Jarvis Interview, 12 May 1994
The week before Pulp began their French tour to promote the newly released His 'n' Hers LP, Jarvis was interviewed by a journalist from a French newspaper in what sounds like a busy London café. The following is a transcript of their 45 minute chat.
Let's talk about the short film for Do You Remember The First Time? How did you get the idea - is it an idea you had a long time ago?
Not really. It was when we'd written the song and then we decided it was going to be a single. I was just trying to think of something more interesting to do than a video. So I thought it'd be a good opportunity to meet people and talk to them about something more interesting than guitars and things.
Was it difficult to get people to talk about that, because English people are quite prudish about sex?
That's why we picked people that we knew had heard of us. Because at least then we thought they might be willing to talk to us. But I was a bit worried - I thought maybe people might try and make a joke out of it and not answer very honestly. But everybody answered very honestly indeed. I kind of knew these people vaguely before, but not properly so it's a good way of getting to know somebody by talking about that kind of subject.
The ending is great when you say that the patch of grass shown on screen isn't really the place where you lost your virginity.
Well I think you should do that. That's a thing that I don't like about TV. A lot of the time it pretends to be real and then it isn't. You can manipulate people quite a lot through it. I was glad that I thought of putting that bit in. It came out of necessity to start off with because we didn't have enough time to go to Sheffield and film the real piece of grass. We were going to film the surroundings and then I thought it might be more interesting if you just showed the grass and then described what was around it. That's the trouble with TV and videos - they take away people's imagination so you don't have to think about things. Whereas I thought it was nice to show the patch of grass then describe what was around there - there's a building there, and there's another building there - and then people create a picture in their mind for themselves rather than having it shoved in their face.
Are you going to show the film in France?
I think there are some plans to show it in France. But you'd have to have subtitles and I suppose most French people wouldn't know the people in the film, although I don't know if that matters so much because not everybody in it is famous.
The person who touched me the most was the guy who was 40 years old when he had sex for the first time. I think that was very touching and it was courageous of him to talk about it.
Yeah, he's nice. He's an actor that when I was at college I made a film at the end of my course and he was the lead man in it. I was pleased that he turned out to be the hero of it.
How did you get into doing the Aphex Twin and Tindersticks videos?
[Sarcastically] They just knew they needed the best and so they came to us! Tindersticks' manager used to work at Rough Trade, who manage us. We got to know them socially - sometimes pop round for a cup of tea. A lot like myself they had a deep distrust of videos, because they're advertisements masquerading as some kind of artistic statement. There are isolated examples of reasonable videos that are quite good and quite interesting as a piece of film-making. But usually it's just a bit of titillation to make people buy things. And so being quite reserved as they are, they weren't very interested in making a video. But the record company wanted them to make one. So because they'd seen the stuff that we'd made they thought we could do something interesting for them, and I think we did. Well they were pleased with it anyway, so that was good.
Aphex Twin was very easy to work with because all he did was send a cardboard cut-out of himself along. And we just put it in front of the camera and then did other things as well, and so he was very easy to work with! He didn't throw any tantrums or anything.
Would you see filming videos as a future career, or is it too intimately linked to music?
I haven't got a pony tail! And you have to have a pony tail. I haven't got a mobile phone on me, or a fax! I wouldn't mind going into films, but I wouldn't want to end up making videos. Perhaps it's something to fall back on in my middle age... next week!
Last time I met you three years ago Pulp weren't even a 'proper' band. How do you feel today compared to three years ago?
Older. Well obviously things are a lot different to then, and I'm pleased they are. It's a much better situation for all of us than it was three years ago. The whole point of being in a group is that you're performing for other people. So if other people take notice of it, then it makes you feel better and I think it makes you try harder as well. It's easier to motivate yourself to write songs and to do things if you know that someone's going to listen to them once you've done it. Whereas if you think no-one's taking any notice then you think 'well why don't I go and do some gardening instead?'.
Did you make it to Top Of The Pops with Do You Remember The First Time?
No, we were very disappointed there. It went in the charts at number 33 but they wouldn't have us on for some reason... I don't know why.
Oh yes, definitely next time.
Why did you sign to Island?
It kind of happened over a long time - it was like a long courtship - we didn't get straight into bed on the first date! The situation was forced on us because we were having trouble with Fire records at the time and it took us a long time to escape from them. And so whilst we were escaping from them, Island were interested, but nothing could be done because of a very complex and extremely tedious legal situation. So we put some records out on a Sheffield label called Gift in between, but Island kind of helped us a little bit whilst we were doing that. And when, finally, everything was sorted out we signed with them.
We've had a lot more control since being signed to Island than we had with Fire. I think Island decided that because we'd been going under our own steam for such a long time and that we had some idea of what we were about, they just let us get on with it and waited to see what happened, rather than saying to us 'we've got a great idea for you: all wear Japanese kimonos because that's what's gonna be in with the kids'. Because we're not children and the identity of the group is quite established. If the group themselves come up with the sleeves and the videos and the music, the record company doesn't have to do anything so it kind of works better for them. It's been very good up to now, so I can't complain.
Why do think you get more noticed by the press in this country now than you used to before? Do you think it's because you signed to Island?
I don't think there's any one particular factor that means people take more notice now. But maybe because we're signed to Island I suppose that meant that they took us seriously in that they were going to spend money on us, and so maybe people thought that if Island were taking us seriously then maybe they ought to as well. I don't know - it could be that. I don't know how people's minds work... I wish I did!
So what's next?
The Sisters EP comes out in about a week and a half, and that's the last of this era I suppose. Then we'll have to think of the future, but I really don't know what form the future will take at the moment. That's the good thing about the future, cause you don't know what'll happen. It'll be interesting - I want it to be different in some way - I don't want to make the same record again in a year's time. I want it to have got some kind of development in it. Some people just make the same record year after year don't they? I don't know why they bother. They just change the title, like that woman Enya. I don't know why she doesn't just call her songs after different makes of car, cause that seems to be all her music's used for - car adverts! You know, [sings] 'haa-ha-hoo-hoo... buy the new Mondeo by Ford'.
How come you're saying that His 'n' Hers is your first 'proper' album?
[Sarcastically] Just to fool people! I'm not proud of the fact we've been around for so long. It horrifies me. If somebody had told me when I first started the group 'alright, you're going to have to wait 12 years before anybody takes notice of you' I would've given up. I would've decided to do something else. But the reason why I said that was because whenever we've done a record in the past we've not always been in control of what we were doing, mainly due to limited resources.
Our album Freaks, for instance, was recorded for £600 in one week. You're not going to get everything right if you spend that much. Separations came out two and a half years after the event and so was already totally out of date and I got sick of it by the time it came out. There's always been something wrong about it and by the time it came out I could see faults and flaws with it. That's not to say there aren't some good things about our previous albums, but they were never just how I wanted them to be. Whereas with His 'n' Hers, I still liked it when it came out and I still think it hangs together as a record. And that's the first time I've felt like that, so it seemed like it was the first proper record we've done.
Even though you've been living in London for a while, most of your inspiration is still coming from Sheffield.
There's a mixture. Some of it's from London experiences, but a lot of it's from Sheffield. I think more things happen to you when you're growing up. Between the years of, say, 16 and 26 - in that decade, more big life-altering things happen to you than in the years between 26 and 36. It's bound to be like that because you become an adult and so you just want to find out about things so you're quite curious. There are only a certain number of big things like sex and living with someone and stuff like that, and so once you've picked them off you get onto the smaller things, like putting shelves up.
You missed one: having children...
Yeah, I've still got to experience that one, but I've been practising. But you know all those things happened to me in Sheffield so when I'm writing about it and I'm trying to conjure it up as accurately as I can, the way I like to do that is by putting in little physical details of places. And because it was in Sheffield that's what I ended up writing about. It's not that I'm very nostalgic, I wouldn't move back there because it's a tip.
How would you describe Sheffield to someone who hadn't been there?
Shit-hole! No, it's alright. It's like any place, it's not really the place itself that makes it interesting, it's just who you know there. The city itself, even more so now than it used to be, is a mess because it hasn't really got a reason to exist anymore. It was established as an industrial city and then all the industry closed down and so now it doesn't know what to do with itself. So they keep having all these ridiculous schemes - they tried to get the Olympics and built all these sorts of stadiums and the Olympics said 'no-chance'. If I was going to choose where to have them I wouldn't choose Sheffield because it pisses it down with rain all the time. So, you know, if you've got the choice been Florida, somewhere in Brazil, south France and, er, Sheffield, I'd be going for the others every time. And yet it's not quite cold enough to get the winter Olympics, so it's stuck in between. So it was a ridiculous scheme and they spent millions and millions of pounds building these stadiums for no reason at all really. Well, I mean, occasionally Def Leppard and Bruce Springsteen play there.
Maybe Pulp one day? Would you like to play there?
No. On principle I wouldn't play there because I don't agree with what it's done to the city.
You must be quite excited because it's the FA cup on Saturday. You're a Manchester United fan aren't you?
Oh no no. Sheffield Wednesday - that's my team. I don't mind Manchester United. I admire their artistry and flair. I'm not really a big football fan to be honest. I can watch it and I like it now and again, but generally I don't like it so much. It's alright if you've got nothing else to do, but it's not something I'd really make a big effort to watch.
So are you preparing anything special for the gig in Paris next week? Last time when you played in Paris there were space balls and stuff...
Oh yes, all that. We've got some lovely neon letters. They're very nice.
What do they say?
Yes. Just in case anybody didn't know who they were watching!
Blue and pink. And they flash on and off.
They're really nice. I've always wanted something like that. All the stuff with films - which I would quite like to do again one-day - because I always had to organise them it became a strain. You can be spending more time trying to set up the stage set and film projector than actually sound-checking, and so I don't want to do that anymore. But if somebody else does it.
Lyrically, what would be the song on the LP that you are most proud of?
It depends because the one that I find most touching is Have You Seen Her Lately just because of what it's about. I find that the one that is most emotionally moving.
Just because... I can't go into too much detail you see! Because it's the most personal one. I think it's bad enough writing songs about things and then saying anymore about them because that can sometimes be bad. But that's the most personal one.
Another one that I'm quite pleased we did is David's Last Summer. That's because I'd always wanted to write a song about summer for years, for about six or seven years. We had a few goes but it never seemed to work out properly. And then we had another go and it worked. I was pleased that finally I'd realised my ambition with that one.
Why did you want to write a song about summer so much?
Because it's like when you get the first hot day of the year, I always get these pictures in my head. You think of all the things that happen in summer, swimming in lakes and building a tree-house and you get quite excited. But then you know that you're not going to do all those things, you're probably just going to end up working like you normally do. But it would be good just to have one summer that was like that one time and so I wanted to capture that feeling of those summers that seem to go on forever and you can do lots of things. I think it kind of does it. I suppose it's a bit romanticised.
Is there a special sentence where you think you were 'dead-on' lyrically?
There's a few I was pleased with... but I can't even remember what they are now. If I had the words in front of me I could point to them and say which ones I think are good.
Do you remember them onstage?
Oh yeah. Well then I can hear the music so I know what they go like.
Do you remember when you were in a wheelchair for a while? Was it a turning point for you?
I could never forget it. It was a turning point. Because of that happening I couldn't do all those things I'd been doing up to then. It was like being taken out of the mainstream and being made to sit down for a bit. It just made me think about things I suppose. At that time I wasn't doing anything monumental with my life. Well, I suppose I was trying to do the group, but you can slip into bad habits and do things that you don't really want to do very much. I even liked having to lie in bed all the time. Well, I got to like it after a while. At first I hated it but it makes you use your imagination because unless you do then you're just going to lie in bed feeling bored. So I had to make up little games to play with myself.
Do you remember any of them?
It was mainly to do with the other people who were in the hospital ward where I was. I used to pretend to shoot them quite a lot! Because some of them really irritated me. Because I was stuck in hospital for a month and a half, just coming out of hospital and being able to be pushed around town was exciting because for ages I'd been stuck not seeing anything further than 10 feet away for you, and then suddenly everything was there. It was a nice feeling because it kind of made everything quite fresh again and I quite liked it. I think that's the trouble with life - you kind of get used to things and you get a bit blasé about things and you become immune to the exciting things in life. You have to constantly look for different ways to look at things just to try and remind yourself that life's exciting.
Could you describe the other musicians in the band and tell me what kind of people they are?
Well, I'll have a go. Russell has been in the band the longest apart from myself. He joined at the end of 1984. I'd say he's probably the most intense person in the group as people will probably guess because of his stare. He's always had a piercing stare. It was always his method of getting girls. If he liked someone, he would just stare at them until they got so intimidated by it they'd come up and ask him why he was staring at them. And then they'd start talking! But because he's so intense, he's not the easiest person to get on with. I think sometimes people find him difficult, but he is a father now and I think that's calmed him down a bit. You can't stare at your child or it'll start crying! So it's kind of smoothed the edges off him a little bit.
He is quite unique - I've never met anybody else remotely like him... ever, so that's quite good. He's also a very good cook. He's unpredictable. I think that's the main thing he provides in the group - he's quite a random factor. Sometimes he'll play things completely out of tune, and you'd think 'what are you doing?', and then other times he'll play something that nobody else would think of playing. Like everybody in the group he's self-taught, so none of us know anything about scales or which notes should follow which, so it's always a bit of a lottery. But I think you get more interesting things that way otherwise you might just follow a formula. So that's Russell.
The next person to join was Candida. I think it's very important that she's in the band because she's a girl. I think often with bands if it's all boys together then no matter what you're like, it tends to get a bit kind of rugby club mentality. You know like when you hear men talking in a pub, most of what they're talking about is a load of crap. They just brag-off to each other, and most of it's lies. And it can get like that in groups sometimes so it's good to have a female influence. People always used to think Candida was a child because she's so small. She's probably the most stable person in the group - she's very reliable. Well, she's not very reliable in things like turning up on time, but you can always rely on her to be even-tempered and level-headed.
She also collects very bright things. She's quite funny because she gets a bit self-conscious at times. We were doing a video yesterday and she doesn't like being photographed or anything, so she drank a bottle of gin just to mime playing the keyboards, which was funny! She didn't even seem drunk either. Again, she's unique as well because I've never met another person like her.
So the next person to join was Nick. I suppose Nick is most normal person in the group - being the drummer - and he's strange in some ways in that sometimes he seems to want to put on this exterior of being a gruff northern man who's just interested in eating pie and chips. But he isn't really like that - he's quite well educated. He worked as a teacher - design and technology or something like that - and I suppose he's probably the most cagey person in the group in that you don't know what he's thinking about a lot of the time because he doesn't volunteer information about personal things. He prefers to talk about football and things like that.
And then there's Steve the bass player who was the last one to join in 1988. He used to be in a very bad heavy metal band. Well it wasn't heavy metal - they kind of missed their time because they were a bit like the Stooges and stuff like that. But since then there've been lots of groups that have tried to do that kind of thing, but no-one else was really doing it at that time. But he left to come down to London. I'd say he's the most efficient person in the band. He's good at being organised. When we make videos he produces them because he can phone people up and organise things to be at certain places at certain times.
He's currently homeless and living in a hotel. I think his life's in a bit of disarray at the moment which I feel a bit sorry for him about. He's probably the best looking person in the band and lots of girls like him. And I don't blame them! He's also the tallest member of the band - he's about an inch taller than me. I suppose I kind of know him best because we both live in London and so we tend to see each other more than the rest of the group who still live in Sheffield. So we go out to concerts together and things like that.
Is there anyone else in the band who matches your sense of humour?
We all get on quite well. I think we probably get on better because we don't see each other all the time. Although I suppose we've seen a lot of each other recently because we've been touring. But we've known each other for a long time so I suppose we've got a shared sense of humour.
Do you think your sense of humour is very British?
I don't know. Probably. Well seeing as I am British it probably is. Do you think it is?
Yes, but it's not British to the point where only British people can understand it. I think it translates quite well. When people write about Pulp and say things like 'wacky' and 'kitsch', how do you react to that?
Very badly. I hate all that stuff. Luckily over the past nine months to a year that's kind of died out a bit and I've very pleased with the way the LP has been received in Britain, because people don't really write about that kind of thing any more. It used to get on my nerves because it just seemed that all what people were picking up on were the surface elements. Because at the time when we started playing again the kind of bands that were around then were very boring. Well, a lot of them were. The kind of bands that were on the scene was the supposed shoe-gazing kind of thing that was very characterless and non-communicative. Just things like talking to the audience and attempting to perform when you're on stage, people think that somehow you're being wacky. But to me it's natural because if you go somewhere and people have made the effort to come and see you, then I think that you should attempt to put something across and communicate with them in some way and also do something worth seeing.
That's the thing about a live concert, you should be able to play alright but the fact is you're there and people can see you so you may as well give them something to look at. But since then I think things have changed a little bit and luckily they've changed more in our favour. There are a few more groups around who will attempt to write songs about better things rather than about floating in the stratosphere and how many drugs they've taken, about more realistic things and also attempt to put a bit of a show on. So I think it's just a better climate for us now really.
You're a fan of jumble sales too?
Yeah but I don't get to go to as many as I used to because I haven't been home at the weekends very much. I prefer jumble sales because it's the thrill of the chase. You don't know what you might find and you have to hunt through lots of stuff to find something good. Then you can have a cup of tea afterwards and maybe a cake in the church hall and maybe talk to a few old ladies. It's more of a social occasion than shopping. I don't find shopping very interesting whereas jumble sales have a bit more of a human quality to them. I suppose markets are quite good for that as well - you usually get talking to the person on the stall, it's not as official.
I hate it when you go into these shops where it's completely empty and there are about five shop people there and then as soon as you walk through the door they come up to you and follow you around and ask you if you want to try things on and you just want to try and push them away. I hate that kind of thing. I can't handle it in fact - I just walk out the shop because I don't like the feeling of being watched all the time.