Twenty Minutes With Jarvis Cocker: The Interview

Musician, DJ, director, actor, father, husband, pop star and sex symbol are all words that encompass the one and only Jarvis Cocker. The Sheffield bred/Paris based multi-tasking man is back on the scene with a fresh new album simply, yet appropriately, titled Jarvis that domestically comes out in April. After forming one of the biggest UK bands in recent music history, Pulp; at the tender age of 15 back in 1978, Jarvis Cocker has seen his share of ups and downs. However, through it all he has remained poised (even when protesting Michael Jackson at the '96 Brit Awards) in the public eye, candid and always in good humor. Things are no different today for Jarvis. We were lucky enough to have a quick chat with him on the phone where we caught up with what is going on in his world since his days in Pulp.


E: So everything is going well in Paris for you today?

J: Yeah, its 3:00 in the afternoon and its slightly grey, but I heard its -2 there in New York, so you don't want to go out. It's reasonably pleasant here.

E: No kidding. This morning's commute was brutal with the cold. Until a few years ago you lived in England, do you miss anything about it?

J: Well once you don't live somewhere you tend to like it a lot more than when you're stuck with it all the time. But I live in Paris so I can go back whenever I want because I am near the train station so its not like I've moved out to Southern France living on a farm growing wine. But there are differences, like here when you go to a car park there is classical music playing, and that's quite nice actually. In England there are many more surveillance cameras all over the place. There are little differences, yes, but I didn't leave England because I hated it. I left because I got married and me wife is French and she wanted to move back to Paris for a bit.

E: You recorded the solo album in Sheffield. What was it like going back to where you grew up to make it?

J: It was quite strange because that was the longest period of time I spent in Sheffield since I moved away from there, which was nearly twenty years ago. Some bits were embarrassing because I kept getting lost because they changed lots of the streets and knocked some buildings down. So I felt a little bit like an old age pensioner. That was a bit sad, but it was good. It felt right because I was trying to do something new, which was a solo record, and to record it I went back to the place where I was brought up so it seemed to kinda balance its self out somehow. Like taking a leap in the dark and rediscovering a place you've been brought up in. It worked out quite well even though I didn't do it for that reason. The reason I did it was because the guitarist (Richard) lives in Sheffield and he's got loads of guitars and it would have cost a fortune to ship them all to Paris to record.

If I wanted to make a Pulp record, I would have made one...once you decide to do something you might as well just do it and not think about it too much or things get complicated.

E: Speaking of the guitarist, what was it like to work with Richard Hawley again?

J: Fine, its been interesting to see how Richard's career developed because he played me songs before he ever released a record and I kinda encouraged him to get them out because they were good. We always said we wanted to work together again. At first I was thinking "Oh, wouldn't that be a good idea because then maybe the record wouldn't sound that different to a Pulp record," but I really didn't want to do that because there wouldn't be that much of a point. If I wanted to make a Pulp record, I would have made one. We talked about that before we did it and also we didn't want to sound like one of his records, not because I don't like his records, but because that wouldn't do either one of us any favors. So it was good because I know him, and the same with Steve and Ross as well. You can work quite quickly. I've spent a couple of years writing the songs, but I wanted to record them quite quickly because I think that once you decide to do something you might as well just do it and not think about it too much or things get complicated. It was good working with people I've known for quite a long time because I would explain what a song was about and what kind of mood I wanted it to have and then they would get it. But if they didn't get it I could say things like, "That's shit. Do something different." Whereas if you were working with some type of session guy and you told him that he was shit he would probably punch you, leave the room and demand payment in full for the session anyway. It just made it all easier.

E: It seems like in the '80s and '90s your songs were more about partying and getting laid whereas with the millennium we saw a totally different side of you in your songs. Politics, children and life in general seemed to be more of what you were talking about in your songwriting. How is your music connected to the time that you live in, or with your lifestyle?

J: Well, I am a 43-year-old man now. I still occasionally like to party and I definitely like to get laid, but I am married so your life changes. It's always been important to me for the writing to be authentic. For me, writing songs is the only thing I do to keep a record of my life. I don't keep a diary or anything like that so the songs are kinda about what's going on. I guess the songs now are written in a period where I've moved away from England and I wondered what that would be like; being married and having a kid. Would that change anything? Sometimes people say all that will make you stop writing or its going to make you write shit songs or whatever, which I really tried to grapple with that concept on "I Will Kill Again." I thought "Oh God, now that I got a kid does that mean I am going to start writing songs on an acoustic guitar, all mellow and all this kind of thing." The last few years in my life have been interesting because its been one of those little pauses you get when you move to a new town and you reevaluate your life in a bit because I was quite strongly toying with the idea of not forming music anymore and maybe doing something else. I don't really believe in introspection too much because it can lead to paralysis and every now and again its good to check your motives on why you're doing things to make sure you are doing things for the right reason. I suppose I've just been through one of those times and that's reflective in the record I guess. I hope it's not too much of an introspective record. It's just a product of the way I've been living the last couple of years I suppose.

E: Did taking time off to work on some low-key collaborations like the Charlotte Gainsbourg, Nancy Sinatra and Relaxed Muscle albums have any impact on the making of Jarvis?

J: Yeah, it all feeds in. Relaxed Muscle, even though it wasn't a 100% serious project was interesting in a way that I invented a character called Darren Spooner who was the embodiment of all the negative aspects that I could see about me self. That was before my child was born and before I got married. I suppose it was this thing thinking that I have to be a nice person now, so maybe if I could make this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde figure that embodied all the bad things that would be a way of externalizing it and getting rid of it. I've soon realized that there is only so long that you can walk along asking everyone to call you Darren, when people say "Actually your name is Jarvis," so that was interesting. It kinda led me to where I am now and the collaborations and things, the Nancy Sinatra one, the first two songs on the record I wrote for her. So that made me realize I could still write songs and enjoyed writing songs. Then I did Harry Potter, which was weird. For that we recorded the songs live because it was supposed to be a live band playing in the film. Rather than take ages and record all the high hats separately from the bass drum kind of rubbish, I thought it was much better to record everything together because then you make the songs work right there and then rather then pile it with loads of overdubs afterwards.

E: Do you think that captured the moment of everything?

J: Yeah, that's what I tried to do with recording this record of mine as well. Its much more enjoyable to do it that way as well. As for Charlotte, that was good because it made me realize I could work quite quickly and spontaneously because the music for that had already been written and so they were just waiting for words. I just had to go and talk to her and come up with stuff pretty immediately. I would write songs and do a little demo of it for her, and while she was singing it I would go and write the lyrics for the next one. So that was quite good to know that I was able to do that. It all helped. It's OK to do side things, but by the definition, the side thing needs a middle to be on the other side of and so it was important to do my own record because that provided the middle thing. It's saying, "Look, here I am! It's Jarvis 2007...ta-dah!"

E: Speaking of Jarvis in 2007, it seems like there is resurgence from a lot of the key players from the heyday of Britpop in the '90s: there's Damon Albarn's multiple projects, Brett Anderson's new solo record, Oasis is still kicking it. Not to mention there are a slew of new acts that are embracing it, Arctic Monkeys, Maximo Park, etc. What are your thoughts on this revival of sorts?

J: Well, it's interesting. Apart from making me feel old I suppose. I was at the Brit Awards the other night and Oasis got a lifetime achievement award and it's really weird because the last time I was there, eleven years ago, it was when they just broke through. So the idea that they have gone from being young whippersnappers to elder statesman in that time just freaked me out a bit. It's weird. Although I have to say, I kind of enjoyed watching them over a lot of the younger stuff that was on that night. At least Liam, whatever you think of him, there is always a sense of menace about him and you don't always know what he is going to do next and I kinda miss that. With so many groups nowadays you know exactly what they are going to do next because you've probably seen the same videos that they copied all their moves from. Britpop as a thing to be revived seems kinda weird because in a way a lot of what Britpop is about, and I hated that term and never considered Pulp to be a part of that, but a lot of it was a rehash anyway. Harking back to a golden age of British pop from the '60s. I actually don't think that much interesting music came out of Britpop really, maybe other people would disagree with me.

E: While we are on the topic of those younger bands, it seems like back when you were starting out radio was the way to get noticed. You had wonderful people like John Peel to help out along the way. Nowadays radio is dying and the internet is replacing it. You seem to have embraced it as well with your podcasts and MySpace page.

J: I'm very modern. This is the first record that I have embraced that. It was very opportune for me because I had done my record and I had this song "Running The World," which has a lot of swearing in it. So the Internet was perfect for that because in the old days, like you said, if you had to rely on radio you would never get that song played because it is impossible. So it was great that I could put it on MySpace and have people be terribly corrupted by hearing a crude word. It was up to them whether they wanted to do it or not. It all worked out well. People can get hung up on new technology and get all excited about it because its new, but in the end its just a way of getting things to people. The thing I like about the internet is that you don't have to make a big song and dance about something. Like, say with those podcast things, I just did those because someone at the record company said "You should do a podcast," and I said, "Right, well tell me what one is then," and they said, "It's just a digital thing you give someone for free." I was going to play some records at first but they said I couldn't because you have to pay copyright. I had been reading stories to my son at night, and just generally getting back into reading, so I thought it would work OK. It might even be useful if people are having trouble sleeping at night. They could listen to my boring voice droning on telling a story and it could probably help them drop off. I'm not trying to launch a career as a spoken word artist, nor am I going to do a spoken word album, but the internet allows you to do things like that quite casually; here's me reading a story, if you want to listen to it great, if you don't want to then don't bother, it doesn't cost you anything. I like that feel about it. You don't feel like you are squeezing money out of people by offering them something. It's up to them whether they are into it or not. In the end it's quite an old fashioned idea, it's just a way of communicating with people, isn't it?

Look, here I am! It's Jarvis 2007...ta-dah!

E: I know that we will find out more when you are here next month, but from what we have heard over here, it sounds like your European concerts went well. What was it like being in front of your fans again?

J: It was good, I was a bit nervous. I didn't know how well people would know my new songs and things like that.
E: Any interesting stories from the road?

J: Hmm, no venues collapsed or anything like that. I didn't have any accidents on the stage. Probably the funniest story was from the first day on the tour. It was the first time I had done a tour in a while, and we were also in one of those buses that you sleep on. I have really bad memories of those. I had been to the Dr. to get some sleeping tablets because I have horrible memories of lying awake in those bunks at night trying to sleep and feeling quite psychotic. So I was a bit nervous about it all. Also it was the first time we had a new guitarist and tour manager as well. For a while I was wondering what was going to happen, who was going to be the person that's wasted and left behind, or freak out. Low and behold it was my wife.
E: Really?

J: Yeah. Usually when the wives come along everyone is on their best behavior. But somehow my wife got really drunk and ended up passing out. The entire band behaved themselves, but my wife didn't.
E: I'm sure she will love you telling us this. [laughs]

J: Well, now that I told it I guess it's too late, I've told it! She laughs about it though, and she hasn't done it since and she doesn't do those sorts of things very often I would like to point out.
E: Are you looking forward to coming over here to America?

J: Yeah, I am. I've been there for interim, but I think it's going on ten years since I played a show. I've DJ'd occasionally and stuff like that but I am looking forward to it. I've been told that Webster Hall is quite good. I'm hoping it's going to work.
E: You're also curating the Meltdown festival this summer. What type of roster are you going to go for?

J: I can't say anyone who is going to be on it yet because we haven't confirmed anybody yet. What I really want to do is get as extreme a mixture as I can but also have it all relate to each other. I suppose the nearest thing I can compare it to is me and Steve did a compilation CD called The Trip last year and on that we mixed quite a lot of different styles of music. Often when people do those mix CDs they do things like "the chill out disc" or "the banging disc" or something and we decided not to do that. It starts off with a thing written for kids and goes into the Birthday Party and then a country song. It probably sounds like a real mess but I think it worked. Its that thing of trying to find connections but not necessary the obvious ones. That's what I'm going to try to do with Meltdown. I want to get as many things as possible that involves some audience participation as well because I'm not really into that thing of people just passively absorbing culture. I think people have to be involved in it or culture has to shake them out of their normal everyday routine. I'm not into that kind of culture that is like a blanket to lie underneath and sleep.
E: Would you do another AUTO Festival ever? (AUTO was a one-day music festival held at Rotherham's Magna Centre in 2002. It was masterminded by Jarvis and Pulp bassist Steve Mackey and was the scene of their final performance as a band.)

J: It was very cold there. It was a big empty factory in the middle of winter. The bath facilities were very poor. If they installed heating and got the bath sorted out, then yeah, sure.
E:Going back to your record, since We Love Life came out your work seems to be a bit more somber overall. Do you consciously avoid writing anthem type songs like "Common People" or "Disco 2000"?

J: No, I'm just a very miserable person now. I think you have to write what comes to you at any given time I suppose. With this record, some people have said it's a bit dark and melancholy. I certainly didn't intend to make a melancholy record. If you look at my lyrics you might say, "Yeah that guy needs to brighten up a bit," but the thing is I have always worked this way. Even with Pulp, where often the lyrical content of a song will be kind of in contrast to the musical feel of the song. So if you take a song on the record such as the charmingly titled "From Auschwitz to Ipswich," it's a fairly dark subject matter. But the actual music is quite daunting in a slightly Velvet Underground kind of way. I think you have to take that on board because that is part of what my songwriting is about I suppose. I kind of like to do that, not that I have the musical background to really be what you would expect with the lyrics. I never set out to write anthems in my career because to me anthems kinda conjure up images of Simple Minds or something like that. Sometimes it happens though, and one might happen again.

E: Finally, the inevitable question, will Pulp ever come off of hiatus?

J: Hell would have to freeze over first! No, I don't know. The members of the group are all in touch with each other and all friendly, there have been no deaths that I know of. So there is no barrier other than the fact that at the moment I can't really see a point. If it was to seem like the right thing to do then there's no reason why not, but I am certainly not planning it at the moment.

By Erin Chandler

"Running The World" MP3
Jarvis Cocker

Twenty Minutes With Jarvis Cocker: The Interview