Interview The Cribs: Punk as F**k

The Cribs: Punk as F**k

After 15 years of going against the grain, safe to say The Cribs aren’t changing any time soon…

“If you’ve managed to sustain what you do for 15 years like we have, and you’re still afraid to nail your colours to the mast by this point, then you either don’t trust yourself or you don’t understand the people who like the band,” theorises Cribs bassist Gary Jarman, nursing a slight hangover but still on as eloquently opinionated form as ever. It’s a problem that he and his brothers, guitarist Ryan and drummer Ross, have never had to struggle with; from their first days as lip-bleeding, hipster-hating outliers among a sea of mid-’00s, next-gen Britpoppers, The Cribs have always steadfastly, almost belligerently gone their own way. The Jarmans’ particular colours are as dyed in the wool as they come. Now, they’re on the cusp of releasing their seventh studio LP – a Steve Albini-produced collection of their heaviest, most abrasive material to date, titled – brilliantly – ‘24-7 Rock Star Shit’. It’s not, it would be fair to say, a traditional move for a seventh record. But then again, of course it isn’t. “Once you have a certain degree of success, rather than feeling like you’ve got to preserve what you have, you should feel liberated to do whatever you want,” he continues. “And anyway, it could have been worse. We could have called the album ‘Fuck Your Stupid Male Ego’ or something like that…”

In all senses, a band like The Cribs are an anomaly. Born out of the most DIY of mentalities, their only intention initially “was to send a demo to Kill Rock Stars [cult indie label, home to Sleater-Kinney, Huggy Bear etc] and get signed specifically to them.” Their early shows were purposefully shambolic [see sidebar], their self-titled first album so lo-fi that, at that point, the long-term Albini devotees considered the notoriously visceral, unpolished punk producer’s records as “a bit too high fi, or a bit too big-sounding” for their liking, says Ryan.

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“We could have called the album fuck your stupid male ego…”

Gary Jarman

Soon, however, the band found themselves gracing the pages of the nation’s music press, lumped in with Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys and a host of others in the so-called New Yorkshire scene. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t sit well with the trio. “I look back now and I think, why didn’t we enjoy those indie rock salad days a bit more?” laughs Ryan, drily. “We were so, so annoyed all the time. All we ever talked about in every meeting was just us getting completely flustered by the whole thing.” “We were just really purist and really conflicted,” Gary agrees. “If people were overlooking us for major label bands we’d be like, ‘That’s bullshit; we’re the real deal!’. But then if they did come after us, then we’d be like ‘Leave us the fuck alone! You can’t start trying to get onside with us now, where were you guys in 2002?!’”

Yet, while the vast majority of their more willing peers eventually burnt out, faded away or, er… joined the judging panel of The Voice, The Cribs simply carried on doing what they’d always done. Having embodied an unwavering ethos embedded in zine culture, riot grrl and a distinct lack of industry bullshit from the off, it’s been the backbone around which the band has been able to get away with doing whatever they please – from inviting a former Smith into their midst for 2009’s ‘Ignore The Ignorant’, to releasing piss-takingly titled 2013 ‘Best Of’ LP ‘Payola’ (a surprisingly pop star move), to the cobweb-blasting record they’ve currently got under their belts. “Our attitudes are what people relate to the most I think, but that’s just something that comes naturally. It’s not contrived,” stresses Gary. “We’re just realists. We told you all along…”

“We were the first band to headline Leeds Arena who showed up in a van.”

Gary Jarman

‘24-7 Rock Star Shit’ – a “deadly serious” title, cast from the same poser-scorning, industry-bashing cloth as ‘Payola’ – takes all these constants and adds a rawness that harks back to those earliest days of the band. “I think it represents our roots,” agrees Ryan. “Every few years, certain things come up from your past – for example, today I’m looking quite goth, which I used to be,” he gestures, eyelinered up and showing off a fetching drainpipe leather jacket / ragged black top combo. “When we were making this album, that was just where our heads were at, like the way they were a long time ago.”

Having taken the more melodic approach of recent albums ‘For All My Sisters’ and ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ “about as far as [they] could take them”, ‘24-7…’ lands as far in the other direction as you can imagine the Jarmans going. Where the likes of ‘Anna’ (from ‘ITBOTBB’) or ‘Finally Free’ (from ‘FAMS’) soared by on unashamedly big, emotive riffs, vocals leaping in tandem, the ten tracks that make up their new LP are taught, wired and brilliantly scuzzy. You only need listen to Ryan’s throat-shredding vocal turn on lead single ‘Year Of Hate’ (hell, you only need to read its title…) to know that the album is a markedly different beast to its predecessor. Of course, because this is The Cribs, there’s still a whole fistful of earworm melodies beneath the fuzz. But in terms of polish (or lack thereof), attitude and immediacy, their seventh album is probably the rawest since their first.

As well as keeping things interesting for themselves, however, the uncompromising nature of ‘24-7…’ also finds the band challenging the “anodyne, businesslike” nature of the wider musical world in general. If The Cribs, halfway through their second decade, can still pull some seriously polarising ‘fuck you’ moves to expectation, then so can and should everyone else. “The music scene is so strange, it feels so weird to me now. The professionalism and the facelessness of it all…” begins Ryan, visibly frustrated. “It’s a confusing time right now,” picks up Gary. “So we just thought, let’s be completely not confusing. Here’s a record we made in five days, with some dirty, aggressive songs on it and it’s called ‘24-7 Rock Star Shit’. There’s no confusion and you’ll either like it or you won’t, and that’s fine.” Ryan continues: “When you look at culture and art in general, the times that people remember are the ones with a generation gap. When the people from the generation before are annoyed that the kids are getting kicks in ways that they don’t understand. There hasn’t been anything like that for a long time [in the indie world]; now everything’s about impressing the grown ups. We’re now in our late 30s – it’s not up to us to do it – but this record is about not even trying to be a part of what’s going on.”

Of course, the ultimate, satisfying punchline to this story is that, despite their refusal to play the game, The Cribs have been and are still a big band. Their last three albums have all gone Top Ten. They recently played a huge, celebratory, sold-out anniversary tour for third album ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’ including a homecoming show at the 13,000-capacity Leeds Arena. Every summer, they notch another few small festival headline slots on to the collective bedpost. But, crucially, they’re a big band on their own terms. “We always had ambitions but it was a secondary thing. It wasn’t the priority. When bands say they wanna be the biggest band in the world, to me that says ‘I wanna be the most compromised band in the world’,” explains Ryan. “When we did Leeds Arena, it made it seem so much cooler that we did it in our own way. Even though it was an arena show, it felt like a massive club show. It was a crazy, crammed, sweaty gig. Imagine the biggest mosh pit you’ve ever seen…” “This is someone who doesn’t care about size…” Gary interjects, raising an eyebrow playfully at his brother. “Seriously though, if you want a physical manifestation of [everything we’ve been saying’]: we were the first band to ever headline Leeds Arena who showed up in a van.”

Teeing up the release of ‘24-7 Rock Star Shit’ by ‘leaking’ a set of ‘Year of Hate’ 7”s into record shops for hardcore fans to find (“When was the last time you remember going to a record shop, buying a 7” and having to wait to get home to play it? Not having it online and not knowing what the track sounded like? It’s magical,” explains Ross), it’s obvious The Cribs’ purist values are still as strong as ever. While their peers are busy with Instagram strategy planning and cash-cow meet and greets, they’re still the band who just want to appreciate the beauty of holding a really good record in your hands, and then playing a blistering punk show. True, they may have sonically dialled up the noise several notches, but underneath, they’re still the same old Jarmans. “When we first started the band, if someone said ‘You’ll make a record with Albini in a week and it’ll be called ‘24-7 Rock Star Shit’ and it’ll be your seventh record, we would have been completely comfortable with that,” Ryan grins. “Our only question would have been, ‘Can someone tell us exactly why it’s taken us this long?!’” 

The Cribs’ new album ‘24-7 Rock Star Shit’ is out 11th August via Sonic Blew.

Photos: Phil Smithies.

Taken from the August 2017 issue of DIY, out now. Head here for more info.