words: Austin Miller
pics: Ruth Stanley
They’re the Anti-Hanson. Austin Miller talks to Wakefield’s brotherly punk-pop teen sensations THE CRIBS.
The buzz surrounding The Cribs in the months prior the release of their self-titled debut album (out now on Wichita) was immense. Through consistent touring (especially a series of soon-to-be legendary gigs with good friends and fellow Leeds hopefuls 10,000 Things) they galvanised their position as part of the future of UK pop music. That buzz exploded on stage at the album launch in March at Joseph’s Well. It was a great moment for the trio of Wakefield brothers, but has proved only to be one in a series of triumphs.
Since then, they have played three nights on the NME Brit Pack showcases; as well as supporting band favourite Bobby Conn as he travelled the nation. It is typical of the band’s ethos and motivation that a enigmatic character like Conn (who produced a song on their record) would be held in reverence; The Cribs are fans of “Anything that diverts attention from Shitty Yuppie Music” sneers singer Ryan. Fair play.
The Cribs’ pop-punk is a exercise in candid and unrefined music, retaining a crucial lack of pretension. They are a live band who manage to carry their energy onto record. “All of our songs come from jamming,” says Ryan, “Not in a space-rock way, but there are no preconceived ideas. Sitting at home and writing a song seems contrived compared to just getting up and seeing what happens.”
Bearing in mind that every song that they have ever written has been a group effort, being a band-of-brothers must have an effect. “It’s the reason that the band is working,” affirms Gary (twinned with Ryan not only in age but also in singing responsibilities). “If we don’t like each others parts, no-ones gonna go home and sulk. We’ve been in bands with other people and there are always musical differences, but this way it’s a lot more single-minded.”
“We’ve all got the same record collection anyway,” shrugs Ross, the drummer and youngest brother. “Well, he’s had our record collection forced on him” says Gary. “If I liked Sonic Youth at fifteen, he liked it at eleven.”
So what do The Cribs all listen to? “A lot of ‘80s indie; The Smiths, Kill Rock Stars. Also people like Bobby Conn. But all three of us love the Beatles unconditionally.” In fact all three of them are sporting high-topped Beatles boots that they have just bought from Liverpool in a tribute to the Fab Four.
The Cribs are as recognisable from their stage show as their music. On stage they look like rock stars. Ryan is all tight T-shirts, capes and wonky Ray-bans. Gary is more sombre in bootlegs and jackets. It is drummer Ross who regularly steals the show by playing standing on his stool and donning a sequinned tunic. But the band are uncomfortable talking about their image.
“We don’t get up there and try to look like hipsters,” says Ryan. “Ross puts on his sparkly jackets because he’s in a band. The only time you can get away with wearing a sparkly jacket is if you’re in a rock and roll band.”
These reservations about being seen as a stylish band I suspect are an attempt to distance themselves from a certain New York five piece. It is near impossible for any raw rock band emerging since 2001 to be mentioned without a reference to The Strokes (forgive this reporter for continuing a lazy trend). Are The Cribs suffering from people consistently calling them Strokes-like?
“It does happen a lot” confides Ryan. “But if we were just a Strokes cover band then we wouldn’t be respected by the people we respect. And we are.”
Their music is reminiscent of The Strokes, but the mood of the music is very different. There is a sinister naivety about them. They write catchy records that are spasmodically interrupted with bursts of atonal distortion. Their music runs somewhere in between the complete self-control of pop music and a sound so tinny and deranged that it threatens to collapse altogether.
When the subject of the much-hyped ‘Leeds scene’ comes up Ryan is particularly blunt, “Everybody likes to put scenes together, but it’s bullshit”. That’s sorted that one out then. It’s clear that The Cribs don’t feel like they are part of a movement.
“The indie community in Leeds is damn good, we like bands like 10,000 Things, The Research, Little Japanese Toy, The Real Losers. But since we signed, for every one person who is excited for us, I can think of about ten more who really resent it,” says Gary.
“Things like Battle of the Bands encourage bands to fight with one another. It becomes too competitive. Bands do gigs where they have to sell shit loads of tickets just to get a gig. Why don’t they just go to a cellar, chuck a drum kit and some vocal gear down there. It’s a lot more fun then playing to a load of other bands families who are only there because tickets had to be sold.”
Ryan nods in agreement. “You might as well throw yourself in the deep end. It’s a lot more fun playing in front of a crowd where you don’t know if they’re gonna eat you alive or love you. You’re gonna come out of it a little bit better if you’ve had to work a bit harder.”
What is palpable through all that they say is that the cribs have an urge not to be considered as another indie band riding the Zeitgeist. “We were a fully self-contained band, we recorded our own stuff,” Ryan explains. “We didn’t go looking to get signed – it just happened”. They resent being categorised in any sense and as they are not only a band, but also a family, it is easy to see why they guard their identity closely. It may prove impossible for them to avoid pigeonholing forever. But, provided they keep wearing capes and tunics and pumping out maniacally catchy, danceable songs Leeds can be proud. Whether they like it or not.