Band of brothers
Sibling trio The Cribs have spent a decade forging a rock career from the ground up, writes Paul Kay
ONCE DESCRIBED BYQ Magazine as "the biggest cult band in the UK", The Cribs have built one of the most loyal followings in indie rock over the past decade.
But while their hardcore fan base grew with every album, mainstream recognition remained strangely muted - until 2012 that is, when the band marked its 10th anniversary with an impressive double whammy that saw them garner Q's Spirit of Independence award and NME's Outstanding Contribution to Music prize.
Suitably gilded, the band - comprised of brothers Gary, Ryan and Ross Jarman - then released Payola, a greatest hits album (of sorts), on the back of which they have embarked upon a tour that sees them play Hong Kong for the second time. Over the phone from his home in Portland, bassist/singer Gary Jarman talks about his enthusiasm for returning to the city, where the band previously headlined the Clockenflap festival in 2011.
"I remember it being the most beautiful and surreal gig ever," says Jarman of their previous visit, "because we were playing late at night and it was really dark with an amazing view of the harbour. I remember being really jetlagged and the crowd just being really awesome and appreciative. When you've been on the road as long as we have, it's not often you get to go to a place you've never been before. We couldn't be more excited to be coming back and playing, so we'll definitely trying to be doing something memorable."
The Clockenflap set was also significant for Jarman in that it came at a transitional time for The Cribs. Former Smiths and Modest Mouse guitarist Johnny Marr had recently departed the band after a three-year stint and the brothers were getting used to being a three-piece once again while working on their 2012 album, the alliteratively titled In the Belly of the Brazen Bull. Having played only a handful of gigs in 2011, they chose their Hong Kong appearance to unleash some new material. "Hong Kong was the first place that we played Come On, Be a No-one and the first place we played Anna, two of the singles from the last record," says Jarman. "We wanted to debut them there because we wanted that to be part of the songs' history, the fact that they debuted in Hong Kong."
There's a fair chance the band will repeat the trick this time round, says Jarman, as The Cribs have not one but potentially two new albums in the works for 2014.
"We're hoping to do that. That's the plan," he says. "We've always had to balance the two sides of the band, because we've got a poppy side, but our first love is punk rock. For the next records we're trying to idealise them rather than balance them, so we want to make two completely separate records that fully explore each of those sides. We're going down this bipolar route right now and indulging both sides rather than trying to meet in the middle."
Jarman says they have already begun recording with producer Steve Albini - whose credits include Nirvana, The Pixies and Iggy & the Stooges, as well as The Cribs' In the Belly of the Brazen Bull - and that they may road test a new song or two in Hong Kong, if they're ready.
More than 10 years in, the band still gets a kick out of touring, says Jarman, especially when they chart new horizons; this tour takes them to Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as returning to Japan and Australia.
"When we first started touring it was so glamorous. Even if we were just in Northampton or Hull, it still seemed really exciting for us," says Jarman. "Over time it does lose its magic a little bit - we've traversed the globe for 10 years now - but the thing that keeps it fresh and the thing we really like about it is getting to different places."
Despite the band's success, Jarman remains down to earth and humble, and genuinely appreciative of the fact that he and his brothers have been able to make a career out of doing what they love without sacrificing their musical principles and while retaining a punkish, DIY ethos. "We never had an easy path as far as mainstream support went. We didn't really have the advantages a lot of major label bands had, bands who were a lot more willing to play the game," says Jarman. Jarman's twin brother, Ryan, famously told the NME in 2012 that he didn't think Nirvana would get signed today, and Gary Jarman is also candid on the state of the music industry. "The major labels have money but they just waste it and they're behind the times, while the indie labels are more effective in what they're doing but they don't have any way of bringing money in," he says.
He also laments the death of physical record buying, and recalls how he and Ryan would save up their school lunch money to buy records, once not eating lunch for 10 days to buy a Ramones album.
It's this type of commitment and intensity that the Jarmans will be bringing to Kitec in Kowloon Bay on October 31. Perhaps surprisingly - and fortunately given our city's obsession with the occasion - the band are big fans of Halloween, and added a spooked-out edge to their Sheffield O2 Academy show this time last year. "We had Halloween music on the PA system, and we all dressed up and decorated the stage. To revel in that schlock horror vibe is totally awesome. So we'll be doing something along those lines for sure."
Indie punk meets ghosts and ghouls. What more could you want from Halloween?
The Cribs, Kitec Music Zone, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, October 31, 8pm, HK$300 (advance), HK$360 (door). Inquiries: ticketflap.com