Interview with Ryan Jarman of the Cribs
In the eight years since their debut album, the Cribs have gained and maintained the status of truly the biggest cult band in Britain. Without courting the media or pandering to mainstream radio, the Cribs have acquired a fiercely dedicated and ever growing army of fans that keep them as one of the most loved guitar bands around. The Cribs have crafted one of the most perfect successions of singles of a generation and still remain as enigmatic, political and passionate as ever. The three Jarman brothers ”â Gary, Ryan and Ross ”â are as driven by their punk values as they are their raw, ferocious pop anthems. In 2009, Smiths legend Johnny Marr joined the Jarman brothers for the hit album ”ËIgnore the Ignorant’ which sonically expanded the Cribs musical palette greatly; however this collaboration broke off last year returning the Cribs to their three piece core. Ahead of the release of their greatly anticipated fifth album ”ËIn the Belly of the Brazen Bull’ (available on May 7th) LTW caught up with guitarist and vocalist Ryan Jarman before their sell out gig at Leeds Metropolitan University to discuss how the band got to where they are now, and what lies next for the Wakefield brothers.
Chi-Town sounds very much like a return to the sound of the first two records, but then we’re also told that there’s a fifteen minute rock opera on the album, so what are we to expect from ”ËIn the Belly of the Brazen Bull’?
It’s not a complete departure, Chi-Town isn’t an absolutely completely accurate depiction of the new record, we just thought that as far as coming back this was the most immediate song to do it with. I think the mindset has definitely gone back to that, we’d just done two records on a major label and you don’t realise that you’ve deviated from what you originally set out to do.
We always really set out to spend as little time recording as possible, certainly much more time in the practice room and then just going into the studio and recording really quickly. And that’s what we got from going into the studio with Albini (Steve Albini), that was 4 songs in 3 days, and that’s certainly the way we’re going to approach the next record. We’ve actually already started writing and recording that already and I just kind of think that the reason we decided to do it that way is to signify a shift back to how we did things in the first place and kind of capturing the essence of what we’re about really.
There’s definitely more songs in that vein on there, and the sound is more raw and dirtier than the last two records, but there’s also acoustic songs on the record and yes, the fifteen minute rock opera (laughs) I mean that was just Chinese whispers really, it started off as something with loads of different parts in it, so we split it up into four songs on the record but it’s four songs that run into each other and cross reference each other ”â I don’t understand how we even ended up writing that song. We were in the process of just going back to our roots and trying to be a little more nonchalant, but then we found ourselves doing something like that at Abbey Road and thinking “How did we end up on this tangent?!”Â. But that’s what we’ve tried to do with this record, we’ve just followed any tangent and any kind of whim and really embraced it and gone along with it and seen what’s happened. With being in a band this long, I don’t know how long we have left, and though we are ”Ëlifers’ ”â we are in this for life ”â we’re very aware that our time is short. That’s why we went in the studio with David Fridmann and Steve Albini and just all these people that we’d wanted to work with, you never know what’s going to happen, you never know if it could all end tomorrow or what.
Am I right in thinking you went into the studio with David Richards of Queen ”ËInnuendo’ fame?
Yeah, Gary was really obsessed with Innuendo at the time and at home at a bar in Portland he always puts that album on from start to finish, and it really annoys everyone there, and he just got home drunk and just emailed David Richards and said that he really loves that record. We always loved Queen when we were kids. So they ended up emailing, and we drove out to him to try and do some recording, it was just a case of “Oh we’ll drive there in the van, Switzerland’s not that far”Â ”â it’s much further than you think. But unfortunately it fell at quite a dark time for the band. I was quite ill, and David Richards had health problems at the time so even if we wanted to, we couldn’t finish the record.
But it was really fun, but it just didn’t mix with what Albini had done with the record and that, so we didn’t use it. But we will release the things that we did with him at some point, we don’t know when. It was just one of those whims ”â there’s absolutely no reason why we couldn’t go and drive over and record with him. And it was everything we wanted, his house was full of Queen gold discs and it was an amazing experience.
Where there any particular Steve Albini records that pushed you towards working with him?
It was mainly just part of trying to recapture the original essence of the band ”â our first album was supposed to be recorded with Albini. It was just when we were recording back then we didn’t have a record deal and it was cheaper to record it at Toe-Rag in London, and we got the record deal when we’d finished the album.
So we had to choose whether to just put that out or do it all again with Albini, and even though he is cheap, we couldn’t afford it. And we kept saying we’ll definitely work with Albini but somehow it never ended up happening. So when Johnny (Marr) left the band it was a moment where we all just thought “Why not do it with Albini?”Â. I mean the records that he made, they’re my favourite sounding records of all time, I grew up listening to him and Nirvana were really my favourite band when I was growing up. I don’t like a clean sounding recording, and you can hear when a band have been sat around in the studio for ages and you never get anything better than just raw. It’s like with the early punk records, the reason why those records have stood up so well and are so good now is because it was basically bands that had spent loads of time in the rehearsal room and knew what direction the songs were going in before they went into the studio.
So the labels would put them in these big studios but for the shortest amount of time instead of spending loads of money on them. And that’s why those albums sound so urgent. The main thing you hear is the spirit of the band and there’s an urgency to it that hasn’t been polished away. You might as well record a song while you still give a fuck about it, and when you’re constantly just messing about with a guitar sound you lose something.
Is that something which you feel had creeped into the recording process with the last two records?
I think we were a little more…yeah…we certainly went down that route. I mean we were a lot more sonically experimentally, like just trying how things sounded, but that wasn’t how we were originally meant to be, we had a very ”Ëbash it out’ approach. When we became a three piece again we really reconnected with what made us make the conscious decision early on to become a three piece and do what really turned us on. As I was saying, the whole thing is just about having a good time. You’re not supposed to make it work. I don’t write songs as work, I do it because it’s what I do. It makes me happy, it’s my only direction in life, it’s the only thing that makes me happy. I don’t see that as work so why would I want to see the recording studio as work? I just want to go in there, plug it in and enjoy playing, instead of just sat there and nobody having a good time.
What process was there between Johnny leaving and getting to where you are now? I remember seeing you at Kendal Calling last year and though there was no new material played it looked like becoming a three piece had really re-invigorated you…
Well there was a lot of writing going on at that point and we only did Kendal because we hadn’t been doing any gigs and we thought it would be a good way of maybe playing some new songs. But we were having a few personal problems at the time ”â not within the band ”â but with health problems and the writing process had became very involved and you know, I live back in Wakefield now, and we wrote so much that it was a case of really not knowing what was going to be on the next record and which ones weren’t. We wrote this song called ”ËLeather Jacket Love Song’ and I love it, it’s totally one of my favourite songs that I’ve ever written.
Me and Ross were in the studio and recorded it at Edwyn’s studio (Edwyn Collins) in London ”â this was when Johnny was still in the band and he played some guitar on it. And even though I really liked it I felt we couldn’t put it on the record as we wanted a fresh start. We played it a few times and were convinced it would on the record, but then we wrote so many more and we just haven’t bothered doing it. We were left with lots of songs left over and that’s formed the basis of the next record.
Do you hope to get ”ËLeather Jacket Love Song’ out there in some way?
I really, really want it to come out as some point. I’m not sure how yet. We keep getting asked to play it again by fans and when we’re going to put it out. And I don’t want to sound mean spirited but I kind of like that we have this song and we like doing it but we’re not putting it out and there’s no intention of putting it out but people want to hear it. And in this day and age of music being so disposable and accessible that if it does eventually come out, everyone will appreciate it a lot more. But I am sure that it will come out. I just don’t know when or how.
In those last sessions you did with Johnny at Edwyn Collins’ studio, which produced Housewife (2010 single), were those sessions working and were they a contributing factor to ending up becoming a three piece again?
It was a strange session because it started off as just me and Ross recording for what I intended to be a solo record ”â and those songs were ”ËHousewife’, ”ËLeather Jacket Love Song’ and a song called ”ËDon’t Believe In Me’ which will be a b-side on the next single. And I really liked all those songs and we worked on them as a full band, and then Gary had written a song which we did and we just fleshed it out as a band, and though it had meant to be a solo record we’d just ended up writing individually and putting it together as a band, I don’t know, it made that session a bit disjointed. It certainly didn’t have a bearing on why we became a three piece ”â that was down to Johnny wanting to do his own thing and we were happy to do our own thing ”â but it was just quite a disjointed session. Those songs all got finished, I mean it wasn’t unsuccessful; it just wasn’t like the rest of the album sessions where everyone was completely engaged all of the time.
With Johnny, were you ever mindful of how long it was going to last?
We didn’t really think about it, we were just happy writing songs together, it very naturally occurred. It was originally going to be one song but it just snowballed, and Johnny said “I really want this to be the last band that I’m in”Â, but I think that as time went on Johnny was writing more and became very aware of the fact that time was getting on and that he wanted to make a solo record and he said “If I don’t do it now I never will”Â, and weren’t going to ever stand in his way. I’d felt that I’d grown quite a strong bond with Johnny as we were both guitarists, and I just wanted him to be happy. But me, Gary and Ross had ended up writing together again and you know, we could have made another record together but…
Would that ever be on the cards or…?
Well there’s ”ËLeather Jacket Love Song’ and Johnny’s on that but I definitely wouldn’t make another record as a four piece, us as a three piece is the way it’s meant to be you know, it was a good experiment but we started out as a three piece and we’ll end as a three piece.
There’s always been quite a fierce vein of gender politics running through the band, how important is that to you?
It’s very, very important to us. It’s a major driving force within the band. We always identify ourselves a punk band because of that liberal minded attitude that punk brought. When bands start becoming more popular you have to become aware because I still see a lot of bands that are very much about the whole…you know…casual sexism filtering through. And it’s not only tolerated, which is bad enough, it’s laughed off ”â which is worse. Like if you have a problem with it, then it’s you that’s uptight, it’s your problem. The idea that you can just laugh off a sexist comment is something I do not believe in, it perpetuates it so much and it still goes on because people don’t want to seem uptight just by having an opinion on it. But when you see it all the time, I’m not going to not mention it, and then through mentioning it you get given shit for it. It’s so stupid and I’m surprised people can actually give people shit for having good values and not feel weird about it.
When we started, a lot of the bands we were influenced by were the ”ËRiot Grrrl’ bands, and that’s left a huge mark on us, and it’s just got to be about completely believing in equality. I hate the fact that sexism is still so rife, and working in this industry it is shoved in my face every single day. Fortunately, there’s a lot of good people working at the opposite end of that but as you go into the more mainstream realm it’s just still so old fashioned and backward thinking, and we always take pride in trying to identify against that. I got really wound up the other day when I read a review of one of our gigs that described the audience as massively male orientated, and I just felt “I see our crowd every night, there are only 3 people who see our crowd every night, and that is not the case”Â. It’s always been very mixed, always is, always has been. And why would a journalist want to project that image?
I think a lot of lazy journalists can see a situation where a band are energetic and passionate onstage and confuse that with laddism and, in some cases, hooliganism
Oh yeah, exactly, and that is what’s ridiculous. Whatever it is you do, if you have dedication, then you do play fierce, and you do play with passion. That isn’t aggressive, it’s just being passionate. And that resonates across the board does passion. The same thing happened with punk, ending up attracting a crowd that was more…destructive…just because it was very passionate and certain people responded aggressively. But you can’t do anything about that. As you get played on the radio more and start getting more mainstream exposure it’s something that you do end up soaking up, you end up soaking up fans that you might not necessarily agree with. But as long as you can work with that and switch them onto other things.
I suppose it’s better that they’re at a Cribs gig than somewhere that enforces those kind of attitudes.
Totally, and with us it’s just always been passion and not aggression. It’s purely down to the fact that we care about what it is that we’re doing. Going back to what you were saying, gender politics has always been our guiding force and is what we are most aware of and what we most care about.
A lot of other bands don’t do it, and I imagine through Kate (Kate Nash) you’ve gained a heightened awareness of females in the music industry
Certainly, there are those kinds of attitudes and she was really aware of it and very good at addressing it, I mean it for granted sometimes but when it’s happening to someone who, you know, you care about…it just re-enforced all my views about it being rife within the industry. It’s just tolerated, and it’s the norm, and a lot of bands adhere to that casual sexism, with the whole laddism thing. Personally, it’s not like it’s all we talk about but it’s just there aren’t bands in the mainstream that are actually addressing it and if you have any kind of social conscious at all you really have to address it. We just want to represent ourselves and make sure people know what we’re about.
Lyrically you’ve said that Chi-Town is referring to a past of yours that pre-dates The Cribs and really addresses things that you haven’t so far addressed, how conscious was this and is this retrospective outlook a theme on the new album?
Well, you know, Chi-Town is addressing demons that I’ve had for a long time. Before the band got signed I was living in Chicago with a load of other artists, and I was with this girl and we were going to get married and everything but then the band got a record deal and it was very much “Oh, that can’t happen anymore”Â. And I didn’t see her for ten years, and it’s tortured me for years, and I really really wouldn’t talk about it for years but then I wrote Chi-Town and recorded it in Chicago and then I met up with her for the first time in ten years. On the face of it, it may seem this big punk rock song but basically it’s just very personal .
Playing it on tour this week must have been quite an emotional experience
Certainly, that and ”ËBack to the Bolt Hole’, which is a slow burner on the new album which was written in a very dark time and it’s a much heavier subject matter but again, it’s a very cathartic experience, but with being in a band for ten years and touring for ten years ”â and I love it and it’s my life ”â but whenever I get a bit of time off to write I’d be going to people’s houses and hanging out with them and living, for want of a better word, a much more mundane existence. And you feel that that’s what you’re missing out on, and being in a band you do miss out on a whole kind of other life, and you do end up musing on what would happen if you weren’t in the band. I mean I’d looked into going to college, I’d called a few up to do a music technology course, and I really wanted just to be institutionalised. Being in a band I’d been a very liberated person for ten years, and I liked the idea of putting some constraints on that. You do become a slave to music, I’d never stop writing songs, and I don’t want to come across like I don’t like it. You just get to a certain point where you realise you’re not going to go out of vogue, because you were never in vogue, and you’ve built up a fan base that doesn’t care about radio play and we’d just be happy to go on forever like the Wildhearts or something. I’ve always thought that we’d be too embarrassed anyway to be part of a scene or whatever was going on because we’ve never ever ever wanted to be part of any scene.
Yeah, the press has tried to make you part of scenes before though…
Oh yeah, every time, no matter what scene has been going on they’ve tried to put us with it. Like at one time there was a lot of bands coming out of Yorkshire and we were absolutely “No, no, we don’t want to be part of that”Â, and then all that going on in London, which was interesting and operated in a DIY way, but we didn’t want to attach ourselves to any fashion ever. Whatever’s been going on, we’ve always just felt separated. We’ve never really felt we’ve needed anything other than each other, like even when we were growing up, we had friends but we never felt the need to try and part of whatever was going on as we’ve always had our own thing going on. I’ve just never really been into that mindset.
You mentioned your DIY ethic as a band, is that still something that is incredibly important to you?
Oh yeah, like we were in Edinburgh the other night then we drove to Brighton, then back to Leeds, and it was Ross that was driving us all that way, and it’s a long drive from Edinburgh to Brighton. We have it as stripped back as possible. We try really hard not to fall into those trappings and that protocol, because all it is just protocol. Why would you want to get into that? It’s better to just stay in the van, be in the city, meet people, go to people’s houses, party with people, you really connect in that way ”â why would you want to edit that out just to be on a tour bus watching movies?
I think a lot of that is just because it’s what the next band does...
Exactly, it’s the whole keeping up with the Joneses thing, I remember in Wakefield this band going down these tiny side streets in a massive tour bus, and the bus was actually bigger than the venue they were playing at. Even the road crew we keep very very stripped down, we only have a few people. Part of it is about wanting to save money on the road but it’s distasteful watching bands waste so much, particularly in this economic climate, even stuff like our rider. If we don’t eat it then we take it back into the van for whenever. We’re very mindful that in this economic climate we can’t be too high maintenance, and we make a lot of the arrangements ourselves anyway.