The world was a very different place when The Cribs formed back in 2001. The internet was still in its formative state, social media was but a glint in Tom from Myspace’s eye, and plugging in a guitar was a way of life that came with its own distinct codes.
“In 2001, making recordings was really difficult. We had to covertly lie and book ourselves into the local college’s studio because there was no digital recording or laptops or anything. Our world view was extremely narrow; we were recording things on four-tracks and sending things out in jiffy bags. It does make it seem like a different world that we were living in,” muses Gary Jarman, as he and his brothers prepare to head into their 20th year as a band.
“Our value system was forged in something that nobody cares about or recognises any more,” Ryan picks up. “The whole not selling out thing - we’d purposefully turn things down because it didn’t align with our value system, and that’s something that people don’t even think about [anymore].” Gary nods: “Young bands don’t have anything like the hang ups we used to in the old days, and we were seen as being dogmatic for having that attitude, but nowadays that’s not a thing. It’s very common to see a video of your favourite artist, even if they’re cool, thanking Apple or doing an advert and nobody bats an eyelid. Whereas in the world we were from, that band would have been, to quote Bill Hicks, ‘off the artistic register’ at that point…”
Having fully-embodied the DIY punk rock ethos from the off - whether spouting off against the fakes across ‘The New Fellas’ or turning down appearances on Top of the Pops so they wouldn’t have to cancel a tiny gig - you would assume that the Jarmans (completed by drummer Ross) would not be ones to embrace the all-posting, all-selfie-taking nature of modern life in 2020. And yet, in the run up to eighth album ‘Night Network’, The Cribs seem to have found their niche among it all. Setting up a phone-in fan hotline, sharing behind-the-scenes clips and loading the record’s ‘70s-tinged aesthetic with playful headlines (‘Brothers in pop, keeping it real’ states one poster), they may not ever be Instagram influencers, as Gary wryly notes, but it does seem like a less guarded band coming to the table this time than ever before. “Punk rock guilt is not a factor in the modern age and we acknowledge and accept that,” he continues, “so we’ve been less reticent to engage with people directly ‘cause that’s the modern world.”
Partly, the shift seems to have come as a result of the particular isolation born from this strangest of years; “being forced to be creative with how you engage with people has forced us out of our shell,” Gary explains. But partly, you sense the change has come from something deeper - that, having been put through the ringer over the last two years, nearly losing the rights to their entire back catalogue and coming close to calling time on the group entirely, the sense of perspective and self-acceptance gained from coming out the other side has shown they’ve really got nothing left to prove.
“Because we were removed from the band a little bit, we could see it from the outside and in a retrospective way, and it reinforced how important it was to us,” Ryan nods. “Getting your catalogue back, you get this holistic view on everything you’ve done and everything you are. It allowed us to really see what was good and special about the band,” Gary continues. “We fought tooth and nail to get our history back and it made us really value it.”
“We feel more like a family that plays music than a band that happens to be related - there’s a difference.”
— Ryan Jarman
While the backstory to The Cribs’ latest is one rooted in shady industry manoeuvres and undoubtedly the hardest time the trio have ever faced as a musical unit, the silver lining comes from the enforced period of reflection it granted them and, as a result, ‘Night Network’ lands as a fitting record to mark the end of two decades in the game. Written largely back in hometown Wakefield, recorded in the studio born from the success of their most beloved teenage heroes and featuring a song (‘Screaming In Suburbia’) that marks the first time the twins have ever co-written lyrics on the same track, it’s an album steeped in personal history.
“Mine and Gary’s teenage years were pretty much spent in our bedrooms watching Nirvana videos,” grins Ryan, turning his attention to the album’s unlikely godfather, “so when Dave [Grohl] invited us out to the studio, it gave us some incentive to keep ploughing forward. His place is basically a Nirvana and Foo Fighters museum with a studio in it. I don’t think we took that [opportunity] lightly at all.” “The biggest bit of Foo Fighters merch was the Foo Fighters actually being there themselves; they were just wandering in and out all the time,” recalls Ross. “It got to the point where me and the engineer would be hoping that Taylor Hawkins DIDN’T show up because if he did it’d just mean him and Gary and Ryan would end up wasting four hours of the session geeking out about Queen trivia.”
However if a slice of punk history acted as the much-needed carrot to keep the trio going through their period of behind-the-scenes hell, then it’s the Jarmans’ own past and personal growth that really defines the album. Where, on early Cribs records, the differences between the brothers were noticeable - the aggressive, spitball tracks almost always led by Ryan; the more melodic moments usually by Gary - on ‘Night Network’, the pair seem more cohesive than ever. ‘Deep Infatuation’ and ‘The Weather Speaks Your Name’ both arrive as unguarded, Ryan-helmed musings on love’s pains and pleasures; Gary heads up first single ‘Running Into You’ - an immediate direct hit that lands straight into the premier league of their all-time catalogue, while ‘Never Thought I’d Feel Again’ finds the pair harmonising over what they’ve dubbed ‘Wakefield Motown’.
“It’s ironic because we’ve been apart for longer than we’ve ever been apart, but the reason why the album turned out as it did is because we’ve never been more unified than we are right now,” explains Gary. “When we lost our team and had to work to get our catalogue back, we realised that we can only really depend on each other, so when we were writing the album we were coming at it from this place of being completely single-minded as to what we wanted to achieve because we had to coalesce. We had to really pull together.
“We wouldn’t have put ourselves through the last 18 months if we weren’t family. The odds were too high,” he continues. “It’s easy to walk away as an individual because you can’t handle dealing with it, but when it’s a family thing you’ll never be able to outrun it - it’d be like a ghost that haunts you forever.”
“We fought tooth and nail to get our history back and it made us really value it.”
— Gary Jarman
With guitar music’s most famous brothers providing a none-too-positive, Gallagher-shaped blueprint of what it means to be siblings in a band, the reality for Gary, Ryan and Ross still clearly couldn’t be further away from that idea. Much like the attitude that always kept them from prioritising fame and its trappings in the beginning, the three have always, says Ryan “put [their] relationship as brothers at the top”. “Ultimately we feel more like a family that plays music than a band that happens to be related - there’s a difference between it,” he continues, as Gary picks up: “We went through something of an existential crisis with each other, so when we were writing we were 100% focused. What makes us guys good is when we’re all firing on all cylinders and pulling together; the closer we are, the better the end results are.”
Eight albums and two decades in, with basically all of their original peers having fallen by the wayside, The Cribs somehow sound more invigorated and in love with being in a band than ever. Having nearly lost so much, they’ve had the metaphorical flash before the eyes and come out fighting. “It wasn’t just a case of the treadmill of making an album, going on tour, making an album, going on tour. We were put in the position where we thought we might not be able to make a record again, so when we did get to do it we really didn’t take it for granted at all,” enthuses Ryan. “We were doing everything ourselves: we produced it ourselves, we funded it ourselves because we weren’t on a label at the time, so it just felt like we were making a record because we desperately wanted to make a record.”
And with their socially-distanced album launch shows selling out in literally 21 seconds, it’s clear that surge of love is reciprocated too. Having grown and adapted, but with their core values as unwavering as ever, in 2020, The Cribs are still the outliers - UK indie’s most beloved underdogs. Just now, having fought the powers and come out on top, and having outlasted almost everyone by merit of truly being in it for the right reasons, it turns out sometimes the underdogs really do win.
“We never cared about fashion trends, obviously, and by extension we never cared about musical trends, which is a good thing because some bands who made records that were so perfect for those moments sound so bad now,” Gary ponders. “It dates so badly, but we’ve never really changed that much in terms of our viewpoint and our ideology in 20 years.” “That’s why it’s always a negative thing to be part of a trend, because I could put on our first record now and to me it wouldn’t sound like a record from 20 years ago. I would think it could exist in any time, and in a lot of ways that’s what we’ve always been trying to do,” Ryan grins, a twinkle coming into his eye. “Just write stuff that’s timeless…”
‘Night Network’ is out now via Sonic Blew / PIAS.
As featured in the November 2020 issue of DIY, out now.