The Cribs' Ryan Jarman: 'This is the only job I can do ... McDonald's wouldn't employ me'

The lead singer of the Cribs has punctured his kidney, had his ear pierced by Johnny Marr and been honoured with a pavement plaque – all in the name of rock'n'roll

Hi Ryan! How does it feel for the Cribs to be getting an NME award for outstanding contribution to music?

There's something a bit weird about awards like that, it's almost like they're putting you out to pasture: "You've done enough now guys." It's the kind of award you imagine someone like Queen might get, not us! But obviously I'm super flattered and excited. It's nice to be recognised because we've worked really hard in this band. We've put out 200 songs or something in 10 years. I've sacrificed any option of having a normal life to do this. I find myself now, at 32, more fucked up than when I was a teenager. I don't live anywhere and I've no idea where I'm going to go next ...

What, you're basically homeless?

Yeah. I have been for the last 10 years, really ...

Where is all your stuff?

In this tiny, tiny security closet in Wakefield (1) on an industrial estate. I booked out the smallest, cheapest one they had and I can still only half fill it. The main thing I've got in there that I'd like to get out is all this vintage recording gear that Edwyn Collins gave to me.

So where do you keep your essentials – you know, like a toothbrush and stuff?

Most of it gets lost, really. I do have a tiny suitcase that travels with me everywhere on the road. In there is a toothbrush, a can of hairspray, two pairs of ripped jeans, a leather jacket and a couple of T-shirts. But on the road I lose too many clothes. Most things in my life are very transient.

Last time you won (2) an NME award was in 2006 and you celebrated by leaping across a table of glass and then nearly dying in hospital ...

I wasn't even allowed to keep that award! They said after it happened "don't worry, we'll engrave it for you and you'll get to keep it". But they were just saying it to make me feel better as I was being wheeled out of the hall. Once they found out I'd survived they changed their mind! Plus, when I looked at the award it wasn't even the award we were supposed to have won. It said "sexiest female" on it!

You've been in hospital a lot during the Cribs (3). How do medical staff react to rock'n'roll injuries?

They often treat me with a certain amount of disdain, as they should do … well actually, I take that back. People make mistakes. So I hope doctors realise that it's only human nature to make mistakes. They were nice to me after the NME awards thing because I allowed students to come in and actually document the whole process of fixing me up. Then they clocked that I was trying to steal extra pain medication just for my own … you know, just for fun, and they weren't happy about that.

So your injury was all in the name of medical research?

The thing is they documented the stitching up of me wrong. The first guy that did it hadn't actually stitched up the kidney itself. It was still bleeding into my body. I would have still died of blood loss if I hadn't gone back to the doctors. So he taught all those students wrong.

I didn't realise it went through your actual kidney.

Unfortunately, yes, it did. I don't find it clever or anything but … well … at least people find it vaguely entertaining. People still talk about it, you know, so whatever.

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It makes a change from this year's Brits where nothing spontaneous happened ...

I didn't even know the Brits had been on this year. The music industry seems to be wearing an angora sweater at the moment. Everyone is super-apologetic and you don't even know the name of the singer in bands anymore they're so faceless. The Brits should be a chance to do something vaguely provocative because you know people are watching.

When were you at your least healthy?

When we were making our second album we had an extreme lifestyle but that was because we were enjoying being in a band. But during the making of the last record was when I was at my worst and that wasn't even in a fun or glamorous way. I actually had an eating disorder, I was bulimic. So for two years it was horrible. I'm all right now, but … I just don't know how it started or where it came from. I kept going to the doctors. I felt disconnected from everyone, like I was slipping away and alienating everyone around me. It was the first time in my life where I felt like me and my brothers were on different planets.

Is being in a band with your brothers (4) sometimes difficult?

People always assume that but we actually have a lot of empathy for each other, you know? We never want to hurt each others' feelings. We grew up listening to the same records, there's no egos or nothing like that. We're very pacificistic people really.

How old were you when you started the band?

Me and Gary were 20 and Ross was 16 when it started properly. But before that we'd play in my bedroom. We bought Ross a drumkit with our student loan. We were at music college so it seemed a valid thing to spend a student loan on. This is when Ross was about 10 or something. We'd play Ramones and Nirvana covers and record them onto four track.

Was this around the time you formed a Bee Gees tribute band?

No, that was much earlier. That was when Ross was eight. That was all miming. Before that we had a Queen tribute band called Queen 2. That was when Ross was six. We made him a drumkit using a biscuit tin lid.

Is that where your DIY ethos started?

You could probably argue that's when it was. Biscuit tin lids do actually sound good. I produced that band This Many Boyfriends and we sometimes used dustbin lids instead of cymbals. It sounds great.

What are the band like at actual DIY?

Ross is super-practical. He converted our tour van and he services it all the time. He also bought a toilet seat out in Japan that heats up and squirts water and somehow managed to fit that onto his toilet at home. I see that as representative of his DIY abilities.

What about you – could you change a plug?

Erm … I once bought an amp for this girl I was going out with and it needed the plug changing and rewiring. So I rewired it but somehow I must have sheered into one of the wires so that one of the live wires got attached to a metal plate and the whole amp was live. I took it to get serviced properly and the guy got a really bad shock from it. It was meant to be a nice gesture buying her an amp but I basically just gave her the means to hook herself up to the mains.

If someone was visiting Wakefield for 24 hours where would you tell them to go?

[Thinks for a moment] First and foremost I'd tell people to go and see our plaque. We have a plaque in the pavement there. Imagine the Hollywood Walk Of Fame but in Wakefield. It's like that. Generally when I'm in Wakefield I go to Ross's house but I wouldn't tell people to go there. He'd get really annoyed.

Everyone would want a go on his Japanese toilet ...

Yeah, I know. He's got a hot tub as well. It's quite futuristic. Actually, I know where you could go in Wakefield … the new Hepworth Gallery. Stephen Malkmus's wife Jessica Jackson Hutchins has just had an exhibition open this week. She primarily works in avant garde sculpture so just the fact that something like that is going on in the city is amazing. When I was growing up there it would have been unimaginable.

You've had records produced by Edwyn Collins, Alex Kapranos and Steve Albini … who's been the best?

They've all been good in different ways. Edwyn is such a good friend and I'm really close with him and he really understood our ideals. Alex brought out a really different side of us, so that was great. But there's something about recording with Steve Albini that I feel, for me, is the perfect way of recording. It's all done so quick. I love being in the studio but if you're there too long the first thing you lose is the vibe and the excitement. The human element is always the first thing that gets edited out. So being able to hear people playing together and make mistakes … that's what Albini is the master of. We did four songs in three days and still had time to have a thanksgiving dinner. Everyone says he's this abrasive guy but he's actually the nicest, wittiest guy ... it's just that if you go in there and you're not prepared to work his way then you're going to have problems.

Who is the most unlikely famous person you've met during your time in the Cribs?

I was once at a party at Paris Hilton's house and there were loads of Ultimate Fighters there. She had monkeys there and stuff. I kept getting introduced to people by Courtney Love as this huge rock star from the UK. It was so weird. Thinking about all this stuff … you know, 10 years in, (5) lifetime achievement award, whatever … makes me think I should write my autobiography.

You should.

It would just be a pamphlet. Three pages. The first page would be Drugs I Have Taken and then a list. The next page would be People I Have Slept With and then another list. Then the last page would be Famous People I Have Partied With and then another list. Because that's all people write in their autobiographies. Cut out all the bullshit and it's just a three-page pamphlet.

Would you have space for the story of how Johnny Marr (6) pierced your ear?

That happened because we were writing the record and one night over dinner he was talking about how he pierced Andy Rourke's ear as a rite of passage when he joined the Smiths. So I started sulking with him saying he had to do mine as an initiation into the Cribs. He was nervous and said he wouldn't know how anymore, but I eventually convinced him. He just did it with a block of ice and a safety pin. It didn't hurt much going in but he couldn't get it out. He had to pull it with his teeth – he was really ragging it out. Then he got the earring in and I went to bed but it was a stud and he put it on really tight … my ear got so swollen overnight that you couldn't even see the stud.

How is your new band, Exclamation Pony (7), going?

It's going really well. We've got an album recorded and we've just done two shows and they were pretty chaotic even by our standards. Jen who I'm in the band with really gives me a run for my money … we're kind of a match made in hell. Or heaven, depending on what your persuasion is. It's weird finding someone I actually want to play with … I was always adamant that I could only ever play with my brothers.

You've said that the Cribs will never actually split up …

I hope not. I don't think I could do anything else. Before the Cribs I used to try and get jobs in McDonald's but even they wouldn't employ me, which was so weird. I still don't know why they wouldn't give me a job. I really wanted to do it. I would neaten myself up and tell them I could work whatever hours they wanted. I went for job interviews in McDonald's three times but they never gave me a job. They never said why either.

Given that you're never splitting up, what do you think the Cribs will sound like in 2037?

I've honestly no idea. I just desperately hope we don't go through a boogie woogie phase.


(1) Hometown for all three of the Cribs

(2) Technically Franz Ferdinand won the award but it somehow ended up being given to the Cribs on the night

(3) The band's early motto for a perfect gig was: "Three songs, then off to casualty"

(4) Gary Jarman is Ryan's twin, whereas Ross is their younger brother

(5) To celebrate a decade of making music, the Cribs release a best of called Payola this month

(6) The former Smiths man was a Cribs member between 2008 and 2011

(7) Exclamation Pony comprise Ryan and Jen Turner, formerly of Here We Go Magic


Tim Jonze

The GuardianTramp

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