Welcoming A Member Of The Smiths Into The Cribs Family

26 April 2018 | 1:43 pm | Anthony Carew

"Obviously that was surreal, at first, because, it's like, that's Johnny Marr! We grew up listening to him! And now here he is, just one of us."

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Since their formation in 2001, The Cribs have been a family affair. The UK rock trio is led by twins Ryan and Gary Jarman, with another brother, Ross, on drums. But, for three years, from 2008-2011, they were joined by another, unexpected member: legendary The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. "To have somebody come into our little family circle was pretty daunting," says Gary, the band's bassist, from his home in Portland, Oregon. "But, Johnny's really like a member of the family now; he loves our family, I love his family. It's indicative of how things work in our band: he became like family. Obviously that was surreal, at first, because, it's like, that's Johnny Marr! We grew up listening to him! And now here he is, just one of us."

The Jarmans "grew up in Thatcher's Britain", in Wakefield, a depressed industrial town in West Yorkshire. Gary and Ryan were "quiet kids" who kept to themselves. "We played the violin; we were classical music kids. You copped a bit of flack for carrying a violin case at that age," he recalls. Gary's favourite band in his early years was Queen and defending his love of Freddie Mercury against bullying small-town bigots was, he thinks, "important to the development of [his] progressive views".

The Cribs always make a point to mention Wakefield in interviews. "We never had that big-city vibe," Jarman says. "There weren't venues and promoters, you just did it all yourself: you put the gigs on, you organised the bands, you did the sound; you made your own work, you made your own community."

The brothers have come a long way since those salad days. Signed amid that post-The Strokes hype of the early-'00s, they've maintained astonishing consistency since: issuing seven LPs, constantly touring, maintaining that DIY approach even as their last four albums - including 2017's 24-7 Rock Star Shit - have hit the UK Top 10. The Cribs have also worked with a fascinating array of producers: legendary engineer Steve Albini, Orange Juice frontman Edwyn Collins, Ric Ocasek of The Cars, cult Chicago showman Bobby Conn and The Flaming Lips-affiliated noisenik Dave Fridmann. This list suggests a band who are, undoubtedly, hardcore record obsessives.

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"A lot of that is to do with where we grew up," Jarman explains. "We'd save our dinner money to buy records. Because you could only afford one record a month, you'd spend hours just reading the liner notes and the lyrics on records. Lots of the people we ended up working with were people's names we'd read on records. It was this form of isolated, distant fandom. So, when we got the opportunity to travel and tour and break out of Wakefield, the idea that we could record with people we'd grown up listening to - that we could go into a studio with Steve Albini or Dave Fridmann - seemed like such a huge privilege. Coming from Wakefield, we still feel like everything is a big treat for us."

The twins spent "most of [their] teenage years" studying sound engineering, working out how they could make good-quality recordings on their cassette four-track. "We'd hear that some kid over the other side of town had a good mic, and we'd get on the bus with all our gear and go off just so we could use that mic," the bassist laughs, in recollection.

Working with Albini, then, was a way of getting into deep mic talk. The Cribs also shared his punk-rock values, DIY approach and suspicion of the music industry. "The music industry, by its nature, is an exploitative industry," Gary says. "That's why we were always as hands-on as we could be. We weren't dependent on other people when we were teenagers putting on our own shows and we tried to maintain that when we became a signed band. I think that's been a huge reason why we've survived."

That and the fact that they're family: blood forever thicker than water. "Our dynamic, our relationship between the three of us, hasn't ever changed; it's been there since we were kids," Gary says. "I'm in a band where I can honestly say I love the other band members as much as anyone in the world. Even the tightest bands can't say that."