The Cribs are three brothers from Wakefield, West Yorkshire who formed in 2002 for “something to do.” With a keen ability to merge punk riffs with pop hooks, Ryan, Gary and Ross Jarman signed quickly to Wichita Recordings and by 2004, released their self-titled debut to instant acclaim.
Then came two more: 2005’s The New Fellas and 2007’s Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, along with respectably higher chart positions, handfuls of awards noms and bigger tours (like with indie mainstays Death Cab for Cutie, The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand). At this point, The Jarmans played their first Coachella and The Sex Pistols (The Sex Pistols!) asked them to open their 30th anniversary shows at Brixton Academy.
2008 heralded the start of a heady chapter: Q named them “the biggest cult band in the U.K.” and a chance meeting with The Smiths alum, Johnny Marr, led to the guitar hero becoming a full-time, fourth member. The newly-formed quartet went on to release their U.K. Top 10 LP, Ignore the Ignorant – then they toured like mad, and things were very, very good.
Presently, Marr’s been disbanded from the brothers for just over a year. Thrilled with their stint but pining for personal projects, his departure of course returned them to original three-piece status. Rather than feeling rejected – or dejected – the lads are re-energized and more than pleased to revisit a one guitar, one drum kit and one bass line-up.
The Cribs new LP, In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, is released sans Marr but not without fanfare, serving as testament to their famed DIY approach to music. Sanguine and loud and catchier than fly tape, the band’s fifth album makes plain – as singer Ryan attests – that these three are just as good, if not better, than four.
Well, I’ll start by telling you that I loved your piece with Noisey where you were interviewed by 7-year-old Emmy. She was so good, I actually felt a lot of pressure when composing my own list of questions for you (laughs).
She was quite good, wasn’t she?
I thought it was brilliant because being only 7, she’d be able to get such honest answers.
Yeah, well no one’s going to be cagey with you when you’re 7 (laughs).
Okay, so you formed back in 2002 which means you’ve enjoyed quite a long career by today’s standards. What’s your secret?
A lot of bands came out at around that time saying they were going to be the biggest thing – and that’s a really strange motive to be in a band. It was practically a trend to be in one at that point and a lot of them seemed to start with the idea of capitalizing on that trend… That just wasn’t the case with us. When I got to be teenager, I started writing songs and it seemed a very natural thing to be doing. We started the band because we were just three brothers looking for something to do and there was no ulterior motive and no plan. I guess we’re still around because we just really love writing songs and that’s exactly why we started doing it in the first place. It’s never mattered if we’re in vogue or a part of current trends because we’ve never tried to fit into anything.
It does prove true time and time again that the bands with the longest careers are the ones that start out with the purest of intentions and a genuine love of their craft.
If you’re only in a band to be part of a movement or to jump on a bandwagon then that becomes apparent very, very quickly. Music it isn’t exactly the most fun industry to operate in, you know? You won’t stick around if you’re not in it for the right reasons.
So you said you started the band for ‘something to do’ but there must be some propensity toward music in your family with all three brothers in on it.
My mum played piano and a bit of guitar and was in a couple of bands but it wasn’t something that was pushed upon us or anything like that. When we started out as kids, it wasn’t about having musical talent; it was more about just wanting to do it. Plus, it gave me something to graffiti on the desk at school (laughs). It really was just as naïve as that. We got better and better at it all the time though I’ve never seen talent as the number one ingredient for wanting to be in a band. You need to have passion more than anything and we definitely had that growing up in Wakefield. There was so little going on that if you carried your guitar around on the street you’d get beaten up…So we had nothing if not commitment, you know what I mean?
I assume the three of you get along quite well – are there specific roles you each take on within the band?
Absolutely; we do all really get along and we respect each others roles. Gary and I are kind of daydreaming and in our own world all the time so Ross is more practical and has a very good sense of judgment. Gary and I are twins but we’re kind of Yin and Yang, really. As far as writing songs, I’m always pushing to go as punk rock and noisy as possible and to temper that, Gary takes care of writing the quieter, acoustic stuff. That really kind of represents the dark and light sides of us as twins.
You guys are known for sticking to your guns and for your continuing DIY ethic regardless of stature and surely as you achieve more success there must be ever more people sticking their noses in. Why is it so important for you to call the shots?
It’s more fun like that. When we first started and we got a record deal, they wanted to buy us a tour van. It was really, really exciting for us and we ended up touring really relentlessly in it. It was a really good time: we’d see the city as we drove in, we’d stay in a hotel at night and hang out and meet people and really get to experience it all. On the last record, Johnny [Marr] was in the band and we had a bigger crew and a tour bus. It was so dull! We’d sleep in a bunk, wake up at the venue, then get out and go straight to sound check. Then we’d do the gig and get straight back on the bus and not experience anything…You know, you don’t even really need a tour bus – especially in the UK – but I think bands just think that’s what expected of them.
Is there ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ where bands are concerned? Like, ‘Well this band has a super fancy tour bus, so we should have one too.’
We’ve never felt any level of competition with any other band we don’t feel like there are many bands that we have anything in common with. This whole big tour bus thing and living the rock star lifestyle is just alien to me; it completely doesn’t make sense.
You guys have had some really cool milestones in your career, like being able to play with the Sex Pistols for example…The Sex Pistols! When things like that happen, do you have moments where you think, ‘How in the world did I get here?’
It’s strange because there’s been times where we’re not on the road or whatever and I look back and think there’s been some really…weird times…like Johnny being in the band when I’d listened to The Smiths all the time growing up. I’ve definitely always felt it nice to be surrounded by the bands I liked when I was growing up – its cool – but that’s the conundrum about the whole thing, really: you feel like you should really be enjoying it and appreciating it for what it is but it’s only afterwards when you have time to reflect that you really do.
I understand what you mean. Even as a spectator at an amazing show, you know what you’re seeing is incredible but it’s only three years later when someone says, ‘Oh, did you see so-and-so play there?’ and you’re like, ‘I did and it was so amazing!’ You wonder how you didn’t completely lose your shit the venue because you feel like you’d kill to go back and see it all over again…
Exactly! It’s like you just don’t feel it at the time. It only really occurs to you when you’re apart from it.
You mentioned listening to The Smiths growing up – would you say that one of the standout moments for you so far has been Johnny Marr’s stint with the band?
There’s been a lot of standout moments and it’s been nice to be able to work with a lot of people that we respect. Johnny’s only just finished so at the moment we’re just feeling really enthused about being a three-piece again. I know that I’ll look back on it in a few years and I’ll definitely see it as a significant period; I mean, it’s the only time when I played with another guitar player, you know? We drew a lot of inspiration from him and I’ll definitely always think of that very fondly.
Knowing he was “Johnny Marr of the Smiths,” did you spend time considering potential PR ramifications on The Cribs when he joined?
It didn’t really at the time, no. We had no intentions of him joining the band originally. We’d get together to jam and ended up writing songs so quickly that when Johnny said to us, “I’d really like to join the band properly,’ we thought it was fine because we were enjoying working with him. There wasn’t a discussion at all. I suppose once the record was all finished we definitely became aware of it then.
‘It’ being positivity or negativity?
In those situations, you’ll always get naysayers that think he shouldn’t have been part of the band. His fans are obviously very passionate and don’t like the idea of him playing with anyone but The Smiths. We were aware that stuff was happening around us but weren’t paying too much attention. You can’t live your life being worried about what other people will think.
Were more eyes on you then, wondering what he would bring to the band, or are more eyes on you now that he’s gone and they’re all wondering what you’ll do now?
I think it’s a bit of both. People are going to want to see how we fare without Johnny. The last record sounded different and lots of people attributed that to Johnny even though it was about us growing as a band at the same time, you know? It’s going to be very easy for people to concentrate on the fact that he’s no longer with the band rather than talking about the music we’re making now, but I mean, really, I don’t think about it unless someone asks me. In general, I just don’t pay much attention to stuff like that.
So, how are you feeling about In the Belly of the Brazen Bull?
We’re really, really happy with it. I’m glad it’s coming out because I’ve been so immersed in the writing of it – it’s all I’ve thought about every day for the last couple of years – and I can finally get it out of my system. We indulged every idea, and as far as writing, we couldn’t have worked any harder on it. At the same time, it came very naturally to us and it just feels right. We’re pleased with how people are responding to it and the positivity around it…but I always have this thing that as soon as an album is out I start thinking about the next one immediately. Writing songs is what I like doing best.
So you’re one of those people that has a ton of extra songs lying around?
Yeah, there’s loads after this album: B-sides and bonus tracks. There’s some left over from the Steve Albini session that we did so that will probably be on the next album, and we’ve already started writing and doing demos for a bunch of other stuff, too. I don’t think it’s going to take too long to get something else ready.
Do you feel more free and relaxed with each album?
It depends; sometimes you get burnt. We were so excited when Johnny joined because it all felt new and fresh. If he hadn’t joined at that time we might have had a breakdown or something. It’s good to change things up and that’s why we’re so enthused to have a change again and be a three-piece. Like I said before, we’ve never felt part of any movement and even now that we’ve been around for awhile and we have our fan base, we don’t have a label or anyone suggesting to us how we should be doing things.
After just one listen to In the Belly of the Brazen Bull I was wandering around with your songs stuck in my head. Tracks like Come On Be A No-One and Chi-Town are so infectious…Do you ever walk around with your own songs stuck in your head, too?
I do for like, two weeks after I first write a song. I’m so in love with it when it’s just done and I listen to it all the time to refine it and write the words. As soon as it’s finished, though, I lose interest. I can’t imagine ever listening to my own music at home or anything like that…I’d feel like an ass.
So in order to not feel like an ass, what do you put on instead?
Hmmm…These days? The Bee Gees.
Yeah, I like their albums from the nineties and everything.
So you listen to a lot of older stuff?
Yeah. I try to listen to newer stuff but what I like of it is so few and far between these days. I like to listen to anything so long as it’s good and has passion. That’s all that matters to me.
The Crib’s In the Belly of the Brazen Bull is out now in the U.K. and will hit North American on May 15th (a full stream is below). The band are set to play a special hometown gig at Theatre Royal Wakefield May 16 (their first there since 2007) and will soon after cross the pond to play for fans here. For all their news, visit The Crib’s official site or connect with them via Twitter and Facebook.
THE CRIBS 2012 NORTH AMERICAN TOUR DATES
6/05 – Johnny Brendas; Philadelphia, PA
6/06 – Irving Plaza; New York, NY
6/07 – Black Cat; Washington DC
6/08 – Motorco Music Hall; Durham, NC
6/09 – Masquerade: Hell Stage; Atlanta, GA
6/11 – Fitzgerald’s: Upstairs; Houston, TX
6/12 – The Parish; Austin, TX
6/15 – El Rey Theater; Los Angeles, CA
6/16 – Great American Music Hall; San Francisco, CA
6/18 – Venue; Vancouver CA