When Yorkshire-born brothers Ryan, Ross and Gary Jarman decided to start a band in 2002 their end goal was modest and unalloyed; to write, record and perform songs. So unostentatious was their approach to music that it was effectively the essence of Northern English habitus – unpolished kitchen-sink values and dreams. Watching the coked-up carcass of Britpop being rolled into the sea as The Strokes, the White Stripes et al were about to show the world how America did indie, bands like The Cribs were anathema to the bloat. It wasn’t long before the major labels were stampeding across the country looking to bag the great white working-class hope. As the band gear up to tour their new album For All My Sisters, Ross Jarman tells State how the band managed to stay true to their ethos despite the whirlwind going on around them.
So you seem to be in overdrive these days. Are you making up for lost time?
It’s just a typical week of release, really. We flew back from SXSW and a kind of residency in New York and landed at something like 6am in Manchester, then headed straight to Leeds for an in-store. We’ve been doing them all week and lots of promo so we’re busy. But yeah, it’s been three years since we recorded and album and a few things have changed for us as a band so there is a sense of having loads to do.
What kind of changes?
We changed labels and after Payola came out it feels like we had a nice little breather, a semi-colon if you like. But we didn’t really know for certain what we wanted to do after In the Belly of the Brazen Bull and having a new label is almost like starting again, like releasing another debut. Although in saying that, there was none of the pressure of a debut. We had almost entirely the same team with us when we moved [labels] and nothing really changed in that sense but we had to think about what we wanted to do so the time off was important to us. What’s cool is that despite the new label, going back to being a three-piece, moving houses etc., the set-up we’ve got and our attitude has never changed at all, really. Things like what’s expected of us, what we expect from the labels and so on. In fairness, it would be stupid of a label – even a major label – to think they could sign us and give us new haircuts, style us or whatever, let alone start demanding that we do things differently. After putting out five albums it’s really hard to try to mould a band into something they’re not, do you know what I mean? We are what we are. It’s probably closer to the truth to just liken it to a funding thing. We have our own label which is under the umbrella of a major so this is probably a more independent deal than we’ve ever had. Sonic Blew is ours and we can do what we want with the money we’re given.
What prompted the label change in the first place?
Our relationship with the old label had come to a natural end. Both sides had fulfilled their obligations and there were changes within the label in so far as the people that we had dealt with were now US-based and were focusing on US releases so we just felt it was time to move on. The new album has kind of tied in with all of these changes so it was just a timing thing. Especially with Ryan living in New York and Gary living in Portland, trying to force an album between …Brazen Bull and now would have been pointless.
Was there any pressure to get something out after signing the new deal?
Not really, it has been so full on since we started the band though, I think the longest gap was two years and we’ve been a band for 13 years. We just wrote it in our own time and recorded it and never once felt like we had to hurry or work on anyone else’s schedule. In saying that, this album took next to no time at all to make. It was recorded in something like a week, then mixed and mastered in another week and now it’s released. Normally there are gaps between sessions and you go off on tour or whatever, this was nothing like that. We wanted this to be an instant thing and that’s what happened in New York.
Your music has a sense of urgency to it, almost like you leave in the perfect imperfections, that’s obviously deliberate then?
Yeah we generally lay the tracks down live, one take. That’s the way it’s always been so overdubs don’t really feature that often. Working with Ric Ocasek was perfect for that approach. I’ll give you an example, we were recording one track live and even though I wasn’t happy with my playing from a technical standpoint, Ric was adamant that this was the best possible version because it gave the song a certain vibe, a feeling. It wasn’t like there were mistakes or anything, we just didn’t want to make it perfect. Overdubs kind of take away from the feel of the songs in these instances so why use them? Fundamentally the songs are all live but only when somebody is having a really hard time with their track, be that drums, guitar or whatever, we’ll consider overdubs. But generally we like the songs to be played live and that gives them a certain sort of feel. Ric didn’t care if they were technically perfect just as long as they had that.
How did you end up working with Ric?
We always have a dream list of people we want to work with and Steve Albini is on it, Edwin Collins is on it, Alex Kapranos is on it, Ric Ocasek is on it and we wanted to work with him since day one. We all listened to The Blue Album by Weezer as teenagers and Ric was massively important on that so we always wanted to work with him. What made it all the better was his enthusiasm for the songs we brought in. Steve Albini was the same, he is a really no-nonsense character and our way of working fits perfectly into that mindset so, I dunno, recording four songs in three days with nothing overdubbed is almost like the only way to go for us.
This explains your Spirit of Independence award then! Has indie music become something else now, though? Something refined?
Indie is such a weird term really, to us it just means keeping control, you know? Not getting carried away with things. I mean, we’ve headlined festivals in the past and we’d turn up in our van and there would be bands who were at the very opposite end of the bill with these massive tour busses and we automatically think what is the point of that? What did they have to give away to get that? To us the idea of being an indie band, whatever that actually means, is to keep control of things and not have to concede anything for the sake of a tour bus or whatever. Stuff doesn’t need to be difficult. We have the same crew who are our mates and we own our own van, that’s enough. And we still rehearse in Gary’s house! But at the end of the day we’re brothers and we have spent our whole lives doing things in a kind of rough and ready way, if that involves sleeping on a mates floor every now and again or traveling in a small van so be it. The day we turn up in a tour bus that’s bigger than the venue you know something is wrong. Winning awards though, that only matters for the sense of recognition.
What would you like to be recognised for?
Nothing but music. We won an outstanding contribution to music award a few years ago but to us it had absolutely nothing got to do with album sales, it felt like recognition of all the things we’ve given up to be in the band. I joined the band when I was 17 so my entire adult life has been about The Cribs and when we’re noted for being independent or whatever it’s because we’ve only ever been about making music and playing it for people who like it. That also explains how we’ve kept going for 13 years. We always want to have a sense of it not just being enjoyable, but having something to contribute too. We never want to be the band who just keep turning up though, there has to be something valuable in it. I mean, some of my favourite bands have been getting progressively worse for years, we’ll know ourselves when the time is right to call it a day. I know it’s a cliché to say this but I really do think that this is our best record, when we don’t feel that we’ll have to rethink things.
Surely the temptation is there to take the luxury option?
Not really, no. I think the reason that people buy our records is because we don’t have anything going on besides what’s at the core of what we are. You rarely hear of us in the mainstream media, we’re nothing more than lads in a band and I think that means something to people. Our fan base has never changed, it has grown, but it has never really altered. We take our music to people in a van that right now is parked on a driveway. Obviously that’s important to what the band is because you take nothing for granted.
Was it strange to have Johnny Marr as a band mate? How did it happen?
It all happened very naturally. Gary had moved to Portland a few years back and was over at [Modest Mouse frontman] Isaac Brock’s house and Johnny Marr was there. They were the only two Brits there so naturally started talking and over time they became really good mates. And as anybody who has ever been in a band will know, when you meet somebody who plays and you get on well you’ll more than likely end up jamming or trying out songs together. It’s the same with Johnny and us. He came over to Gary’s house one day while we were rehearsing and stayed in the band for four years. But the intention was only ever to write one track and maybe release it as a single. Over the course of the week we had written five and eventually he came out on tour with us after recording an album.
Is reverting back to three-piece like returning to your roots?
Yeah kind of, he brought so much to the band that when I look back over that time we were almost a different band entirely with Johnny. He’s that kind of guitarist, he is so creative and he can change everything. But we felt so creative having him as a member that we never wanted to put a timeframe on it or a cap on it after that. It’s fair to say though that The Cribs before and after Johnny are slightly removed from who we were during that time. I feel now that in terms of continuity For All My Sisters is the album we would have made had Johnny Marr not joined the band.