Back with their seventh studio album 24/7 Rock Star Shit, The Cribs have teamed up with alt rock producer extraordinaire Steve Albini in what many fans consider a match made in sonic heaven. Daniel Gumble sat down with co-frontman Ryan Jarman to find out why the partnership took so long to arrive and what it’s like to work with one of the scene’s most notorious producers…
As Ryan Jarman, one half of The Cribs’ creative driving force puts it so early on in our chat, a Steve Albini-produced record has now come to represent something of a confrontational statement; a symbol of mainstream rejection and opposition to anything even remotely slick in its sonic DNA. And while some would gladly revel in such anti-establishment sentiment, it’s a reputation that is almost entirely without merit.
Throughout his career, Albini has left his indelible sonic fingerprints all over some of the most iconic and revered albums in recent history. His style is one based on economic use of studio time and no frills recording, capturing a sound that Jarman describes as being “going straight to your soul, rather than to your ears”. Ultimately, the anti-establishment label is one created by those who view anything lacking a radio-friendly veneer as being somehow provocative. The starkest example of this from the Albini oeuvre was Nirvana’s 1993 masterpiece In Utero, which, following the earth-shattering breakthrough success of 1991’s Nevermind, was deemed unlistenable by some and as commercial suicide by others. Few with a more mainstream outlook, it seemed, could accept that the band merely wanted a record that wasn’t a carbon copy of their previous work.
Return to roots
The Cribs’ new album, the splendidly titled 24/7 Rock Star Shit, sees the Wakefield trio presented with a similar predicament. With 10 blistering tracks packed into just 36 mins, it is an album that marks a significant departure from their comparatively more poppy previous outing For All My Sisters. Dripping with squealing feedback and sandblasted with discordant, distorted guitar, not to mention the searing vocals of twin bothers Ryan and Gary - the latter sounding like a man who’s just swallowed a pint of gravel and lighter fluid (in a good way) – the album sees the band return to their raw, punk rock roots armed with a war chest of monolithic choruses and infectious melodies that reward multiple listens.
As I take my seat opposite Jarman in the unlikely setting of a Leicester Square Patisserie Valerie, Jarman cuts a discrete figure, sunken deep inside a black hoodie at a table in a remote corner of what will be the venue for our interview for the next hour. And he is quick to address the judgement some have been quick to cast upon the new record after hearing of Albini’s role as producer.
“All I’ve heard, even from people that have been supporters of ours, are like, Oh, it’s too noisy, too lo-fi,” he observes. “It’s so weird. Some people see recording with Steve as some sort of inflammatory move, like you're trying to make a statement. That’s not why we did it. He is a great engineer who makes records that sound great.”
The band’s relationship stems from a session dating back several albums, and has been highly anticipated by fans for several years. For many, the pairing of The Cribs and Albini has long felt like an ideal coming together of artist and producer. So why did it take so long for 24/7 Rock Star Shit come to fruition?
“It all starts really with Johnny [Marr] leaving the band,” explains Jarman. “We made our fourth record (Ignore The Ignorant, 2009), which was a long, drawn out process. We’d been wanting to work with Steve Albini for years, so I said let’s do that for the next record, but Johnny wasn’t really into it. When he left we became fixated on upping our game, because the grown-ups had started to take notice of us – these are people that had been dismissive of us in the past or had chosen not to really acknowledge us. They had come on board, for better or worse, so we needed to make sure the next record was out best record.”
All I’ve heard is Oh, it’s too noisy, too lo-fi. It’s so weird. Some people see recording with Steve [Albini] as some sort of inflammatory move, like you're trying to make a statement. That’s not why we did it. He is a great engineer who makes records that sound great
The resulting record, 2012’s In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull, saw the band work with producer David Fridmann, although they did find time to fit in a fleeting session with Albini, spawning one track that made the album (Chi Town) and a clutch more that later surfaced as B-sides. However, it would be another album – the Rick Ocasek-produced For All My Sisters (2015) - and another five years before The Cribs would begin working with Albini on 24/7.
'We recorded and mixed the album in five days'
“We got a lot of the aggression out of us on the fifth album, so we weren’t in a great hurry to go back and indulge that again with Steve; that’s how we needed up working with Ric Ocasek on something that focused on the more pop side of stuff,” says Jarman. In that record, we wrote some more aggressive songs and earmarked them for working with Steve again. By then end of touring that record in 2016 we were pretty much ready to go. We had a cache of songs to do with Steve and it was nothing more exciting or elaborate than just emailing Steve asking what dates he had, he said end of November 2016, so we just recorded and mixed the rest of the album in five days.
“[24/7] was originally going to be an EP, but because he works so quickly and it’s so inspiring working with him, we ended up writing a couple more in the studio. That’s how the record came about.”
The decision to wait until sufficient aggression was restored among the band before re-igniting sessions with Albini has paid off, insists Jarman, who feels that the time was just right for both parties to enter the studio together.
“As the band got more mainstream success we found ourselves making slicker records, so it felt right to go and make the Albini record,” he states. “Sonically it was everything you expect, but what surprised us most was how instantaneously he gets that sound. It’s so quick. He got in at 11am and by midday you’re tracking and he’ll say Come and have a listen, and it’s just that Albini sound. A lot of people talk about him being this acerbic guy and build him up to be some scary dude, but that’s just not the case.
"He’s a great guy, really nice, really professional and efficient. If you go in and have your songs written and rehearsed, it’s an absolutely ideal situation. You’re not going to get any friction whatsoever. Maybe, having worked on big records with bands like Nirvana, he has found himself in situations where a label has sent in a band thinking he can just give them the ‘Nirvana treatment’. He doesn't get involved artistically at all. Occasionally we’d ask his opinion on something but he’s not going to do the heavy lifting for you, he’s just going to record. For us that’s perfect. We’ve never really needed a producer. We’ve always seen the producer as a bit of a vibe man, someone who helps inspire you in the studio, but as far as arrangements and finishing off songs goes; we’ve generally been rehearsed and ready to go.”
[24/7] was originally going to be an EP, but because [Albini] works so quickly and it’s so inspiring working with him, we ended up writing a couple more in the studio. That’s how the record came about
Though Jarman maintains his assertion that Albini doesn’t involve himself in the band’s creative process, he does note that his signature is in evidence on just about every note on the album.
“I hadn’t considered that but when we were writing it was always ‘the Albini record’,” he says. “That’s how it was conceived. Even though he considers himself just an engineer and a tradesman for hire, his DNA is so interwoven in the album. In fact, I don't think this album could exist with anyone else recording it. I don’t think we would have written it, even. And we’ve never written an album with someone’s production in mind apart from this one. That’s how distinct his sound is. You can’t imagine the albums he’s made sounding any other way.”
'The future for us is recording ourselves'
While The Cribs haven’t released a self-recorded and produced album since their first two albums (2004’s The Cribs and 2005’s The New Fellas), Jarman believes that this path could be the way forward for the band when it comes to hitting the studio next time around. From day one the band have been extremely hands on when it comes to gear and playing around with sounds in the studio, suggesting they are no doubt capable of forging their own path in the realm of production. Their DIY, minimalist approach has seen them become more than a little au fait with both analogue and digital recording tools.
“In 2002, we’d been buying bits and pieces of gear, like this Fostex G16 half-inch tape machine, a Soundcraft Spirit desk, some AKG D12 mics,” Jarman recalls. “We started recording straight away with no outboard. That was important to the genesis of The Cribs, because we were very opinionated about recording ourselves in the early days. It’s always been about doing things as quickly as possible, just not over-thinking things. Over time we’ve got better gear and I know a lot about gear – I remember getting drunk once and buying an LA-2A - but I instantly regretted it because I don’t need it. I’m not a gear fetishist at all. A lot of people use it as a crutch, like, Oh, I can't do this without this bit of gear. We keep everything fairly unadorned; anything that stops it sounding natural. Some people want to make unnatural sounding records, and that’s fine, but it’s not our aesthetic.”
He concludes: “The future for us is recording ourselves. Our early demos recorded on our very basic gear are my favourites of our recordings. Even now I feel like it’s exactly how I imagined it would sound. The only thing that gets in the way of that is that we can really go off down rabbit holes. You can get so obsessed with chasing one specific thing, and it's often like, if we’ve done a rough recording of a song on our phone, there’ll be some artefact on it that you can't replicate. You get so used to listening to the rough version and you can spend forever in the studio chasing it. That’s the sort of thing we get obsessed about in the studio. We are the worst for demo-itis!”
More from Pro Sound News Europe