I have to say that the Cribs’ recent record ‘Ignore the Ignorant’ was one of my favourites of last year and after giving it a spin today I figured it’d be a good idea to reprint my interview with Johnny Marr (yes, that Johnny Marr) and Gary Jarman that ran in Hot Press a few months ago.
Ignorance Is Bliss
Last month the eternally under-rated indie punk outfit the Cribs released Ignore The Ignorant and it’s easily their most ambitious (and critically acclaimed) record to date. Catching up with the band in Belfast Edwin McFee talks to Gary Jarman and new recruit Johnny Marr about press attention and expectations as well as hearing about how the former Smiths guitarist has found a new home with the brothers from Wakefield.
Back in January 2008, the music world was left scratching its collective head over some rather strange news. You see it seemed that Johnny Marr, Smiths legend and all-round Indie demi-god, had been working with Wakefield trio the Cribs on some new material. The following month the story was confirmed that the 45year old legend was indeed a fully paid up member of the band (and unofficial Jarman brother) and after a few low key tours to test the waters, they were to begin working in earnest on album number four. Fast forward a year and a bit later and the band have now released possibly their best record to date Ignore The Ignorant and it’s an event which comes as something of a relief for Mr Marr because now he’s finally letting the music do the talking.
“I don’t have a problem with there being a story around the record and I understand the level of interest that’s been generated by me coming into the band, but when it starts to overshadow the music and we’re more discussed than listened to it kinda misses the point,” begins the guitarist. “Now that it’s out on the shelves, all can be revealed and it feels really good that people are using their ears instead of their mouths now.”
At the time of our interview, the Cribs are in the Mandela Hall in Belfast, preparing for the second night of their tour. As is the norm at the moment, Hot Press is granted time with both Marr and singer/bassist/“one half of the twins” Gary Jarman. As we speak to the two members in turn they each make it clear that regardless of how juicy the story might be-their union is for the purest of reasons and that’s to make a kickass album.
“For us our primary consideration was all about the way the band sounded and how we fit as individuals,” says Johnny. “What people are going to think of ‘the story’ and my past (and their past) was just a passing thought. It’s almost superficial when you’re concentrating solely on the songs and essentially that’s the main thing we’ve got in common-we take care of the music first.
“Theoretically getting Johnny on board was a big deal and a scary thing,” offers Gary. “But the reality of it was different because we are just four friends who are into the same bands who are playing together. We all had the same ideas and any kind of trepidation or nerves went out the window in the first few minutes because we wrote some new songs straight away. When we started out we had this determination to make sure the integrity of the band’s direction wasn’t changed, but at the same time we wanted people to hear Johnny’s influence on us. I think we pulled it off and at the same time it sounds just like a Cribs record. Having Johnny on board enabled us to expand and go down avenues we always intended on visiting. There’s a lot more emphasis on delicate songs and that was something I’d been pushing for a while, as it’s a side of our band that we felt was over-looked quite a lot. We’re pinned our colours to the masts with this one. We don’t want to plough the same furrows.”
When listening to Ignore The Ignorant there’s a palpable feeling of frenetic energy and tension to songs such as ‘We Were Aborted,’ ‘Nothing’ and ‘We Share The Same Skies’ but in many other ways their union seems so effortless.
“That’s good to hear,” says Marr. “I mean it wasn’t effortless at all, but I’d like to think that people who are good at what they do make it look easy. In real life though there was a lot schlepping equipment into some very dodgy service elevators in the north of England and trekking across fields in Portland, Oregon to play in some sinister looking barns. We’ve done our fair share of graft making the album and there were a lot of late nights to get it right.”
“The initial spark we had was kinda surprising, but we were a bit naïve about the whole thing,” considers Gary. “It was all very easy. Maybe we took it for granted that we were all on the same page, but we knew it would work. Honestly speaking it was a big deal for us to ask someone else to be in the band and it was an even bigger deal getting someone like Johnny in. We weren’t worried about how it would turn out though, as we were all pretty sure that we’d at least have a good crack at it.”
When the four first decided to start something together, Marr invited the Jarman brothers to stay at his house in Manchester. Ever the clued in veteran, he went into his first forays with the group with a level head.
“We tried to be sensible about it,” he smiles. “We wrote a lot of songs before the idea of me joining properly had to be addressed. Maybe we were putting our heads in the sand, but again it was that thing of taking care of business first. We’re grown-ups and we know it’s a big commitment (me to them and vice versa) so we tested it out first. Right from the off we got on really well and I kinda turned around at one point once the guys were living in my house for a couple of months with my family and I thought-this isn’t too much different from me travelling around on a bus with them. It wasn’t an imposition living together as a family and they felt the same way about me. I kinda became the extra family member.
“There is a difference in the dynamic than there is in usual band-I’d be lying if I said otherwise-but it’s a positive one where there’s no bullshit and you can’t say that for most groups,” he continues. “There’s often a weird neurosis knocking around and agendas and paranoias and those sort of things, but with the Cribs we just have different issues. I haven’t quite worked out what they are yet-but it’s more so about what we’re going to play each night.”
Ego’s were also left outside the door, with all parties being refreshingly down to earth about the process.
“I have no interest in standing out from the group,” states Marr. “I believe every band member has their role and I just want to play the guitar. Guitar players can sometimes showboat a little bit, but I’ve no interest in being out front or the band being-‘the Cribs featuring Johnny Marr.’ I just want it to be a great unit (I wanted that for my other band Modest Mouse too actually). When I play on other people’s tracks down through the years I just want to make it sound better instead of being a showcase for my ego. I think me and the boys are all cut from same cloth.”
Gary also tells us that Marr’s interpretation of their older material is an understated affair and tracks like ‘Our Bovine Public’ (which is as angry as a badger that’s been booted in the balls) won’t have any jazz-fusion break-downs.
“Johnny’s really conscious of treating the older songs well,” says Gary. “He’s dead conscious about not spoiling anything or getting in the way and his flourishes and embellishments sound really great. It’s made a difference but it’s subtle enough to still sound like the original.”
Spending an evening in the two’s company is almost like hanging out with your mates. Marr, a lifelong Man City fan, is eager to talk about the recent controversial derby match once he finds out Hot Press is a fellow Blue (“I really didn’t care too much about the result because I felt that the important thing was that they got the message loud and clear that they need to worry about us now. That’s really very satisfying,” he remarks on United’s 4-3 win) and he’s also genuinely touched when this writer tells him about my ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ tattoo in honour of the Smiths masterpiece. Gary is equally as warm, open and honest as can be and it makes us wonder why these four didn’t team up years ago. Marr, for his part, agrees that he’s making the best music of his career and confirms that Ignore The Ignorant isn’t just a one album deal.
“We don’t have a clue where the next five years are going to go but we’re all assuming it’ll be in this format. We’re pretty hard to beat on a good night and there’s no reason to think I’ll be going anywhere else. I’ve always tried to avoid having a map or a game plan and just be led by the music and as long as I’m with people who think the same way I think I have a very worthwhile life.”