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Courting and The Cribs on collaborating and the indie scene: “We’ve entered an era of bands not taking themselves so seriously”

Courting have spoken to NME about the making of second album ‘New Last Name’, which features The Cribs’ Ryan and Gary Jarman on co-production duties. Check out our interview with the band and the Jarman brothers below, where they also open up about the current era of indie and comparisons with The 1975.

The “raucously fun” Courting debut ‘Guitar Music’ was released in 2022 and saw the Liverpool four-piece push back against labels of ‘post-punk’ via auto-tuned vocals and rave-inspired breakdowns. “In the cockiest way possible, we’re a year or two ahead of the curve, Murphy-O’Neill told NME at the time.

“It’s just important to keep people on their toes,” he explained earlier this week. “It would have been easy for us to go away and make another strange record, but on ‘New Last Name’ we wanted to do something really focused and direct.”

Ryan Jarman agreed: “It’s always been a big statement if your second record is better than your first. Not everyone can pull it off.“

Brother and bandmate Gary continued: “It’s hard when there’s a general sound around at the time, like post-punk or our era of indie sleaze, because how do you deliver something that’s bigger than that.

“Some bands will do more of the same, some will buckle under the pressure but a rare few will totally step it up. Courting have really grown into themselves on this record and it’s been really exciting to be a small part of that. This is going to be a game-changer for them.”

He added: I love ‘Guitar Music’ because it was so experimental, especially for a debut, but this new record has hit songs on it as well as that element of adventure.”

Murphy-O’Neill spoke of how the band had to “keep reassuring fans” after a series of “quite poppy” singles – but promised “loads of weird shit on ‘New Last Name’ as well.”

Courting 2024 press shot. CREDIT: Charlie Barclay-Harris

Courting had written a majority of ‘New Last Name’ before ‘Guitar Music’ was released, but still had “a few songs that we knew needed some more work and would benefit from an outsider’s point of view,” said Thomas. Luckily Courting’s manager used to work with The Cribs and reached out. “When Ryan and Gary’s names were brought up, it was an obvious yes. We knew what they were about, we knew they could bring to the table.”

Murphy-O’Neill explained: “It does feel like the music industry loves these mad pairings of people from completely opposite worlds, but we knew that we shared a lot of the same values in music and songwriting with these guys, so they’d hopefully understand what we were trying to do with ‘New Last Name’. They were safe hands.”

Gary offered that “it’s always nice to be considered because me and my brothers are always considered lo-fi musicians”, adding: “I’m sure lots of people expect our production technique to be ‘go down to a garden shed or record in a tin can’ but we know how to make records.”

The Cribs
The Cribs. Credit: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

Thomas said that the two bands shared “a similar attitude”, always looking for “ways to do something that’s bigger, or more ambitious, than what other bands are doing.”

Gary agreed: “It’s that compulsion to prove yourself every time. That’s basically what we’d talk about in the bar after we’d finished in the studio.”

The two bands described the “fast and furious” process of working together in Liverpool as “pretty intense”.

“It was feverish working, but it was good because you want everyone firing off each other. We were all vibing off each other and I like that camaraderie,” continued Ryan.

Gary spoke of The Cribs’ mission to help ensure the songs on ‘New Last Name’ were “as direct and immediate as possible”.

“A lot of that was trying to control the urge for chaos, but we also had to make some of the songs shorter, which was brutal because I hate it when people do that to our tracks. The song is king though,” he added. “That’s the producer’s mantra.”

“I can’t believe we’re those guys now,” said Ryan.

The Cribs are no strangers to collaborating with surprising artists outside of their scrappy punk roots – having worked with new wave icon Edwyn Collins on their 2005 second album ‘The New Fellas’, with a little of the Orange Juice man’s Midas touch for a hook rubbing off.

“He made us realise that it’s not a bad thing to have a song on the radio or pop success,” explained Gary. “A similar thing happened with Alex Kapranos when we were working on our third album [‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’, 2007]. Franz Ferdinand were having such enviable success at the time but he told us to basically stop sabotaging ourselves and own the poppier moments that perhaps we’d shied away from previously.”

In that spirit, the Jarmans wanted to encourage Courting to embrace their own pop sensibilities on ‘New Last Name’.

Courting. Credit: Charlie Barclay Harris
Courting. Credit: Charlie Barclay Harris

In the studio together, Courting would play early albums from Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World as reference points. “Despite the punk scene they came from, those early Fall Out Boy albums are such well-written pop records. The hooks are so obvious,” said Murphy-O’Neill, before Gary added: “A good pop song is a good pop song.”

Elsewhere, the auto-tuned vocals on ‘New Last Name’ were heavily inspired by the PC Music scene. “It’s a commitment to things that just feel fun to do, in the same way that a really ridiculous guitar solo is cliche, but always feels so good,” explained Murphy-O’Neill.

“We were just trying to tie those two worlds together. How can we be a rock band, who are also influenced by loads of weird electronic stuff?”

Paying tribute to Courting’s knack for crossing genres, Ryan hailed them as “it’s so hard to be a rock band that sounds fresh nowadays”. However, that combination of rock, pop and electronics – as well as their amped up leaning towards a pop chorus – recently invited comparisons to The 1975, particularly on single ‘We Look Good Together’. “Do some of you guys even listen to much music?” Courting tweeted in response.

 

“My elder advice is don’t bite,” said Gary. “Nobody needs a Courting x The 1975 rivalry.”

“I do,” replied Murphy-O’Neill with a grin. “I don’t mind being compared to other bands but it does sometimes feel that people should listen to more music. We get compared to The 1975 because of the autotune, but have they never listened to Cher? Have they never believed in life after love?”

Thomas added: “There are worse bands to be compared to, but it almost feels wrong because you didn’t mean it.”

“It just means you’re reaching more people. You’re not preaching to the choir anymore,” Gary said, once again taking on that elder statesman role.

As well as blending different musical styles, Courting’s second record was designed as a theatrical play with the nine tracks making up different acts.

“It’s complete death of the artist stuff, but I just want people to find something that they enjoy within it,” explained Murphy-O’Neill. “We’re not really talking about the narrative concept of the record much because it’s more fun if people listen to it and discover it for themselves. Our only aim was to make sure it was so packed with stuff to explore, if people want to.”

In an accompanying note on social media, the band added: “We are not trying to pull the wool over your eyes. This album is sincere. Although these stories are told through the eyes of fictional characters, this all really happened.”

It comes as the British indie scene seems to be embracing more outlandish and theatrical music, with The Last Dinner Party winning both the BRIT Rising Star award and BBC Sound Of 2024 while Wet Leg enjoying phenomenal global success off the back of their self-titled debut. There are also daring new albums from the likes of Yard Act and English Teacher arriving soon that challenge what’s come before.

“There does seem like there’s been some kind of shift,” offered Murphy-O’Neill. “Maybe we’ve entered an era of bands just having fun instead of taking themselves so seriously.”

As for Gary and Ryan, they said working with Courting was “really inspiring” especially after The Cribs’ ambitious reissue project for their first three albums. “It was nice to get away from The Cribs but also get some context on it,” ventured Ryan, while Gary said he “learned a lot from it”.

“It’s just great to be around a band where everyone loves, trusts and needs each other,” he added. “To have that passion and be chasing that single-minded vision is always really exciting. It’s what me and my brothers have always lived for,” though there are no definitive plans for what The Cribs do next. “We’re playing it by ear.”

Courting’s ambitions for ‘New Last Name’ are suitably bold. “We want to headline Glastonbury, get worldwide fame, buy six mansions, own a swimming pool, make a documentary and have people stop insulting autotune,” said Murphy-O’Neill.

“Sincerely though, my hope was that Courting could make a record that spoke to their fans and was seen as an advance on what’s come before, but also for them to have hits on their own terms,” explained Gary. “They’ve definitely delivered. ‘New Last Name’ is bigger than an indie record.”

‘New Last Name’ is released on January 26 via Lower Third records, with headline tour kicking off in February. Visit here for tickets and more information. 

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