By Kelly Dearmore
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Fact: Guitar legend Johnny Marr is not a vampire looking for youthful blood. He is not having a mid-life crisis. He's not even a guitarist-for-hire.
Fact: The brothers Jarman, now officially eight years into life as The Cribs, did not recruit new member Marr as a calculated way of expanding its fan base. Nor do they expect his inclusion in their project to rocket themselves out of the world of Landfill Indie. Rather, Marr joined the band simply after striking up a friendship with Gary Jarman that naturally evolved into a musical partnership with the brothers.
After a year of Marr touring, song-writing and recording with twin Jarman brothers Gary (bass, lead vocals) and Ryan (guitar, vocals), and younger brother Ross (drums), this past September saw the release of Ignore the Ignorant, the excellent fourth album—and only the second stateside release—from the West Yorkshire-born The Cribs.
Reached in Portland, Oregon, where he has been living for a several years with his American wife, Gary Jarman is happy to talk about the way the band has evolved and the impact of the addition of Marr.
"I was at a barbecue at my good friend [Modest Mouse drummer] Jeremiah Green's house. This English guy comes up and tells me he really likes The Cribs. I'm flattered, but have no idea who he is or what another Englishman is doing at this barbecue." Turns out it was Marr, long famous for his work as the guitarist of The Smiths, and the two ex-pats from northern England became fast friends, immediately hanging out with one another in their new Portland digs.
Marr officially joined the band in August 2008.
It's easy to wonder how it is to have a new member come into a literal band of brothers that's been playing together as a trio since their early teens. Say Gary: "There's never been a hierarchy in the band, really. For the third record, I had moved to Portland and we began to write separately and collaborate to complete the bits of songs we each brought when we got together. With Johnny in the band it remains the same because his mindset is the same. He didn't want to interfere much because he loved the sound of The Cribs. He is very intuitive and a youthful player. He can get inside the idea of the song."
For Marr, playing in a family band has also been liberating. In a recent Pitchfork interview, Marr was quoted as saying that "there is sort of an innate understanding between the three of them. That saves a lot of bullshit."
In addition to adding the innovative, feathery touch of Marr on guitar, the new album also features the production of the legendary Nick Launay, who has produced albums for bands ranging from PiL to Nick Cave to Arcade Fire.
"We had this innate fear of working with a big shot producer and that it would not be conducive to having a good time in the studio," Gary offers. "He was easygoing, but his ideas were sometimes bizarre. And it was fun to indulge in it."
The resulting sound of the new album is more refined—and yet it still retains the essence of the wit and energy that defined the band's earlier releases. Marr's guitar work creates a discrete backdrop on the new disc, too. Meanwhile, the hooks, energy and raw vocals sound as urgent as ever. And, though some of longtime fans have publicly bitched about the refined sound, Gary sees it as the natural trajectory of a band that has shown continuous maturation throughout its career.
"I'm flattered beyond belief that people actually care and are passionate enough to want to debate it," he says. "People have made the mistake of thinking that we have not been naturally maturing. Johnny is offended that people think of him as being so old, and I'm offended that people think that we are that immature. I mean, he's only in his 40s and I'm nearly 30!"
Surely, the new album's title stands as an immediate rebuttal there. Plus, it hasn't all been bad—at all, really. Reports of live shows from the four-member Cribs describe the band playing with a newfound kinetic fervor. Not that the band's previous live shows were necessarily lacking—they weren't.
Not in Dallas, at least. Gary recalls the band's last area gig (in April of 2008, at The Loft) with fondness.
"Yeah, we had a great time in Dallas," he recalls. "In fact, we wrote the song 'Emasculate Me' [the seventh track on Ignore the Ignorant] during our sound check for that gig."