Words: Alexis, Portraits: Pulp
Interviewed back-stage at the Highbury Garage, 15 May 1993
Taken from Catharsis Fanzine, Issue 4
Alexis interviewed all five members
of Pulp backstage at the Garage in London.
"I'm Candida. Hello. I play keyboards."
And there you have Pulp - the world's greatest pop band. A band who have "been in Smash Hits" and have even had the honour of having one of that magazine's "Single of the Fortnight". Not that Jarvis can see the band ever being as big as, say, Take That or East 17.
"I can't see too many posters going up."
Pulp were formed by Jarvis whilst at school and the current line up has been together for about five years. But why did they all want to be in a band in the first place?
"I think we wanted to frustrate ourselves," says Candida.
"We're complete sado-masochists," backs up Nick.
Is it what you all always wanted to do?
"Yeah," confirms Jarvis. "I, kind of, wanted to do it at school. I used to imagine, when I was in the school's dinner queue, that I wouldn't have to queue up if I was famous. It's not particularly true. That's what I thought it would be like but it's not."
So, after deciding he wanted to be a pop star, Jarvis went to film school. Why?
"That was after we'd been doing the band for a while but I was disillusioned. We'd been messed around by loads of record companies and the final straw was when the bass player became a born again Christian and left the band. It all seemed a big mess. We didn't actually split the band up but I thought I ought to do something else cos it's all I'd been doing since I left school and I thought my brain was drying up. I thought I ought to do something else to keep it alive a bit."
Now it's 1993 and it's going to be a good year for Pulp. Their records are being picked up on - their last single 'Razzmatazz' got Single of the Week in Melody Maker - and it is rumoured that they have signed to Island Records.
"We're with them spiritually..."
"I don't think we've signed or anything," says Jarvis over Nick.
"...we're, kind of, engaged. It's been a long engagement."
"But long engagements are the best," stresses Russell.
Why do you think it's taken so long for Pulp to be appreciated (Pulp has been around in various forms for about fifteen years)?
Steve: "It's our turn."
Jarvis: "We've been waiting in queue for a long time."
Steve: "It's like when you go to the Post Office and you want a stamp but you'll wait for everyone else to go."
Jarvis: "We're very polite y'see so we didn't push in."
Nick: "We wouldn't have that."
Jarvis: "So we waited our turn."
Did it get depressing in the meantime? "No," continues Jarvis. "There's always other things to do. If you choose to sit at home thinking, "Why aren't I famous?", then you would be quite a sad character. You can always ride your bike or something."
Did you think you'd be doing it this long when you first started?
"No. I would've been horrified. I always thought pop music was supposed to be quite instant. You didn't hang around for a decade. To be doing it for so long is very strange."
How did Pulp sound when you started?
"It was all feedback," explains Steve.
"Yeah," recalls Jarvis. "It was a noise. Not on purpose, or anything. It was just ineptitude. I started when I was young and we just couldn't play. We still can't play very well but I don't think that matters."
What does matter then?
"It's not what you can play, it's what you can say."
And what are Pulp saying?
"That's put you on the spot," cries Nick gleefully.
"Well, it's not that we've got something to say as in there's a big message for the world. U2 are trying to shake off that image now but before they were always doing the chest beating and coming up with their big slogans. It's not like that. Hopefully it's an accurate reflection of our lives."
In that case Pulp must lead very strange lives. The opening lines of 'Razzmatazz' were, "The trouble with your brother/he's always sleeping with your mother/and I know that your sister's missed her time again this month".
"I don't think they're seedy," states Jarvis. "They're just true to life. I think they're deadpan and down to earth. I don't think they're strange. Razzmatazz is a bit sad. Babies (the single before Razzmatazz... sample lyric: I wanna take you home/I wanna give you children) is just a thing you get up to when you are fourteen and certain things are still still taboo and you get into situations because of curiosity."
What does your mother think about your lyrics?
"I don't think she's bothered. She's not made any detrimental comments. She thinks the songs should be happier. I'd rather her take no notice actually because once I went round there at Christmas and she insisted on playing the record all the time when my relatives were there. It was embarrassing. Everyone comes up and pats you which isn't very good. Also, if you're on TV or radio at your mothers then it's very embarrassing."
"Shouldn't have your hair like that."
"Smile a bit more."
"Why don't you play some happy ones."
To get to know Pulp a little better we decided to ask each member of the band to describe the others. We allotted them one word per person. Below are the results.
Nick: Candida... petite. For Jarvis I'd say dishevelled. Steve is organised and Russ is er... too tough sometimes.
Candida: Nick's loud. Jarvis is temperamental. Steve is organised and Russell is good at business.
Jarvis: For Nick I would say... high. Candida is fluorescent. Steve is clean. Russell... I'd say feedback.
Steve: Nick is too loud. Candida is calm. Jarvis is unique and that's not a compliment. Ha Ha Ha. Russell is manic.
Russell: Nick is Jean Paul. Candida is toys. For Jarvis I'd say praying mantis and Steve I would say is a cigar.
During this game several compliments and disparaging remarks were handed out and taken with apparent ease and false stroppiness in turn. Pulp complimenting each other makes them happy, but what is the nicest thing an outsider could say about them?
"I don't know. I get embarrassed if people are nice to me," says Jarvis whilst Russell lines up the butts of his cigarettes in size order. "l find it hard to accept people being nice. I always think they' re after something."
"You're paranoid," offers Steve as an explanation. "l don't know why it is. It's like when you eat out at a restaurant, not that I do very often, but when I do I don't like the waiters always coming over and supposedly being nice. (Adopts slimey voice.) "Is everything O.K. for you sir?". I find that makes my flesh crawl. I'd rather they just give it to you and then let you eat and talk to whoever you're with."
"The nicest thing someone could do to you is put a plate of food down and walk away?" asks Russell incredulously.
"I don't mean just slap it down. Put it down, then go away. I don't want them hanging around with the violin in your ear. The niceness is a bit like that."
Do you also hate it when people are horrible to you Jarvis?
"Oh yeah. I like general blandness. Ha Ha Ha. If somebody comes up to you and says "You're great", it's nice but it's also..."
"...a conversation killer," finishes Russell.
"It's a northern thing as well," observes Steve. "In Sheffield no one Would ever go up and say, "I think you're great"."
"That's why," confirms Russell, "it's uncool. It's us that's wrong but..."
"The best compliment we get is if someone says we're alright. It's good to know that other people like you but you'd rather hear it second hand," explains Jarvis.
"The first time someone said it to us we thought we'd misheard them," says Nick.
"Do you know who we are?" adds Russell.
"Yeah," continues Nick. "l thought they'd got the wrong band."
You said earlier that you don't like people being mean to you - does criticism upset you?
"Well" says Jarvis with a pained expression, "if somebody writes something like, "He's a tall, lanky streak of piss with no discernible talent. How has he managed to delude himself for so many years?" you can't just go, "Oh, yeah. Fair enough, everybody's entitled to their own opinion"."
"Truth hurts. Ha Ha Ha." comments Steve.
"It's too bad they were right," agrees Russell rubbing more salt into Jarvis's wounds. "We do like people to like us. We're not just doing this for ourselves. We want people to like it."
"But we don't pander," warns Jarvis.
What do you think about the "Crimplene scene" which is the current press play thing? Does it bother you that you've been lumped into that?
"We started it," boasts Steve jokingly.
"I don't think it exists. It's not healthy," complains Jarvis. "No. Crimplene makes you sweat. We'd rather be the British cotton scene."
"It's true," supports Nick. "Avoid Crimplene at all costs."
"I like seventies bands like Denim. Is that the Crimplene scene?" asks Russell.
From what I've read, it's you, Suede, Saint Etienne etc.
"We used to get compared to Marc Almond and World Of Twist so..."
"If I was going to chose a scene to be associated with," remarks Steve, "it would be that one but it's not like we meet at Oxfam on a Saturday afternoon and fight over classic Crimplene. None of us like it."
"I still don't think it exists," says Jarvis persistently.
If there is a scene then Pulp are the leaders of the pack. They might not be the biggest, but they are the best. In terms of sex, glamour and everything that counts they are the only band you need to know. They leave the rest of their ilk in a trail of dust. The songs are gorgeous uplifting affairs with secret tales of suburban life as lyrics. It is pure genius.
"A lot of sexual perverts like us," offers Russell helpfully. "They write us strange letters. Post grunge and post shoe gazing there is a new sort of person on the streets and they like us. People in stripey tops quite like us."
"French people like us," announces Candida.
Do any of you ever get recognised in the streets?
"Yeah," states Jarvis. "I was saying to Russell the other day, that I've always had people taking notice of me in the streets in Sheffield - usually in a bad way. They called me names and things. It does still happen. In fact I nearly had a fight yesterday 'cos this boy decided to push me. But people have started to recognize me and be a bit more friendly now. It's strange 'cos I'm always getting ready to flinch when they come up and then they say something nice and catch me off guard."
What names did they call you?
"Because I've always worn glasses it just used to be someone famous with glasses. Elvis Costello, Buddy Holly. Just anybody who wore glasses. I used to have a beard for a bit and then I was called Rolf Harris all the time. They weren't very imaginative."
Well, those people were obviously mad. Jarvis is, without a doubt, a sex symbol for the nineties along with all the others in the band. At the gig that took place after this interview Jarvis was practically pulled off the stage by adoring females. O.K. - so we know they are attractive, but how sexy out of ten does each member of the band think he/she is?
"We're all going to say ten aren't we?" asks Candida.
"You might, but I wouldn't," retorts Steve.
"I think it changes during the day," decides Nick. "When you get up in the morning you're probably a minus. The later it gets the better it gets. If it's a good day you might peak at two."
"You just about make a two, Steve," jokes Jarvis.
"Anyone who says above seven has problems," says Steve wisely.
"You'd catch them playing with themselves in front of a mirror when you came in here," suggests Jarvis.
"That means you were about a nine in the van today, then, when we set off," says Steve whilst trying to wind up Jarvis.
"I didn't think you were a nine, you thought you were."
"Self-masturbation," adds Nick helpfully.
"That's another thing that other people have to decide upon," Jarvis remarks sensibly.
"Obviously it's nice if people do find you that way."
At this point Nick's brother enters the room and Russell starts loudly announcing that "this one goes up to eleven" if you twist the nipple and put a little shilling in the slot. Everyone has hysterics.
But, don't get me wrong, Pulp take what they do incredibly seriously. They are a deadly serious band. I know this because Nick told me four times. They are funny, the music is not. Pulp are also clever, sexy, glamorous, beautiful, talented, strange, normal, erotic, under-famous, unique, sleazy, stylish and every other compliment ever. If you feel the need to check out the high life or if you just need that extra sparkle - look no further than Pulp. They're the most fun you'll ever have.
You can write to Pulp at P.O. Box 87, Sheffield, S6 2YZ
and you can become a Pulp person by sending £3 to the same