"Those Words Were Ringing In Our Ears" The Cribs Interviewed
The Cribs’ performance at Foo Fighters’ gigantic Manchester Etihad Stadium show in June 2018 has proven to be even more instrumental than they realised at the time.
The trio needed and wanted the show. Following a period of inactivity, problems were brewing under the surface, and their future was looking anything but bright. Being dropped by management is bad, but to then have to have legal and business battles to fight, is a different ball game altogether.
It began after the release of ‘24-7 Rock Star Shit’, the darker, more abrasive studio album from 2017 engineered by Steve Albini. Working on the assumption that this was not a commercial record, they released it almost directly to fans, without much of a fuss.
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Reaching number eight in the charts, the record immediately took off in ways greater than anticipated, but despite the band’s continued loyalty to independent music, their approach could have received a warmer welcome. Excitement and celebrations were brought to a halt when they found themselves parting ways with their UK management, an event that would signify the start of the most challenging chapter in their entire career.
“We had been talking”, states Ryan. “There was a point when we were saying even if we did split up, we had pretty much done everything that we wanted to do. When we started as a band for us the absolute, ultimate thing was to play at the main stage at Reading Festival. We weren’t ever aiming for that big rock star lifestyle. We just wanted to make records.”
“Having played the main stage there, as big Queen fans we were always thinking it would be cool to play a stadium”, he adds. “So when we got offered that show with Foo Fighters we thought maybe this was a sign; the perfect last show for us.”
The offer could not have come at a better time, having just scratched the surface, assessing the scale of the challenge they were faced with. Discovering the mess they had been in the entire time, without realising it, Ryan says the band were in a “bad headspace”.
“We were trying to figure out what we were going to do. Should we fight this thing or not? We questioned whether to cut our losses by racking up massive amounts of legal debt that we might never be able to deal with. We were pretty fed up.”
They already knew Foo Fighters personally before the show at Etihad. Following the delivery of a successful set, they were asked if they fancied hanging out. “We played with them a few times before, and we have some mutual friends. After the show they invited us into their compound.”
“We were chatting and telling them about some of the stuff we were dealing with. It was pretty simple with Dave, he was like ‘Forget about all that stuff, just come out to our studio and make the record. That’s what you’re in it for, you’re in it to make music. Forget about the business side, come out and make the record in our studio.”
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What initially seemed like an abstract idea became reality. Having had to cross many hurdles, it gave them something ultra-positive to aim for, there was a feeling of hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. Turning the studio recording offer down was something they would have lived to regret in the subsequent years to come.
“When we were growing up, it was Nirvana that inspired us to start playing music in the first place. Me and Gary would spend pretty much all our spare time in my bedroom listening to their records and watch the videos. So to be at Dave’s studio was basically a dream. It’s like a Nirvana and Foo Fighters museum with a studio in it.”
“It was amazing after going through everything. It gave us an appreciation of how good it was to be there to make our new record. They were around all the time, they are such positive people, such positive influences. It was a great experience, and as far recordings goes, it’s one of the most enjoyable records we’ve ever made.”
“It was restorative being somewhere like that,” enthuses Gary. “Those guys are just such good people, they’ve risen above things that have happened to them as well. Not only was it a fun studio experience, but it was restorative from a philosophical point of view, it’s the good guys helping us out. That was cool.”
The recordings at Sound City in Los Angeles took place in April 2019. A private studio facility unavailable to the public, the band could immerse themselves. Being constantly surrounded by reminders of the legacy of the two bands who influenced their drive and sound provided inspiration as well.
“Bit of pressure as well though when you’ve got Taylor Hawkins walking into the studio, listening to what you’re recording,” admits Ross. “As a drummer I was thinking maybe I’ll play the track while I do all the cool shit, when I was also just focusing on playing super-straight.”
Foo Fighters were very respectful of their recording time. They rehearsed in a small, almost garage-sized space, while The Cribs were recording in the large space next door. With a chance to mix work and leisure, the ten days went quickly, but there was still time for detailed exchanges on Queen and some video gaming.
“There was one song though (In the Neon Night),” remembers Ryan. “We had been playing it for ages. It must have taken us a while to get it right or something because one of them came up saying ‘You’ve been playing that song nearly all day. I’ve had it in my head’.”
The extraordinary studio experience was meant to be. Growing up in Wakefield as teenagers, getting into music and starting the band, Gary, Ryan and Ross Jarman got hooked on raw bands with strong ethos, who could influence and encourage them to develop and promote their own set of principles.
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Aged 21 and 17, and they were still self-managing at the time. More principled than many of their band peers, this would also mean that they didn’t pick the more advantageous business or rights setup to secure them and their future.
Coming at things from a DIY perspective, they were suspicious of signing deals, and committing to people they felt were more similar to them seemed like a good option. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, the music rights went to major labels.
“We felt like it was gonna be impossible to try and get the rights reverted back to us”, maintains Ryan. “We were about to sign a new record deal for our entire catalogue, but then suddenly these massive major labels come out of the woodworks claiming that they own it.”
“It was devastating. But we had kept every contract we had signed, we still had all the accounts for any tour we had ever done. As we went through everything, we discovered that there was no mention of anyone ever being allowed to sell our rights without our say so.”
“We were quite anti-major label when we first started out,” states Gary. ”We had actually resisted signing with major labels at the time. Getting our rights back from our former independent home was straightforward, we got that sorted relatively quickly. But then when we got them back we discovered the sub deals with major labels, we didn’t know that that was the way things were set up. Our catalogue was under their umbrella and ownership.”
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With that revelation came the fact that it was Universal, and the irony of where they found themselves kicked in. Determined to go all the way and put in the required effort became a necessity. One healthy part of that realisation though was the activity of melding business matters and writing a new album. Even though Ross is based in Wakefield, Gary lives in Portland, Oregon and Ryan is in Queens, New York, it was possible to meet for regular sessions.
“Me and Gary were flying to the UK all the time to deal with business matters, so because we were all there, it was easy to arrange”, assures Ryan. “We would be creative when we weren’t having meetings, and we would just get together and start writing. The actual writing of the songs seemed like sanctuary from all the other stuff we were having to deal with. It was such a contrast that it felt like the fun side of being in a band, writing and playing again.”
“We knew we had been writing stuff, but we were so bogged down in business stuff, more than we were on the arts side”, says Gary. “Not only is that challenging from the point of view of writing a record, but it’s psychologically difficult as you can lose that positive association that you have with making records, and that can be demoralising.”
Rediscovering the positive association with music in times of darkness made everything feel better. And The Cribs’ eight studio album ‘Night Network’ is their most joyous, uplifting record. Sounding free and easy, it offers romantic and innocent vibes, and it also represents an honest return to basics for the band. It goes back to what inspired them when they started out as musicians. Never neglecting a strong melody or a hook, melodic whispers of classic rock and roll, pop and various girl groups echo throughout.
“It’s almost like a recoil where you go so far one way, and then you snap back”, observes Gary. “When we first started out as a band, outside Sonic Youth and Nirvana, it was The Beatles and Motown; good, poppy and soulful music. But over the years, the longer we were on that treadmill, it kept building up and building up to the point where things got louder and more aggressive until we hit a peak with ’24-7..’”
“We didn’t leave ourselves anywhere to go from there. We recoiled back to where we came from. I think that was partly due to the fact that we had to put a distance between ourselves and the band because of this enforced hiatus. We could see it and realised where we were. We remembered who we were when we first started out, we embraced that again.”
“Even before we made this record we had conversations about wanting to move away from some of the more fierce stuff that we had done”, reveals Ryan. “We’re in different places in our lives now, and it’s just ironic that we were dealing with things that were dragging up a lot of negative, emotional issues. At the time we were writing the record we did want it to be more positive. I think we just enjoyed playing a lot more as a result, it was a break from acting pseudo lawyers and pseudo accountants.”
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With a lengthy career, experience and knowledge, self-producing continues to make sense. Having worked with some of the biggest industry names in music, Ryan feels that they have enough knowledge to be self-sufficient. “I think when it comes to a producer, we didn’t really feel like we needed one. Even in the past when we’ve brought people in, it’s more about them bringing their vibe and perspective. At this point, we’re experienced and we’ve worked with so many good producers that we’ve learnt from.”
“From a production point of view, we‘ve been so autonomous in this period of time in trying to get our rights back, and we’ve been self-managing”, adds Gary. “We’ve done so much work on our own that it made sense to take this opportunity to self-produce, so we were in control of everything our side. It’s nice to just feel self-sufficient and solely responsible.”
As hard as it is to come up with a counter-argument, it does seem to beg the question of how it feels to look back on their achievements. Having been around for more than two decades inevitably does provide you with a substantial legacy and pride.
“Having longevity and the degree of success that we have whilst doing stuff on our own terms, turning things down and being principled has all been important”, considers Ryan. “There were certain times where we were always told that our principles were holding us back, but that was not something that we were going to compromise on.”
“We’re proud of what we’ve remained that way and stuck by our values first and foremost and still achieved a level of commercial success that a lot of bands don’t experience. Plus, the record we made with Steve Albini was the first top ten record that he has had since ‘In Utero’, that’s pretty cool.”
Dave Grohl gave them encouragement too. “He said ‘don’t ever sell your rights again, make sure you always keep hold of them’. That’s quite an obvious thing to say, but not everyone’s privileged enough to do so. And it was salient to us because we were in the process of getting them. Those words were ringing in our ears.”
Gary chooses to touch on the psychology of it. “When you make the record, there’s an element of catharsis. You’ve with dealt with everything you were dealing with at that time and compartmentalised it in that album. When you make the next one, you don’t have that baggage anymore.”
“It’s not something we ever sit down and discuss, but we always tend to push against the previous record, and it’s because we’ve dealt with it. It means that I’ve explored that element of my personality. It’s there now, it’s done and I’ll move on to look at something else.”
Almost certainly their finest work yet, and that is saying a lot, there is no doubt that The Cribs tackle a different compartment on ‘Night Network’. It is going to be fascinating to see how they “push against” it on their future projects, having proven that psychology has a part to play in the process.
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'Night Network' is out now.
Words: Susan Hansen
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