LAST YEAR WAS A BUSY ONE FOR Cribs frontman Gary Jarman; his melodic post-punk brood with brothers Ryan and Ross released its fourth album (featuring “newbie” bandmate Johnny Marr on guitar), he married his girlfriend Joanna Bolme (bassist for Quasi and Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks), and he went under the knife for a surgery on his vocal chords. Yet judging from his band’s demanding tour schedule, the Yorkshire native (and Portland resident) shows no signs of slowing. On a recent stop in San Francisco, Gary took a few minutes to talk punk rock, warming up, and the joy of a well-crafted countermelody.
What music first turned you on to playing?
I was really into Queen. But those guys are such good players, I got discouraged and lost interest for a while. Then I got into punk rock, which really changed things for me. I loved the fact that it seemed like anyone could do it. As a 12-year-old kid, that’s exactly what I needed. Then, because I was the only kid in school with a bass, everybody wanted me in their band. I was suddenly hot property.
Who were your heroes in the punk realm?
Dee Dee Ramone, because he was cool and seemed like the main guy in the band. I was also really into Nirvana; Krist Novoselic’s bass lines were so great. I love it when bass is the thing that almost defined the changes. I found that really exciting.
What’s your attitude towards music education?
I went through a long phase of being “anti-musician.” I went to a music college where I felt like I was expected to slap the bass. The teachers didn’t think much of me, because I didn’t really want to do that. None of the music I like sounds that way, so I dropped out. For a while after that, I was fairly dogmatic about forgetting those kinds of things and focusing on the basics, like when I was a kid. Nowadays, I’ve become a little more open-minded. When we made the first Cribs record, I really got into Paul McCartney’s playing. It was a real revelation to hear his counter-melodies creating so many of those hooks. That made me think it’s not such a bad thing to become a bit more learned.
How do you actually go about creating countermelodies happening in bass?
When writing, Ryan would never play chords; he’d play riffs or make noise, and I would play the changes. I’d basically change it up until we got something that sounded harmonically interesting underneath his riffs. That’s a fun way to write, and it gave me a lot of influence on the songs. Then— almost just like how you would sing—we would try melodies over the top and think of countermelodies to go along with them. That could be on bass or guitar, just as long as someone was always holding down the chord sequence. That’s something that’s definitely made playing bass much more interesting to me.
Which basses are you most drawn to?
I go through phases; on our first record I used a Hofner violin bass all the time, which was great because it was so light and fun to play. But I couldn’t take it on the road because it would just get trashed. I also had two old Fender Mustang Basses. But now I’m playing a Fender Precision.
Last year, you sat in for Franz Ferdinand bassist Bob Hardy at shows opening for Green Day. How did that happen?
They’re good friends of ours, and Bob sent me an email asking if I could fill in for him on a few shows, because he had a wedding to attend. I’d never done anything like that before, and it was fun to do. They sent me a live recording with the bass whacked up in the mix, and I just learned by listening and playing along. It was nice to have a pre-determined role in a band where I didn’t have to do anything but play bass. I could just concentrate on doing a good job for those guys.
Last year you also had surgery to remove a nodule on your vocal chords. How has that changed your pre-gig warm-ups?
For years I was embarrassed about warming up in front of people, fearing they’d think I was some sort of professional dickhead. I even saw a vocal coach, which felt like the antithesis of my grounding in punk rock. But anyone who’s been singing for a while realizes you have to keep an eye on your voice or you’re going to end up a mess.
HEAR HIM ON
The Cribs, Ignore the Ignorant [Warner Bros., 2009]
Bass 1973 Fender Precision Bass
Rig Ampeg SVT-VR, Ampeg 8x10 cab
Effects Maxon D&S II Distortion/ Sustainer, custom Fujiyama Four overdrive