you making it quite clear that that record was the pop album with sharp concise singles that would have a sister album of dirgey punk set to follow?
Yeah it was – generally our records have been trying to marry the two parts of the band. There’s always been a side of the band that’s loved pop music and another side that wants to rip everything down and have pyrrhic victories, we have an absolute need at times to record very swiftly and focus on energy and excitement. So we try to marry those on most of our records but with ‘For All My Sisters’ we were working with Ric Ocasek who is very much a pop producer, we thought we should go all in all with that. So we were putting songs to one side and gradually doing the Albini record. Even though it was written over a long period of time it sounds like it was written quickly because it has an immediacy and that was always the intention – to focus on that more than anything else, the immediacy and the energy. It was something that we needed to do but also the way that our first two records were recorded, people really like that aspect of the band, and we’ve been a bit confused as to why we haven’t made such a stripped back record for some time. Every time we make a record it’s always our plan for it to be stripped back – that’s where our inclinations lie.
The roots of this record really come from the things you did with Albini around ‘In the Belly Of the Brazen Bull’ like ‘Chi-Town’, what was it about working with Albini then that made you want to go back?
Well we were in the studio with Dave Friddman for quite a while, and there wasn’t much to do on a night so when we were in there with working Dave we already had a session booked with Albini. So we booked this session with Steve Albini. The way that he works, we’d be recording all day with Dave Friddman and then at night we’d just rehearse what we’d do with Steve. So they were very much unfinished when we went out to record with Steve, so the fact we came out with three or four songs fully finished and mixed we were really, you know, this works really well. It didn’t feel labour intensive at all, there was no over thinking, and when we came out of it, after that we really wanted to go back and we knew that obviously really worked. So after we did that session with him in 2012, we knew we had to definitely go back and explore that further. But we’ve always wanted to work with Steve anyway because his records sound so good – when I was a kid I just loved the sound of Steve Albini’s records, so that was the main reason, just the sound that he gets.
He’s always someone who’s wrongly identified by journalists as being a bit of a nightmare but I imagine your experience wasn’t that at all?
Yeah it was great for us because I think we went in there with maybe the right attitude. We obviously knew what Steve’s reputation was and the way that he liked to work from years of having read interviews with him so we made sure that when we went in there we were prepared to work in the style he was accustomed to. One thing about Steve is he doesn’t like dealing with management or record companies, he just wants to deal with the artist, that’s the only person he respects. He’s very artist orientated so you can have a really harmonious time in the studio with him unless you’re from the corporate world. We booked the studio ourselves, we didn’t leave it down to management or the label because that would be giving the wrong impression. We did know how he liked to work and that was how we wanted to do it. He’s very opinionated obviously but in the best way and in a way that we agree with, so for us it was really fun and we got on really, really well. I can imagine that he does have that other side because he’s an opinionated guy but in the best possible way.
Compared with a lot of the bands you’ve been lumped in with by accident of emerging at the same time, you’ve always been really forward facing and focused on the next record. Some people might have been a bit surprised when you did the ‘Mens’ Needs’ 10 year anniversary tour, what was that experience like and did it help having the next step lined up?
Well, I imagine some people may have been surprised but the fact was that…you know we do get lumped in with bands that have nothing to do with us and we were very vocal about that at the time, we have a reputation for being very acerbic also, and that was the reason. When guitar music became so popular in 2006 and 2007 we were on our third album by that point and working with Sonic Youth making spoken word tracks! A lot of people thought we were trying to cash in or be part of that British guitar renaissance, because I thought we were completely different. So that’s why we were opinionated about it. And we wanted to do this tour because, you know, we felt like a lot of our fans wanted us to do it and we thought it would be a good idea because we were on an off year where we were writing. We always like to be out on the road. But yeah, a bunch of other bands from that era planned anniversary tours around then, so we went out on that tour feeling a bit weird about it. But the fact we had another album recorded offset that feeling – that any retrospective stuff was going to be straight out the window the moment we came offstage at Leeds Arena. We didn’t go back to celebrate, we just got the next single out. It was all about moving forward straight away.
When I first listened to ‘24/7 Rock Star Shit’ I was struck by ‘Year of Hate’ – the Cribs have never been afraid to rock out but that track in particular veers towards more metal than anything, can you tell me about that track?
It’s interesting you say that, because again going back to the 2000s era indie I always felt like those bands were influenced by Britpop. We have never, ever been fans of Britpop, when that was around we were fans of metal, always more into especially black metal and stuff like that. And over time you go back to some of your earlier influences, and our earlier influences was more of a grunge thing. When I was learning guitar as a kid I was learning metal riffs, so I always try and maintain more of a riff style of playing. It started off as a jam that did feel a bit like metal, but rather than thinking it didn’t sound like us we thought let’s go with it and see what happens. We try to make stuff heavy – I like music to be heavy – it doesn’t have to be metal to be heavy you know? I do feel like it’s part of our DNA whether people realise it or not.
Yeah, my favourite Cribs album is ‘In the Belly of the Brazen Bull’ because that album represented such a watershed – getting those influences out for maybe the first time in an explicit way – and if you listen to the first three or four Cribs albums you wouldn’t have predicted the way you sound now
It’s interesting, after Johnny (Marr) left, the fifth album was all about re-establishing the band. We worked so hard and there was a lot of personal problems going on in the band and the way we dealt with it was to work solidly. We were trying to re-establish ourselves back as a three piece and it was all about being heart on sleeve for that record.
It must be a bit logistically challenging co-ordinating the Cribs now with being split between the UK and the US…
I think on paper it is, it’s quite a challenge psychologically sometimes, me and Gaz have been in the UK living with Ross for the last two years. That’s the way it will work now. Ross will sometimes come out to Portland and we’ll do some writing at Gary’s house for a few weeks, and we’ll come out to Ross for a few months, so we are very in touch with the UK and it hasn’t changed our productivity. Because we are together for a limited time – even when it’s quite a long time – we work harder together now. It’s not like it takes us years between records, it just means a lot more travel and time away from home. It gets difficult but if it was all plain sailing you wouldn’t be driven to write music anyway you know what I mean?
I was a massive fan of the Exclamation Pony single ‘Psuedo Individual’ a few years ago, and there was talk of an album at that time but it seemed to go a bit quiet – what happened there?
What happened was, the Exclamation Pony record was recorded – the full album recorded really quickly. And Julian Casablancas heard it and he really liked it and wanted to release a single, so I started working closely with Julian and it went a bit more 80s which was the aesthetic of Cult Records. But by the time the single came out Julian got really busy and I got really busy with the Cribs and Exclamation Pony had to go on the back burner. I have been working on it recently, I actually just mixed some of it with the guy who mixed ‘For All My Sisters’ and ‘Men’s Needs’, and I mixed a couple of tracks with Gordon Raphael as well, but it’s just a case of…I tend not to think about it with the Cribs, and because it’s been a while since that single and the record means a lot to me I kind of flip flop between putting the record out and then not wanting the album to be corrupted by the industry, you know? I’m sure it will come out at some point but I just keep flip flopping over whether I want to put it out or not, but I have been working on it and we’ve got at least another three singles mixed and ready to go, with the album having been ready for some time. I kind of like the fact that people keep asking me about it, it becoming this lost record in some ways, but I don’t know. I’m sure people will hear it one day.
All words and interview by Fergal Kinney.
’24/7 Rock Star Shit’ is out now on Sonic Brew, available here on CD/Vinyl/Download