In a nondescript dressing room backstage at the O2 Academy, Ryan Jarman, guitarist of Wakefield trio The Cribs, tells me the story of the band since their first show in Oxford 11 years ago.
Then, the three Jarmans, Ryan, twin Gary and younger brother Ross, were touring relentlessly following the release of their raw and self-produced eponymous debut . They often played for free or multiple times a night in tiny venues, to hone their act and raise their profile. But Ryan is far from nostalgic for those early days, happy to move on to bigger and better things. “We’ve already had that intimacy”, he tells me.
Now, the band are playing in support of their sixth record, For All My Sisters. This is the first release following their move to Sony from the independent Wichita Recordings. “I feel like our relationship had changed a little”, Jarman explains, though alas without further elaboration . But it’s been a very positive move, he tells me. “Because we’ve been around for so long, they know what band they’re getting, so we’re kind of more independent than before”.
More than just the label has changed since those early days. Though Ross has remained in Wakefield (where a plaque commemorates the city’s most famous musical sons), Ryan now lives in New York and Gary is based in Portland, Oregon. Ryan sees this as broadening the band’s musical horizons. “If we all still lived together, we’d have a lack of inspiration. Now we’re all very different people, who bring different things to the table.” Indeed, Ryan delights in telling me about his projects outside of The Cribs, including forming a band with his American wife as well as collaborating with Julian Casablancas of The Strokes.
But it’s not all different on this album for The Cribs. Jarman tells me how it represents something of a return to an earlier sound. The band’s third album, Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever, progressed from their initial lo-fi offerings (being slickly produced by Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand) and propelled them into the realm of critical and commercial success. Subsequently, ex-The Smiths and Modest Mouse guitarist Johnny Marr joined the band from 2008 to 2011. “Once that record came out, Johnny joined the band and that took us in a different direction. Then Johnny left, and that sent us off in another completely different direction”. Thus, whereas Jarman describes their previous release, In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, as “dark, heavy and sprawling”, he sees their newest record as “a bit more stripped back, a bit simpler, a bit poppier” – the follow-up to Men’s Needs… that never was.
Out on stage, Esper Scout and The Wytches warm up the crowd with a punchy style clearly influenced by heavy listening to The Cribs in their formative years (“It makes us feel old”, Jarman had told me earlier). However, they received a fairly lukewarm reception from a crowd clearly full of ardent fans awaiting their heroes. Jarman had told me they ” try to keep it as interesting as possible… we do everything to make sure this doesn’t feel like a job” by avoiding endless repetition of setlists and trying to focus on newer material. Though, of course, this is hard to balance against the demands of a crowd yearning for the hits. Indeed, their efforts to rest fan favourite Another Number earlier in this tour were curtailed when the crowd began to sing the characteristic riff as they attempted another song.
The band’s 90 minute set was well-received by the energetic and engaged crowd, who went wild for classics such as “Hey Scenesters” and “Mirror Kissers”, and rapidly warmed to the diverse introductions from the new album, including the catchy “Burning for No One”, the Weezer-esque “An Ivory Hand” (the album is produced by Ric Ocasek, who worked on Weezer’s Blue album) and the swirling, mesmeric “Pink Snow”, which ended their sweaty set.
The Cribs are a remarkable band. They’ve released six albums that are each unique and special in their own way, yet they’re able to deftly blend choice pickings from each together to create a phenomenal live set. From the performance given tonight, and the bubbling enthusiasm of the Jarman brothers for their music and their fans, it’s clear this will continue for many years and albums to come.