Throwback Thursday: Jarvis Cocker Interview from 2007 | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Throwback Thursday: Jarvis Cocker Interview from 2007

Boldly Going

Jul 31, 2014 Spring 2007 - Feist Photography by Derrick Santini Bookmark and Share

For Throwback Thursdays we are posting classic interviews from the Under the Radar print archives to our website. Under the Radar used to keep its print articles exclusive to the print magazine and so there are a lot of older articles that aren’t to be found on our website. For this Throwback Thursday we revisit our 2007 interview with Jarvis Cocker. At the time the Pulp frontman was releasing his debut solo album, titled Jarvis, was still married, and many years away from reforming Pulp. This is the almost full unedited transcript of the interview and is longer than what originally ran in the print magazine. Read on as Cocker discusses domestic life, marriage advice, fatherhood, the highs and lows of Pulp, time travel, religion, whether Hitler thought he was evil, William Shatner, and a myriad of other topics.

Recently the media in his native England have taken to branding Jarvis Cocker a “national treasure.” The observational singer/songwriter has spent the last 29 years writing class-conscious theatrical outsider anthems, first with Pulp, the Sheffield-based band that he formed in 1978 at the age of 15, and now as a solo artist. It may have taken Pulp awhile to capture the mainstream British consciousness, not truly breaking through until 1995’s hit single “Common People,” but before and since, Cocker has remained one of the U.K.‘s best-regarded songwriters and a performer with charisma to spare. Still, Cocker, whose simply-titled debut solo album Jarvis has just been released in America, is not so sure about being deemed something as stuffy as a national treasure. “That sounds terrible doesn’t it? It sounds like you’re a building or something,” he jokes. “I should charge an admission fee for people to come and look at me or something like that…. Maybe I could get some kind of sponsorship from the British council.”

Pulp rose to prominence at the forefront of the mid-‘90s Britpop movement. Their trilogy of albums in that time (1994’s His ‘N’ Hers, 1995’s Different Class, and 1998’s This Is Hardcore) accurately chronicled the journey that British culture took in that period, from the hope and optimism of when the Labour Party got into power to the disillusionment of the realization that Tony Blair wasn’t everything he promised he was. After 2001’s We Love Life, Pulp amicably parted ways. Since then Cocker has donned a skeleton costume as the persona Darren Spooner to front the tongue-in-cheek electro-clash side project Relaxed Muscle, led the fictional Harry Potter band The Weird Sisters, got married, moved to Paris with his French wife, and had a son.

Now arrives the dreaded solo album. Luckily, Jarvis is neither a dull stripped down acoustic record singing the praises of fatherhood, nor a self-indulgent and over-produced mess about the toils of an aging rock star. With the help of some friends (such as Pulp bassist Steve Mackey and Richard Hawley), the album finds the perfect balance between what made Pulp so vital and where Cocker is at now. Jarvis is populated by quirky characters and tells strange tales of drunks traveling to parallel dimensions. It’s an album that tackles such weighty subjects as the police killing of an unarmed and innocent terrorist suspect on the London Underground, an album whose final pronouncement is that “cunts are still running the world.”

We spoke to Cocker from his home in Paris, where his bilingual young son Albert was just returning home from school.

Mark Redfern (Under the Radar): Do you like doing interviews? Is it something you enjoy doing?

Jarvis Cocker: It depends, doesn’t it really? You know, it’s not my number one hobby. It just depends sometimes in an interview you can… It’s like a conversation, it’s like saying, “Do you like conversations.” It’s hard to say. Some conversations are very depressing. [Laughs] And other ones are enlightening because the thing is, by speaking to somebody sometimes you find out things, through bouncing ideas off somebody, sometimes you find out something you can’t do in isolation. It’s something that I thought about actually. Like with this record it was the first record where I have written something in isolation, because even though I used to write songs for Pulp, I’d always take them to the rest of the band to work on. In this respect, although I’ve got people to play on the final thing, all the songs were finished and all of the words were finished already. So, this was more like a monologue. I think the next one I probably will involve other people in it, just for variety’s sake probably. You definitely come up with something different.

What question do you seem to be getting asked the most when you’ve been doing interviews lately?

What’s it like living in Paris? How is it different to living in England? Has it affecting your songwriting? Were you going to ask those ones? [Laughs]

That was question three, yeah. [Laughs] Well, the interesting thing about that is that I’ve read in another interview you did that you used get your lyrical ideas by kind of eavesdropping on conversations and obviously I’ve read that you don’t speak French very well.

No, no, so I’m a bit lacking in there, but you can sometimes tell what’s going on or you can guess at what’s going on. At least I can get closer to people now. But I don’t want to give you the idea that I’m some kind of clandestine stalker or something. I’m not really.

Were Pulp ever big in France or are you pretty anonymous over there?

I’m anonymous, yeah, unless I hang around indie record shops or something. It was weird at one point, for a brief period of about four months, we were actually bigger in France than we were in England. The first concert we ever played outside the U.K. was in Paris, back in like ‘92 or something like that. We went over there really well and then we got booked on a French tour and all stuff like that. Then I think as soon as England decided they did like us then the French went off us.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about you, in the press or just in the view of your fans?

I don’t know because I don’t know what people think I’m like. That’s a difficult one, really. I don’t know. You’d have to give me a list of conceptions that I could then agree or disagree with.

Well I mean, obviously, a lot has changed in your life since in the last five years or so, but a lot of people have this conception of you being this romantic hero.

Oh, I’m still that. [Laughs] Yeah, I’m still doing that one.

Good. One of the big things that’s obviously changed in your life in the last few years is that you got married and I was curious, what’s been the most surprising thing to you about marriage? Because a lot of your lyrics in the past seem to take a dark, sometimes cynical, sometimes romantic, often humorous kind of view of romance and sex. Did you ever think you would settle down and what’s been some of the surprising things about married life?

It came as a surprise to me that I did it. I didn’t see any point in it for a long time and I suppose the main surprise or the most pleasant surprise is that I kind of quite like it. [Laughs] And it’s quite kind of nice to feel settled in that way. I mean it’s not like I’m settled like I sit in the house everyday. I still go off on tour and things like that. But I do kind of miss domestic life and that was something I always hated. That’s why I used to go out that much because I couldn’t really bear sitting in the house. I could never really feel comfortable at home. And now I actually can, so that’s quite a change and that’s something that came as a surprise to me.

I’m getting married in June. Do you have any advice for me on how to weather married life?

How long have you been going out with your girlfriend?

Oh, about six years. So we’re practically married anyway.

Yeah, you’re laughing, yeah. I suppose the thing is, it always seemed such a massive thing to me and also because my parents’ marriage hadn’t worked out so I kind of vowed never to get married. So I built it up into something that was much more dramatic than it actually is. You know, I think there’s no actual moral reason to get married anymore, I don’t think. I think probably the best excuse to get married is to have a good party and to have a good wedding reception and then to go on a nice holiday. I suppose it’s that thing of not taking it too seriously and not letting it change your relationship with the person you get married to. Just have a go, you know. I mean I can’t believe in July I will have been married for five years, which is quite weird.

What’s been the most surprising thing about fatherhood, about becoming a father?

Well again, that one, I’d kind of written off as a no-go area and then it happened. When I found out that we were having a boy, I felt that that put me under a lot of pressure because I thought I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I felt because my father had disappeared when I was at a fairly early age that I wondered how I was going to be a dad because I didn’t feel that I had a role model to base my performance on. But what I’ve found is that you just kind of make it up as you go along and it’s all right. I’ve just got to answer the door because I think that is actually my son coming home from school. Let me just check… [Cocker answers the door.] I was right, it’s going to get noisy in this house shortly. I’ll go in the office and try and avoid him. But also, I suppose I’ve kind of shied away from it a bit, because of that old Phil Connelly quote, “The pram in the hall is the death of creativity.” And I did worry about that and it hadn’t escape my notice, but a lot of people, pop stars, seemed to go really bad once they were parents and even write songs about their kids and stuff like that. So I wanted to avoid that, but again I was pleasantly surprised there. If anything, it kind of shook me up a bit and made me kind of work a bit harder and I actually found it quite inspiring in some ways. Hopefully not in that direct way of writing songs about how great your kid is and all this kind of stuff, but I think it kind of makes you look at the world a little bit differently. I’ve been writing songs for 25 years so it’s probably good to get a bit of a new angle.

When your son grows up, do you think you’re actively encourage him to be a musician, if that’s what he wants to do or now that you know what its like to go down that road [would you encourage him to do something else]?

I would prefer if he did something useful with his life, but obviously it’s not up to me. I mean I haven’t encouraged him to get into music, but he does seem to be quite into music, but I suppose that’s because there are musical things hanging around the house. If there were test tubes and microscopes he’d probably be into them, but because there’s guitars and stuff like that he kind of shows an interest. Although he seems to show most interest in the drums, which I’ve told him that really he should aspire a bit higher, because the drummer’s the one who gets the most abuse in the group and usually end up with the groupies that nobody else will have. So I’ve told him, but he still seems set on being a drummer.

I was reading a lot of recent articles on you in the U.K. press preparing for this and it seems like a lot of articles and reviews have, over there, described you as a “national treasure,” and I was wondering how you felt about being described that way.

That sounds terrible doesn’t it? It sounds like you’re a building or something.

With a blue plaque on there.

Yeah, exactly, yeah. [Talks to his son Albert in the background.] I should charge an admission fee for people to come and look at me or something like that.

Well you kind of do when you have your concerts obviously.

I suppose so, yeah. Maybe I could get some kind of sponsorship from the British council. I could achieve charitable status or something. Must be some advantages to being a national treasure.

When you look back on the heyday of Pulp and the mid-‘90s Britpop era and all that kind of stuff… Island just recently reissued those three albums from that period and you found all the extra stuff and did all the liner notes, which was really cool. That was 10 years ago now, what are your thoughts about that period?

I was glad that I got involved in the reissuing of those things and it was quite interesting to sift through old material, because I don’t do that normally. Once something’s done then I kind of forget about it and try and think about something new really. I was quite pleasantly surprised that some of the stuff that didn’t come out at the time was all right. I suppose it reminded me of what I was like at that time, and some of that’s good and some of it’s bad. You know, This Is Hardcore, enough time’s gone by since it was made and I could kind of appreciate that record for what it is, rather than just think, “Ooh, what a horrible time in my life.” The thing that I’m proud of, I suppose, is the fact that when I did listen to them, it did take me back. They are kind of genuine records in a way. I don’t mean it in a kind of like worthy kind of way. There’s something real about them in someway; they conjure up that time. I suppose you can hear it: you’ve got that kind of giddy excitement of His ‘N’ Hers and you’ve got Different Class which is quite well balanced, I think, as a record and really hangs together as a whole album. And then This Is Hardcore kind of goes off the rails and has some moments that I think are really, really good. It is just very inconsistent, that record, it kind of veers all over the place. It kind of sums up those three years, really; what happened in British culture. The Britpop thing, which as much as a musical thing was a social thing of suddenly, like, indie no-hopers became achievers and were in the charts and it was the new mainstream. And I thought, “Oh yeah, come on revolution, let’s the change the world!” And then three years later, it was like, “Oh dear, can I go and hide in a dark room please?” And that’s what happened to me, but that’s kind of what happened to the whole movement really. It didn’t last very long and lots of people kind of made grumpy records and then it was The Spice Girls and Robbie Williams. People wanted their pop stars to be simple and obvious again, rather than a bit fucked up.

What’s your fondest memory of the whole Pulp experience? What do you think was the high point for you personally?

Well there was few. I mean for the band playing, definitely when we played at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995 was the moment when we kind of knew we’d made some kind of breakthrough and everybody knew the words to “Common People” and it was very exciting.

That was when you took over for The Stone Roses at the last minute.

Yeah, yeah. That was good, but there were lots of things. I remember I think I mentioned it in those liner notes [for the reissues]. We’d been to this kind of shitty disco on Oxford Street. Then I came out and our record [Different Class] had just come out and they had those cardboard cut outs in the window. And I went over to have a look and kind of posed at the side of it and they took a picture and just as they were taking the picture some girls passed by and went, “Ahhh!” and screamed. And I thought, “Yeah.” I had spent all my childhood wanting to be a pop star and then in that one moment it all kind of came true.

When you guys were playing Glastonbury, I was actually trying to break into Glastonbury during your set.

Oh, right, okay [Laughs]. Could you hear us a little bit?

I could hear you, yeah, in the distance.

Did you manage to get in?

I did, yeah. My older brother called me up. I’m originally from England, a long time ago. I was there for the summer, so we tried to break in. We ended up breaking in right next to the police compound and next to the Glastonbury sewage plant.

At least you managed it. I mean it’s absolutely impossible now. I mean the first time I ever went, we just went over the fence. It was very easy in those days.

Well anyway, you sounded good in a field about a mile away.

Well that’s all right then. [Laughs]

What would you say was the low point for you during the Pulp days?

Well I suppose it was a gradual thing that it wasn’t going to be what I wanted it to be. Looking back on it, it was obvious that, because I had spent so much of my life wanting to be a pop star and thinking that if I ever became one it would make everything in my life magically fall into place, but it could never live up to what I thought it would be. But in terms of specific examples, I remember, that was kind of encapsulated, the way your dreams got trodden on a bit. Because when you’ve got groupies, it’s your little thing, it’s like having your own kingdom that conforms to your rules and stuff. And the thing about being successful is then it kind of gets taken out of your hands and it’s no longer your private little thing. Other people are into it and it makes money and everybody starts getting a vested interest. It kind of tarnishes it a little bit. A similar thing was like when I was DJing one night and I looked down, I got my records out, and somebody had racked out about four lines of coke on the sleeve of [Scott Walker’s] Scott 4, which is one of my favorite albums, and I just thought, “Ooh, that’s not right.” It kind of summed it up really. It was something that you really liked suddenly being taken from you and somebody doing drugs off it. It kind of spoilt it really.

Which Pulp record are you most proud of these days? Which one do you look back at today and think that’s the crowning achievement of Pulp, if there is one.

Like I say, I don’t listen to them that much. I mean I always like the song, “This Is Hardcore.” That one song almost made that whole experience worthwhile.

Yeah, that’s one of my favorites and I love that video as well.

Yeah that’s pretty good. But you know, “Common People” I heard it on the radio the other day and it sounded all right, I’m still quite proud of that. What’s that other song? “Babies” is all right as well, that’s not bad, that’s quite nice.

Do you ever listen to your first record, It, and if you do, what do you think of it now? I mean it was so different from what you ended up doing later with Pulp and obviously was a totally different lineup as well.

Yeah, I’ve got fairly fond memories of that record. It was made just after I’d left school and recorded very cheap in a studio that was kind of falling down and we were kind of trying to rip off Leonard Cohen at the time by having girl backing vocals and the drums as quiet as possible without being actually inaudible. But yeah, I think it’s quite a pleasant record. Again, it kind of sums me up at the time. It’s got this kind of naivety, which I was… I had just come out of school. I didn’t really know how the world worked at all. And that record has got a bit of a yearning quality to it. So yeah, I don’t mind that record.

When I interviewed Richard Hawley a few years ago, I think he told me it was actually his favorite Pulp record or one of his favorites.

Well maybe, I can see that. Because Richard’s music, he goes towards that gentler kind of thing and so I can see why he would probably like that one.

If through the magic of time travel, if the 17-year-old Jarvis, who formed Pulp back in ‘79, could somehow meet the 2007 Jarvis what do you think he would think of him and the journey that he’s had over the years?

I would probably be appalled, but then I would be appalled by him as well. I actually wrote about this in a song recently. On the album there’s these short musical interludes. The one at the beginning and one towards the end called “The Loss Adjuster.” And that was a song, but we just didn’t get it together to finish it when were doing the album, so I kind of had a go at finishing it the other day. It’s about the world ending as seen from the point of view of somebody who’s having a drink in Camden [in London] at the time and then he goes out onto the street to see what’s going on and one of the things that happens during the course of the song is that due to the levels of hysteria around Kentish Town, it kind of causes a warping of space and time and the person singing the song finds himself confronted with his former self, but not from 17-years-old, probably from about 27-years-old, and they have an argument. The older self leads the other one. The other one is routing around in a [rubbish] skip trying to get a punctured space hopper from underneath some rubble. And so I think both versions of myself would be irritated by the other, but I guess that’s just the way it goes.

If you could travel through time, where do you think you’d want to go?

When I was a kid, I always used to think I wanted to go into the future. You know when that program Time Tunnel was on, I was always disappointed when they’d go back to the American Civil War or something like that. I always wanted [them to go to the future], because I was always obsessed with space, I suppose, as a kid. Whether that would be the same now, I don’t know. Everybody’s kind of prognosis for the Earth’s future is fairly grim, isn’t it? Maybe you’d just go [to the future] and you’d get out and there would just be a desert. [Laughs] That would be a bit of a downer wouldn’t it? I don’t know, I think going back to the age of the dinosaurs would be pretty amazing. I mean it probably wouldn’t last very long, but to see them roaming the earth as they did would be quite incredible. I mean, in terms of the period when man was on the planet, I don’t know if I’ve got a favorite period of history.

Well the future hasn’t really turned out how we all imagined it would 30 years ago, you know? There’s no flying cars.

Well it’s weird though isn’t it, because some bits are futuristic when you think of things like mobile phones and things like that. That is like having your Star Trek communicator. The kind of technological stuff and what you can do and how you could be in contact with people. And Wi-Fi, you can flip open your laptop you’re online and all that. That’s pretty on the money as to what they thought would happen. I guess it’s just all the social aspects and all that. I guess they thought that as technology changed, then people would also change. Like human beings would evolve and somehow become different. I suppose what we’ve realized is that we’ve still kind of got a pretty Neanderthal kind of brain, but now you’re operating quite complex machinery. But it’s still the impulse that drives you are pretty basic I think.

Well I wanted to get into the new record and talk about some of the specific songs on the record and maybe some of the lyrical inspirations for some of the songs. “Black Magic”: I was curious what lead you to sample “Crimson and Clover” for that. Was that always the intention or did you find yourself kind of playing that riff in the song and realizing, “Oh shit, we better get the rights to this.”

No, no. It was Steve Mackey, the bass player. He’d heard a couple of the songs that I recorded and he gave me that sample and said, “I thought it sounded a bit like the kind of the stuff you’ve been doing recently.” So he gave me that and to be honest I wasn’t really familiar with that song “Crimson and Clover.” I went to see that Jim Jarmusch film Coffee and Cigarettes a bit after and it was in that. And I thought, “Alright, that’s where it comes from then.” I just like the sound of it. And it was important for me to make it very obvious that it was a sample. The producer kept like, there’s like a big snare hit like, “duuf,” and he kept kind of putting all this reverb and stuff on it to make it to make it sound proper. And I said, “Oh, don’t do that,” because then it’s like you’re trying to cover the fact that it is a sample, but I think the whole point of it is that you should really know that that’s not what the band has played, that’s just off a record. It seemed very important to me that was the case, I’m not sure exactly why. I think it has something to do with the fact that the theme of the song is like, I know it sounds really wanky, actually. It’s a bit like how music can open up a door into another world, which is not always really helpful, especially not for musicians. I think that’s why so many musicians kill themselves. Because it kind of opens up a door to this thing and it’s like you’re not living in normal times if you’re playing music and stuff. And then sometimes that door can shut and it makes it very difficult to go back to normal life. And also just that thing, as it says in the song, it takes you somewhere that you want to stay, but you can’t stay there. I also blame that on why musicians get into taking loads of drugs and drinking too much because they take you somewhere else as well and maybe you think it’s going to take you to the same place, but usually it doesn’t. It kind of takes you to the graveyard! [Laughs] So that song, what it’s trying to say is, “Be careful of this music, man, it’s dangerous stuff, it’s really fucking powerful yeah, it’s kind of voodoo.” But, also, “What else are you going to do with your life?” As it also says in the song, you know, “We can’t escape, we’re born to die, but I’m going to give it a real good try.” Or, “It’s the true believers who crash and burn, but there ain’t no way I’m ever going to learn.” It’s like, because it’s good you just have to do it. You know what I mean? You might know it’s dangerous, but if it works, it’s great. So you’re still gonna take the risk of being involved with it.

Wow, I totally missed the point of that song because I thought it was somehow about…

About chocolate? [Laughs.]

[Laughs] No, I thought it was about religion and God and that kind of stuff.

Well it could be, because it’s about something higher, something beyond the day-to-day reality of existence. But I’m not particularly religious. I do believe in spirituality and I do think there is such a thing as a human spirit. I don’t go to church or anything like that, you know.

So you don’t really believe in a higher power or anything like that?

Well I see no evidence of it. It’s funny, I was reading that book, you know, Richard Dawkins has written this book, The God Delusion. Have they published that in the States? He’s like a big Darwinist guy and in a way that almost made me want to believe in religion because he takes the opposite. Basically this whole book is telling why religion is a load of rubbish and why they shouldn’t believe in it. And the thing is because he takes such a hectoring and an intellectually snobbish approach, it puts you off it really. You think, “God, well if giving up religion meant that we all had to hang around with people like him, you’d rather kind of go for the religious ones.” I don’t know, it’s a weird one because especially at the moment, the excuse for the current conflicts is kind of… religion is used as an excuse for what’s going on. And I have thought to myself, “Why not let’s just boycott all religions because it’s just pathetic.” To me, it’s almost like a lot of 45- and 50-year-old people who still believe in Father Christmas. It’s like, you kind of should of have grown out of it. But, I don’t know.

Well it’s not that easy obviously for some people.

There’s one theory, because he does go through the different things, like agnosticism and atheism, all this stuff. And one strand of religious belief, which I think a lot of the French in the 1800s were into, people like Voltaire and stuff like that, was the idea that something created the universe and then kind of fucked off. You know what I mean? So I suppose it’s not like that Catholic thing where you really think God gives a shit about whether you didn’t pay your parking fine or something like that. You know this kind of thing where you have a personal God who is bothered about the day-to-day workings of your life. I think that’s just human beings trying to make themselves more important. The idea of something creating the universe and setting it all in motion and then, that’s itI could hang with that. I do think there are, you know, music is an example… There’s no practical use for music, is there? You could live without music couldn’t you? You could, physically, but you wouldn’t like to. And so to me that shows that life isn’t just about eating, drinking, shitting. There is something more and people certainly do yearn for something more. And even if that thing is, let’s say, let’s take the really cynical approach and say it’s people deluding themselves. Well even if it is a delusion, purely it’s kind of better to labor under that delusion than the other thing, which is to not believe in anything at all. At least it gives life some interest and some content. That’s just one song man. [Laughs]

I know [laughs]. Well, I won’t ask you about every song because we’d be here forever, but I do have a few others to ask you about. “I Will Kill Again,” that song to me almost seems to be about you settling down, and almost seemed to be about the two different sides of yourself: the more subtle domestic side and the more rock star going out on tour side. Am I totally wrong about that?

No. You’re pretty close there. Well it’s about that thing of thinking that now I’ve got my [own family] maybe I’ve got to be a sensible grown-up person now. And also, me thinking about making a record again and wondering whether I was going to turn into an acoustic balladeer. And it didn’t quite turn on that way. So it’s just a realization that you can think that you’re settled and everything’s under control and then something will happen and anybody can go off the rails at anytime. And you know it’s always going to be there, it’s just whether you do it or not. You know those impulses, or whatever, not the impulse to kill, I mean, that phrase is meant more in the thing of like, “yes, I can still hack it, I can still do it, the daddy is still in town,” or whatever. But just realizing that that stuff doesn’t go away. It’s always there and you just have to find some way of keeping a lid on it, I suppose. And then sometimes you don’t want to keep a lid on it and you just go out and get completely hammered. I think it’s healthy to realize that rather than trying to fool yourself into thinking you’re a nice guy. Because I think it’s usually the nice guys or the people who believe themselves to be nice guys, who end up committing unspeakable atrocities. Don’t you think?

Do you think Hitler thought he was a nice guy?

Yeah he probably did. All the evil that’s being done, the people who did it didn’t think to themselves, “Haha! I’m evil!” They actually thought that they were doing right. So I think a little bit of self-loathing is healthy. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you in you place in a way.

In the song “Fat Children” you’re calling out parents who spoil their kids and feed them too much and let them get fat. How are you avoiding spoiling your son?

Oh he’s about 15 stone [210 pounds] already. [Laughs] Well, I don’t know, it’s that thing. It’s engaging with somebody as a human being. Sometimes parents just take the easy way out of, “Well the kid’s making a lot of noise, how do I shut him up? Turn the TV on, give him loads of sweets.” It’s laziness I suppose, or an unwillingness to take the harder route, which is like, “Okay, the kid’s making a fuss because he’s bored, therefore I’m going to have to do something to entertain him.” I think that’s it really. I don’t know whether it’s something to do with people leaving it longer before they have kids. I mean I left it very late. I don’t know whether that makes a difference. Because there is a bigger gap and sometimes you do get that feeling that people have kind of tried everything else and so then they think, “Oh, well maybe I’ll have a kid then, it’s one thing I’ve not tried. I’ve done drugs, I’ve done drink, I’ve done this, I’ve done that, it hasn’t worked. I’ll have a kid, maybe that will sort me out.” That’s not really a good reason to have a child. It’s a difficult one, child rearing. I wouldn’t pretend to be an expert at that in any way at all.

My brother’s just had his first child and he’s about 41 and he’s going through that kind of thing as well.

One good thing is though, you know, 41, one thing I’ve found was that, that can be an age at which the middle age spread can start, but with a new child and having to pick them up and carry them a lot, you do get a bit more exercise. So, it can help with staving that off. It could be fat children, but thin parents.

Elsewhere in that song, you kind of mentioned that police shooting on the London Underground that happened a couple years ago. At least, there was kind of a veiled mention to it. Was that where you were getting at?

Yeah, yeah. Well I kind of had fun with that song of just being as negative as possible to as many people as possible. So like, the main character in the song dies about two-thirds of the way through the song. The kids get slagged off, the police get slagged off, and the parents get slagged off. I just kind of quite enjoyed getting into that. Yeah, it is a reference to that, the Brazilian guy, who got shot on the Tube. I wasn’t in London at the time, but I know what it’s like on those Tube trains. It’s about the most squalid way to die, ever and to be pinned down of the floor of a tube train with all those bits of chewing gum and sweet wrappers and things and then somebody pumps five bullets in your head, whilst other people watch and on absolutely no evidence whatsoever. And then nobody got prosecuted about it after. It’s really quite astounding. We’re always told that we’re the civilized ones and in some way that’s supposed to justify our actions in the rest of the world, that we’re trying to bring democracy and civilized values to the rest of the world. Well it’s about the most barbaric way of killing somebody that I can think of. So it kind of got me, that one.

I wanted to ask you about the song “Disney Time.” I was curious if you’ve taken your son to Euro Disney?

I haven’t, no. And it’s pretty near. I haven’t and I don’t intend to. I like a lot of those early Disney cartoons. The inspiration for that song came from watching Dumbo with [my son]. I just think they got into a formula eventually. I think the earlier ones, nobody had ever made cartoons at that length and they were discovering what they can do and then I think you get to Bambi and the formula starts to go in place and also you start to get an agenda then of this family values thing. I’m not the first person to have taken against that. That kind of very unrealistic super-wholesome view of the family that’s completely not based on anything in reality. I guess that’s kind of what that song is getting at.

Well, suffice to say you’re not going to do a Phil Collins and do any songs for Disney movies anytime soon.

[Starts singing] “I’m on my way…” Yeah, Brother Bear. And Tarzan he did some for as well or no was it Elton John who did them? It’s really cruel that, I think. Because kids can’t go to see those films unsupervised and so to inflict Phil Collins on you, when you can’t leave the cinema, you can’t leave the kids on their own, it’s very, very cruel. I’ve been thinking of going to the European Court of Humans Rights about it, actually. It’s not on.

[Laughs] I think you should, yeah.

You know, I did music for Harry Potter; that’s a kid’s film. I have nothing against kid’s film per se.

Yeah, well that was a good kid’s film though, you know. I was going to ask you about that, actually, because that was built up to be such a big deal, and then when you actually saw the film, there was about one shot of you guys.

Exactly. We were so criminally underused, it was incredible. I’m not sure, but I think it was because of this silly Canadian folk group who were trying to sue Warner Brothers at the same time because they had the same name. Well they certainly didn’t get the last laugh because they got lumbered with court costs. The judge threw the case out of court, but that was after the film had come out. I mean, the film was too long, so I think we got cut a bit because of that as well. We weren’t allowed to be called The Weird Sisters in it because this court case was pending. They did want to make a lot more of it, at one point they were even talking about doing a whole Weird Sisters album and really making out that the group existed and all this kind of stuff. Yeah, I was quite into the idea of it, but once this court thing happened it all backpedaled. We were criminally underused, although you can see a full performance of one of the songs if you buy the DVD.

Oh, okay, that’s good. I just would have thought they would have at least cut back once. It was like this one shot and it was a shot that was pulling back as well. You could see you, but you couldn’t see anybody else, you couldn’t see Steve [Mackey] or anyone else in the band.

I mean it was a supergroup, you know. Johnny Greenwood and Phil Selway [from Radiohead] there.

I know. It was kind of wasted. Yeah. Just a couple more songs I wanted to ask you about. “Big Julie”: I’ve been trying to get my head around that one. I can’t kind of work out what it’s about, who Julie is. Can you shed some light on what’s going on in that song?

I’ll try. I mean the starting point of that song was The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Before the song starts it’s got a little bit of her talking and it’s based on a passage in that book, where Frankie, the main girl character in it, goes out late at night and kind of sneaks into the garden of a house in a more well-to-do neighborhood and sits under an open window listening to the radio. And she’s about to go because nothing good has been on and then the radio starts playing Beethoven’s “Third Symphony” and it’s the first time she’s heard it. And then there follows this kind of page and a half description of the thoughts that go through her mind as she’s listening to this piece of music. And I thought it was a good bit of writing because it’s difficult to write about the act of listening to music because nothing happens, physically, you just sit there and listen to it. It’s good. I don’t know if it’s because apparently [McCullers] wanted to be a concert pianist when she was younger and it never worked out. So I suppose with her having an affinity to music, maybe makes her able to write about it quite well. So certain little bits in the song come from that, or the situation, at least, comes from that. And also in the book Frankie’s always wanting to get away from where she lives, she doesn’t feel that she fits in. And then I blended that, seamlessly, with my literary magic, with this girl who I knew when I was at college who went to the Royal College of Art in London. Who was called Julie, actually, I didn’t change her name. I usually do. She was from this place called Loughborough, which is a pretty nowhere town. And she developed breasts when she was about 12. And she used to tell me stories about all those kind of weird things would happen to her, because as soon as she developed breasts then suddenly all these blokes, like the Sunday school teacher, started acting very strange and started getting quite letchy and trying to lure her into cupboards so they could grope her and stuff like that. Yeah, so it’s about that really. It’s just an amalgam of those two people. And the idea of, I suppose that’s the other idea of music, we talked about it with “Black Magic,” the other thing music can do, is especially when you’re in your adolescent years, which is often when you kind of start clinging to music and really getting in to it, if you don’t feel that you fit in, it does act as a kind of reassuring thing, I suppose. Because it seems to do this thing of opening up a new kind of world to you or communicating with you on a quite direct [way] and it feels like a very profound manner that it kind of encourages you that maybe there is somewhere in the world where you will fit in and where things will work out. So that’s what it’s about, I suppose.

Well that makes a lot more sense, especially when you talk about who Julie really was and developing breasts and all that stuff. You seem to write a lot of songs that have these really interesting characters that I’m sure a lot of times are based on real people in your life. And even if you do change the names, have you ever gotten into trouble about that? Have you ever had old friends call you up and ask you, “Why did you write about that in this particular song?” Or anything like that?

Yeah and demand royalties. Yeah, yeah I have. There was a girlfriend who I wrote two songs about. Well I once had a girlfriend, it was terrible, she used beat me after concerts because she said I never talked about anything personal to her and then she’d come to a concert and I’d be spilling it all out on stage. Which I suppose when you think about it isn’t that healthy. But you know, fuck it. Yeah, I did have a girlfriend when I was at college who I wrote this song, “Razzmatazz,” about. And then I was kind of embarrassed, I bumped into her a few years later and she twigged that it was about her and it wasn’t very complementary. Actually, we ended up laughing about it; it was all right.

Oh, that’s good. The girlfriend who beat you up or tried to beat you up, what period was that of Pulp?

Oh, this was pre-fame Pulp. This was around 1985, 1986.

So Freaks kind of era?


“Quantum Theory,” what’s going on in that song? You’re obviously throwing out a lot of interesting scientific stuff in there, but what are you trying to get at with that song?

Well that’s my sci-fi thing there. Well, I was interested in quantum theory. I don’t understand it. It seemed to evolve, really, to try and explain gravity. I don’t know, I just came up with this idea of somebody who drinks a lot and when they’re drunk they feel that they can travel through time and space, going into these parallel dimensions. It’s like drinking opens up this wormhole that they can travel through. And I think through quantum theory the idea of parallel dimensions and of them existing is actually gaining ground. They’re even designing quantum computers at the moment that can work really fast, because they do the part of the work in another dimension. Which seems quite mind boggling, but apparently it’s supposed to work. So the idea is that this guy drinks a lot and keeps going into these parallel universes and eventually one night manages to get in one where everything went right. Where he had never split up with the girl that he did split up with, and they stayed together, and they had kids, and everything in his life falls into place. Then he wakes up the next day with a very bad hangover and he’s also kind of screwed then because he knows it’s taken him so long to find that place that he’ll probably never ever get back to that one again. So it’s like he’s unlocked the key to the universe, but by doing so, it’s like it unleashes the force of gravity kind of a thousand fold so that he can’t actually get out of bed anymore, it kind of presses down on him. So that’s kind of it really. And then it ends with… The kind of “everything is gonna be alright” is the nearest I can think of to… It was difficult to do the end of the song because I didn’t want it to be like, “Yeah man, here’s the upbeat ending to the record.” Because I hope it doesn’t come along like that, because I’m not convinced whether it was going to be all right, but I think you’ve got to hope it is. Because the alternative is just to be cynical and not believe in anything. And also in some ways it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy or something. Maybe if you believe it, it will actually happen. This record is supposed to end on a note of cautious optimism really, of maybe it will be all right or maybe it won’t, who knows?

I was curious why you decided to make “Cunts Are Still Running the World” the bonus track? Why you decided not to actually put it as a regular song on the record.

Well originally, when I was sequencing the record, that was originally track one. And it kind of worked, but it’s just with it having so much swearing in it, being quite extreme. And also, even the way it sounds doesn’t really sound that much like the rest of the record. It just didn’t seem to fit in and in a way it seemed to unbalance the record and cast a shadow over the other songs. And I don’t want it all just to be about, “Oh, here’s this record with this really ranty political song with lots of swearing.” I wanted people to hear it, but I just thought it was better putting it on its own. Like a disruptive child in class, he just has to be put out in the corridor because he doesn’t mix well with others.

Are there any world leaders that you do think aren’t cunts? Do you have faith in any kind of politics or do you think all politicians are corrupt?

I don’t know; that’s the thing isn’t it. I do think there’s a certain kind of mindset, if you want power over other people, it’s a bit weird. The only alternative that’s come up recently is what’s happening in South America at the moment, but I don’t know enough about what’s going on there. One thing I can say is at least, it’s another theory; it’s a different social model isn’t it. What kind of got that song going was this thing that, since the fall of the Soviet block, it seemed to be taken as a signal of like, “Right, communism doesn’t work.” Which I don’t think the Soviet block did work. But, it kind of says, “Communism doesn’t work, therefore rampant capitalism is the way forward and everything has to be based upon that model.” Capitalism is an economic thing, it’s not an ideological thing, but when it becomes so rampant, it actually does turns into an ideology. And as an ideology it isn’t very pleasant because basically all it’s based on is making the maximum profit and whoever gets exploited in the process, it doesn’t matter, as long as something turns a profit, it’s good. There’s not much human kindness in that equation. And so that’s what [I’m] having a go at. Whether what’s happening in South America is actually [better], I’d have to go and have a look. As I say, at least it’s a different way of doing things. Generally speaking, I think the more variety you have in the world, the better it is

I thought that song fit the end credits of Children of Men very well.

Yeah, it was weird that. A friend of mine played it to Alfonso Cuarón, the director, and he liked it. I got this call saying, “Oh yeah, he wants to you use it in the film” and I thought how the hell is he going to use that song in a film. He organized a screening so I could go in to see it and I thought, “Oh yeah, I think that would work.” It’s a pretty dark film, but I think the thing that’s scariest about is that it’s a fairly recognizable, you could imagine things kind of turning out [like that]. The thing about the world becoming infertile, okay, it could happen I suppose, but you’re not expecting it. But a lot of the other details about how the world was seemed pretty realistic. You could imagine in 10 years time that it wouldn’t be different. It was pretty frightening to think that.

Definitely. One thing I’ve always wondered about with Pulp, its kind of a silly thing, but you’ve always put a disclaimer that you don’t want people to read along to the lyrics while they’re listening to the song. I was curious, was that a serious thing or a humorous thing that you put in there? And what the reason behind it is, if it is a serious thing?

It’s fucking serious I tell you. [Laughs] The reason I put it on every record is because I do not want people to read the lyrics at the same time as they listen to the record. Because I used to do that. I remember buying Dark Side of the Moon and running home and putting it on and getting the gatefold out and reading the words. And I just think it always makes the words sound really shit because it’s one thing reading the lyrics, in isolation, but when you read them with the music on, you invariably read a bit ahead so you know what’s coming next and it always makes the lyrics sound really forced and artificial. And so that’s the reason really. And also, I mean if it was left up to me, I wouldn’t print the lyrics anyway. But then I know people like to know the words, so I do print them. But it’s okay to read them just like say if you can’t hear what I’m saying in one line and so you might want to look at the lyrics and check what that one line is. But you know, they’re not poetry and that’s why I never present them like that. I just write them out pretty straightforward. The words wouldn’t exist without the songs, that’s their natural habitat. It’s like taking a tiger out of the wild and putting it in a zoo, it’s not right really. The lyrics only really make sense in the context of the song so the last thing I want is when somebody’s listening to the song is to be taking the words away from it by reading them out of the lyric book. But of course I realize that I’m absolutely powerless in this thing. All I can do is print that warning. It’s like a health warning on a packet of cigarettes, but the only people who ever read those are the people who have just bought a pack of cigarettes and so they’re going to smoke them. So it’s just like that.

But what’s funny is that the video for “Running the World” basically is that thing though. It has the lyrics karaoke style.

Oh, I didn’t think of that. But that was karaoke, yeah. It was just supposed to be a karaoke video really. It was shown at the Redding Festival in England in between bands and stuff like that. It wasn’t really intended as the thing, but yeah, you’re right, you caught me out there. God damn you, damn you.

Will Darren Spooner [Cocker’s Relaxed Muscle alter-ego] ever return?

Well he’s always there inside me, it’s just that he managed to manifest himself in human form for a year or so, but now he’s been absorbed back into my soul where I hope I can keep him under control and not release him an unsuspecting public ever again. But who knows, he might get stronger, he might get the better of me.

What do you think of the Relaxed Muscle record now? It’s been a couple of years.

I have not listened to it. I enjoyed doing it. I enjoyed playing it live. But I don’t know what it sounds like now. I think the mastering was pretty shit. The other guy who was in the band did it whilst I was on holiday. It’s too bassy, not much treble, but that’s a technical thing. Some of the songs are all right. The song “Mary,” the last song on it, I thought was pretty good. “Sexualized” is good. “The Beastmaster,” I quite like that, and “Muscle Music.” Yeah, there’s some winners on there.

Yeah, it’s a fun record. I put “Mary” on a mixtape for my mum because her name’s Mary.

Oh God, what a lovely song for her to listen to. [Laughs]

Yeah, I’m not sure if she really got it. I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot, but when Pulp split up, as far as I know, you guys have never had a huge fight or anything.


The door’s always been slightly left ajar for you guys to maybe one day get back together and do stuff. Do you foresee that happening or is it hard to say?

I certainly don’t see it happening in the immediate future. Like you say, we’re kind of still friends, so there’s nothing standing in our way in that respect. There’s certainly no plans at the moment. I’d be kind of surprised if it happened, but, you know, who knows?

I mean obviously you’re pretty fulfilled with what you’re doing. You don’t have any great desire to reform Pulp and revisit that whole thing?

Well you know I was in Pulp for about 25 years, which is long enough to be in any group, isn’t it? A quarter of a centuryit’s a long time. It’s not like it was a prison sentence. And it was really important to me all the time that I was in it. Maybe it could happen again. I felt it was important for me to at least try and exist out of that framework, because I had been in it since the age of 14 or something. In my adult life, I’d never known life without the band. I suppose it was part of wanting to discover whether I could hack it without being in the band. And the thing is that I’ve come back stronger than ever! So who knows?

Are you already working on your next solo record? You were talking about that song you’ve been working on, is there other stuff you already have in the works for that or are you just focusing on touring and promoting?

I want to get more stuff together. I’ve come up with some bits and pieces of ideas. I’m kind of determined, what I really would like, and I’m maybe sentencing myself, I’ll regret this, but what would be perfect for me would be by the time we come over play in America, if I’d written another one or two songs, and we could actually play them live. Because that’s one thing that you always notice is that you end up playing the songs a lot better after you’ve played them live. I quite like to do that rather than have this thing of tour and then have a gap while you write some more stuff, I’d like to keep a bit of momentum. But that might just be some wishful thinking on my part.

This might be too big a question to answer, but what would you say is Pulp’s legacy on music? Do you see, as your band, you’ve left any kind of mark in music be it just music in England or elsewhere?

What, like a skid mark? [Laughs] Something like that, a big skid mark on the underpants of rock history. I mean musically, I don’t know. Some people say they can hear bits of Pulp in some modern bands. The thing that I liked about Pulp was that it was always a bit messy and a bit hazard and in a world where everything is becoming more streamlined and niche market and all this kind of stuff I like the fact that we never really seemed to fit in with anything. Which I think is more human, which I like. But I don’t know whether we’ve had any influence. Probably just making people wear jackets that are too small and bad glasses, something like that.

One thing that happened was that you had William Shatner covering “Common People” and I was curious if you’ve ever heard that?

Well that was like a dream come true for me really. I was mad on Star Trek so much when I was a kid. I didn’t think the version was very good, but just the fact that he sang it, well spoke it, in that inimitable way of his was quite good. I didn’t really like the bits where Joe Jackson steamed in and started singing. But it was kind of funny.

When I interviewed Steve Mackey, he said that he would have preferred it if Leonard Nimoy had sung it.

Yeah, well that’s it. Sadly enough, I have got records by both those guys.

Those records they did in the ‘60s?

Yeah. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Earth.” That’s good. That’s one track off Leonard Nimoy’s one.

Are you still into all that kind of sci-fi stuff? I mean obviously “Quantum Theory” gets into some of that stuff. Do you read a lot of sci-fi or see a lot of sci-fi movies?

Not as much as I used to. I read A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick the other day and it made me feel ill actually. The way it’s slightly psychotic because it’s talking about a substance which impairs brain function and it kind of does your own head in really. This right brain, left brain theory stuff, and all that. I thought that was pretty good, but I don’t think I’ll read another book by him because it did make me feel ill about four days after. I think it’s interesting because some of that stuff is actually coming home to roust in a way. Some of that, what I guess must have been seen as pretty wacked out writing in the late-‘60s, early-‘70s, whatever. Some of it is quite prescient and seems to chime with what’s going on right now. I kind of find myself drawn to science fiction a bit at the moment.

Have you been watching, I don’t know if you get it in France, the Doctor Who show they’ve been doing, the new one?

I seen some bits. Yeah, it’s quite good.

You’ve talked about how you’d like to write the British song for the Eurovision Song Contest? I was curious if you were serious about that or just having a laugh.

Deadly. I’ve always wanted to do that, but I think they’re getting Morrissey to do it this year.

I mean is that serious? I know there’s been talk about it, but is that seriously going to happen?

I read it in the paper like anybody else, so I don’t know whether it’s true or not. But if he’s doing it, then fair enough. But I would like to have a go at it. Because the U.K. have been doing very, very badly and it’s a shame.

Do you ever see yourself doing more film directing in the future? Because you’ve obviously directed some videos and short films and stuff. Do you think you’d ever, if you ever gave up music, do you think you’d pursue directing feature films or anything like that?

It’s kind of an ongoing fantasy. When I say fantasy, I am supposed to go and have a meeting with someone from Channel 4, which is TV, but they also do stuff that’s theatrically released as well. But I am supposed to go on a meeting with someone there. Yeah, it could happen. At the moment, I’ve got enough on with just promoting this record. It’s certainly something that I would like to do before I leave, before I shuffle off this mortal coil, but when and where and if it happens is another thing.

What type of films would you like to make if you made feature films?

Just kind of like romantic comedies. [Laughs] Rom-com. No, I don’t know. Maybe sci-fi, what about that? Combine two interests. Sci-fi with a bit of vampire in it as well.

You could adapt “Quantum Theory” and you could get William Shatner be in it.

Hey, that’s not a bad idea, that.

Last question I have is, in 30 or 40 years if Mojo is still around or when people are talking about classic music and writing the music history books, how would you like Jarvis Cocker and/or Pulp to be remembered in those books? That’s kind of a big question, I know.

It is isn’t it? I mean, I’m not into all that rock heritage. I don’t think it does music much good at all. But if they did do a kind of a bubblegum card thing… Do they still do those? Do they still do them? They still used to do them when I was a kid. I think of that really bad bubblegum that was kind of brittle like a very thin pink oblong. It would kind of shatter when they went to your mouth. And then like five cards of, I suppose you have baseball players don’t you? But the ones I liked were stills from old black and white horror movies with supposedly humorous captions. So if they did one of those of rock history and we had our own bubblegum card and we had to sum up Pulp in like 30 words, it would probably say something like: “Pop group from the north of England who hit the big time in the mid-‘90s. Led by tall lankly glasses-wearing nerd, Jarvis Cocker, who entertained audiences with his tales of suburban and sexual shenanigans and bad diet.” That’s probably what it would say, but I don’t think it would be very accurate because there is so much more to me. I am so deep. I’m like a bottomless pit really. [Laughs] No, I don’t know. If I was remembered at all, that would be all right by me I suppose.

You don’t think you will be remembered in 30 or 40 years?

I don’t know.

Guess it’s hard to say. I guess it depends what you do for the rest of your life, I guess.

I mean if I keep pumping out albums at this caliber, obviously I will be.

Oh yeah of course, yeah.

[Laughs] I don’t know do I. I don’t know. It’s not up to me basically, is it?

No I guess not. Unless you strap a bomb to your chest or something then you’ll be remembered I suppose.

That’s the easy way out though, isn’t it.

Well thanks for taking the long time to chat.

That’s okay, thanks for taking the long time to listen.


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