Life of Ryan: An Interview with the Cribs
The Cribs made a name for themselves as brash, belligerent punks, but they’ve cemented their place in the rock world with their music -- an intelligent, resolutely British take on power pop that’s actually done better across the pond than in Britain.
Ryan Jarman, guitarist and singer with The Cribs, sits in a pub in Clerkenwell Green nursing a pint of Hoegaarden. In 48 hours’ time he and the rest of Wakefield’s finest will be in California preparing for a secret show somewhere in Los Angeles, followed by the real deal at the Coachella festival in the desert. After that it’s across to New York and nationwide TV appearances on Conan O’Brien and David Letterman’s talk shows.
It’s possibly the biggest month in The Cribs’ career and Ryan’s brothers and bandmates, bassist Gary and drummer Ross, are already Stateside, spending time with girlfriends and laying the groundwork for the journey ahead. The opportunity is massive, but Ryan’s just looking forward to getting out of the house.
“I’ve been by myself for a week,” he sighs in a thick Yorkshire accent. “I don’t have anything to do up in Leeds. I don’t really go out there. I don’t want to be out on the quote unquote Leeds Scene all the time. I’m like a hermit. It’ll be good to go out to America to doing some gigs. When I aren’t doing it I get a little bit frustrated.
“I’ve seen pictures of Coachella and people say it’s the best festival in the world. All I know is it’s meant to be really fucking hot. We’ve done hot festivals before. One in Holland was so hot I passed out and I woke up in a refrigeration truck with all the drinks. We did a gig in Ibiza once and I didn’t have shorts. I rolled up my jeans buy still wore my shoes. I looked at the photos and I looked like a typical English tourist doing a gig. That really weren’t a good idea. Obviously a British person on stage.”
Ryan Jarman, as you may have ascertained, can talk. And talk and talk and talk. The Cribs made a name for themselves as brash, belligerent punks, but they’ve cemented their place in the rock world with their music -- an intelligent, resolutely British take on power pop that’s actually done better across the pond than in Britain. Their third long player, Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever, is their most hotly anticipated record yet. In a musical climate where bands arrive in a blaze of glory and disappear six months later with their tails between their legs, The Cribs imminent global explosion, three albums in, is a phenomenal achievement.
“We’ve never had a record deal in America,” continues Ryan. “We’ve been distributed but never a deal. We signed a deal with Warner Brothers. Obviously you’ve got to be wary of signing to a major, but it’s when you sign straight to a major that’s when you’ve got your problems. We haven’t set ourselves up to be superstars and do all that kind of shit but we’re doing it now so it’ll be fun. It’s not like we’re unambitious. I really would like the record to do well over there, and over here too. I’m not scared of admitting that.
“I never wanted us to be one of those hype bands who are around for one album. I never wanted to be a fucking superstar. That might have something to do with being from Wakefield. We don’t really have that culture. The proof in the pudding is in the eating. If we start acting like dickheads I wouldn’t care if people turned their backs on us. We’re not a corporate minded band. I were never that bothered with crossing over to the mainstream but at the minute people need a band who’ll try to rattle some cages in a positive way. I don’t mean doing it for the sake of it.”
The state of British indie rock, it turns out, is a favoured topic for discussion.
“With indie music becoming the new pop music, which it has,” expounds Ryan, “the bands seem so corporate. None of them have anything to say. I’ll read an interview and a band’s like ‘this album is about fighting and fucking’. What the fuck? Have we not grown up yet? It seems like bands just want to be famous and aren’t saying anything. The lyrical matter needs to say something of worth other than going out and having a laugh. It’s so dull and outdated. It’s like they want to be a little bit chavvy. I find that a very strange thing. I’m not going on about being political, but at least sing about something a bit more important than going down the pub. It’s kind of moronic. A lot of bands now are casually misogynistic. Where the fuck did that come from? How is that a viable thing for an indie band? It’s bullshit.”
Separating themselves from the infuriating British indie scene, The Cribs decamped to Vancouver, British Columbia to record the album. And after spending much of 2006 touring North America with Death Cab For Cutie and Franz Ferdinand, they took a friend along for the ride.
“Because Alex Kapranos [Franz Ferdinand] wouldn’t take a producer’s fee we could spent more on a studio,” explains Ryan as conversation veers to their celebrity producer. “We were talking to a lot of other producers. They were asking for loads of money and while we were negotiating, Alex would keep coming down to Wakefield and we’d talk about records we were into. So we thought, ‘fuck it, let’s do it with Alex’. He cared a lot about the record. He didn’t do it for the money but he was still there every day for five weeks. It was hardcore. It’s rare that I meet people in bands that I get on with and agree with as much as I do with Alex. He knows good music. We’re into a lot of the same bands.”
Eager to distance themselves further from the British scene that spawned them, they pushed the boat out with album highlight Be Safe, an awesome spoken word track with words provided by Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo. It’s ambitious, poetic and the sort of wilfully non-commercial track that gets radio pluggers crying into their lattes.
“We’d been intending to do some spoken word stuff for a while,” smiles Ryan when we bring it up. “Gary met Thurston and Kim of Sonic Youth. They told us they had our albums. That’s mind-blowing. Sonic Youth were a band we loved. That’s a band you can totally trust.
“We were at Fujirock. Lee’s manager came over and said how about Lee producing your next record? But we were already going with Alex. So we asked if he wanted to do some spoken word on this track. We only had one day in the studio to do it and it basically came out live. It was really a case of, if it fucks up, it’s not going on the album. I’m just pleased to have worked with Sonic Youth. That’s everything I ever wanted about being in a band. That’s the difference in attitude between us and a lot of bands at the minute. He paints a really nice picture, does Lee. Great guy.”
It’s a fair chance that certain members of the current crop of British indie rockers wouldn’t know Sonic Youth from Sonic The Hedgehog, but Ryan’s not naming any names. That’s too easy a game to fall into.
“If you’re having success don’t use your platform to slag other bands off,” he insists. “That’s totally pointless. And that is the extent of these bands’ attention. It’s just success at all costs.”
What makes The Cribs so interesting, and so important, is that they’ve turned their back on the accepted rules of engagement for British bands. Not only that; they’re breaking down doors where others have been knocked back.
“There’s no question of us selling out,” promises Ryan. “I want to take the album to a bigger audience so we’ve got to do some things, but we’re certainly not going to start sucking cock. That’s never going to happen. Certain TV things we’ve been uncomfortable with we’ve turned down but I’m not going to turn stuff down to be awkward. Only if I disagree with something about it. That’s why I’m not going to turn down Conan O’Brien. That’s what bands do. We have something to say so we might as well say it on a bigger platform. We’re gradually growing all the time. We started off promoting the second album in 200 capacity clubs. By the end it was 2,000 capacity clubs. A lot of the legwork could have been taking out with media exposure, but we wouldn’t have wanted to do that anyhow. That’s what makes bands disposable.
“It’s nice to gather media coverage on your own terms. That’s the satisfying thing about it. We never had adverts on TV or anything like that. It’s nice to be having success on us own terms. I hope that people who are into the band agree with what we’re saying.”
Sitting over a pint with Ryan Jarman, listening to the opinions pour from him, for brief moments you can forget that first and foremost he’s a musician. And a good one at that.
“I feel comfortable in my own skin,” he smiles. “If you get famous right away you can forget what you’re in a band for anyway because you’re so involved with the machine. With us there’s no danger of that. We’ve lived it for the last four years. We know who we are and what the agenda is.”