NME Interview with Jarvis Cocker
Words: Siobhan Grogan, Photographer: Phil Poynter
Taken from the New Musical Express, 26 August 2000
"Lanky get" Jarvis Cocker lets out some state secrets about Pulp's plans for the Carling Weekend and lets slip some juicy titbits about their new album in an exclusive chat with NME.
One of the highlights of the Reading/Leeds Festival will surely be the return of Pulp. They've been hidden in the studio for a year, have a clutch of new songs to show off and have kept all live plans top secret. Jarvis Cocker spared 20 minutes of studio time to tell us more.
NME: What've you been up to?
"Just arseing about really. We've just been rehearsing and stuff like that. In day-to-day life, I've just been sorting out my cellar. It had some damp in it. I don't go out that much. There's times in your life when you have to live life to remind yourself of the fact that you're a human being. I think I've managed to do that. I hope I have. It's going to be a very human performance at Reading."
Looking forward to it?
"I am quite looking forward to it. You see your London mates in Reading and people from up North in Leeds, so they'll both be alright. I think we're all a bit nervous, though, 'cos we haven't played for quite a while and also 'cos we're going to be playing some new songs and stuff and until you've tested them out with people, you don't know how they're going to go. But, you know, that makes it quite interesting."
How many new songs are you going to play?
"I'm not sure yet. Probably about four of five. They'll be the ones where everyone just stands there staring at the stage not knowing what to do."
How do they compare to the songs on 'This Is Hardcore'? Will they be more accessible?
"I don't know. I don't think in those terms, so it's hard for me to say. They've got tunes and choruses, but then again a lot of songs on 'This Is Hardcore' did."
And what about titles?
"They've got titles, yes!"
But you're not telling us.
What else will you be playing?
"People will recognise the songs. It's not going to be two hours of abstract noise. It might be an hour of noise and an hour of songs people recognise."
Are you saying the new ones are abstract noise?
"You'll just have to come along and see."
You're not giving too much away!
"I'm not, but I'm not trying to be awkward. See, this is the only interview I'm doing about this thing 'cos in some ways it's slightly daunting, because we've been away for a bit, but I quite like the fact that people don't know exactly what to expect from it. It makes it quite exciting for us and hopefully it'll make it exciting for the audience as well."
"If you become too familiar with stuff, you'd be there yawning. Whatever else happens, I can guarantee - hopefully - that people will not yawn. They might be screaming and whatever, but they won't be yawning. I'm just trying to whet people's appetite. People who have followed us to any extent and like us will know that we'll always try and do something different and they expect that. It just makes it more interesting for everyone if you're kept on your toes. Like, I never read reviews of films anymore because I hate it when you go to the cinema and you know what's going to happen. It's crap. I love it when you sit in the cinema, it's dark and you don't know what's going to happen. I love that. It's great."
Are you nervous about the reaction the new songs get or are you beyond caring?
"No, you're never beyond caring. You try not to read too many reviews and stuff like that, but if someone says you're crap, you can't help but be affected by that. When you play a new song in front of people, you get a feeling about what are the strong points about it so it helps you make it better. That's how groups always normally start out, isn't it? When you go and play the Monarch or whatever for the first time, you haven't got an album out so you just find out from people's reactions to stuff which are your best songs. Then when groups get a bit bigger, they seem to hide themselves in the studio for a year and the first time they play a song in front of people is when it's all done. I don't think that's the right way round."
Are yours still in the early stages then?
"No, no. They're all pretty finished. I've even written words for 'em! There's only one I've not written words for yet."
One you'll be playing?
"Hopefully, yeah. If you hear one where I'm mumbling a lot, you'll know that's the one that I haven't quite finished the words for yet. I've always been the same. I always like to leave things until the last minute. It's immature and I should have grown out of it by now. I'm certainly old enough, but for some reason I can't bring myself to get organised."
So when will we see something new released?
"That's our main priority when this is done. Originally, we wanted to get some stuff out before this concert and we did actually try to but it wasn't possible. So as soon as this is out of the way, we're gonna try. I mean, I'd really like to get something out before the end of the year. I just want people to know we've not been lazy. We've not been lazy, we have actually been trying."
'This Is Hardcore' focussed on getting old. What's been your inspiration when writing this time?
"It's slightly lighter in tone than 'This Is Hardcore'. It couldn't really have got much heavier. It was a heavy record. That's what made it quite good. You can only write about your experiences at the time that you write stuff. Things aren't as heavy now, so... it's not some kind of sad, happy-clappy, I've-just-been-to therapy-and-I-love-trees-record (laughs) but there's glimmers of hope rather than all enveloping blackness at all times!"
And what else can we expect from the festival set?
"Well, obviously I don't want to give too much away 'cos I don't want to spoil the surprise for people, but there'll be quite a lot going on. There'll be flashing lights and some video stuff and people playing things. And hopefully me singing in tune. All that kind of business."
What are the videos of?
"It's just stuff to be projected while we're playing. I'm working on trying to edit all that stuff together at the moment. It's a bit hectic. When I finish rehearsing music I have to go home and start putting all that stuff together. Some of the stuff I filmed myself. You'll probably be able to tell that from the very bad camera work. They're taken on my trips out birdwatching really (laughs). I've been walking around with a camera for a year and a half. It's one of them video things that can fit in your pocket. I've just been trawling through it trying to find something appropriate. It's nothing to do with the band, it's just when I've gone on day trips. It'll be like when your grandad makes you watch a slide show when you're about ten and bores you to death with it. Hopefully, it'll be more interesting than that."
What's the feeling like within the band at the moment?
"It's alright. We're rushing to get ready in time, but nobody's hit anyone else for quite a long time now so everyone seems to be getting on alright."
Were punch-ups a regular occurrence?!
"Well it wasn't so much physical violence as verbal abuse and there's still quite a bit of that going on, but in a reasonably good-natured way."
Is it strange to be headlining after so long away?
"Yeah, they said it was a co-headline thing and we thought maybe we'd go on last one night and Beck'd go on last the next night, but we seem to be going on last both nights now. That'll keep us on our toes, though, 'cos he can put on a good show. We'll have to make sure we don't disappoint after that, but it's good to have a bit of pressure. It's good to have a challenge. I don't like things to be too easy."
The day you're playing has been nicknamed 'quirky day'. Are you comfortable being at the helm of that?
"Well, all the groups that you've mentioned, at least they're kind of interesting. At festivals, it's good to have a variety of stuff. I don't know what the weather's gonna be like as well, that's the other thing. The first time we ever played at a festival, it was kind of inappropriate. It was almost a gothic festival in Liverpool and it was a really nice day and then there was all these bands playing really depressing music and it just didn't seem to go at all, you know? I'm just hoping that it's going to be good weather and everyone will be in a good mood 'cos the thing you always have to remember about festivals is that the event is always bigger than any of the bands there. So you just have to help people to have a good day out."
Who else are you looking forward to seeing?
"I'm probably gonna go the night before and see Oasis and Primal Scream and get an idea of the atmosphere of the place."
What do you think of the rumours that this could be Oasis' last performance?
"It's strange. I watched that Wembley concert on Sky One and I have to admit that the tension that was obvious between the two of them actually did add to the excitement of the concert. I hope it isn't the last performance that they do. I'm looking forward to seeing them. Isn't Eminem playing on that day as well?"
"I'd quite like to have seen him. I like his record. But I won't be hanging around for the noise-feast now. I'm not familiar with Slipknot but they look timeless. They look pretty appalling to me. pretty crap. But I'm sure they're nice blokes. It's just not my thing."
You've been working with an avant-garde side-project, A Touch Of Glass. Will you be the big showman with Pulp now that you're used to more low-key approach?
"That's something that, because I never planned any stage moves, if I could have chosen a way to dance, I wouldn't have chosen to dance the way I do. It was something I never really thought about, I just found myself doing it. I surprised myself as well as people watching so that's a thing I can't really say. I don't know what people think you do in rehearsals, but I'm not jumping around all over the palce. I'm more trying to sing properly, so that's something that we'll have to see on the night. It's not like I've got a routine to follow, but I'm not planning on taking an armchair onstage and just sitting there. There'll be some movement."
It's a high-profile experiment, isn't it?
"Yeah, but it's like gambling, you know. If you just bet ten pence on something, if you win it doesn't really mean anything. But if you put everything on it, there's a big chance your gonna get fucked up, but if it comes off, it's really worth it. I like it when it's like that. It's hardcore, you know what I'm saying? Put the whole lot on black!"
Is it important to you that it all goes well and you remain as popular as you were?
"You haven't really got any choice in that. You do your best and then you see what people make of it."
You seem quite relaxed about it all.
"Well, you know, when you've done that pop star thing and it was something that I'd always wanted to do and I was, to use the phrase, mad for it etc. Then it happens and you've done that and you realise that there's quite a lot of rubbish attached to it. There's some good bits, but there's some irritating bits as well and that stardom where people recognise you every time you go and buy a newspaper can be a bit of a pain in the arse. So I'm personally not fussed about all that kind of thing, but I do want to make stuff that people like and I do want them to buy it and enjoy it.
Do you regret becoming that figure that everyone knows?
"Ooh, you can't have regrets in life. You can spend the rest of your life thinking over what you did right, what you did wrong, why did that work. In the end, you have something to do with it, but a lot of it's to do with the time you released something, the mood that people are in and stuff like that. The main thing is to live your life and try to come up with stuff that's based on that because people's lives aren't that different from each other. Things that people are interested in are quite universal and if you can put your finger on something, the chances are that it'll connect with people."
Have you changed at all in your time away?
"I dunno. People say, 'Oh, you learn from experience' and I don't know whether that's true. I know that I've learnt something from it, but I also know that people make the same mistakes over and over again. So I hoped to have learnt something, but I think the main thing is that no matter what happens to you, whether you become massively famous or you don't become massively famous, there's certain aspects of your personality that won't change."
"Maybe that's a bit frustrating, because people who join bands often have some kind of inferiority complex or they feel they've got something to prove or they're wanting to escape. Sometimes it's just to escape your background or the shitty circumstances you grew up in, but sometimes people are also trying to escape from themselves a bit. And the thing is, that's not possible, which sounds really obvious, but sometimes you have to have your face rubbed in it to actually realise that. You need to accept yourself and not say, 'God I'm brilliant,' but just accept that things aren't gonna change. I'm always gonna be a lanky get with specs. That's it!"
You seem pretty happy with the way things are at the moment, though.
"Sometimes people like bands to be tortured and say, 'When we recorded this, everyone was on heroin and my dog died before I did that vocal'. But if people are really fucked up, then they can't actually produce anything at all. Also, to think you've got to be in pain to create, it makes you an unnatural human being. You shouldn't go looking for pain 'cos pain will come and find you one day anyway. I don't want people to think we're all there beaming, slapping each other on the back, though."
You've obviously been doing a lot of reflecting.
"I have not been into therapy, right? I just want to point that out and make it totally plain. I'm not laid on a couch!"