Before the serious tour psychosis sets in, Jarvis Cocker and soulmate, guitarist Steve Mackey, attempt to set the record straight. They flick their wrists at fame and throw caution to the wind. Pulp need no further introduction.
Dazed & Confused: Pick some adjectives to describe Pulp.
Jarvis Cocker: I don't wish to be awkward, but I think it's a band's duty to be evasive with questions like that. We try as hard as we can to avoid being too clearly defined, because once people think they know exactly what niche you fit into, you lose a lot of your power. For a long time now, we've been trying to get away from a few ill-chosen words that are always (incorrectly) used to sum us up, i.e. 'kitch' and 'wacky' and 'ironic'. We're finally succeeding.
I'm sure it's to do with our clothes. Most people are quite conservative. They assume that because we're bothered about what we wear, we have no emotional depth. Grunge was all about going on stage looking like shit and wearing holey jumpers. The idea was that, because you were such a deep artist suffering, you couldn't be bothered to think about what clothes you put on. That image was just as contrived as anything else. It's a misconception that you can't pay attention to other things and still be sincere about what you do. 'Sincere' isn't a very good word - it makes us sound like Billy Bragg, which is absolutely not my intention.
Steve Mackey: It's like if you do your own artwork and videos, people assume you don't take your music as seriously. All Oasis do, for example, is write songs. Everything else is done by other people. Somehow that makes them look like they're more musicians than we are. They might be better musicians, but none of them is more of a musician.
What made you first want to be in a band?
JC: It gave me something to do. When I started I was only 14 or 15. I couldn't play football, so it was an alternative way of getting to hang around in a gang. Also, when I was a sad teenager, I thought being in a band would solve all my problems. I thought I'd be able to get girls. As you go on, that fades away. It becomes a little fantasy, like wanting to be a fireman. You stick at music because you enjoy the job, not because there's girls wanting to get hold of your knob or whatever. Although I suppose some people still do it for that.
SM: It certainly wasn't about making music when I started. At the time I had no musical talent whatever. It was honestly because I thought it would make me more attractive. It's a real cliché about people will like you if you're in a band, but it's true. Of course, a band is just an 'in' to meeting interesting people. It doesn't guarantee anything after that. People talk to you, but then it's up to you to make the most of that opportunity.
JC: Usually, when you get to our age, your social circle settles down into a certain group of people that you stick with - or are stuck with. It's not that every person you meet when you're in a band is interesting, but at least you've got a bit of variety. Which is a very important thing in life.
How has being successful changed your character?
JC: I feel more relaxed now. I feel vindicated. We've been proved right in a way. I also feel more confident in myself. I don't have to keep making excuses 'cos I've been given this stamp of approval by the public. I'm allowed to have all my little faults now. Of course, that can be dangerous. It would be easy to become complacent, think I'm great, and turn into a right twat.
What is your ambition now?
JC: Not to lose it. The last album did quite well and we were really worried about doing something as good. We couldn't face having spent all this time getting people's attention, then doing a shit record and fucking it up for ourselves. So I was relieved when we managed to make another good record. As for the next one, who knows?
Now is the best time because I don't have a trauma of thinking where the next song is going to come from. In a few months' time, that will all be upon us again and there will be a great gnashing of teeth and not being able to sleep at night. For this album, we wrote three songs - including 'Common People' - then tried to write some more and they were bollocks. When 'Common People' was a hit, it put us into a different league and that seemed to give us impetus. We were fine then. Preceding that though, everything was coming out as right shit. Luckily, the quality threshold didn't go down. That's a very good thing. It means that you haven't lost your judgement. As long as you know you're writing shit and you don't actually inflict it on the public, it's not a problem. It's when that quality control mechanism fucks up, then you've had it.
Wasn't it hard to improve when no one was paying attention to Pulp?
JC: Terribly hard. It's like if you ask someone on the dole to do something for you, it'll probably take them three weeks. If you ask someone who works, goes to nightschool and has two kids, they'll do it that day because they're keyed up and their brain's working at a certain speed. When you're idling, your brain's in neutral. You turn into a fuck-up.
SM: That's one problem about becoming successful. Other people do everything for you - like arranging a taxi to take you from A to B. You don't ever have to think. It's a bit like being on the dole again - not doing enough everyday functions. You have to be very careful not to stall into neutral in your own mind.
Are you envious of bands like Oasis who become very successful very quickly?JC: That's brought them their own problems. Their album is all right, but it's being perceived in the papers as a backwards step, or at least not as good as their debut. I would find that very hard to deal with.
SM: We're lucky, because if our next album doesn't do so well, we already know that sadness of not being popular. We have experienced the tragedy, so it won't hit us so hard. Also we were doing ordinary jobs until two years ago. I'm not scared of going back to that. If you're Menswear and 17, with a half million pound record deal, and you get dropped next year, it would totally fuck your head up. What would they do then?
JC: Bands who have never known anything else in their lives, and all their friends are in the music business, are the ones who keep making records, even when everyone tells them that they're shit. They stick at it just so they can occasionally get into concerts for free and retain their social circle.
So that won't ever happen to you?JC: It might do. No one is immune from the sadness. You can't escape it either. Look at David Bowie.
SM: How true. Bowie's one of my all-time favourites, but think of everything he's done since 1980. That's high tragedy. And it gets worse and worse.
Any regrets about Pulp?JC: It would have been nice to have achieved at least some degree of success earlier. My only regret is that there were ten years when we could have done a lot more than we did. Even though we've been together 15 years, we've only made five albums. That's not a right big work-rate. Sometimes we'd record an album, then have to wait three years for it to be released. It's difficult to move on before the last thing has been put out for public consumption. You think, 'What's the point?'.
SM: But in that time we learnt to make films, for example. Had we been successful straight away we wouldn't have. I certainly wouldn't have gone to college, which I'm really glad about. Those things make us part of what we are now.
You said in an interview on John Peel's show that you'd kill yourself if you could see into the future.JC: Yeah, that would be awful. It's like fantasising about being a pop star when you're a kid. You think you'd have no worries, lots of girls and money and someone to drive you everywhere, but I'd want to kill myself if that was my life now. There would be no reason to do anything. I wouldn't want to win the lottery either. The whole driving force in your life would go. There would be nothing to strive for anymore.
What do you strive for now?
SM: Making better records.
You've admitted to being embarrassed by some early Pulp recordings. What don't you like about them?
JC: Imagine finding a drawerful of poems you'd written at 14, saying something like, 'This world cannot understand my fragile soul'. That's what you write at that age. You don't feel part of the real world yet. Everything seems really intense so you try to write something that sums up the whole world. It's just juvenile. Those songs were sincere enough, but if I met myself now when I was 14, I'd think I was a nightmare. You forget the awkwardness of being a kid. When you're young, you always want to appear older, to get into pubs or whatever. Suddenly, somewhere in your mid-20s, you want people to think you're younger. Maybe there's one week when you're satisfied with your age, before you flip over in the other direction. I remember standing at a bus stop in Sheffield, outside the under-18s disco. I looked at this queue of kids and it brought home to me how horrible it was to be a teenager - being too shy to talk to girls and really unsure of how you should act. Of course, it's far easier to remember it all as plain-sailing, arseing around and shagging behind bikesheds.
What's the biggest change in the British music scene since you started out?
JC: I think the scene now is very much as it was when I first got seriously into music in '77 or '78. I don't mean the music is comparable, but its place in the public consciousness has definitely gone up again. Just the fact that the Daily Mirror would consider it worthwhile putting us on its cover proves that music has attained some importance within society again. A few years ago, pop was supposed to be dying out. Kids apparently wanted to play Sega Megadrive. Of course, that wasn't true, but there was certainly less interest. It was probably because all the music around then was pretty toss.
What did you think about the Daily Mirror story?
JC: I was really surprised at first. I knew about it the night before, but at 10:15 the next morning, my mum called to say that all the papers and breakfast TV had been calling her trying to get a statement or my home number. She hates the tabloids anyway, so she was okay about it. It's bad when people like that take an interest in you though, because they can hound you. The other night, Russell was outside the venue we were playing, talking to some fans. This weird, 15 year-old kid kept trying to give him some speed. Then he noticed a photographer hiding across the road, taking photos. It was a real setup. Nobody needs that. I also hated the way the paper did all that pukey stuff about ringing up a bloke whose son had died from taking E's, and asking him what he thought. That was horrible. He was probably still trying to get over it.
Pulp seem to be able to survive music 'scenes'. You've been through several already.
JC: Yeah, now we're Britpop - brilliant!
SM: We used to be in the Suede / Auteurs / St. Etienne scene. I think we survived because we managed to avoid being pinned down. Also Jarvis proved that he was articulate and had a brain. Most musicians let their music down. Put Jarvis on a chat show and he shines.
JC: It's nice to keep getting hauled into each new trend. We're gearing up for the New New Romantics - Romo or whatever it's called. We've got several good '80s-type tunes. And we've got a ska song. We've covered all bases on this album. Then there's the one that has a jungle chant in the chorus. I'd hate us to become a band like The Cure, who are still around, but no longer a vital force in modern music. They exist in their own sphere because the goths will always stay with them, but I can't understand where the impetus for them to write another album comes from. The same with New Order. They just seem to do the same record every four years.
Pulp never seem to get into slagging matches with other bands.
JC: Yes, we do. We're in one with Wet Wet Wet. And Mani from the Stone Roses keeps badmouthing us. Ritchie from the Manics used to slag us off all the time.
SM: And look where it got him.
Do you enjoy the pop stars' social circle?
JC: We can definitely be social whores when we want to, if that's what you mean. If someone invites us out, we'll go. I was at Gianni Versace's party. Was I wearing his clothes? I bloody wasn't! They're horrible, disgusting. It was a good event to go as an outsider. It was like Dallas; very opulent, very unreal. I got introduced to Ivana Trump; David bloody Copperfield was there; and Brian May in the fuckin' worst shirt I've ever seen in me life. That probably was Versace. I had oysters and non-stop champagne. Of course, it would be terribly sad to live in that world and take it seriously. Often at these do's, they operate a tier system. You're already in an exclusive party, then someone discovers that Elton's in the room upstairs. So, fuckin' hell everyone's busily trying to weedle their way into this room where Elton John is. It's just so they can tell people that they were in the inner sanctum of this party where there were only five people. It's all power play.
We got invited by the Rolling Stones to their Voodoo Lounge concert. We thought we'd get to chat to Mick and the guys. We were really pleased they'd even heard of us. Then we got there and we were in fuckin' economy class. We were on the lowest level with all the van drivers. Basically, it was Voodoo Burger Bar. All you did was queue up to get a burger or a hot dog. The next table had some coleslaw, and that was it. There were about five levels at the party and we were definitely on the bottom one.
Did you speak to anyone that was in the top level?
JC: Did we hell. We couldn't get anywhere near the top level. Steve managed to blag it up to level two though.
SM: And the worst thing was that it was just the room next door, exactly the same, but with a fire-eater and a juggler. That was the only improvement. I guess it's sad to admit that we were all trying really hard to blag it up.
JC: It's sad, but it's also good to do as a laugh. If you have the feeling that you shouldn't be there, that you're going to be thrown out at any minute, it's cool. If you breeze in easily, it's crap. If you breeze in easily going, 'Network... network... see you in Monserrat,' you're sad.