mxdwn sat down with brothers Ryan and Gary Jarman of The Cribs. They released their album Night Network in November 2020. Then, each month between September 2021-December 2021, they released A-Side/B-Side style singles, resulting in an additional eight amazing tracks. Directly after a tiring battle with the music industry to claim the rights to their own music, the world thrusted into the pandemic, and the brothers were once again faced with not knowing what the future of their band would look like. The two give us an inside look on the distinct dynamic their band has being made up of all family members, how their musical visions come to life and the challenges lockdown has posed in creating their work.
When asked how they’d been doing lately, the two brothers talked about how frustrated this pandemic has made them feel. While every musician likely feels the same, The Cribs had only recently won the legal battle for their music catalog that they had been fighting since 2018. They were finally able to release Night Network at the end of 2020; however, they couldn’t even tour it after everything they had been through, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The band received high praise from critics for their new album; it streamed well, and it did great on the UK charts. However, they described those things as being more peripheral to them. The band loves touring; it has been a major part of their lives since the early 2000s. They thrive off of interacting with people, with their fans, seeing them physically enjoy and engage with their music. Numbers might be one thing, but it’s the faces that truly show them the feedback and reception of their music.
The way they created music together also drastically changed. To them, they create their music best by just hopping on their instruments in the studio together, getting into a booth together and hitting record. Well, when you have one brother in Oregon, one in New York, the last one in London and the world is on lockdown, that was taken away from them. They had to drastically change how they wrote and created together. They were each going a little stir crazy sitting at home, and that’s when the Singles Club was born. The project both served to keep them busy together and brighten the spirits of their fans by giving them something new to look forward to each month.
The band is so excited to get back to touring. And while the Singles Club songs were fun, their passion still lies with Night Network, and so it will still be their focus as they begin to tour again. It acted like such a musical journal for everything they had struggled with as they fought for their catalog, as they had feelings of giving up, and as they weren’t performing during the legal battles. There was so much fresh, raw emotion poured into that album that they feel they never got to truly release without having been able to tour it. They had a long fight to continue to pursue, make, and keep their own music, not only as a band but as brothers, too.
mxdwn: So what’s it been like, all this time being in a band with each other as brothers? Working as a family? You’ve been doing this since you became adults. I know when I became an adult, I was excited to get away from my sibling. Like I loved them of course, but it was nice to be free and to start being my own person away from them.
Ryan Jarman: When Ross, our younger brother, joined the band when he was 16, I really liked that because before that, we didn’t see Ross as often and you know, the age difference when you’re that age seems a lot more profound really. He was like four years younger than us, so when he joined the band and all three of us became just as tight as me and Gary were; I really liked it. I think the fact that if you’re in a band or if you’re doing anything, especially artistic, you need to trust the people you’re in the band with and that’s something that we’ve always kind of taken for granted taste wise, business wise and everything. We’ve just completely trusted each other. To me, it’s been nothing but a positive.
Gary Jarman: Yeah, it’s like we take it for granted because it’s always known, really. But it’s definitely helped. For example, it makes us a lot more charged, so like when we were dealing with the legal matters and the catalog stuff, it was like I was really really committed to that because I felt like I was representing my brothers too. It makes everything more poignant to us. And you’re sharing all of the successes together, all of the best experiences in your life you experience together, and that’s really great. We’re really lucky in that way, and I think that goes back to what we were saying about the start of 2020 was a bit of a reality check with us that, ‘oh, we actually live kind of different lives when the band is not around.’ The band keeps us all together, really.
RJ: Well, also, you kind of realize that we only see each other when we’re working, and that’s weird, you know? We all used to live together, but now, the only times that we get together are for work because we usually have so little time off, you want to spend it at home. So it is kind of a reality check that maybe we should hang out on a social level without the band sometime.
GJ: But at the same time, it’s kind of clarifying because the fact that you don’t notice that means that we enjoy doing the band. It doesn’t feel like a burden; it’s something we really enjoy.
RJ: I feel like the only times that we have ever made the effort to just go see each other when we haven’t been on tour or recording or whatever, we always end up working on music anyways. So the lines between the two are so blurred.
GJ: Yeah. Like when you think about it, I’m 40 now, and when the band started, I was 20, that’s half my life ago. I’ve been making music with Ryan and Ross as The Cribs for as long. I’ve spent as much of my life making music as The Cribs with my brothers as what I had just being their brother. You just don’t realize that ‘oh yeah, that actually defines our relationship in a lot of ways now.’
RJ: It’s almost like one in the same.
mxdwn That’s really interesting. That’s good that you guys are close enough that it doesn’t feel like there’s necessarily any negatives in regards to [working as brothers].
GJ: Yeah, it’s nice. I couldn’t imagine that if I was in a band with anyone else that it would have lasted 20 years. It still feels kind of autonomous when you’re in a band with your brothers. I’ve been writing songs at home during the isolation period, and we put them out as Cribs songs because it’s like there’s no difference between one of my solo songs and one of Ryan’s solo songs and The Cribs songs. It’s all still a pretty autonomous feeling.
mxdwn: So how does the dynamic of writing the songs work? Is it usually that one of you writes the totality of one track, and then you roll with it and create it together in its musical form, or is it a mix of, ‘Hey, my line’s here, and your line is there.?’
RJ: Sometimes that happens. Sometimes someone brings in a song, and we’ll work on it, but classically, and I think the thing that gets the best results, is we all just get together in a room and just play and see what comes out. We get the most best songs and the most powerful songs if they come just purely out of us playing together without any ideas or any preconceived notions. I always feel like that’s what works best, and that’s what makes up the bulk of our writing even still now. During the pandemic, with being split up, it’s been a little bit different. It’ll be a case like one person will have an idea and send it to everyone else to get their input, but classically, it just comes from us all getting together. We kind of feel like we all have to be together to write an album.
GJ: I’d say there’s like three ways, three distinct ways. There’s what Ryan outlined: we just get into the room and play, and whoever has the best ideas we follow them down that rabbit hole; we support one another and like, whoever’s got the best melody for that idea we use their melodies and it’s pretty democratic in that way. Then the second way is that we write and demo separately and then show the demos to each other. And again, people will have their input, but we’ll just support whoever’s idea is best; it doesn’t matter. And then the third way, that we got used to more recently, is kind of a hybrid of the two things where we jam together in a room, and we save all of these little ideas, and then somebody might go away and develop it themselves back in their home. Like, ‘oh yeah, I think this looks really cool in this place in this song, and I put these together and finished it off,’ and we complete the song that way. So those are kind of the three ways, but the main way, like 80% of the stuff, is done by we just get together and play and whoever’s ideas are the best, that’s what rides us to the top is we just get behind one another.
mxdwn: I like that, that’s really cool. If each song kind of has a little bit of everyone in it, between the Singles Club that you just released and then the album in 2020, what song kind of feels the most personal to you guys? I mean, there’s a lot to choose from, but is there anything that really sticks out as what you felt the proudest of or emotionally invested in, like one you were feeling the most during?
GJ: It depends. Like from the album, for example, a song like “I Don’t Know Who I Am,” I think is really one that we’re proud of. We worked with Lee [Renaldo] from Sonic Youth again, and I think that song is a very pure jam, very indicative of what we were saying about the way that we work. We jammed, and we just kept it pretty much exactly as what it was. So that one really hit hard with us guys for that reason. Then, also from the record, like “Screaming In Suburbia” is really cool because we worked on it all together like all three of us. Ryan and I split the vocals between us, and we wrote it together, so that was a really collaborative song. I think that’s why we all really like that one; we all have an equal influence on it. But then, like, from The Singles Club, a song like “Taken To Tualatin,” which is the B face of the first single, I just wrote that and recorded it at home on my own. It was about a very specific circumstance for me, about my dog dying actually, which was something I found really difficult, so that song was purely personal; it means a lot to me on a personal level as opposed to the ones from the album which are meaningful to me from the point of view of my relationship with the band.
RJ: Yeah, I think lyrically as well, though, considering it is kind of difficult to pick for me which one means the most to me lyrically because I kind of feel like we don’t write any lyrics that aren’t personal, you know? That’s just always been the way that we’ve done stuff. Sometimes it’ll take us a long time to get the lyrics; you’ve got to wait until there’s something happening in your life that you feel like writing about. So we never just put anything on as placeholders or necessarily pick a subject and work on that. Most of the lyrics—no, all of the lyrics, come from a personal place.
GJ: Yeah, that’s a good point actually because it goes back to what we were saying earlier about touring because it’s like if you’re hoping to write specific lyrics about things on the nose because if we’re having a tour, we’ve been touring for 20 years now. If you’re gonna tour an album and play those songs many many times, if it’s just about a party or something or about the pandemic or just something that’s a really specific moment in time, are you going to feel like playing it for the 70th time? Or like 4-5 years down the line? Probably not. Whereas, if it’s about something that was meaningful and something that you have an emotional response to, you can still kind of draw on that no matter how many times you play the song, you can still go back.
RJ: Yeah, you’ll always get something out of it.
GJ: Yeah, you’ll always get that feeling on stage like, ‘oh, I wanna play that song’ because it triggers some sort of feeling when you perform it; where if it was just something inane or something just specific to a moment in history, then you might wanna just move on from that history, move on from that and it wouldn’t matter anymore. It also might just become a bit of an albatross too. If it’s about something you’re enabled to still get some sort of a kick out of after playing it many times. Just something that you never thought would end, but you always feel kind of mentally connected to it. I know it sounds pretty philosophical, but most of the time, people don’t really ask about this kind of stuff, so it’s nice to be able to, you know, theorize on it.
mxdwn: When I was listening to, especially the singles, I was getting a lot of messages about kind of returning and coming back to everything, looking backward, looking forwards. Originally, I thought how those were very relatable feelings, but then, as I was reading about your fight with the music industry, getting your catalog, getting the rights to your songs back, was a lot of it inspired by that? Especially there was the line [in the song “Things Could Be Better”], “Trying to survive, ‘til the music plays,” was that kind of like being able to get back to a point where you can play your own music?
RJ: I think because that was one of the last songs I did the lyrics to, so that did happen during the pandemic. I wasn’t necessarily thinking that when I wrote it, it was kind of more literal that time to survive. But I can imagine that the circumstances that we were living in too at the time probably did influence and is probably why something like that would have come to me.
GJ: See, that’s weird that you say that Ryan, because I totally, when I heard that line, absolutely equated it to what Katie was saying just then; even I thought it was that.
RJ: Yeah, I mean it’s the same with all my lyrics. They generally just come out when I’m writing. I don’t actually sit and, and I know this sounds like I’m just dumbing stuff down, but I’m not. I don’t really think about the lyrics; I just see what comes out a lot of the time. So the environment definitely plays a part in it.
mxdwn: So it’s very subconscious for you then.
RJ: Yeah, pretty much. I just always feel like that’s when the best stuff comes out, so I’ll just sing along to it and record everything and just pick bits and then fill in the blanks.
mxdwn: The song “Sucked Sweet” and the music video for it, I thought that was such a fun video, and you guys made the choice of wanting your mom to come join you in that video. And I was wondering why that was such an important choice for you guys?
RJ: At first, it was weird, like the director Josh [McCartney] came up with the whole concept. And we were really busy at the time, and I looked at it and was like ‘yeah, this seems like it’ll be cool, it’s gonna be kind of surreal,’ and we wanted to do something sort of surreal. And he said he had a bit where he wanted someone to be playing our mother in the video. And I was like, I was not comfortable with it, like I really didn’t want anyone playing my mom. I just think that’s too weird, for whatever reason, that just didn’t sit well with me. So when I was visiting and having dinner with my mom, I mentioned it to her and how they wanted to bring an actress in to play her, and my mom was like, ‘well, if you want, I’ll do it.’ It was just like a joke at first like, ‘yeah yeah, sure that’s funny.’ Then, the more I thought about it, the more I was like, ‘yeah, you know what? I should just get my mom to do it.’ So I said to the director, ‘look, my mom’s down for it if you want to do it,’ and obviously they were down for that. I first, I was very protective of it because it’s like, it’s your parents. They know you so well and so intimately, so you’re naturally so protective of it. In hindsight, I’m really glad that we did it cause it’s like yeah, it was a little bit outside our comfort zone, but I think it was just really cool. Because there are not many bands, well there’s very few bands that have the same mother, you know? So it was really cool to be able to do that. I want to get my mom on a song next; that’s my next idea. I want to record one of my mom’s songs and see if we can get her on board for it.
mxdwn: Yeah, that would be a lot of fun.
RJ: I mean, why not? You know? If you can do, you should do, that’s what I think. Because we’ve always said that with the band being three brothers, we can’t really add any extra members because there are no other Jarman brothers or sisters. But we could always add my mom or my dad. But I don’t think my dad would really be much use. But I think my mom could bring something to the table.
mxdwn: So did the imagery in that video mainly come from the director then?
GJ: Yeah, it was directed by Paul McCartney’s nephew, Josh. He was cool; he had a lot of surreal ideas. We just trusted in him to do whatever he wanted.
mxdwn: Okay, yeah, because I was watching that, and I was thinking, do you really get interviews where people ask you, ‘How do you guys know each other?’
GJ: It does happen; it happens mainly in men in Europe for some reason.
RJ: Yeah, in the early days in the band, you’d get that quite a lot. And also, in the early days of the band, you’d get a lot of people who didn’t believe. I think it goes back to the whole thing with the White Stripes where people didn’t know if they were married. Cause that was the year we’re talking about, like 2004 or whatever. You get some people that didn’t believe that we were all brothers; they thought we were just saying it, you know, as some sort of gimmick or selling point.
mxdwn: Yeah, that’s kind of funny. In the song “Bad Dreams,” there was the line that really stuck out to me: “If you can only write about the things that you know best, I guess I can’t really sing songs about myself.” Do you guys really feel like you’re still exploring what makes you you?
RJ: I think that that was partially to do with the isolation. You know, we’re talking about like when the pandemic happened, you all of the sudden realized how without the band, your life is so different. I realized when I had that taken away from me that I just didn’t really know what I was doing with my life. I didn’t really know who I was, do you know what I mean? So that’s where that line came in. I was getting used to the idea of like, ‘I’m just a normal guy now, who isn’t in a band.’ The way my life is right now, I couldn’t function. I haven’t built a life outside of the band that would be sustainable.
GJ: Yeah, because it’s like a lot of our personality-defining characteristics have been influenced by having been in a band since we were 20 years old. When all of the sudden you stop touring, and you lose that side of your personality and that side of your life, you’re like, ‘well, I was 20 when I first started, and I’m 40 now.’ And the band’s not here right now; it’s like I was saying earlier on, it’s like adjusting to like, who are you really?
RJ: It’s like, I’m just a guy at home, who am I? You know what I mean?
RJ: I don’t know that person. Because usually, when I’m at home, it’s just a break between tours, so it’s really nice to get to go home and have a couple of weeks off.
GJ: At that point, when lockdown happened, we didn’t know when or if we were going to go out again. Like who is this guy that’s at home? It seemed alien to me; everything seemed alien.
RJ: It was instant cold turkey. Had it not been for the lockdown, and we had just come off the road by choice, that would be different. We would have coped with it better. But going from being a full-time musician for 20 years to all of the sudden cold turkey and you can’t do that anymore, it did pose some sort of mental questions sort of for us. And I can say this because I’ve spoken to both my brothers about this candidly on the phone because all three of us have struggled mentally. Not only in 2020 but prior to that in 2019 when we were dealing with the legal side of things. But we don’t talk about it too much because, as I said early on, everyone has problems, and the pandemic has been way harder on some people than it has been on others. And for us, it was more just like a personality crisis involved in it as well as [issues with] our careers and our livelihoods. But we also did have that personality crisis; that was something we didn’t expect, like, ‘oh, where did this come from?’ You know? Then you realize, ‘oh, yeah, it’s because we haven’t been outside of this world for a long time.’ Last time I was not a member of The Cribs was like, the internet was still dial-up, and people still bought CDs.
GJ: I think that throughout our careers as well, you’ve always kind of thought in your mind like, ‘oh, if I was a millionaire by now, I could retire and think I’ve done a bunch of albums and draw a line under it.’ But this kind of woke me up to that I couldn’t; I can’t just stop doing this. When the pandemic happened, the band, the option of doing it, was taken away from me. I realized retirement is not an option at this point; I’m not in the right place. You know what I mean? Yeah, it was weird.
mxdwn: Yeah, especially when, like, in another interview I was reading, I saw you guys talk about how you’re especially doing it for the music and not even so much as for the money. It’s such a big part of you; it’s what makes you happy and then just having that taken away from you.
RJ: Yeah, we’ve become, we’re working musicians essentially.
GJ: It takes away one of your defining characteristics as well, I think.
RJ: Yeah. For me, just being around the house all the time was really tough because I’m not used to it. I’m used to having purpose and such. Do you remember when everyone was like, ‘oh, it’s so inspiring having all these hours spent at home!’ Just getting chunks of work on their masterwork done. And it was, like, I spoke to many musicians at the time because I was checking on my friends, and I would check in on musicians I knew that were probably struggling in the same way. And they all said the same thing that it was like, when every day is the same there’s just no inspiration and it was true, it was harder. It’s hard to motivate yourself when there’s no outside stimulus. Like, when I write lyrics, I write like 80% of my lyrics in the bar. I go out to a bar, and the reason why is like, I just like being around people when I’m writing. I find that it helps me to be around people for whatever reason; I don’t know why. And I found that it’s like the same thing for any sort of writing like I just need outside stimulus. I can’t like I’m not really a go out into a cabin in the woods with an acoustic guitar and just write an album kind of person. That doesn’t work for me.
GJ: I know it’s one of those things that I’ve always thought like, making an album, putting in the hours and a lot of hard work, that isn’t what yields the best results. I could write an album in a week if my head was in the right place, you know? The times in my life when big changes were happening like when I moved to New York, for example, when you’re going through change, I could write an album in like a week, two weeks. Whereas spending months and months in a rehearsal studio and writing and just spending hours and hours on it every day wouldn’t yield better results than that week when my life changed. You need something like that to be happening to get you inspired.
RJ: Yeah, it’s true.
mxdwn: Yeah, a lot of people were struggling with their motivation and their everyday day-to-day tasks and when you guys kind of rely on that to make your work, yeah, that would put you in a bit of a funk or a bit of a panic.
RJ: Yeah, it’s just no stimulus, but luckily we had a bunch like we had an album ready to go and a bunch of offcuts as well to make the Singles Clubs as well. We were lucky in that way because we had sort of already built up a pretty big cache of recordings, so we didn’t have to worry about it too much. Now we’re starting to mentally try to move past Night Network and work on new stuff. And that’s kind of like the new challenge.