Meet Julian Casablancas' Latest Signing: Exclamation Pony
Turns out Ryan from The Cribs and Jen, formerly Here We Go Magic, make a combustible combination. We talked to Ryan about elderly burglars, onstage make outs, and the state of his kidneys.
Since first catching The Cribs in a London dive bar back in 2004, I’ve probably seen them perform at least twice a year, for nearly a decade. The Wakefield, UK, trio of brothers keep me coming back because their music is a brilliant, clattering, cathartic mess of Pavement’s melodicism and shouty punk chaos. Identical twins—Ryan and Gary—sing wryly observant lines with flat-handed honesty, and like all the greatest bands, they have a soft center too; because angst is best served on a bed of minor-chord melancholy. Live, they perform with such intensity it feels like their larynxes might fly out of their mouths and hit you—plop—straight in your sweat-streaked face. And their shows are an equally physical experience for their fans: a snarl of thrashing limbs that leave you with purple bruises blooming the next day. Not that anyone cares because The Cribs are a great time.
If this feels like an epitaph, it’s not. Although Ross still lives in Wakefield, Gary’s in Portland, and Ryan is in New York, they’re still making music and there’s another Cribs record already in the pipeline. Nevertheless, Ryan has a new project with former Here We Go Magic bassist, Jen Turner, and together they are Exclamation Pony. Out this week on Julian Casablancas’ label Cult Records, their debut double A-side is headed up by “Psuedo Individual," a gleeful exploration of the duo’s closer-than-close partnership, with a score sweetened by Jen’s harmonies, fleshed out with synths, and maybe, possibly, a glockenspiel. Recently, I called up Ryan for a chat. He and Jen have been living in Evan Dando’s house in LA since their place in NY was burgled by a crazy old guy—more on which shortly. Some of subjects we covered include, making out onstage, the state of Ryan's kidneys, and the joy of red leather trousers.
Noisey: How come you guys are in LA at the moment?
Ryan Jarman: Our apartment got burgled and everything got stolen. We had one tiny room and all our gear in there, but we were just liberal and open. We like meeting new people; we like provoking interesting things happening and you can’t do that if you keep yourself cocooned away from the world. If people needed somewhere to stay we liked helping them out. Maybe we were too free. What it was, was this older guy—I think he’s in his 70s or something—and he said he used to engineer Jimmy Hendrix back in the day, or that’s his claim to fame anyway, and he never shuts the fuck up about! Anyway, he was down on his luck and needed somewhere to stay. We said he could stay with us and [while we were on tour] he systematically started stealing everything, recording gear, all my Cribs guitars, and Jen’s gear, really nice amps that she got back in the 90s and Jen’s clothes! Weird shit. We haven’t let it go, there's CCTV footage, and I think the cops are about to put out a warrant for his arrest. But now we’re at Evan’s place and we’ve got a small recording studio set up. Nothing really gets in the way of music, fortunately.
Was your connection with Jen immediate?
The whole thing was explosive. It came when I was going through one of my darkest periods. It was just after the fifth Cribs record came out. I’d lost everything, I’d just gone through quite a long illness and I found myself living back at Ross’ house. It was a terrible time. There were a lot of stresses going on in the band for the first time—because of the lifestyle I’d been leading—and Jen was in a similar situation with her band and we both happened to be playing out in Japan. We have the same management and the weird thing is, the managers had been trying to keep us apart because they thought we were going to be a bad influence on each other, especially as we were both feeling like black sheep at the time. We just gravitated towards each other. As soon as she came off stage we went straight into Japan. I’ve been there loads of times but this time we managed to tap into this whole over dark underbelly, got into loads of insane situations. I’m used to being the provocateur so it was good to meet someone so challenging. I found that to be really exciting. We had the best night I’ve ever had in my entire life. By the end of the night we were totally best friends
Was it natural for you to start making music together?
After Japan, I emailed her and went to meet her in New York. She’d left Here We Go Magic, she was living in a studio and at night we would fire up the gear. Making music was just a way of getting to know each other; we didn’t even question it. I was out there for a month and we pretty much recorded a full record. Mentally and spiritually we became totally inseparable and that’s just the way we are now. I can’t imagine life without Jen anymore. We were instantly best friends on a very deep level. The synergy we have as brothers, I never thought I’d want to work with anyone else. I’ve tried working with other people and not really enjoyed it. Jen and I have a whole other energy and instinctive way of playing. I’m so obsessed with writing songs and I’ve never been able to explain to someone that it’s the main thing in my life, or why I feel the way about it that I do. Jen’s got that same thing. We have a very liberating lifestyle and every day is an adventure, and I haven’t had that with anyone else. A lot of our time is spent challenging each other and opening new doors. I’ve always had the inclination to take things to extremes and felt I’ve had to hide that, so it’s good to have someone that’s a partner in it.
Is making out onstage a frequent occurrence?
We did at one gig. It just felt right at the time. Before this specific show, I didn’t even know where she was, she went missing somewhere in London and came back kind of hammered. I don’t remember much from the show; it just escalated. It was Jen’s doing, she forced herself on me. I like the idea of things being fairly explicit and I wouldn’t do anything onstage that I wouldn’t do in my own home. The band’s about being as open and as honest as we possibly can be, so shit like that’s going to happen.
Well kissing onstage is certainly a lot more chill than all the injuries you’ve sustained playing live over the years.
Playing in The Cribs I got knocked out a couple of times. I’d be concussed so I wanted to throw up, wanted to pass out. When we first started, I broke my hand in Liverpool and that was the most debilitating. The first time I headlined the Astoria in London I had food poisoning. It gripped just before I went onstage. It was horrible. My worst injury was always getting stabbed at the NME awards. [During the NME Awards in 2006 Ryan threw himself across the Kaiser Chief’s table and ended up with stitches in his back.] A lot of it is just the product of passionate shows, if stuff like that is going to happen, it’s going to happen.
I feel kidneys have taken a real beating recently. Getting stabbed with glass, kidney stones, drinking.
The kidney stones were the worst thing that ever happened to me. I’ve never been in that much pain before, I was screaming. I thought I was going to die. When I first got in there the doctors didn’t know what was up and put me on three doses of morphine and I was still in the worst possible pain and they couldn’t give me any more! I said my goodbyes to Jen! I thought I was on my way out.
So you’re shooting the video with director Warren Fu who’s responsible for all of Cult’s videos. (As well as recent collaborations with Daft Punk, Depeche Mode, and The Killers). What’s it gonna be like?
Like an 80s movie, I think, so we’ve gotta do it in Hollywood. Me and Jen watched 9 1/2 Weeks last night to get inspired for the video. Maybe it’ll be like that. I’d never seen it before and I thought it was pretty good. Although I think Kim Basinger overreacted. I don’t really think she gave him a chance. He just took it too far, he should’ve just been like, “You’re not into that, that’s fine, we won’t do it.” I think they could’ve come to a better conclusion. I love 80s movies—I think it was best era for movies ever.
I guess your love of the 80s is something that bonds you, Julian, and Warren.
Both Julian and me really like pop music and pop devices and hooks. In the 80s all that stuff was shamelessly big. If I’m going to write something poppy, I want the hook to be as big as possible. Also we grew up in the 80s, so it reminds you of your childhood and your childhood is your happiest years. It’s a nostalgia thing as well.
Photo nabbed from NME.com.
In 2003 would you ever have imagined you’d wear red leather trousers onstage?
No! But then again, when The Cribs first started it was much more performance art. I would wear leotards and catsuits, like Freddie Mercury. Really outlandish costumes. I think it was because we were so into Bobby Conn, we'd go out and the craziest costumes possible, but then we just ended up wearing our normal clothes. I don’t know when we changed. I love leather trousers though. When I was in college [high school] I was a goth, so I used to wear PVC trousers all the time.
Doesn’t that get super sweaty?
It does, yeah, but it looks good!
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