It’s Friday night in Brooklyn and at Williamsburg venue Baby’s All Right The Cribs are playing the second of three intimate, New York gigs – all sold out – in advance of the release of their sixth album, ‘For All My Sisters’. Under two soundproofing panels that are dangling from the ceiling, an effusive crowd pushes and pulls as twins Ryan and Gary Jarman and their younger brother Ross perform a set of old songs and new, just like they did in similar-sized venues in the UK in February, marking their return after three years away.
The tentative comeback of a band working out its place in the world again? Not so, claims Ryan the following afternoon in a café a few doors down from Saint Vitus, where The Cribs will tonight play the last of their three shows. “When a record comes out, we always do these smaller gigs,” he says. “People have this misconception that we purposefully ghettoise ourselves, but that’s absolutely not the case. We do this for fun and I know the hardcore fans appreciate it. We do it for their sake.”
Nonetheless, the band find themselves on unfamiliar ground in 2015. In the UK, ‘For All My Sisters’ is being released on major label Sony RED, ending their long-time relationship with indie Wichita, and the record – overseen by The Cars mainman Ric Ocasek, who has also produced Bad Brains, Weezer and Guided By Voices – is certainly their most accessible and poppy to date. But there’s meant to be another, more punky, Steve Albini-produced album coming too (started before ‘For All My Sisters’, but unfinished), perfectly illustrating what Ross calls “the two sides of the band” – “the more abrasive side and the more pop side”. It speaks of a band standing at a pivotal crossroads in their career, entering new high-pressure territories uncertain over the best course and direction of their renewed attack, out to scattergun all bases just in case.
The band also now live thousands of miles apart. Ross stills lives in Wakefield, The Cribs’ original birthplace, but Gary and Ryan have both moved to the US – Gary to Portland on the west coast, and Ryan here to New York. Yet they seem united in intent and insist that the distance and time out hasn’t impacted their relationships with each other, either personally or creatively. “When you’ve been away for a while, then get back together, you’re excited to play,” Ross says. “And I think it can be healthy to have a little time apart as well. As brothers, recently we all seem to be getting on really well.”
“Having time off was a really cool way of moving on,” Gary says. “It sounds a little bit rose-tinted, but it feels like we’re at the start of something, rather than a continuation. We’ve been really excited making this record. We haven’t made one for three years. It’s reinvigorating. It’s like a clean sheet. It’s almost like a chance to make a debut album again. We haven’t played New York for three years, so it’s almost like being a new band. We’re really excited. Some of the younger people in the audience were probably too young to see us when we came three years ago. It’s really heartening; it’s heartening to see people still go to gigs to have a good time.”
Renewal, rebirth… it’s a theme the band return to time after time. But what had to die for The Cribs to be reborn? What happened in the last three years to turn Wakefield’s loudest into the punk pop Lazarus?
After 2012’s ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’, being in a band for so long – throughout the entirety of their twenties, in fact – had begun to take its toll on The Cribs, and Ryan in particular. “We were at the end of basically touring for 10 years when we made ‘…Brazen Bull’,” Ryan says, sounding tired just thinking about it. “We planned on having a break after [2007’s] ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’, then Johnny Marr joined the band, so we immediately rolled into doing another record. Then we were going to have a break after that, but Johnny left. We had to immediately make another record, so people didn’t think it had dealt us a real blow. We were at the end of 10 years of being in the band and we were really burned out, and I feel like that’s why ‘…Brazen Bull’ was a really big, dense, dark record. There was definitely a feeling after ‘…Brazen Bull’ that we had to get away from it.”
Towards the end of the ‘… Brazen Bull’ campaign, Ryan was struggling to live as adjusted and ‘normal’ a life as a musician ever can. “I was living life completely through the band,” he says. “That’s all I had going on, I was completely consumed by it. It felt like the end of something – I was painting myself into a corner where it’s so dominated by the band it had become so destructive. So completely negative, it became unhealthy, absolutely. Because things in my personal situation had become so negative and so destructive, people were saying that ‘we’re not going to continue with the band because that will force you to make some kind of a change’. We’d been doing it for like, 12 years and we haven’t been doing it half–arsed, we’ve been writing fucking loads of music and gigging constantly. We dedicated ourselves completely because we wanted every record to get bigger. We were never going to get a lot of advertising so we didn’t have to do work. We wanted people to get into the band for the right reasons, not just because we’ve been rammed down people’s throats.”
The intense pressure contributed to making Ryan ill – for three years from 2010 he suffered from bulimia and virtually hid himself away from the world. “I just remember at first I wasn’t leaving the house for ages,” he admits. “I had quite a lot of social anxiety. There were loads of other things going on as well, a lot of unhealthy things happening.” Though he dodges any talk of the drug rumours that surrounded him during this time, Ryan thanks his move to New York in 2012 for vastly improving his health and happiness, even though he was robbed blind shortly after moving into his first apartment.
“There was a revolving door of people coming in and staying,” he recalls. “Most of the time it was great, very interesting people – Evan Dando stayed for a while. Then I came out to the festivals in the UK a couple of years ago and I let it out to some older guy who claimed that he had produced for Jimi Hendrix back in the day. He had a lot of bad debt but he showed up at home one day and he had a bunch of cash – he’d stolen all my guitars and my recording gear. We managed to get all the security cameras of the guy doing this, footage of him doing it. I gave it to the cops they were saying next time he shows up in New York they will arrest him and try and get all the stuff back.”
Ryan has since moved into a new place in Queens with his girlfriend, Here We Go Magic bassist Jen Turner, with whom he started a band called Exclamation Pony and recorded an album that was due to be released on Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records label until Julian’s work with The Voidz and the new Cribs activity delayed it indefinitely. “I don’t think we managed to get it out on time,” Ryan says, “but I really am happy with the record, I really want it to come out. It’s like, I love the songs so much but in some ways I would like to keep them to myself and not have anyone else ever hear it – but then another part of myself really wants to put them out. So I just need to make a decision on it.”
Ryan credits the head-clearing effects of his move for allowing The Cribs to return so full of enthusiasm, able to reconnect with their raw pop buoyancy. “It’s the best thing that I ever did,” he says. “My life is a million times better since I moved here. Changing your life is a really good thing to do and this was a massive change. I feel really grateful for how things have panned out.”
That positivity flows through the 12 songs of ‘For All My Sisters’. Demoed in Portland and recorded in New York, the album brims with melodic stardust, the likes of ‘Burning For No One’, ‘Finally Free’, ‘An Ivory Hand’ and ‘Diamond Girl’ giving classic punk, pop and ‘50s rock’n’roll a smeary-lipped smacker. Though the spectres of broken relationships, bad drugs and confused meltdowns haunt the lyrics, it’s an exuberant, hit-drenched listen that solidifies The Cribs’ standing as prime crafters of poppy noise – and feels like a fittingly ambitious first outing on Sony RED.
The Cribs became so associated with Wichita that it’s hard to imagine them on a different label. Asked what happened, Gary says: “It’s a really complex scenario and it’s actually pretty difficult to talk about. It’s almost like talking about a break-up, because it wasn’t something that was planned from anyone’s point of view. It’s not like we went, ‘Oh, we’re getting to the end of our Wichita contract – let’s go for a major label contract!’ There was no thinking like that. But a lot of things changed with Wichita. Mark [Bowen], the main guy that signed us – the head of A&R – moved to Los Angeles and I feel that his priorities changed, and we did come to the end of the contract. It was just a natural time to do something different.”
The band point out that two of their albums – ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’ and 2009’s ‘Ignore The Ignorant’ – came out on a major, Warners, in North America and now they’re on an indie, Arts + Crafts, and that didn’t change them, but what does that suggest about the band in 2015? That the new deal here is about consolidating, securing their position rather than grasping for the stars. About all this, the band seems conflicted. On the one hand, Ryan says: “It feels like guitar bands in the UK, unless they say, ‘Oh, we just want to be the biggest band in the world, man,’ people think there’s something wrong with you. We just don’t really have that ego and we’re not going to act like that. It’s just embarrassing and old fashioned and gross.”
But, later, he says: “When we make a record, the only ambition we have for it is to make a record that we really like. But we also absolutely want more than that. We don’t just want to preach to the converted. So we always want to get bigger and we always want to grow, and I feel like we always are. We want to take this as far as we can take this and get as big as we possibly can, but we don’t want to do it in ways that would compromise – tailoring the record to whatever’s in vogue. We never lived and died by mainstream acceptance. We’ve never taken any notice of what’s going on in the mainstream or what happens to be popular. We just continue as we are. We do feel like we exist on our own and we continue to get bigger without anyone’s permission.”
The nightmare for The Cribs is to become the band that never goes beyond playing a 6pm Main Stage slot at Reading or Leeds – a big enough pull for that, but never in the headliner league. It worries them, tapping into an essential contradiction in the band – their need for credibility – versus their fear of becoming, as Ross says, “a nostalgia act,” adding: “If we ever felt like we were that, we’d just break up.”
“There’s still some dinosaurs still left in the industry who don’t give us a chance,” Ryan snarls. “We’re one of those bands who have seeped into public consciousness just by being around such a long time and just by word of mouth, yet there are still some old school dinosaurs in the UK who just have a grudge against us. They just don’t give us a chance to get bigger or actively block it…so we just have to put out another record that’s better than the last one and let it all happen through word of mouth.”
“I like to think we’ve forged our own place,” Gary adds, “so it’s important for us to be able to justify why we have the position that we have. And I think we’ve always thrived off adversity because it keeps you hungry and it means we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. Some bands can do anything as long as what they put out is as good as the last record, but we’re that band that if we make a misstep we’ll be crucified. In the past we’ve been reactionary and we’ve divided opinion, so as soon as you’re in that position, I almost feel no matter what we do that follows us around. But I’m fine with that as well because it’s been a really motivating factor for us.”
If ‘For All My Sisters’ proves anything about The Cribs, it’s this determination not to let their hunger get crushed, whether by life, labels, thieves or dinosaurs. You can see it later that night at Saint Vitus, for the third and final gig of their residency. The biggest of the New York venues they play this week, it takes a little while for the audience to warm up, but when the band launch into ‘I’m A Realist’, the crowd goes crazy. Beer and bodies fly everywhere and, new songs or old, it doesn’t let up until the end. The sense of joy and euphoria is infectious, and it’s not just for the hits, for the old days. It’s for the future, too, for the promise of all the blood, sweat and beer still to be spilled as much as for what already has.