Interview: Gary Jarman of the Cribs on brotherly love, jamming with Johnny Marr, and rocking in the old mills
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat exactly is the music landscape in the United Kingdom in 2015? Some people say it’s watered down and lacks the excitement and creativity of year’s past, while others say it’s getting weirder (and better?) by the minute. There’s perhaps the most minimalist band on the planet in Sleaford Mods shouting out words as lyrics and taking on a love/hate relationship with pretty much everyone. Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys is preaching the gospel of rock and roll and, in turn, apparently pissing everyone off. And legends like Paul Weller are making themselves hip again by hating on everything that is currently hip. It’s definitely an interesting time for music in the British Isles, but at the end of the day, nothing beats a good old-fashioned guitar rock band.
The Cribs have been filling that need now for 15 years. The band of brothers hail from the city of Wakefield, within the West Yorkshire metropolitan district of England; Gary, Ryan and Ross Jarman came from bare bones DIY roots when they formed back when the Libertines were still in Phase 1, and became talented enough to even make a guitarist like Johnny Marr join their band for a few years. Before their show tonight at Brighton Music Hall in Allston, the latest in the ongoing all-star Fenway Recordings Sessions series, Vanyaland had a chat with bassist/vocalist Gary Jarman about the band’s beginnings in an old mill, how Marr came about joining the band, working with The Cars’ Ric Ocasek, how the brothers Jarman have stuck it out over the years, and his own opinion about the current state of music in the U.K.
Rob Duguay: The Cribs started out as a recording project that you and your brothers Ryan and Ross were doing in a run down mill. What was it like for the early years of the band while abiding by a DIY work ethic?
Gary Jarman: That was the most fun time ever I think because we didn’t have anything, we didn’t have any money, no gear. All we had was each other really, we had the same record collection, we wanted to form a band and make a record. There weren’t that many places to play locally so that’s why we started out with the recording thing. We ended up renting this big old, industrial mill and we bought a bunch of dilapidated 7-inch recording equipment so we started a really basic studio there. We just worked together because we wanted to make a record and then we put on a few gigs in the mill and stuff. It wasn’t long after that the demo got around and we started touring but we never really expected to be doing it as quickly as it happened so we were pretty lucky. Most of the stuff happened of the back of that one demo.
That’s very fortunate, while you guys were throwing shows in the mill space did you have any trouble with the cops?
We did a couple of times but nothing too serious. There wasn’t really that much going on in the town at the time so people would have noticed when people descended on one place. With there not being a great deal of other distractions it was pretty popular but we were pretty far out of the way which was the cool thing. We were right down by the water, there’s a canal that runs through town so we were near that in the middle of an industrial area so we were pretty out of the way. That was one of the cool things about it.
As long as you weren’t in the middle of a city or anything where a copy could easily see what was going on then there must have not been a lot of hold ups.
Yeah, we were just trying to start an art space really. We would let people do whatever they wanted in there because there weren’t that many other outlets in town so we were trying to turn it into a place where people could do whatever they wanted. We were perfectly happy with it being slightly chaotic.
One thing that got a lot of people to pay attention to The Cribs was when Johnny Marr was in the band in the late-2000s. How did it all come about and what was it like making Ignore The Ignorant with him?
It was an interesting time, when Johnny joined we just put out Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever which at the time was our biggest record. It’s still our biggest selling record, and it was funny because we’ve been a band that was touring for five years up to that point and that’s when we first broke through and the band started getting bigger. A year after that when Johnny joined, it felt like everything had changed and come so fast from where we first started. In 2007 we had what you would call a hit record and the following year we have a famous guitar player too so everything was really different by that point. It came about in a really basic way, in a way that any band forms. We just met and got along well as friends so we just ended up playing with one another.
I know it sounds like a very reductive way of summing it up but he was playing in Modest Mouse at the time and I just moved to Portland. Joe Plummer from Modest Mouse is one of my good friends so when I first moved to Portland I was hanging out with him and he was hanging out with Johnny Marr. Johnny likes The Cribs and we like Johnny so we just started playing together. I guess any band that starts out like that they just get on as friends and want to keep on playing together. I know it seems a bit unbelievable when you talk about somebody Johnny but it was like starting a band with any friend. It was a cool, surreal and flattering thing and it was really simple. We started out as friends first and foremost then we ended playing music together. We’re still friends and it was ultimately for that reason. Making that record together was cool, it’s like a document of that time of our lives that was an interesting one for the band and I’m proud that we got a record out of it.
You must have learned a lot from Johnny during the recording process and while the band was writing songs.
In some ways, yeah. I think in any relationship you learn a lot from one another, we were almost nine years into the band at that point. Obviously Johnny had been around quite a few years before that but we felt like we weren’t naive kids who were taken under his wing. We were three-album veterans by that point, we knew what we wanted to record to be like and we knew how we wanted the collaboration to work out. The main thing is that Johnny got as much out of it as we did, everyone felt equally represented and that was cool. From Johnny, we got an interesting perspective on things because he’d been through a lot of ups and downs with The Smiths. He also had a lot of things that he really wanted to do, he’d never really done any punk rock van tours before so that was the first time he did it. We took a van out to Europe and for him that was kind of living out a fantasy as well. When he started The Smiths he always wanted to be in a punk band but they got big so quickly that he sort of transcended that. For him he got to live a sort of teenage fantasy of being in a punk band in a van. We did a couple of tours like that, that he really enjoyed. We got some good memories together.
Now The Cribs released their sixth studio album, For All My Sisters, this past March. There’s a Boston connection due to The Cars’ Ric Ocasek producing the record and The Cars starting out in Boston during the ’70s. Ric has been known for being a somewhat weird individual, so how was he when it came to working with him in the studio?
Ric’s the best, he’s such an amazing guy. He’s eccentric to a degree like any good artist should be and his enthusiasm was boundless. One of the reasons we wanted to work with him was because of his background. He comes from a pretty weird new wave band with The Cars so he comes from that kind of left field approach. He also has these songs that are American radio classics and he’s in between both worlds, he’s got that weird new wave background but he’s also a major league hit maker. In a lot of ways, we thought he’d be the perfect producer because we wanted to make a poppier record but we also didn’t want to be with a straight pop producer so Ric was perfect for that.
I think another part of the appeal is he’s not just a producer, he’s a musician and an artist so he only makes records that he’s enthusiastic about. We sent him the demos and he was excited about them, but the fact that he cared about the record was such a big deal to us because it was a great honor. It also made us work really well together, if you feel that the producer is just as invested in the record as you are it’s almost like having a fourth band member. It was a really great time and I can’t say enough good things about that experience. We sort of had an instinct that he’d be a good producer for us given the reasons I mentioned before and I can honestly say that Ric surpassed my expectations. Really nice guy who really cared a lot.
When the producer cares as much as the band does during the recording process then it makes for an even better experience for everyone involved.
You just vibe off their enthusiasm and with Ric we really trusted him, we really trusted his opinions because we know that he’s from a similar kind of approach fundamentally but we also know that he’s got great taste and he knows what he’s doing. We just trusted him and he’s someone that we got along with instantly. It was easy, there was a comfortable vibe between everyone. It only took 3 weeks to make the full record and it went really fast because everyone was enjoying themselves and it was comfortable and easy.
Usually when you have a band that includes musicians who are brothers, it can sometimes be a recipe for disaster. The drama with bands like Oasis and The Black Crowes come to mind. So what has been keeping you, Ryan and Ross pushing along with The Cribs for over 10 years?
I think if I’m going to be totally honest, the fundamental thing is that you all care about each other. I want the band to do well, I want us to make a good record and have a good time on tour. I want that because not just for myself but I want it for my brothers too. I want them to be happy, I want them to be satisfied and creatively satisfied too. Basically you just support each other in that way, I think the reason why sibling bands can become quite fraught is because there are more ups and downs. During the high times you appreciate it for them as well as for yourself and during the times when people are fried and tired you feel it a lot harder too because you feel that through your brothers as well. It’s just from having that empathetic connection and so it means that you’re on more of an acute roller coaster as opposed to anything else. I wouldn’t change it because of the fact that we have that empathetic connection is something that’s really important to me. It means that we really care about every gig that we do and how we represent ourselves as a band. It’s what got us through and we’ve definitely have had a bit of a roller coaster of a time with it at times. I think that having each other is one of the things that makes us dogged and diligent and has kept us solid like that.
It’s refreshing to see that you care as much about your brother’s success as you do for yourself.
It’s what makes the cool stuff really cool. We had a Top 10 record in the U.K. this year and everyone celebrated together and we were happy for each other. When times start to get tough, you start to feel bad for everyone at the same time. I think that’s why some bands find it difficult because the highs are higher and the lows are lower. We’ve never really had any of that brotherly rivalry, nobody is fighting for the alpha dog position in this band. A lot of other brothers have had built-in politics since growing up together where as with us we don’t really have that so that helps when it comes to dealing with things as a band.
People are saying nowadays that music in the United Kingdom has become more watered down and it’s in need of a jolt of creativity. What’s your opinion of the music coming out of your home country in 2015?
I would agree, I think that typically the U.K. is a small island with a pretty big music scene. So what happens is if you’re a band in the U.K. and you’re successful it means that you’re on the radio, you’re on the TV and you’re everywhere. It’s not like the United States where you get popular in certain regions, you can do well in certain places there and do well enough to get by. In the U.K., if you’re popular you’re going to be in everyone’s face the whole time because it’s a small island. To me, it’s more of a pressure cooker there. I think that’s the reason why it works the way that it does.
You’ll get a band who gets big, then everybody will be aware of them and then they’re basically at the mercy of what the media thinks of them at the time. It can be harder for bands to sustain that and so I think that’s the reason why it’s perceived as getting watered down. Also if you get a band who starts to shake it up and change things then you automatically get a lot of other bands who follow in their footsteps. The U.K. is very much all or nothing, you have a big scene that is continuously getting torn up and everything starts again. It moves in waves because there’s a saturation point where everyone gets tired of it. It’s a small island and when it’s pushed in your face all the time you start to get sick of it after a while. It’s a quicker moving conveyor belt.