Band of brothers’ friendly fire – The Cribs interview

Wakefield Wonders: The Cribs, namely (from the left) Gary, Ross and Ryan Jarman

Wakefield Wonders: The Cribs, namely (from the left) Gary, Ross and Ryan Jarman

When it comes to loyalty, it’s an ethos built on brotherhood for indie favourites The Cribs.

While the West Yorkshire outfit complemented their sense of cool by recruiting Manchester guitar legend Johnny Marr between 2008 and 2011, the brothers Jarman remain at the heart of the band – twins Gary and Ryan plus younger sibling Ryan.

And while they continue to mix in revered company, that three-piece family dynamic still provides the band’s momentum.

The Jarman brothers were travelling up the east coast of Ireland when I caught them, between shows in Dublin and Belfast, the latest cities to show their appreciation for a band now in their 14th year performing.

Vocalist and bass player Gary, who along with Ryan (guitars and vocals) is aged 34 and four years the senior of Ross (drums), did the talking, his responses always considered but honest with it.

“Last night in Dublin was really fun, with a really enthusiastic audience. We haven’t been here for a couple of years, and there was definitely a good vibe.”

Have the band enjoyed the reaction to their sixth LP, For All My Sisters, since its March release?

“We’ve been really happy. We were so proud of the album when we made it, having gone away for around three years between records, the longest we’ve done that.

“Having switched labels, moving to Sony, we felt there was quite a lot of change around this record and worked really hard on this.

“It was nice to have the time away to do that, and in a lot of ways it felt like making our first record again.

Three's Company: Ross, Gary and Ryan get the joke

Three’s Company: Ross, Gary and Ryan get the joke

“When you first start you feel you’ve got all the time in the world to make a record. But in the past we’ve been busy the whole time, writing while we’ve been on the road, going from one record straight on to the next.

“By the time this album came out, we felt really passionate towards it, and I think most of our audience – and definitely the more old school element of the fan-base – have really embraced this record.

“In some ways it really is a return to the ideals of the earlier stuff.”

What’s the difference between working with Wichita Recordings, the indie label behind their first five albums, and now Sony Red?

“Not a massive difference. We were with Wichita from the start, but did a couple of records with Warner Brothers in America so already had the experience of working with a major label.

“We’ve been around long enough to see from the sidelines the small indie and big major set-ups, so knew what to expect.

“After establishing the band for over a decade, anyone who works with us has a pretty good idea of what to expect from us, and pretty much let us get on with what we want.

“The only time it feels odd being with a major would be if they have a pre-conceived idea of what they want to mould you into.

“With Warner Brothers in America it was slightly like that, but with Sony in the UK I think they understand what we’re about.”

In an era when it seems there is less chance of bands going down the major label path, instead working with smaller labels or going down the pledging route, you seem to get the best of both worlds – an independent ethic backed by a big company.

Sisters' Act: The release of The Cribs' For All My Sisters proved a proud moment for Gary and his brothers

Sisters’ Act: The release of The Cribs’ For All My Sisters proved a proud moment for Gary and his brothers

“We were always more suited to being on an indie label. From an idealistic point of view we really liked the idea of community and a close relationship with the label.

“At this stage we’re pretty dyed in the wool. I can understand if we’d made a completely different record and it had been overtly radio-friendly, but people now know us well enough to know what we want to do, and this record is still fundamentally a punk record.”

There are a couple of radio-friendly tracks on For All My Sisters to pull new fans in, but there’s also enough to feel you’re staying true to your ideals.

“It’s always been the same with us, throughout the years. We’ve always known which are the singles and like to write pop songs, although not in the conventional sense. We’re not trying to be part of that world.

“I consider a lot of my favourite bands to be pop bands, like Nirvana, Teenage Fan Club and Sebadoh. To me they write pop songs, even though it doesn’t fit the same classification as commercial pop.”

It’s interesting you say Teenage Fan Club. I’ve never really thought about them in respect of your music, but now you mention it, I can hear them in there too.

But the influence that comes across more than most for me on the new LP is Weezer, although perhaps that’s understandable with the LP being produced by Ric Ocasek, former frontman of US new wavers The Cars, who also worked with the LA outfit.

“A couple of people have said that, and while  we did work with Ric on this, I grew up listening to Weezer. They were accessible, and as a young teenager you need these gateway bands – where the more melodic songs turn you on to the experimental side.”

There’s an almost ‘70s pop feel to it all between the harder line, maybe attributable to Ric again. How much of that sound and feel was down to his influence?

“His influence was mainly was as a producer who we respect for what he’s done before. It makes it smoother, where everybody ends up on the same page.

Classic Car: Ric Ocasek, who produced the latest Cribs album

Classic Car: Ric Ocasek, who produced the latest Cribs album

“Between me and my brothers we produce ourselves, but it’s good to have someone there almost like an arbiter.

“Otherwise we can end up fixated on the details. Ric was good at telling us what felt good and what was a good take but also very focused on vocal performances.

“In the past I’ve been happy enough if it’s felt right. Ric didn’t care about us getting a perfect performance either, yet with the vocals he wanted me to push a lot harder to put in great performances.”

The album’s first single, Burning for No One, is a contender for a summer-long anthem for this scribe, and not just for the accompanying video, shot in the Bahamas, much as I feel there should be more stone-skimming in pop promos to my mind.

Was the fact that they chose the island of Exuma rather than Scarborough – where they recorded a track for their second LP on the beach – for the video a sign of them selling out?

“When we say it was in the Bahamas it makes it sound much grander than it was. But it was a cool experience.

“We knew there was this island inhabited by these feral pigs, but paid for some flights and took a friend along to film us.

“It was all done guerrilla style. It wasn’t like some big ‘80s production. It does seem like the classic cliché of signing for a major then going off to the Bahamas. But it wasn’t like that.”

Back in the Industrial North, how was your date in Leeds on May 2, in what must class more or less a home fixture for this Wakefield outfit?

“Leeds has almost always been like a home show, although we play Wakefield sometimes. Playing the Town Hall was like a celebratory show in grand surroundings on a really special night.”

This Sunday (May 24) The Cribs are at Liverpool Docklands’ Sound City festival, the same night as Gaz Coombes, Belle & Sebastian and Peace among others.

Is there anyone in particular on that bill that Gary wants to watch from the sidelines?

“I wanted to see Thurston Moore and also Flaming Lips, but they’re playing the day before, so I don’t know if I’ll be around.”

Sound Choice: Sonic Youth have proved a big influence on The Cribs

Sound Choice: Sonic Youth have proved a big influence on The Cribs

I take it from the past links that you’re big Sonic Youth fans.

“Definitely. They were really important to us, and we worked with Lee Ranaldo on the third record, a high watermark for us. And the song we made with him, Be Safe, has become a fan’s favourite.

“We’ve bumped into Thurston a few times, and to me he’s still a guitar hero, although that sounds a weird thing to say about such an iconoclastic anti-hero!”

The Cribs tend to be a four-piece live, with Russell Searle from fellow Wakefield band The Research helping out at present.

“We like to have someone fill in a couple of extra guitar parts and on keyboards, and that was Mike (Cummings) from the band Skaters in America, and now Russell over here.”

I’m guessing there’s still a bit of a rush down the front for crowd favourites like Hey Scenesters, Mirror Kissers and Men’s Needs.

“Well, we put out a compilation a couple of years ago, so our set-list is like a greatest hits, with certain songs people expect us to play.

“For us it’s more fun playing the new stuff, and at the moment we’re trying to find a balance. We had that fine balance in Dublin – about one-third new stuff, two-thirds hits.

“But when you’ve been touring for around 13 years, how many songs can you play? You know what works, and have a good idea what a crowd wants.”

From fellow triple-sibling bands The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees to more fiery brotherly combos like The Kinks’ Ray and Dave Davies and Oasis’ Liam and Noel Gallagher, where do the Jarman trio fit?

“We’re more like best friends really. As with most siblings, we argue a lot about petty things – but nothing major.

“With some artistic partnerships it’s usually about a clash of egos, but I like to think the three of us are pretty free of that. We’re all on the same team.

Jarman Karma: Twins Gary and Ryan and younger brother Ross are all on the same team

Jarman Karma: Twins Gary and Ryan and younger brother Ross are all on the same team

“The reason we started a band was because we had the same influences, feelings and intentions, and that’s been unwavering over the years.

“We couldn’t imagine being able to get on with anyone else. It’s best to be in a band with people you trust 100 per cent.”

So in your case it would seem that sibling dynamic has helped push you on to greater things, used in a positive way.

“Yes, totally.”

I’ve put this to a few bands before, most recently The Subways, but there’s something about that three-piece set-up that resonates, in my case not least with The Jam.

Yet The Cribs have drifted between that and a larger stage presence. So what’s the best working model?

“The three-piece is really streamlined, and that whole power trio thing has proved so effective over the years.

“For us, it means each of us feels really engaged. No one feels a marginal member. Each of us is an integral part.”

That said, it must have been something to have Johnny Marr in your ranks. What was the biggest learning experience from having the former Smiths star on board?

“The key difference is the fact that ever since he left, when we make records we still put extra guitar or keyboard on.

Honorary Brother: Johnny Marr (Photo: http://www.roland.co.uk/)

Honorary Brother: Johnny Marr (Photo: http://www.roland.co.uk/)

“Prior to Johnny, we never really did anything like that and were pretty hard-line about it. When Johnny joined we had that extra colour on the palette.

“Since he’s left we’ve still embraced that idea and been pretty liberal with using more, because we know live we’re going to have a fourth member. It’s actually quite freeing in that way.”

He’s still there in spirit by the sound of things.

“As a band of brothers it was always really defined as to who was in this band, so it was unusual to have someone from outside. We never thought that would happen, because we didn’t have any more siblings, so didn’t even think that was a possibility.

“When Johnny came along that was such an unexpected and rare opportunity. It was pretty surreal too.

“We’re still close with him and he’s still a great friend of ours, and we’ll always be inextricably linked in that way.”

Then there are the past links with several other notable artists, including Edwyn Collins, Bernard Butler and Alex Kapranos. Not a bad pedigree really, and they all brought something to The Cribs party.

“They’re all part of our history. We’re quite a closed unit. Being brothers we’re naturally less dependent on outsiders, because we’ve got each other. I remember being like that at school too.

“Anyone who became part of what we were doing was something we took a long time considering and they were all important to us in that way.”

What is certain is that after all those years on the circuit, the band’s cult status remains intact.

It may have taken them a while to carve out their own identity, rather than just being seen as another great band riding on the back of The Strokes, The Libertines and so on.

Q Tips: The Cribs on the red carpet for the Q awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London, in 2012

Q Tips: The Cribs on the red carpet for the Q awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London, in 2012

But in time they earned their spurs and wider recognition, having served their apprenticeship of sorts, accolades like the Q and NME awards in 2012 examples of that peer acceptance.

And now, 14 years after their initial Springtime Studios set-up, did Gary ever feel it could have come to all this? Did the Jarman brothers always have that strength of belief?

“We didn’t really. I think it’s one of the biggest myths and misconceptions about the band.

“We’ve always represented ourselves as being very staunch in our ethics and in some way that’s construed as being self-confident.

“But it was more that when we did end up in this position we felt a duty to try not to deviate from our original intention.

“That’s maybe read as being very sure of ourselves. In fact, it was more about trying to retain what we had in the first place.

“So no, we never expected all this. It’s been kind of crazy. When we first started we had pretty avant-garde intentions.

“We played a lot of gigs with twee kind of very indie pop type C86 bands, so we never expected to have top-10 records.

The_Cribs_Band“Our peer group were in a very different world to that we ended up occupying, so it’s all pretty surreal really.”

For tickets for Liverpool Docklands’ Sound City three-day event, head to http://www.liverpoolsoundcity.co.uk/

And to keep up to date with The Cribs, head to their website at http://www.thecribs.com/

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About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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One Response to Band of brothers’ friendly fire – The Cribs interview

  1. Pingback: Into 2016 … and 103,000 hits can’t be bad | writewyattuk

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