Ahead of Belfast and Dublin shows this week, English indie rock brother trio The Cribs are already working on their forthcoming seventh studio with none other than Steve Albini, having just released their sixth, For All My Sisters. In a revealing conversation with Will Murphy, Ryan Jarman from the band touches upon being “reluctantly co-opted” by the mainstream, the loyalty of their fans and the band’s “opinionated” nature.
So, how is this tour going for you guys?
It’s really short. We’re literally just here doing The Great Escape from Brighton and then we’re going out to do a couple of Irish dates. I think its only like two more shows. It’s really short. The festivals don’t really like you touring beforehand these days. We’ve only just put an album out so we’re taking it easy, but at least we’re coming to Ireland. Sometimes people do a UK tour and they skip Ireland and Northern Ireland, so we’re always trying to go to places where we think people want to see us.
You were saying this is a quite short tour, do you prefer doing short bursts of tours or these great big 80 shows in 85 days tours?
Well, we did that for so many years. I mean we did like endless tours. We would genuinely go on tour, from the moment we got out to the moment we got back, for close to eighteen months at a time. So we’re used to the super extensive tours and when we go to America we still do them. I kinda feel in the UK we have toured endlessly, especially when the band started, and we don’t want to do that again. You want people to take you for granted and think they can see you at any time. We were playing so often it was like if you missed us once we were going to be coming through your town again within like a few weeks. So we don’t want to do stuff like that again. To be honest, we do see ourselves predominantly as a live band. I love getting stuck into a tour and I like a tour that lasts a view weeks because I like the lifestyle. We’re at a stage in our career where now because we’ve around for a long time and because we have toured so much that we don’t want to overexpose ourselves anymore.
Which makes sense because you’ve been riding a high for about eight years now, ever since the Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever. How have you managed to sustain that momentum?
I think the main way we managed to sustain it was just working. Our first record came out in 2004, so we were already slightly established by the time Men’s Needs came out, which was obviously the crossover record. Around that time there was such an influx of guitar bands, there were like a million bands and it was so in vogue. I feel like the only way that we managed to sidestep going down with that ship was not to be a part of it. We already felt established, we didn’t feel like a band that had started to jump on that guitar bandwagon and we didn’t necessarily want to be part of the mainstream, that was never our intention. We just got co-opted, kind of reluctantly, by the mainstream back in 2007, because it was a case of “guitar bands are huge” and we were one of the more established bands. So we became part of the mainstream whether we liked it or not. I think with our opinions we represented something different to our fanbase. The people who got into us weren’t just interested in the music. They liked that we opinionated on certain things and the fact that we represented something slightly different than the rest of those bands. Our fanbase haven’t really left us, they’re incredibly loyal. A lot of our fans too, I feel they got to know us by seeing us play live. We were always on an independent label, so we never had a big advertising budget and we were never rammed down people’s throats. We weren’t one of those bands that is everywhere so I feel people just got into us in a more organic way. When that happens they’re not going to leave you when the next flavour of the month comes along. I think we have a more stable fanbase that continues to grow instead of a more transient one.
You mentioned your opinionated nature, which is evident throughout your lyrics and I’m wondering what were the main inspirations behind the lyrics on For All My Sisters?
The main driving force behind that was our own experiences. People do see us as being opinionated, prickly or confrontational which was never really what we set out to be. It’s not who we are as people. We’re actually really kind of quiet, melancholy people. We spend most of our time feeling… dissatisfied. It wasn’t a case of like one day deciding that we were going to set up the band and it was going to be confrontational. I think that maybe growing up in Wakefield, where weren’t part of it and people didn’t like bands or artists or people with long hair. We ended up feeling really like outsiders and we grew up to be the kind of people who didn’t have anything else in the world except for our record collection. I think that comes across in the lyrics, mostly that sense of hopelessness, and because there is that sense of isolation and dissatisfaction, people can read into that as being confrontational. But it was never really supposed to be. It was supposed to highlight the fact that not everything was great. Just because we were a band with a record deal didn’t mean our new lives were perfect.
On the idea of being an outsider, over the last 15 years we’ve had the rise of the internet and now if I’m interested in 80s Zimbabwean prog rock I can find the 6 other people in world who are also interested. Had that kind of network been available to you to do think The Cribs would sound the way they do? How might that have changed you?
It would have been nice to know that there were other people out there. The only way that we were aware there were other people out there was through fanzines. You’d get the record, which you’d get off some older kids or you buy them, and you’d look in the back and you’d see the bands who they thanked and buy their records. As a result, you’d get a mail order catalogue and you’d order from that and you’d get the zine sent in the post. That was the only way you knew that there were these like minded people out there. But I imagine that growing up with the internet, it would be nice knowing that were other people out there. Yet I think there is such a feeling of disconnect with the internet already. Everything is so impersonal. People would rather look at a screen, rather than pick up and phone and talk or in any way physically interact with each other. No matter what there is going to be a sense of alienation. Younger people today, I’d say, are finding it more hopeless because their only interaction is through a phone. I don’t imagine that to be any great comfort . It’s a case of “the more things change the more, they stay the same” and people will always have that feeling growing up, it’s rooted in you.
Do you think that absence of interaction has affected gig attendance?
Well as I said our fans are really loyal. Our last record went into the top 10, it’s our highest selling record so far; people are still buying them. While we’ve not toured this album, because of the festivals, we are booking some of our biggest live shows next year. Obviously when we start off a tour, we do smaller shows for fun. We do this so we can get reaquainted with the audience and because the hardcore fanbase prefer small venues. I’m not sure why, I’d prefer the bigger venues, but I think it’s the intimacy. While this tour has sold really well, we’ve not booked a full tour yet so we just don’t know.
I’ve heard grumblings that you’ve already started work on the new record and that Steve Albini is producing, what is the situation there?
We’ve already started with Steve Albini. We’ve already done four tracks with him, but these were done quite a long time ago between the fifth and the sixth record. We did the four tracks before we went in with Ric Ocasek to do this new record and we let it be known to a couple of journalists that those four songs existed. So there was a time where everyone was assuming we were going to put out two records at the same time, but that’s not the case. We still have these tracks that we’ve done with Steve and we will go back to finish an album with him, but we don’t know when we’re going to do it. Depends on if we can be bothered really.
Sticking with Albini for a moment, what about working with him appealed to you?
It always appealed to me in some way. We’ve wanted to work with him since we started the band because we love the sounds of his records and his way of working which is completely in line with our mindset. He just records you. You go in and you’ve got some songs finished and he hits record and you play. You play them all live and you’re in and out. We were only with Steve for only two or three days. It’s so quick and simple and suits us down to the ground. We always wanted to work with him, but we never got around to it. I don’t know why. The first album we were going to do with him, but we weren’t able to because we were paying for that by ourselves at the time, and then every record after we talked about doing it with him, but it just never happened for some reason. He’s definitely something we’ve had on our list of things to do. I’ve got a huge respect for the guy and I like him as a person and I love his records.
What was the difference between working with Albini and someone like Ric Ocasek?
The difference is Ric is a producer and Steve is an engineer. Steve loves the live thing. You go in, you set up and he records you. You tell him if it’s good or not and he mixes it. He approaches it in a very pragmatic way, while Ric wants to be more involved on an artistic level. He wants to decide which take was the best and he has ideas for overdubs, the song structure and whether you should put a counter melody in the track. He’s very much about cutting and adding to the song, while Steve would never do anything like that. It’s a different approach, but both of them are great. So Steve’s mentality suits us down to the ground, but I love collaborating with artists I respect like Ric who is a great songwriter.
Ocasek also produced Weezer’s Blue Album and listening to the record there is this Pinkerton/Blue Album vibe and I’m wondering was that deliberate or just a happy accident?
When I was growing up, I would get records and I’d read the back and I’d take note of who was recording those records if I liked the sound. The Blue Album was an album I liked the sound of when I was 16 so I read the name Ric Ocasek. The things that you learn at that age, they stick with you forever so when you’re making your own record you’re like, “Oh, I want to work with Ric Ocasek because I remember his name on the back of these records I like”. So that was one of the reasons. We also did that Weezer cruise so that world is interesting to me. We did the last record with Dave Fridmann who’d produced The Delgados and The Flaming Lips but he also did Pinkerton too. Unwittingly, we’ve worked with the two producers who made those Weezer records which is kind of cool.
If for the next release, you were forced to do a covers EP, what would be your choices?
We hate covers. We never do ’em. We refuse to do them so it would never happen. We did do one for The Replacements ‘Bastards of Young’ and even that I feel kind of weird about because The Cribs have a strict “no covers” policy.
What’s the reasoning behind that policy?
When you’re in the rehearsal space, we think you should be writing your own songs. It’s very rare that we find stuff that we all love so much that we actually want to represent as trying to do a better job of it. I always find covers really weird because you’re saying you love this thing but that you could do a better job of it.
The Cribs play Whelan’s in Dublin on Monday, May 18 and Belfast’s Limelight 2 on Thursday, May 21