The Cribs Gary Jarman Interview
Unit, Daikanyama Tokyo
6th November 2013
After The Cribs recent final, adrenaline-charged Tokyo show, Louder Than War’s Katie Clare met up with their singer and bassist Gary Jarman to chat about their anniversary release, current musical apathy and beards. All photos in black and white by Katie Clare.
At the beginning of the year The Cribs released an exhilarating anthology of their work to date: Payola. During their decade together, one which has been defined by ardent momentum, bracing guitars and anthemic melodies, The Cribs have provided us with gloriously dark, intense and spontaneous music; all the while lacking the pretense, posturing and pandering to the fashion of the day.
Gary Jarman: I have to confess, during this tour we have been in Australia, around South East Asia and so many far flung places, and while we’ve been to say Hong Kong before we’d not been to Singapore so there has been a lot of uncharted territory for us, so coming back to Tokyo, which we feel so familiar with is, in the mists of this crazy tour, a moment of serenity. It used to feel like the most alien place in the world when we first came here in 2004. I had never experienced anything like Tokyo before: it was mind blowing, but this time, at this point it is our oasis, a place of familiarity.
I am always humbled beyond words when we come to Japan, it is a place so far from home and we can’t believe how considered and attuned people are to us. Some of the presents people bring us are so thoughtful, not even my friends would think of them, one girl has given us our own records in case we didn’t have the Japanese versions, another gave me some rare Comet Gain 7” singles that were only released in Japan – I was so psyched to get those. I mean, peoples generous nature, you know? It really is just incredible.
Louder Than War: Your songs have always been strongly autobiographical and this year The Cribs ten year anniversary has been observed with the release of Payola: Do you see this release as the end of something, the start of something, neither or both?
To be honest if you had asked me a few months ago, asked me before Payola came out I would have said it was just a way of being completists, we are very obsessive, so it was really a great way to put those songs in one place: we put the dates 2002 – 2012 on it because we didn’t want it to seem like the end of the band, it was -is- a good way of book-ending that period. I think of it as a way of freeing us up for the next era: I can’t imagine playing Hay Scenesters forever, that was very much of its time for me, that is how I felt at the time, I was angry and was rebelling at the scene going on then, now it seems a little redundant. Having thought that: this year has been one of so many changes in the band and I can see next year will be a year of changes too, I see this as the end of the first phase because things will be different in quite a few ways. We’ve been affected by a few events and Payola was a really good metaphor regarding that for us: collating the past ten years and moving on: that moving on will be very apparent next year.
A song can be of its time yet have longevity outside its initial meaning; did you find when choosing tracks for Payola that you decided on ones that had those strong dynamics?
Yes that is how we got Payola together; we had 80 or 90 songs to choose from and the only way to whittle them down was to think about what seems relevant to us now, what has aged the best and then what represents that period the best. There were certain songs we couldn’t leave off even though we didn’t necessary feel like playing them anymore, but they represented what has happened over the past ten years so they fit the criteria we had for choosing.
Playing Tokyo tonight we knew people wanted a lot of the old songs, we’ve played two nights, last night was more the greatest hits and tonight was delving into, not necessarily obscure, but songs like I’m Alright Me, you know, those songs that weren’t singles so over the two nights we’ve played about 30 songs. Coming so far from home and seeing people you don’t get to see often really loving songs that you feel you may have moved on from gives that song a new lease of life. It really flatters us that a song that we wrote, that may not mean so much to us anymore, is loved so much. When it comes to the UK and the US we have done so many shows in those territories: you look at London or Leeds, well, we’ve played all our songs a million times whereas in Japan we’ve been here what, 8 or 9 times? We can really get off on what other people get out of it and it takes away any selfishness that’s there.
So set lists must be difficult to put together then, even with the broad back catalogue you have.
In the UK it has become pre-ordained, for me personally that is really frustrating as there are songs that I feel are less relevant to me now, but because those are the songs that people are more familiar with you feel you have to include them. There is always a good argument for playing your singles and we have what, fifteen, which means then there is only space for a couple more, you can’t get deep with two songs, playing South East Asia you can pull anything out, even really old stuff and it sounds fresh. Back in the UK it is hard to write set lists now, we meet hardcore fans that want to hear B sides, being the people we are and we are hardcore fans of bands we’d love to hear their rarities too and so we want to service our fans with that, but if you’re playing to 5,000 there are going to be a large number of people that want to just hear the hits.
The last time Trail of Dead came here they decided to pick one album out from their back catalogue and played it through instead of a mixed set list.
We thought about that with it being an anniversary year, but I don’t think we have that one album that stands out as the one record people want to hear. We’ve released five albums now and not one of them has been significantly bigger than the others. I think that is a good thing if we were a band that had one huge record you go on the road, you tour that album and give the fans what they want – that album again and again. Take a band like Teenage Fanclub, they were my favourite band when I was a teenager and I went to see them play when I was 19 and that was really a greatest hits set – Bandwagonesque and Grand Prix tracks all fantastic records, yet this was on their Howdy! tour. I loved Howdy! and I was yearning for more of the current stuff, so I do base putting a set list together on that, you know, what I feel I want to hear when I see a band I love.
And there will always be someone you can’t make happy.
It is almost impossible. When we first started out we’d not play more than 30 minutes: because we’d wanted to leave people wanting more, we do want to do things the best we can, but it does become harder. I wouldn’t say we argue about the set list, but we do think about it – because we do really care. The personalities we have as people are quite obsessive so we look at things from a hardcore fans view, but the majority of an audience may just want the singles. Either way we honestly do play every gig like it’s our last, if we were a less ebullient band on stage maybe we could fake it, but we had a reputation from the start; were seen as a band that were reckless and a little over the top if we didn’t believe in it – it would feel phoned in.
That’s the way a lot of music feels like these days: alternative, rock and even more so in pop music.
I feel like the pendulum swings – that is the way it always happens. If we look at when The Cribs first came to prominence, or when there was that first mainstream crossover say. In the early 2000s there was a burgeoning scene and by the mid 2000s it had crossed over to radio: but you know that those salad days are not going to last forever. That’s why we tried to keep outside it, when people would try and attach us to a scene or if we were told that by making a record with a certain producer we’d have a hit – we kept out of it; we don’t want to tie ourselves to a certain era. The whole time we were enjoying success in the mid 2000s we knew that the pendulum would swing back the other way; so we pre-empted that by not nailing our colours to any mast.
We had grunge, then Brit-pop came along, and by the time we got to the late 1990s we hit a real barren time for rock and punk rock it, was a really moribund phase. But the pendulum swung back and so at the time when good things were happening in the mid 2000s we knew it was at saturation point and that it was time for the pendulum to swing again.
I think that’s why now the radio is so electronic orientated and folksy. I have this thing where I think as soon as people stop looking for a new Fleetwood Mac and people stop looking for a new Joni Mitchell the sooner we can get back to having a youth culture. The UK is a small place, where there is really only one mainstream channel and a massive music industry and if you’re not on that one station then you’re seen as pretty much nothing. Whereas in America you can be big on college radio and tour around playing to a couple of thousand people each night, there again America is big and the UK is so much more compact. There is much more pressure to be on Radio 1, Radio 1 playlisted records from our third album (and our second), now that went into the charts at what, 12 or 13 – yet albums four and five didn’t get playlisted at all and both were top ten. I am not saying our way is the right way, but I feel we bypassed that dependency: I am sure they could have been bigger had Radio 1 played them, but the fact that they didn’t play them didn’t shoot us down.
I’m loath to say this, but I think that the lack of decent new music played on radio is to a small degree due to the lack of decent new music available. Coming up to the end of the year best of lists and I’d struggle to list more than a dozen albums worth recommending.
I struggle too and it gets close to the point where you’re championing things that are just reactionary. I am not going to knock any bands, but what I will say is it is pretty acceptable these days to be bearded, organic and PC: there is nothing wrong with those things, but it is not how you want your youth culture to be. If you get a reputation as being a brat in this day and age it would be frowned upon, and for me at 32 years old it wouldn’t be becoming of me to be that way. I don’t want reviewers saying ‘Fuck these guys, they’re just brats’ because that’s the kind of thing that impedes culture.
Is this down to music reality shows do you think: the forgoing the learning of skills and nurturing of talent in exchange for the chance of a few months of celebrity?
That’s true of the mainstream and it’s something that has always existed. These days even the counter culture is afraid to offend the powers that be – kids who are 17 or 18 instead of standing up and being unashamedly vibrant and colourful are trying to be inoffensive and acceptable. A lot of taste makers and reviewers are pretty conservative and the influential media are too preoccupied looking for something that reminds them of their youth, and kids are really kowtowing to that.
I remember being excited about what was happening in the early 2000s, if it has aged well or not is a different matter, but what came out was diametrically opposed to what was at the time and that just has not happened recently and that confuses me because the latest counter culture trend was folk and you know there is nothing wrong with folk music, I like some folk music, but that’s not a radical trend.
Maybe life, even in these times of economic instability, has in many ways become too easy and people have fallen into a sort of lazy satisfaction with just griping on social media.
Complacency, utter complacency. If I and my brothers were right or not I don’t know. But we spent most of our teenage years saving dinner money to buy a Ramones record, or taking a bus for hours to go pick up a piece of shit drum kit because it was free or cheap and I am not saying this in a sepia tinted reminiscing way, I just enjoyed being so invested in what I was doing. If the element of struggle is taken out of the counter-culture it becomes complacent. I used to get beat up on the street because I had long hair and ripped jeans, that fucking thankfully is the past, I am glad that people don’t have to put up with that shit today, but that steeled my conviction and radicalised me. Now everyone creates their personality online and it is an idealized version of themselves: they are afraid to be unacceptable. In terms of the counter-culture, the best stuff comes from the fuck ups, the best things come from people unafraid to be unaccepted by their peers.
With social media being omnipresent and often motivated by negativity and spite it would certainly have had an impact on what I did creatively in my teens had I had its spotlight directed on me.
Social media means you always know what your peers think about you and your peers are global. So a person deviating in any way becomes a much more profoundly radical act, so of course the number of people diverging will be lower. We did a Guardian takeover, a really amazing powerful opportunity, being able to edit the culture section; we decided to showcase some of our favourite artists and poets. I remember talking to the editors and asking them to please disable the comments section on the articles. I did this because I wanted it to be a positive experience for the artists and I had a fear of people slagging it off and for those artists to have nothing but negativity from the experience. People who are motivated to comment are usually motivated by negativity – it is a stronger motivation for discourse. It was sad to have the comments section taken out because we didn’t want to appear to be over-sensitive, but it was me giving these people exposure and I didn’t want those artists being shot down because of peoples preconceptions of us.
That ease of negative dialogue in all aspects of media has definitely had an impact on how artists present themselves to the media and public. It is not difficult to know when someone is speaking from the heart as opposed to those who have been prepared to speak to you.
It seems like that’s the way things generally are now. Everyone is exceptionally well prepared for their position. The most exciting bands in the world to me, from the Pistols to Nirvana, were the fucking weirdos who found themselves in a crazy position – that is where exciting stuff happens. Nirvana are the band that means more in the world to me than anyone and they were just small town weirdos who become the biggest band in the world and that is so much more exciting than people prepared for it all. If you’re prepared for fame, something that the 80s was all about the cock rock time when people started bands to be famous – to be a big deal – was wrong, the important people are those that didn’t think for a million years they would be in that position.
Possibly that’s why things are the way they are now everyone is so fucking good at self-promotion. That was not part of the deal when I started a band you know – now you’ve got to be a self-promoter – you’ve got to use social media. When I started self-promotion was an anathema – tantamount to ego mania. Okay, not everyone who self-promotes is just an egomaniac of course, but people don’t just make a demo anymore, they make a website, they make a video and they create what their thing is all at the same time. If it had always been like this there would have been no Daniel Johnson, he’s a really good example, or even Jeffrey Lewis, these outsider artists, how would they have been able to correlate their ideals dealing with today’s reality?
They possibly wouldn’t have been able to and like so many of the artist and bands in our record collections simply wouldn’t exists.
Exactly. None of the artist I care about came from a position of self-confidence, they were usually the ones fucked up. Now you have people who you read about in interviews saying how fucked up they are: the reality is they probably aren’t because people who genuinely are fucked up don’t want to share the details freely. I’ve never met a junkie or a manic depressive who wants to talk about that, even things not that extreme you know, any hang ups you have you avoid talking about, you don’t want people associating that problem or issue with you.
I think that in the modern age it’s hard to be the weirdo because you get it from all sides, you’ve got to be way more dogged these days to stand by what you do and say, it is so easily immortalised in a public forum these days.
Talking of “immortalised in a public forum”, your glorious beard from the NME awards has gone.
Yes, I was The Cribs member with the beard then – my Jesus phase. People used to say we shared the beard. Ross can grow the best beard in the band so he would always have it, then Ryan went through a difficult time which usually equates with growing a beard and I’ve had it on and off for years. When Brazen Bull came out I convinced Ross to start shaving again, I started shaving as well, but Ryan was going through a fucked up phase so he was on the beard again. People said we were just doing it to confuse everyone.
The Cribs resurrect their 2007 end of concerts, Cribsmas, this year at Leeds 02 Academy on December 18th and 19th. For ticket availability and purchase details you can check your usual ticket agent or go directly to the Leeds 02 Academy website.
We have no news who will have The Cribs beard for Cribsmas but you can keep up to date with many facets of The Cribs world via their website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: we offer no guarantees that any will including up to date beard news. The Cribs Payola (CD DL & LP) is out now and available from all the usual places including, but not limited to, the Wichita Recordings website.