Formed back in early 2002 in Wakefield‚ The Cribs‚ twin brothers Gary and Ryan and younger sibling Ross first came to light with their debut release ‘You & I’ , a split single with Jen Schande on the Leeds based indie Squirrel Records. Following their signing to Wichita Recordings in 2003, they enlisted the help of their friend Chicago singer/avant-garde musician Bobby Conn, to record demos for their eponymous debut, subsequently spending a week ensconced in London’s Toe Rag studio capturing the endearing energy of their live shows.
Never ones to sit back‚ ‘The New Fellas’ followed in 2005, an altogether more vitriolic affair. Produced by Edwyn Collins, the album broke new ground for the band providing them with several Top 40 singles including ‘Hey Scenesters’ ‚ a dig at the indie scene of the time and further backed with the chart success of the singles ‘Mirror Kissers’ and ‘Martell’ . The Cribs have continually enjoyed the patronage of their contemporaries and 2006 saw Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos take on the producer role. ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’ saw a no less passionate band but Kapranos managed to harness their anger and song writing prowess whilst not losing any of their inherent beauty resulting in the bands major mainstream breakthrough, reaching Number 13 in the charts upon release in 2007. Featuring a contribution from Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo the record cemented the band’s position of as one of Britain’s biggest cult bands.
2007 also saw Gary relocate to Portland, OR where upon a chance meeting with Johnny Marr resulted in the ex-Smith joining The Cribs in 2008 and work started in earnest on the band’s fourth album. ‘Ignore The Ignorant’ released in September 2009 became their first Top Ten album, garnered support from hitherto uncharted waters and saw the band extend their fanbase across the world and continued the band’s ever increasing upward trajectory.
After wrapping up touring duties for ‘Ignore The Ignorant’ with a triumphant Main Stage appearance at the Reading Festival, the band went their separate ways – Ryan collaborating with old compatriot Edwyn Collins, and then later turning producer for the Comet Gain album ‘The Howl Of The Lonely Crowd’. Gary meanwhile returned to Portland, and collaborated with ex-Grandaddy guitarist Jim Fairchild on his All Smiles project, and Ross home to Wakefield to undergo some spinal surgery and attendant rehabilitation. It was around this time that Johnny left the band, to work on his own solo project under The Healers name.
Writing for ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ began in November of 2010 when the band were on an unofficial break. Gary had set up a home studio in Portland and Ryan came out to visit during this period. “It was the best time” says Gary “just hanging out and messing around with different pieces of gear, spending all day making noises, chasing tangents – just like when we first started.” The brothers would take road trips throughout the Pacific North West, staying in seedy motels along the way, playing music and talking through the night. “We just started to write fragments of songs” says Ryan. “We didn’t know what we were going to use them for but we built a sketch book with our ideas which were coming thick and fast” Gary adds “I think that was just the right start really, re-connecting in the way we used to do things, in these little bolt-holes away from everything else that we had going on at the time.”
2011 was pretty much focused on further full-band writing sessions in Wakefield, UK (in drummer Ross’s garage) and Portland. “We played all day, seven days a week, it didn’t feel like work, it felt right” says Ross. “Because Gary had to come from the USA, or we had to go there, we would have these two week blocks of time to work in, so they were pretty intense sessions.”
When summer came around, the band were ready to start thinking about the actual recording, the overall ideal being focused on trying to capture the band in as close to a natural live take as possible. To avoid getting bogged down in a lengthy studio experience, which the band didn’t feel was conducive to the way that they work, Ross came up with the idea to record in various different places, in several short sessions. “It was, let’s record swiftly” says Gary, “capture the record as quickly as possible. Let’s do it on analogue tape so we have to stand by our decisions as we make them, not out of some sense of ‘keeping it real’ or whatever, but it’s how we work best and it’s how our songs translate best. Everything else just sterilises our music I think and I hate being stuck in a studio for 6 weeks, waiting.”
First came an aborted session with producer David Richards in Switzerland. “I was really into Queen’s ‘Innuendo’ during the writing of this record (which Richards produced)” says Gary, “so there was a sense of me living out my fantasy going there to work with him. I think the sessions went well, and David gave us exactly what we went there for – but it just wasn’t right for this record. I would like to think it will see a release at some point though.”
Next the group hooked up with Steve Albini at his E.A.R. studio in Chicago and Dave Fridmann at Tarbox Road Studios in New York State. “We wanted to work with Steve Albini on our first record,” explains Ryan, “but we were unsigned when we started making it and we went into Toe Rag to record as it was really cheap and we liked the studio ethos. Then with each record after we always said, ‘we’ll get Steve next time’ and we never got around to it. Somewhere down the line you end up deviating from your original vision of what the band is, and that’s why when Johnny left and it went back to it being just the three of us it felt like it did when we first got together and Steve was the obvious choice for us to work with.”
Four songs were put down in three days with Albini, although only one, the punky, abrasive ‘Chi-Town’ about a girl Ryan was going to marry before the band took off, made the cut. The band hope to return to E.A.R. to complete further sessions for their next record, which will include the as yet unissued remaining tracks. “We didn’t want to break them up really” says Gary, “but release them in one go”.
“Steve’s a really good engineer” says Ryan. “He’s very quick, and on the first day he asked, “How do you want to do this?” and we told him we want to do it all live, no overdubs just guitar, bass, drums, and then on ‘Chi-Town’ I was putting a piano down at the end of the song and he said ‘Just so you know, if you put this down the album isn’t going to be all live. I don’t have a problem with doing it but you might have a problem with doing it because you told me you wanted a live record’. So you think about these things. And he doesn’t give any opinion on the music, he records without prejudice, he just records what you do, and for me that’s perfect.”
The majority of the album was produced and recorded by Dave Fridmann, at his Tarbox Road Studios in upstate NY. It was Weezer’s 1996 ‘Pinkerton’ album and The Flaming Lips’ ‘Clouds Taste Metallic’ that initially attracted the band to Fridmann. “I first heard those records when I was a kid, like 14 or 15. I think that was the first time I was ever aware of ‘production’ really – they were so dark sounding, sonically, and had a lot of ambience and to my ears at the time that seemed so unfamiliar and interesting, I love the sound of those records” says Gary “and for both Steve and Dave, capturing a good live take is of paramount importance, both concentrate on having a band in the room playing together, but where Steve believes the band should do whatever they think is right and he’ll facilitate that to the best of his ability, Dave is hands on, he’ll encourage you to record interesting sounds, to experiment with sonic textures, to try things you wouldn’t normally do and be free in the studio.”
The session yielded nine album tracks. Ryan’s songs are raw, fierce, punk sounding see ‘Back To The Bolthole’, ‘Jaded Youth’ and ‘Come On, Be A No-One’.“Back To The Bolthole’ was one of the first songs we wrote” says Ryan. “It was written in the motel room pictured on the front cover of the record and while I can see that it’s quite dark and heavy, the chorus is supposed to be life affirming. There was this realisation that came to me, that you can’t worry about stuff because everyone is going to die in the long run and that doesn’t bother me at all, and when I realised it doesn’t bother me, it was like a weight off my shoulders, it was like reverting back to the naivety of a child.”
‘Come On, Be A No-One’ meanwhile, is a ‘Born To Lose’ type anti-hero anthem in-the-making with a great guitar fade out. “Gary wrote it on the acoustic and it sounded very George Harrison, we did an early version in Edwyn’s studio but then we stripped it back for the record. I was nervous about putting lyrics to it because Gary wrote the melody, but I came up with the line one night, at first I thought it was just a stupid line, then I saw it as self depreciating but then it became about the idea of anonymity, moving back to Wakefield, no one asks me about The Cribs, no one cares about that shit and it’s really good. But there was another level too, it was also a love song, about totally giving up what we’ve achieved in a second for love, comfort and peace of mind but then at the same time, I know I couldn’t give it up even if I wanted to, because sometimes I just want to rock!” Gary’s songs rock too, but are more gentle and introspective. They have meaningful titles like ‘Glitters Like Gold’ and ‘I Should Have Helped’ and have a real femininity to them.
“On the last record a lot of the ‘prettier’ sounds we created got attributed to Johnny having joined the band but it really wasn’t as clear cut as that. We’d already started progressing in that direction, I was certainly trying to make my writing more expansive” says Gary “and I wanted to continue that with this record.” Ryan: “Gary knows I’m always pushing to do raw punk rock and so as a result he take cares of the gentler stuff, and I give him free reign so we have a good balance on the record.”
The album closes with perhaps the most ambitious work they’ve done to date. A four song suite: ‘Stalagmites’/ ‘Like A Gift Giver’/ ‘Butterflies’/ ‘Arena Rock Encore with Full Cast’ was recorded at London’s Abbey Road and self produced. “We’ve always been Beatles fans” says Ross “and there was a sense of liberty taking, it’s our fifth record, let’s go to Abbey Road and record! Why not?”
“We had lots of song fragments left over from that initial road trip Gary and I made” says Ryan “and we thought, let’s weave them in and out of each other and make them into a larger body of work. We’d never done anything like that before but I really think it works.”
The album closer ‘Arena Rock Encore with Full Cast’ is firmly, as the title implies, tongue in cheek. “So many bands, that’s the aim, to get to the arena. When did that become the standard goal, or even a tangible concept for an indie rock band?” asks Ryan.
Of course The Cribs aren’t trying to be an arena band, they just want to make another great record and ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ is unequivocally a great record. They must be very proud. “I just want every record to do better than the last one” says Ryan “so more and more people get to hear us and hopefully understand us, that’s always the main goal with our records, for people to understand us.”
For Gary the aim is to simply “make a better record each time” and he says, “I’m really pleased with this one.”
We know you will be too.
‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ is released on 7th May through Wichita Recordings
The Piece Hall
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