If you stick a pin in the leather jacket of this century’s guitar music history, The Cribs were there in some capacity. Releasing debut album The Cribs in 2004, the band started out as scuzzy DIY punks before being caught up in the slipstream of acts who rode the indie rock wave right through the pages of NME and on toward Soccer AM, festival main stages and serious national hype.
But while other bands of the mid 2000s fell to the wayside, The Cribs survived the British band buzz by sticking to their guns and having a clearly defined anti-capitalist ethos that eluded many of their peers. They were a fiercely independent minded band who never forgot their roots, sold out, or gave up. Though no indie disco will ever be complete without Cribs songs “Hey Scenesters!” or “Mirror Kissers”, the Jarman brothers established themselves as anything but a shit indie band from the off.
“In the mid part of the decade indie music was filled with kids in bands getting signed straight to major labels. We were trying say ‘That’s not where we’re coming from’ and not get on that gravy train. [Indie rock] only became bloated and cartoonish when the major labels started throwing money at it, but then that’s true of punk, grunge, and Britpop too,” says bassist and singer Gary Jarman.
Speaking from their homes in Portland and New York respectively, Gary and Ryan Jarman are looking back on the last two decades of British indie rock as they prepare to release their eighth album Night Network. It’s an album the band feared they would never get to release, due to a mounting legal battle over use of their back catalogue which would threaten to derail The Cribs’ existence, almost ending their career.
A few years earlier, The Cribs stuck out the landfill indie rush of the 2000s and released indie darling album after indie darling album. 2007’s Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever landed in the UK Top 20, while follow up records The Belly of the Brazen Bull (2012) and For All My Sisters (2015) cracked the Top 10. But then came the biting point.
For 2017 album 24-7-Rockstar Shit, The Cribs lived out their punk dream and recorded with indie rock daddy Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, Slint). The album was released as a surprise to The Cribs’ army of dedicated fans and went Top 10, but their approach to the release caused a major rift with long term management company Red Light.
The Cribs say they broke up with management the day after 24-7 Rockstar Shit charted. The band then dug into their business affairs properly for the first time in years and say they found that the rights to their early releases had been licensed out to various labels.
“It’s really hard to accept that someone you’d never met has the rights to your music,” Gary says of the moment he realised the albums they had recorded for “between £900-10,000” were in the possession of some of the world’s music world’s biggest companies. “That was really hurtful.”
In 2018 the band mounted a legal case to get the licenses to their recordings back, becoming de facto lawyers and accountants as a means of saving money.
“People underestimated how dogged we really were,” Gary says looking back on an 18 month period he admits left him “mentally fried”. Ryan, with a typical flair, sums it up by saying: “Music is supposed to be about a life of cufflinks and monogrammed pens, not wading through contracts on a conference call.”
The irony of being a band whose anti-establishment ideals were all but tattooed on their skin now being in the hands of the man wasn’t lost on The Cribs. Their future together was the most uncertain it had ever been.
“We’d have conversations where we had to convince each other it was going to be worth it,” Ryan says of the multiple times one of the brothers walked away. “Our entire legacy was at stake.”
Gary echoes this, saying they “put the band ahead of starting families so the records you make are what you have to show for your life. Having someone in a corporate environment saying that they own that and you can go fuck yourself is really difficult.”
Then Dave Grohl came along.
It was during this period that the band accepted an offer to support Foo Fighters at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium. The 2018 show was definitely the biggest The Cribs had ever played and possibly their final performance, too, due to how exhausting their label situation had been. That is until Dave Grohl, patron saint of rock and The Nicest Man In Music™, stepped in and offered an open invite to record a new album in his California Studio 606.
“We told him what had been going on and he just shut us down and said ‘Forget about it. You’re supposed to be making records,’” Gary says. “It felt profound because it was exactly what we needed to hear and gave us something to work towards.”
The band decamped to Grohl’s studio in California, where rock memorabilia is so prevalent that they recorded with Queen’s snare drums. The result is Night Network, a classic Cribs record from a band simply excited to be back doing what they do best.
“We always go into the records trying to make them usually a reaction to the record beforehand,” Ryan says. “With this one we purposefully went back to the things that excited us about being in a band when we first started.”
It’s an album they describe as “freeing” and “idiosyncratic,” filled with multiple-part harmonies and the classic pop hooks the band are loved for. Self-producing for the first time, one rule was established: they would only scream on vocal takes if it felt necessary.
Considering the legal backdrop it was made against, it is remarkable just how positive Night Network is. Bar album opener “Goodbye,” a kiss-off to “the ones who built their silence into walls,” the band’s eagerness to look forward is refreshing. Songs like “She’s My Style” and “Running Into You” crackle with the same excitable energy as those The Cribs wrote two decades ago at home in Wakefield. “Under The Bus Station Clock” also stands out. It’s an elegant song about floating away blissfully from a world filled with “Soho House bores” and its prettiness shows a softer side to a band who have often favoured distortion over delicacy.
Finally, with a new album written and recorded, The Cribs ended 2019 with the news they had been waiting for: they had free use of their master tapes and were no longer tied up in legal drama. It was vindication for a lifetime of sticking to their guns and never shying away from taking on the big boys. The arrival of this year’s pandemic has, admittedly, been another roadblock but the band don’t feel there is any obstacle they can’t overcome. As Ryan says, no doubt happy he can return to dreaming of his next monogrammed pen, “We really did win against the odds.”