The Cribs: Brothers rage against the scene

A place in the NME Cool List has not fazed the indie-punk sibling The Cribs
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The Independent Culture

When you meet The Cribs, you meet a family. The indie-punk group from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, is made up of the twins Ryan (guitar and lead vocals) and Gary Jarman (bass and vocals), both 25, and their baby brother Ross, 21 (drums). The brothers are too young to remember the Jackson Five, another singing family unit, but like them The Cribs started performing early, when the twins were just nine years old and Ross was five, at a family party in 1989.

The years of band practice have clearly paid off. A year of increasing success has culminated in the trio securing a spot in the NME's "Cool List" of 2005. That's what happens when you listen to The Ramones from a very early age. Today, the three brothers are sitting in a pub in London's Soho, practising being not particularly forthcoming, ahead of their appearance at the nearby Sister Ray record shop, on Berwick Street. where they will race through the likes of "Another Number" and "Mirror Kisses" to ranks of screaming teenage girls, who sing along and jump up and down to the catchy pop hooks.

Conditions are certainly cramped on the stage: Ryan, slightly chubby in tight jeans, is at the front, Gary withdraws to one side playing his guitar with his back to the girls, while Ross whacks the drums in a space where you'd have trouble swinging a cat.

After years of plugging away, it all changed for the band in April when their single "Hey Scenesters!" went into the charts at number 27.

According to Ryan, this was "on the back of gigging, because it hadn't had much airplay". The band's new single "You're Gonna Lose Us" is out this week, produced by the guitarist Bernard Butler (formerly of Suede and now reunited with Brett Anderson in The Tears). It is their sixth single since they were signed to the Wichita record label in 2003.

As with The Cribs' two albums to date (The Cribs and The New Fellas), "You're Gonna Lose Us" exhibits a melodic and wayward pop verve, in which enthusiasm counts for more than production values. It is an ethos that recalls the music of early Orange Juice and the other Postcard record label acts of the early 1980s, such as Aztec Camera and Josef K. It's perhaps not surprising, then, that Orange Juice main man Edwyn Collins produced The New Fellas. The record has been heralded in the US by both Rolling Stone and Spin as one of the best of the year.

In time-honoured fashion, the young Jarmans came to see their music as a way to escape from Wakefield, a town "where there was nothing to do", and which they characterise as a small-minded place where they were forced to keep their own company in order to survive.

Even leaving the house for band rehearsal touting guitars was regarded as a provocative act by the less enlightened among their peers. "If you were into punk rock, you got trouble in town," recalls Gary. "We suffered as teenagers, but in the end it helped us get our act together."

"It was very hard for us," says Ryan. "It's a northern town with no culture. They weren't very accepting of indie music. Luckily, we don't spend much time there any more, because we are always away on tour."

The three brothers went to Horbury High School. "We also tried going to study music at a local college," says Ryan. "But we didn't turn up enough to be allowed to continue, and we still wanted to use their recording studio facilities. Naturally, they wouldn't let us because we were failing the course, so we had to book into the recording studio under a name that they wouldn't recognise. The Cribs was the first name that popped into my head; there was really very little more to it than that."

After the boys left school, employment prospects proved scarce locally and they went to work alongside their father for two years in a factory producing toilet paper. Once things began happening for the band and they signed to Wichita, they swapped toilet roll for rock'n'roll. "Being in a band is much better," says Ross, who sits quietly, sandwiched in the middle of his twin brothers for most of the interview. "We don't treat it like a job. That is the quickest way to destroy a band."

The Cribs were part of the original "guerrilla gig" set, with The Libertines, Razorlight and The Others, as young bands sought to re-ignite the original anarchic spirit of rock'n'roll. Impromptu gigs were put on, the details spread by word of mouth, websites and mobile phones.

The Cribs then went on to support the Kaiser Chiefs in May of this year, on the NME's Rock & Roll Riot tour, and will be touring again with the super-successful power-pop outfit in 2006. The head Chief, Ricky Wilson, has been singing the praises of The Cribs to anyone who will listen.

The band's influences include The Beatles - "our backbone", they say - The Sex Pistols and The Smiths, along with American indie-rock acts such as Beat Happening and Bobby Conn ("our gods", they tell me). But they have been keen to find their own way in the pop world and have taken it at their own pace.

"What we do is punk rock, with an indie mind-set," says Ryan. "It's not a quick fix to sell records. We have been given time to do it and turn that into sales. I don't want to be a band that is shoved in everybody's face."

What about arguments? Family dynamics can be hard at the best of times, but not for The Cribs. Gary was born five minutes before Ryan, by Caesarean operation - "they had to get me out otherwise Ryan would have killed me," according to Gary - and they describe themselves as "peas in the same pod". They pride themselves on being a happy family band who have found creative harmony in sibling unity - a sort of skinnier version of The Magic Numbers.

Gary and Ryan take it in turns to write the lyrics, but everyone has a hand in the music. "There are not many people that have got the same ideas. A lot of our opinions have been formed over the years we have spent together," says Ryan. "It's a lot better for us to work together knowing we share the same mind-set, and this keeps us focused. There are not that many people that we associate ourselves with too much of the time. We don't really need to. We are a gang."

The Cribs take a fierce pride in "not playing ball" with anyone, insisting "we never went out to get a record deal". Gary struggles for a good 10 minutes to put into words exactly where the anger comes from on the Clash-like currrent single and "Hey Scenesters!" (which rages at "phoney and shallow people"). He rests his head in his hands to think, before confessing that it has everything to do with having "felt like an outsider for so long".

Even playing at indie clubnights around Britain, the band encountered what they describe as "playground attitudes," but what made Gary and the band really mad was that people were turning up with "expensive haircuts and clothes".

"It wasn't about the music. They were looking down their noses at those who didn't look so fashionable," says Ryan. "Some guy came up to our Gaz and said, 'I really like your band, but the thing that ruins it is that you are wearing the same jacket you were wearing the last time I saw you.'"

The lyrics on the second album reflected their disdain for poseurs and blaggers, says Gary. "It was a knee-jerk reaction to being exposed to a lot of falseness. It was the height of punk-rock cool, and we lashed out at the bullshit of the music scene. To be honest, we were on a bit of a bender when we recorded it. It's pure rock'n'roll."

The first album, by contrast, "was definitely more naïve," says Gary. "We were just enjoying being a poppy band. We were listening to The Beatles a lot." Now Gary has different concerns.

"I want to move on and explore different experiences. I'm not saying I've mellowed, but I don't want to go on being the angry outsider. It's good to be that for a while, but then it gets unhealthy." It's a natural progression, he feels, but it takes time. "When you come from such a closed place as Wakefield and arrive in cities like Los Angeles and London - more cosmopolitan places - and find that actually there is not much hostility towards you, it takes some getting used to. It's weird."

So while The Cribs get used to feeling more comfortable with themselves, they maintain the philosophy that has stood them in such good stead so far. "Do whatever the hell you want, whenever you want. The most important thing is to be true to your self."

'The New Fellas' and the single 'You're Gonna Lose Us' are out now on Wichita