Ten years ago a trio of brothers from Yorkshire started a band and, on the back of an exciting demo and purportedly explosive live shows, it wasn’t long before they were being lumped in with the likes of The Libertines by a music press desperate to find this side of the pond’s answer to The Strokes. Fast forward to the present day and The Cribs have outlived all the questionable labels, can casually cite Johnny Marr as an ex-member and, somewhat to their own surprise, find themselves at the forefront of the UK’s guitar bands.
On the question of whether they considered being likened to that particular “revival of British rock” music scene as a fair comparison, drummer and youngest brother Ross Jarman is contemplative, as he hesitates before saying, “Ever since we’ve started, people have always tried to lump us in with different scenes; whether that be Yorkshire or London with The Libertines…but people seem to find it hard to put a finger on what exactly we are. We did come around in that era, and we played shows with them guys in the early days, so people maybe thought we were from the same cloth, but I think we’ve got a different sound.”
Certainly, The Cribs’ jangly garage vibe has endured and kept them with a secure and ever-growing fanbase, but in general there’s a growing perception guitar music is on the decline. “It doesn’t really affect me and my brothers”, Ross admits, “Even back in 2007 we could see that ship was gonna sink, you know, but I think we’ve always been a bit distanced from that. I mean, our last two records have been the most successful ones we’ve put out.”
He makes a valid point – The Cribs’ last two albums have both made it into the top ten in the UK charts, which would certainly suggest that guitar music is not quite so dead as some music critics and bloggers might presume. Then again, does chart success really mean anything to bands with an indie background such as themselves? “I mean, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care where it ended up..It feels like more of a victory for us because we haven’t necessarily got a top ten record on the basis of most other artists up there – we don’t really get all the media channels and the promotion or that much radio play. We must’ve played, like, pretty much every venue on the way up to the ones we’re doing now – we’ve been going for ten years now, and that’s helped build some solid foundations.” He seems tentatively proud as he says, “We’ve done it in our own, independent way and it’s really rewarding.”
‘In the Belly of the Brazen Bull’ is their most recent album, full of lo-fi almost shoegazey garage that recalls ‘90s American alt – not entirely a conscious thing, Jarman says, though he tells me that none of them were ever really interested in Britpop when they were growing up, instead citing American alt as more of an influence. Gary Jarman’s recent move to Portland may also have played a part in the more American sound to the album, though Ross says that grunge bands such as Nirvana have always ranked amongst their favourite bands.
Which must have made it particularly exciting working with producer Steve Albini on this album, given that he’s the man behind ‘In Utero’. “Yeah, he’s definitely a character is Steve. He’s been someone we’ve always wanted to record with – we were talking about it even for the first album.” Jarman speaks quite plainly and professionally about the whole thing, suggesting that The Cribs aren’t the sort of band to get too phased by big names. ”He’s got this thing where he doesn’t care what band or what label it is – he just does his thing. We’d already recorded, like, the bulk of the album with Dave Fridmann” [another seminal American music producer] “and we had some leftover stuff lying around on the cutting room floor – you know, bits of songs that were leftover and we didn’t know what to do with them. Then we just kind of had the idea, as they were quite raw kind of things which we thought would work with Steve Albini’s sound.”
Ross is in fact in Norwich when I speak to him, getting ready for the third night of The Cribs’ lengthy European tour after a long summer of playing festivals. When I ask about what he’s been listening to lately he speaks very highly of their supporting acts for the first half of the tour – Mazes and fellow Wichita-signings, Cheatahs both of whom he says he’s “really enjoyed so far”. In Dublin they’ll be playing with some local support from The September Girls whom Jarman refers to as “good friends of ours”, saying they used to play together in the early days and that “everything they’ve done we’ve really liked”.
Before I let him get ready for the night’s gig, I ask if touring really does live up to the rock’n’roll clichés of a massive drink and drug fest. “We’ve been doing this a long time now”, he replies, thoughtfully, “I don’t know, whatever you end up doing you’re naturally gonna become bored, you know. You can’t keep things up for that long, I guess, whatever it is. This tour’s not been too wild, though I guess we’re only three days into it – I mean, I think the only drugs we’ve been doing on this tour is Ryan taking his inhaler every night…”