There’s been few, if any, bands more awesome over the last decade or more than The Cribs. Now they’re out to prove they rock.
It’s 11am in New York, and Ryan Jarman has been awake for less than twenty minutes before the phone rings. The Cribs, he says tiredly, don’t get a lot of downtime.
They do tend to work almost constantly, sometimes stockpiling things for years before coming back to them. Their new album ‘24/7 Rock Star Shit’ includes a handful of those tracks, and has been in the works since they were recording ‘In The Belly of the Brazen Bull’. Attentive fans will recognise the album as one-half of the rumoured twinned LP set that ‘For All My Sisters’ supposedly kicked off – ‘...Sisters’ was the pop record, ‘24/7 Rock Star Shit’ its grittier punk rock sibling. The only thing is, that pair didn’t actually exist as far as the band were concerned.
“I kind of wish that we hadn’t mentioned the fact that we were working on a new album when we put ‘For All My Sisters’ out,” Ryan sighs through a phone line riddled with static. “The way it was reported at the time almost made it seem as though we were specifically writing two different records and were trying to keep two aspects separate. But it hasn’t really been a conscious exercise.” It was more a matter of luck, really. Divine intervention in the form of legendary grunge engineer Steve Albini.
“When we were recording ‘...Brazen Bull’ Dave Fridmann only had a few weeks, so we booked some sessions with Steve Albini,” Ryan explains. “‘...Brazen Bull’ was going to be a combination of Dave Fridmann and Steve Albini, but after we’d come back from working with Albini, the two sessions sounded so different that we decided to keep Albini’s separate and turn it into an album at some point.” ‘At some point’ turned out to be right after the end of the cycle for ‘For All My Sisters’, when the Jarmans reconvened in the US to finish their punk album.
On the phone in Portland where they wrote the record, Gary Jarman is rather more awake than his brother, despite being three hours behind.
“Our last show for ‘For All My Sisters’ was in Shanghai, which was really fun and felt like a good spot to leave it,” he says. “So we got back at the end of that year and then obviously there was the US election and all kinds of crazy political stuff going on, and we were sort of shell-shocked for a while. It was better to go back to the basement and get back to work, really.”
“We were ready to go into the studio really quickly, the show in Shanghai was in September, and we went into the studio in November. We were purposely trying to make it so that we didn’t get too familiar with the songs so that when we got in the studio, we were playing them with the same amount of excitement that you get when you’re unfamiliar with them, you know? It’s more adrenalised because it’s not just muscle memory,” he continues.
The buzz was aided and abetted by Steve Albini, whose hands-off mixing approach and raucous sound was precisely what the Cribs needed to bring out the clattering immediacy they had in mind for the album.
“When you record with Steve you know exactly what you’re going to get which is exactly why we chose him,” Ryan says. “We knew that when we picked him, he was definitely going to fulfil that criteria, of sonically being ‘immediate’.”
Gary agrees. “He doesn’t really like to adorn things too much because he thinks that ultimately you move further away from what the song’s supposed to be. That really stuck with the way that we’d been writing, we were trying to keep the songs in sort of a nucleic form,” he says. “They should still sound sort of feral.”
The result is that ‘24/7 Rock Star Shit’ sounds the way the Cribs do live. “Warts and all,” as Gary says. Despite the anniversaries and retrospective tours, the Jarmans don’t particularly like to look back, but there are exceptions to every rule. While ‘24/7 Rock Star Shit’ is the Cribs moving into the next phase, it does call back to the band they were before they’d had any kind of mainstream success. The live recording technique returned them to where they were on their first album, when they were their most fundamental selves as a band, Ryan says.
“My favourite record throughout our career has always been our first album. That really encapsulated who we were as a band. When we first started out we were always going to record live, and we were always going to record on tape, and as your career progresses your stance on stuff like that softens a little because you can’t just keep making the same sounding record over and over,” he says. “But we felt like now was the time, it’s been almost fifteen years so we thought we’d record in a similar way again, because really that’s how we are best represented.”
“We wanted to get these songs down in a way that we thought would serve them the best,” Gary adds. “For me, it sounds really... I keep coming back to that word ‘unsterilised’ it sounds like what we do live, there’s no polishing off or rounding off of edges.”
Recording live meant that in the end the band only had to spend five days in the studio before the album was finished. They found that the songs on ‘24/7 Rock Star Shit’ didn’t need the tweaks and adjustments they might have made on a more pop-driven album, and could be more or less left well enough alone. Gary maintains that the process was so smooth they could have been done faster, had they not gone and written an extra song.
“We wrote another song while we were in the studio, and ‘cause we wrote that extra song we had to record it the next day, so that added an extra day,” he says with an almost audible eye-roll. “‘Sticks Not Twigs’ was written on an acoustic in the dormitory there. We stayed at the studio, so Steve got this really sweet old acoustic that belonged to his dad, and he let me take it upstairs to play around on when I was writing my lyrics and working on bits and pieces. And one night in the dormitory I played this idea that I was having and turned it into a song. So the next day Steve showed up at the studio, and we’re like, ‘Hey we’ve got another song to record’. And he’s so cool you know, he could’ve been like, ‘No we’re mixing now, you’ve got to stick to mixing, we’ve changed the desk around’ or whatever but he was like, ‘Okay cool man, go in there and do it’.”
While Gary is careful to note that their rapid recording process “wasn’t a dogmatic thing”, on a personal level Ryan feels it’s the right way for them to work.
“Personally, my philosophy is that you’re better off spending more time in the rehearsal room than you are in the studio. For me, that’s a better idea,” Ryan says. “When people spend ages recording an album they edit all the humanity out of it; you know what I mean? To me, it just sounds like the human element gets lost. That’s why we try to record quite quickly, to keep that humanity.”
That pursuit of authenticity has filtered into almost everything they do. After almost fifteen years, The Cribs still try their best to be the kind of band they’d have loved as teenagers. Earlier this year they released their single ‘Year of Hate’ / ‘In Your Palace’ on white label 7” vinyl. A limited number of copies were hidden away in record shops around the country, waiting for eager fans to find them. If you wanted one, you had to go and look for it. They’re keen to point out that it wasn’t about exclusion so much as inclusion, about giving fans something that felt like it was just theirs and that made them part of a club. A communion between band and audience, in a way. Even now though, several months down the line, Ryan and Gary seem a bit worried it could be misinterpreted.
“That wasn’t like an elitist thing, making it so that some people couldn’t hear the record,” says Ryan. “It was more a case of giving the people that are prepared to hunt it down something exciting and kind of exclusive. With the whole online thing, it’s cool that you can get your music to people instantly but I feel like that isn’t that exciting anymore, so we wanted to make it so that it was difficult to find so that it felt special.”
For Gary it was partly about recapturing the buzz, he felt shopping for records as a teenager, when the process was tinged with anticipation and near-obsessive enthusiasm.
“When I was a kid, I wouldn’t always be able to track down records from Kill All Rock Stars and Sub Pop, I’d have to pre-order them and wait for them to show up. I didn’t know what they’d sound like, but that was kind of what was exciting, having to wait for them and then when they arrived looking at the sleeve on the bus home trying to figure out what it was going to be like. That was the thing with ‘Year of Hate’; it was like, ‘Let’s just have it so that people don’t hear it online first and people don’t have a copy straight away’. I miss that. It used to be something that was an intrinsic part of the experience of buying a record for me when I was a kid.”
He pauses. “I guess sometimes I can get a bit foggy-eyed about that kind of thing, but it’s not really nostalgia,” he says a little self-consciously. “Kids who come to our show now who are like 17, 18 years old, that means they were like 7 when we put out ‘Men’s Needs’. They were just kids. So we realised that era of music would’ve totally passed them by, they would never have had that experience of having to wait for a record and not just have immediate access. It does sound like you’re being perverse and just being awkward or something, but I dunno, it was only a couple of weeks when it wasn’t available. I like to think that in those couple of weeks it made people want to hear a record in the same way that I used to when I was waiting for a record to come into the store.”
That surprise release worked because of the unbridled loyalty of Cribs fans, and the band know it. It’s part of the reason why they can release ‘24/7 Rock Star Shit’ on such short notice, too. It allows them to get straight to the point.
“It affords us a lot of freedom,” Gary says. “That’s why we do it. It’s more fun, and you bypass a lot of bullshit, really.” 24/7 Rock Star Shit, no bull involved.
Taken from the September issue of Dork. Order a copy below. The Cribs’ album ‘24/7 Rock Star Shit’ is out now.