It's 5.00pm on a humid, sweaty, New York afternoon. Jarvis Cocker is sitting on the toilet (lid down) in the backstage men's loo of the Hammerstein Ballroom. The band have just finished their soundcheck for tonight's sold-out gig (over 3,000 punters), and Cocker is in fine form.
"Sorry about doing this in the loo, but it really is the quietest place to do the interview," he says. Who says there's no glamour in this business! No expert, but not completely unfamiliar with the men's toilet either, I know we can do better. I suggest that the girls' toilet might be more pleasant. He agrees and we walk into the adjacent loo. "Oh look - marble and all," he deadpans.
After laughing that the advent of adjoining toilets might be practical for this purpose, Cocker sits down again after politely offering the toilet seat to me and settles in. His casual, friendly demeanour is unexpected. Since his band's hit album Different Class, Pulp have become one of the most important bands in the renaissance of British rock and pop. This is due in no small part to Jarvis Cocker, whose satiric lyrics slice apart the fabric of modern Britain. Their new album, This Is Hardcore, is a darker view of the modern world, but no less astute. Cocker, with his nerdish glasses, has become something of an icon but he remains surprisingly matter-of-fact. The one subject he refuses to address is the question of his father, Mac Cocker, who left the family in Sheffield when Jarvis was in his early teens. Mac came to Australia in the '70s where he became a DJ on Double J (the precursor of Triple J) and now lives in Darwin. A tentative reunion was sparked by Jarvis' success, and the Pulp singer came to Australia earlier this year for a private reunion.
You've been the underdog for so many years before becoming successful. How has that transition been for you - from outcast to rock god?
I wouldn't consider myself as a rock god. It was weird really, because I guess you get used to living with a certain set of circumstances, and usually by the time you get to be in your 30s you're quite set on a certain path. So it was quite weird to get derailed, so to speak, and get put into another way of life. Took a bit of getting used to at first, but it's alright now.
But it's obviously easier in lots of ways being the underdog - there are no expectations.
Well in a way it's always easier when you're the underdog because you're reacting against what's in the charts and what's current at that time. And it's different when you become what's current, because I never wanted to become part of the establishment. All the things I like musically and in art and films and stuff like that, are things that seem to go against the grain of what's happening at that time. So it was quite a weird position to be in. I suppose we tried our hardest on this record because we kinda made a record that probably wasn't what people expected us to do. We managed to put ourselves a bit outside again.
What is the downside of success?
The downside is... I hesitate to talk about the downside because I hate when people are kinda, "Oh man, it's so terrible," and all this kinda rubbish. But it's just that your life changes, you know what I mean? Stupid things that you don't normally think about. Like, should you leave the house? [laughs] Crap like that.
You developed your songwriting skills while you were on the dole. Now that your circumstances have changed, how does that affect your writing?
It was obviously different when I was on the dole. You have the dole in Australia do you? Right. I've still got quite a lot of time on me hands, still don't get up 'till about midday. When you're on the dole, it's a fortnightly way of life, do you know what I mean? Where you live OK for say, three days, and the rest of the time you go down to your mates' houses and try to get food or money out of them. Now they come around to my place asking for food or money.
And do you give it to them?
Sure, it's for a good cause, I figure.
But how does it work creatively? Is it more difficult that your circumstances have changed since creating music which has become so successful?
Well, I wouldn't want to be in the same frame of mind as I was when I was on the dole because I was depressed most of the time. It's weird in the UK at the moment. They tried to stop all the young people getting benefits, but they said they might make an exception for people in bands - which I think is funny because what's it gonna mean? It might be quite interesting, actually. I think that lots of real raggers in the UK are gonna say they're in a band. They're gonna go out and buy the cheapest, crappiest guitar they can find, take it down to the dole office and say, "Hey, look man, I'm in a band," just so they can continue getting the benefit.
So the guy in the dole office has become an A&R guy?
Well yeah, I mean, I wouldn't thank my experience on the dole for our success. It seemed like a good thing at the time, it was a way of leaving school if you wanted to do something creative, you could get enough money to get by. But it's not a great lifestyle choice, and I think it can lead to people becoming a bit aimless if they stay on it too long. And that's why I ended up leaving Sheffield and moving down to London, because I felt that I was just getting marginalised. So I wouldn't recommend it as a lifestyle.
On the new album you sing the line, "I am not Jesus though I have the same initials." What else do you have in common with him?
I'm a man. That's about it really. I can't perform miracles and I'm older than him. That's what brought on that particular song that you're talking about, because some guy really put a downer on my evening at a party once 'cause he asked me how old I was. I said "I'm gonna be 33 next Thursday," and he goes, "Oh, you're gonna have problems." I said, "Why is that?" and he said, "You know it's the Christ age - Jesus was crucified at 33, a lot of men at 33 measure their life up against that of our saviour and find it wanting in some way." I thought, I don't believe this crap, but as it turned out, for whatever reason, he was right.
It's been said that you don't want to grow up. Is that true?
No, no, no. On the back of the record it says it's okay to grow up, just as long as you don't grow old. I mean human beings have to change. If you're still trying to do the stuff that you would do at 22, when you're older you look stupid and also your body just can't take it as well. So, you know, it's good to mature in some ways, but for me what growing old means is becoming less open to things, and becoming too bogged down in your views. You have to fight against that as much as you possibly can.
So now that you're hugely successful, are you running around with supermodels and that sort of thing?
No, I don't really subscribe to that John Taylor, Simon Le Bon kind of lifestyle. But a yacht, it'd be all right.
It must be easier to pick up girls now.
It depends what kind of girls you want to pick up. I don't think it's a good idea to necessarily go out with people who think that you're great. It would be a terrible relationship, they'd be really disappointed if they'd seen you on stage and heard your music and stuff, and that's why they got into you. And then people who, no matter how many times you tell them, they always confuse the singer with the song. They think you're gonna be the same. And unfortunately I am a human being, and so therefore I'm not like I am on the stage all the time, or on record. They'd probably end up being really disappointed, and think I was dead boring.
There's been so much fuss about the cover of Hardcore...
Now just to clear things up - is it a doll or a real woman?
It's a woman, yeah. I mean, the thing is that I can understand the fuss but it was on purpose. Sex, and especially sex and pictures of naked girls and things like that, is used to sell a lot of stuff. What I wanted was an image that initially would get people's attention, make them say, "Mmm that looks nice, to see a semi-clad, well, a naked girl". And then when you look closely you see... you're saying, is it a dummy, is it a real person, is she dead? Whatever. So at first it would be attractive, and then when you look closer it was kind of repulsive in a way. So that was on purpose.
For the purpose of shocking people?
No, no, it's not to shock. It goes with the mood of the record really, because a lot of the themes on the record are about how the appearance of something from the outside can be different to what it's actually like.
You've been compared to Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Radiohead. How does that sit with you?
All those bands have produced good stuff, so that's good. It's better than being compared to Freddy and the Dreamers, I guess.
They say that your arse is almost more famous than your face...
Is it? [Laughs]
Because of the infamous Michael Jackson incident.
Oh, right, right. I must point out here that at no point has my arse ever been unsheathed in public.
But you were dragged off to jail?
Yeah, but I didn't pull my trousers down. My arse remained within my trousers all the time. I'd just like to point that out. I do not approve of mooning in any shape or form.
Does your father still live in Australia?
He moved to Australia in the early '70s. I can't really talk about it to be honest.
Any standout memories of Australia?
I've only been to Australia once earlier this year. Went to Darwin, it's very hot, thunder storms on the dot of six every night. A lot of rain.
What were you doing there?
Just looking around. Well, I've only seen one bit, I mean I know Darwin's not typical of Australia. I'm looking forward to going to Australia this year, and most Australian people that I've met I've really gotten on all right with.
What do you say to the view that you're considered to be a depressed sort of person?
I don't agree with smiling for no reason at all. It's sometimes funny that our life, you know... I'm not a comedian.
What is hardcore for you?
Well it's a few things. It's obviously with the sleeve and stuff like that, and the song on the album... you're talking about hardcore porn, really. You've also got the hardcore as in you go through the soft fleshy outside and you hit the core [slaps fist into hand a few times], the thing that you can't get through. And the record is supposed to be a bit more explicit and a bit more adult, so that's a bit more hardcore. It's so multifaceted.
What's your view of pornography?
I became fascinated with it - apart from the obvious reasons why - it was while we were on tour seeing it. I suppose it's different seeing it in the hotels because you can't fast forward to the juicy bits. So you have to sit through the plot, such as it is. It's weird, you know, I just found myself wondering about these people and wondering what happened to them after, 'cause the men seem to have a longer career. As long as you can still get a hard-on then maybe it's fair enough, but the women... seems to be a really big turnover of women.
So what kinds of things inspire you? A lot of people are motivated by different things - revenge, for example.
I think if revenge is the only thing that inspires you, it's gonna get eaten and used pretty quickly and it's a bit of a negative way to do things. I saw a gap in the market if you like. I felt when I was growing up, listening to music, as much as I loved it I always felt it wasn't giving me an accurate picture of the world. Now whether a song should give you an accurate picture, whether you should expect it, I don't know. But for some reason, I took a lot of notice, I thought when I got older, especially with love songs, I thought they gave you a very distorted view of what love was actually like. And so I thought well, I can do that, I can try to paint things in a more realistic light. I don't wanna... I don't want it to be a downer but I think there's something liberating about facing the facts rather than living in a fantasy world.
Despite the fact that you've got loads of money now, you apparently still live like a student
Who says that?
I read it somewhere. You still live like a student and you share a house...
I share a house with other people but I don't live like a student. There's not like takeaway wrappers all over the house and crap like that. And pictures of of girl tennis players scratching their bare bottoms and that kind of stuff. I don't like that kind of domestic situation. I think that it's an experiment in living, you know? It's not a commune or anything, just a different way of life.
What do you think of this 'Cool Britannia' we keep hearing about? The Verve, Radiohead, Blur, etc.
None of the bands who are in it would really like to be called 'Cool Britannia.' It's like going back to that dole thing - the government's job is to run the country right, and there's always going to be people who disagree with the way they run it, and they'll probably say so through songs or art. For them to try to take it under their wing and say, "Yeah man, this is great," it doesn't work. Art is usually a reaction against the establishment rather than wanting to become part of the establishment.
When did you have your first sexual experience?
When I was about 19. I was very pleased to have done it before I hit me 20s. Bit of a late bloomer.
Was that a thing for you? Some people have a, "I have to get married before I'm 30" thing. Did you have to lose your viginity by the time you were 20?
It seemed quite important at the time, yeah. [laughs]
Was it a good experience?
From the point of view of having done it before I was 20, yeah. As a night of unbridled passion it probably left something to be desired.
Is sex overrated?
It depends how you do it. I mean, you know, it could be great. Can be terrible as well. It's always interesting.
Do you have any thoughts about the end of the millennium?
Yeah, I have lots of thoughts about it. I think that no matter how many times people say, "Oh, it's just another day and nothing's gonna change," stuff like that, it is a significant day in people's lives. I know there's all this stuff like, that the apocalypse is going to occur just before, and Nostradamus' prophecies are coming true. People say all this stuff. It's an interesting time and it's only gonna get more interesting as it gets nearer to the year 2000. What I don't know is how it's gonna feel to be in the year 2000, and whether that's gonna be an anti-climax or a terrible hangover. I don't know.
What bores you?
Loads of things. Waiting. Especially in restaurants. God, it drives me crazy. they should have a system in restaurants where, when they sit you down at the table they say to you, "Is this meal an occasion, like a romantic liaison, or do you wanna sit around talking?" or whatever. "Or is it just that you're hungry?" And if you said you were hungry then it should be like going through customs, where you get that fast track thing and they just bring it out, no poncing about. You just eat it and that's it. And if it's the other way then you can take a bit of time and it's an evening out. But when you're just eating for the sake of it, it just drives me crazy when you have to wait three quarters of an hour to get some soup.
What excites you?
Exploring things. Places and also people.
How did you feel when Geri Spice left the band?
I laughed. Go knows what she's gonna do. I can't imagine that it's gonna be anything particularly earth-shattering. It seems a bit previous to leave when you can't really sing very well and can't really write songs.
Are there any Australian bands that you like?
Nick Cave has to be me favourite. Saw his concert at the Royal Albert Hall recently. He's issued a Best Of and with it in the first lot is a free CD with live stuff on the album. I was at that concert and it was really, really good.
You are doing the soundtrack for Velvet Goldmine?
We're doing a song for it called We Are The Boyz. It's a song that we had hanging around for ages and we didn't think we'd ever do anything with it because it seemed pretty raucous, but when we were asked to do something for the film, it seemed perfect. I've not seen the film yet, so it doesn't have words.
You have a knack of ruffling people's feathers. What sort of child were you?
I was a very shy child. My mother was always constantly thinking up schemes to get me to mix with other kids. Like at the age of 14 she got me a job in a fish market, which was brilliant for my social life, because obviously I smelled really good when I used to come home. Quite a lot of kids used to work in the fish market, she thought it would do me good, character buildin' and all that. I never got used to the smell, but she was right, in a way.
So is there anything at all that you want to tell me, or do you have something secret to declare that you think is important that we should include in this story?
I'd just like you to put in that I'm a really nice person [laughs]. If you believe that, you'll believe anything.