“It’s not about fame, success or hanging out in the right places… you don’t have to be on T4 everyday glad handing so much to get somewhere.”
2004 was a boom or bust year for indie music in the UK. The Libertines, lauded as one of the most significant, generation defining bands since The Clash, had suffered a very public demise at the histrionic hands of the tabloid newspapers, with the NME turning into a weekly publication satirising Pete Doherty’s downfall, drug addiction and imprisonment.
In their wake, a burgeoning scene of replicants spilled out from the sleazy emissions of the Rhythm Factory scene in the east of the capital, with Doherty himself acting as a deity and Pied Piper to a new generation of scuttering misfits. Independent record labels threw money and publicity in abundance to those bands scurrying beneath the pallid detail of Doherty’s trench coat and lifestyle, as the NME bolstered its support for this new breed with a four-page dedication to the DIY scene: ‘The Future Starts Now!’ (August 7th, 2004).
The ‘Future’, as expected, was as ephemeral as Doherty’s daily clarity and cleanliness, and very few survived the initial fever that came with such confident foresight. Selfish Cunt, Thee Unstrung, The Others, Neils Children, Dogs and The Paddingtons all suffered commercial comedowns following their initial endorsements; The Rakes and Babyshambles being the only two bands going beyond their initial releases.
North of the river, Yorkshire was spitting out its own DIY scene as MySpace gripped a generation of music fans in a state of paralysis. The New Yorkshire scene mirrored that which was brooding in London: the bands worked hard to build on local support, playing any piss-laden pub, club and venue in order to reach out to fans new and old – The Cribs were at the forefront of the flourishing sphere.
“I don’t know if it’s a Yorkshire things or what, but we started off by playing a lot of small gigs in small venues and really got to know a lot of our fans,” explained Ryan Jarman. “I think that those people who were into us then, or have seen us over the years, have some kind of sense of involvement with the band.”
“It’s just like a grassroots connection,” continued his twin brother Gary, “That was the whole point. It was just a case of touring and having it build up over time. We weren’t necessarily dogmatic about playing small venues, that’s something that we do now and just for fun, but it was more a case of playing wherever we could any night of the week – just no heirs and graces – and it just built up over time. Like Ryan said, your fans feel an involvement with the band and they sort of know where you came from really.”
It’s Tuesday, September 8th. Monday saw the release of their fourth studio album ‘Ignore The Ignorant’ – their first with new band mate Johnny Marr, and one of the most highly anticipated records of the year. I sit together with the twins on a bench outside the Strongroom Bar on Curtain Road, London, bordering the trendy Old Street-Shorditch divide. Little differentiates the two of them physically apart from the beard the Gary sports. Ryan has a rather tawdry-looking chain around his neck with a heart hanging from it inscribed with the word ‘Love’; his once white t-shirt looks like it has seen better days. After little deliberation, they both order halloumi burgers and a pint of coke each as we settle into conversation.
A lot has changed for Wakefield’s The Cribs since I first saw them as a three-piece performing rather drunken and rambunctiously at Hull’s New Adelphi Club in January of 2004. Less than 40 people were in attendance that night, and their gig was less than auspicious. Everything appears to be a far cry away from the “grassroots” of which they speak. Are they worried that they may be losing their initial connection with their fans?
“That was the first tour we ever did,” explained Gary. “Hull has always been really good for us: the people there kind of typify our fans. We used to go and play there when other bands didn’t, and I think that they appreciated it and held us quite dear after that.
“We’ve been doing bigger shows for a while now. If you try and retain integrity it hopefully shouldn’t matter, and I don’t think that people should begrudge you that more people want to see you play. It’s not a status thing – it’s just that more people want to see us. We still do what we can on a more intimate scale…”
The now four-piece have spent the weekend doing the “theoretical side of things”, being backslapped by industry types ahead of the album’s release and undergoing numerous interviews. Sunday night (September 6th), however, was spent doing the practical side of things, as they showcased their new material in front of a few hundred fans at the Camden Barfly.
“It was great,” recalled Ryan, “It was really good to play somewhere like that like the old days. We try to play small gigs like that whenever possible – ones that the fans would want to come to.
“We always stick fan friendly stuff in whenever we can. We’ll never lose that, but even at the bigger shows, we don’t hide behind a big production and put on a big cheesy rock shows, it’s still exactly the same and it still feels quite intimate and raw just purely because we don’t get up there and act like rock stars. If we did that, we would worry about a backlash and losing fans. We’re always concerned about trying not to alienate our fans from us, so when we do these bigger rooms we still make sure that it is as stripped back as much as possible.”
“That’s mainly down to our own ethic, and I think that our fans share that,” continued Gary. “We don’t try and do it to plicate anything or anyone. That’s an important thing to us, and I think that it is something that is missing these days.
“[The Barfly gig] was just a case of getting back to the things that we first used to do when we were starting out. It’s fun to do. We feel that we are at the beginning of a new chapter so it’s good to go back at that point.”
Turning the page, the inclusion of Marr has brought a new dialogue of colour and evolution to their sound. ‘Ignore The Ignorant’ sees Marr and the Jarman brothers taming and maturing the idiosyncratic punk discordance of their earlier effort with a hefty amount of harmony and musicality. There is a fluency to their song writing and album structure now thanks to the newly recruited, but it is still undoubtedly a Cribs record – it just has a little more credibility and experience in its detail.
“I think that that’s what we are most proud about,” explained Gary, “the fact that you can still hear Johnny’s influence, but it still sounds like The Cribs. Every record has seen a bit of a natural progression: we have been pushing things that little bit further every time. We actually like what the band does, so we never felt like we had to change.”
“We never planned on what we were going to make it sound like,” continued Ryan, “we just played and let it take on a life of its own. Johnny’s playing classic ‘Johnny Marr’ kind of stuff, and it would have been a shame if we tried to suppress him too much because he’s such a great guitarist. It’s good to know that we have kept a happy medium. Again, all of that was kind of subconscious really, we never planned it – he just happened to slot in like another piece of the puzzle.”
“And that’s what we are most happy about,” said Gary, “the fact that it hasn’t messed with the integrity of the band too much, but it’s evident that there has been an influence.”
So what was it like looking up across the studio and being in the presence of such a luminary?
“We were huge fans of The Smiths. It was great,” explained Gary. “He’s just a great guy to work with, a good friend and a great collaborator. There is a difference between being a good musician and a good collaborator, and he’s a good collaborator in the fact that he has good ideas and takes good direction. He’s also laid back about it, forces an agenda when he feels like he has to and he’s just so easy to work with. I guess that’s why he’s been around for a while, working with different artists.”
After The Smiths’ break-up in 1987, Marr returned to the music scene two years later with New Order’s Bernard Sumner to form the supergroup Electronic. Later he became a member of The The and worked as a session musician and writing collaborator for artists such as The Pretenders, Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Talking Heads, Beck, Oasis, Modest Mouse… the list goes on. To say that he fits into the puzzle is an understatement, and often as not, he has been the missing, most sought after piece to many bands. Something that I think The Cribs would quietly admit after listening to the new album.
“I was such a fan of his guitar playing,” gushed Ryan. “It was amazing to work with him and hear him doing exactly what you would imagine him to. He’s had so many great riffs over the years – it was so cool to be writing them with him. It’s just really exciting you know. It’s weird, because he just feels so much like a part of the band now that we don’t really think about it anymore.”
“Except when you are doing interviews and you just chat about him… it’s just a cool thing,” concludes Gary. “He’s in for the foreseeable future. We’re talking about the next record already and he’s as much a member of the band as everyone else at this point. It’s a full time thing right now.”
And what of Marr’s comments about ‘Ignore The Ignorant’ being a political album? Is this something that is whole band stand behind?
They both shake their heads and raise a wry smile. “Nah, it’s more personal politics really,” explains Gary. “We were kind of disappointed that people misconstrued us. I guess there was a quote that was a little misleading though. We don’t want to down play it and say there is no element of politics to it, but it would be misleading to say that it’s a political record because it really isn’t. If anyone hears the songs they are not stark statements; they’re relatively cryptic, personal things.
“We just write about things that we know. I know a lot of people say that, but it’s the truth. I don’t know enough about politics to wade in on it, and to be honest, it’s not that I don’t care about it, but I would rather keep it separate from the music that we are doing. It would be misrepresentative of my personality to pretend that I had any sort of agendas to get across.”
Since their inception, The Cribs have faired well with the press. Their music was tagged as a ‘British rearguard’ to the new wave of popular US indie bands such as The Strokes that undulated across the Atlantic at the time, and they were later described by Q Magazine as ‘The biggest cult band in the UK’ in 2008. Music aside, however, they have made alternative headlines in recent rants about ‘careerist indie bands’ that flood the charts, lambasting the industry and ingratiating eager hacks with their outspoken comments and quotes.
“I think you just might as well do it you know,” Gary admits openly. “I think a lot of people think it, especially people from our background. We come from quite a DIY indie scene and it’s strange that we find ourselves in a position now with a lot of bands that sort of exist and don’t have the same values, background and ethos as us. When we find ourselves being lumped in with them we just wanted to distance ourselves from it all for accuracy’s sake.”
Ryan sighs, lays his hands flat on top of each other on the table and balances his chin carefully upon them: “We are a much different band to a lot of those that we were lazily lumped in with. The things that we value highest aren’t success or fame or anything like that, we just want to make good records that we are proud of and that’s the only agenda. It felt weird that people were always saying that we were slagging other bands off because we weren’t. We weren’t being self-righteous…”
“We were just trying to set the record straight,” interjects Gary. “We didn’t have anything against these bands personally, it’s just the fact that it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing you know. It’s totally fine if your intentions are to become a ‘chart band’, but when people try to associate themselves with these things that they have nothing in common with, that’s just a little bit galling really. It took us a long time to get where we are on our terms and it just feels weird when people try to make out that they are something different to what they are.”
“It’s exciting for us to find ourselves in the chart now,” chirps Ryan, “but only in a weird kind of perverse way, and we have done it without any of the normal commercial channels…”
“It feels like a bit of a victory, and that’s what makes it worthwhile,” boasted Gary. “It’s not about fame, success or hanging out in the right places… you don’t have to be on T4 everyday glad handing so much to get somewhere, and it’s strange that that’s where things are now. I don’t think it can be that much fun for a lot of new bands to be thrust straight into that world. We were lucky enough in the fact that we were largely ignored by that lot when we were putting our first two records out and I’m glad; had be have been thrust straight into that world from the start, we would have probably broken up.”
The self-satisfaction of doing it all on their own terms and circumnavigating the celebrity sphere in the same notion has left them with their ethics intact. They are unpretentious, easy to talk to, and remain earnest to their roots considering the industry that they are enveloped in. They are willing to play the game, but only within the realms of their own law and DIY lore. So what are their hopes for the new album?
“Whenever we make an album, all we want to do is be better than the last,” Ryan explained humbly. “I mean… we don’t care about where it charts. I don’t listen to chart music, so it’s not a great concern, but as long as people think it’s a good record then that’s good you know – we’re pleased with that. But if it does chart, it’s just nice to know that it’s on our own terms you know.”
“It’s just nice to be here and in this situation after having done all the groundwork ourselves,” continued Gary. “It means that we have bypassed a lot of that money that has to be spent by other people.”
Five years on and The Cribs are still rattling around the country in the same van that they started out in. Unlike many bands that suffered the initial hyperbole of generation defining ingenuity of the media at the time of their genesis, they have remained a staple of the UK’s burgeoning indie scene. They have evolved on their own terms (the addition of Marr will certainly see them through to a new musical direction in the future), and their DIY ethic and approach to a rather austere industry compiled by cruel and shallow money trenches has helped them deconstruct success in order to tailor it to their needs. More importantly, they still remain in contact with their fans – the source of their success, and the only people they aim to please. ‘Ignore The Ignorant’ has so far pleased the critics, and it will surely please those who matter most.