But it's not just rude things Jarvis Cocker and Pulp are talking about. They're also chatting about the new album, losing a band member, losing it and finding a dad.
The stunted homophobic mutants in Jarvis Cocker's local pub just can't help themselves. The People's Pop Star has been delicately sipping his cider for barely five minutes when the comments start.
"Hello, boys!" lisp the inbred trolls with exaggerated feyness. "Don't talk to him he's gay." Wolf-whistles and catcalls galore. It's an ugly scene, straight out of one of Cocker's bitter social melodramas.
Resplendent in designer parka and tweedy English eccentric clobber, Jarvis sighs wearily. In the last two years he's endured trial by tabloid, shag-and-tell scandal, chemical excess, temporary nervous breakdown and endless salacious rumours. But now, just days after stepping gingerly back on to the fame treadmill with his protective post-Britpop armour in place, the fuckwits are already out in force.
One of the hecklers leans up close into Cocker's face. "Do I know you?" frowns Sheffield's most famous son. The youngster waves a scrap of paper, demanding an autograph. "You're taking the piss!" laughs an exasperated Jarvis. The cave-dweller withdraws to the bar and begins his homophobic grunting anew. Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits.
"I considered this place to be my local before tonight," whispers Jarvis. "It's a bit disappointing."
Never mind. You can always write a song about it. "I suppose so. What rhymes with 'gay'...?"
It's a creepy sensation, being caught in Jarvis Cocker's fame force field. A sensitive person could easily go mad if this was a 24-hour job. No wonder the singer suffered an identity crisis and dropped off the social map for most of last year. No wonder his new album sounds like a frazzled, doomy, Titanic-sized slab of potential career suicide. After all, it's a perilously short step from being a Misfit Messiah to a Moron Magnet.
The comments from the bar continue. Things are starting to look a bit hairy. When did Jarvis last have a fist-fight? "Oh, ages ago," he shrugs warily. That's fist-fight, not fist-fuck. "Now that wasn't very long ago - according to our mate."
Is he just a shit-for-brains bigot or does he know something NME doesn't? Like, has Jarvis turned gay during his long sabbatical?
"Contrary to what he might think, I haven't. But that doesn't mean I won't - although, unless I go through some kind of hormonal change, I can't see that I'm gonna get that way inclined."
Pulp's current single and imminent fourth album are both called 'This Is Hardcore'. The single is a brooding seven-minute epic about sexual psychosis and the sour, salty aftertaste which fame leaves at the back of your throat. It is Pulp's answer to 'Paranoid Android' and 'Bitter Sweet Symphony'; a sombre, bloated behemoth which doesn't so much sing along with the common people as shaft them violently up the arse.
The album, meanwhile, is an uncompromising sprawl of dark confession and sleazy self-laceration. Gone forever are the retro-glam student-disco singalong anthems of 'Different Class'. One critic waggishly described Pulp songs as "episodes of Grange Hill scripted by David Lynch", but on 'This Is Hardcore', school's out forever. This is pure Lynch, twisted and savage.
In what sense is Jarvis using the word 'hardcore'?
"Whatever sense you want, really. It's hardcore because it's maybe more explicit. It's hardcore in hopefully avoiding the surrounding fleshy areas and getting to the centre of something. It's hardcore in the sense of being strictly for the hardcore - those that are still left standing."
Isn't it also about hardcore porn?
"That song itself, yeah. I did watch a lot of porn films when I was on tour. One of the perks of success is we all got our own hotel rooms so... human curiosity got the better of me. And I found it fascinating wondering what happened to these porn stars. People have a voracious appetite for porn, they need to see new faces all the time, so what happens to the older people when they've been used up and had everything done to them? Like it says in the song, 'What do you do for a encore'?
"The excitement you get from watching it is partly from knowing there is something dodgy about it, but it seemed to strike a chord with me. I wondered about the people and whether there's any way back into normal life for them. But the bloke in the song - me, I suppose - is prepared to take that step. It's like being turned on and repulsed by something at the same time. Sometimes there's a thrill to be had from doing something which isn't good for you and might, in the end, destroy you."
Jarvis has apparently been, erm, 'logging on' quite a bit recently.
"The Internet's the next step for porn. First it was people looking a bit shamefaced about filing into a cinema to watch it. Then videos came in and it was just the person in the video shop, nobody else needed to know. Now, as long as nobody else is in the house or the office, it's just: log on, cock out, you're sorted."
Can you see the appeal of extreme specialist porn, like sex involving shit or animals?
"Shit doesn't appeal to me, but again I can see how something that's wrong can be a turn-on. It's the aftermath that would get me, because you get into a frenzied state of mind during sex where anything goes. But then, I don't know if this is just for men, but as soon as it's happened all that just disappears. So to be there with loads of shite all over you, you'd probably feel a bit down and depraved."
Pulp are feeling rather down and depraved at the moment. They've sucked long and hard on fame's nether regions but ended up, in a very real sense, smeared with shit. It began, like all great rise-and-fall stories, with a strategically placed arse. The arse belonged to Jarvis, it was pointed at Michael Jackson, and it made Pulp front-page sensations overnight. Initial tabloid scorn misjudged the public mood completely, forcing a U-turn of Dead Diana proportions. Jarvis became the official People's Pop Star, hunted by paparazzi every minute of the day, driven mad by ex-girlfriends and estranged family members spilling their guts to the papers.
The crucial difference between Cocker and Princess Di is that he survived his crash - but only just. This was the life he'd always wanted, and it almost killed him. Worse still, he found himself "turning into Christopher Biggins". The moral being, then, be careful what you wish for?
"Probably, yeah. But that happens in every area of life, when you actually get something you've wanted for ages, you find out it isn't what you thought it was. I remember thinking that when I first got a girlfriend; it took me ages to get a girlfriend and I thought it would solve all my problems, but it didn't."
Did your sudden celebrity put pressure on relations with the rest of Pulp?
"To be honest, it worked the other way, because the others in the band felt sorry for me. When we first started doing NME interviews and maybe there was just a picture of me on the cover, they might have resented it. But then, when it's only me who gets his picture in the News Of The World for shagging somebody inappropriate, I think they were quite relieved that their lives weren't getting raked through to the degree mine was."
Have you fallen out of love with fame now?
"Well, the excitement of breaking through to the mainstream after being on the margins for so long - and it wasn't just us, it happened to a lot of groups - is interesting because you think it's never going to happen to you. The first time you get featured on some pop page, it's funny because you think groups like us shouldn't be there. But if you keep being there, in a way you're lumped in with all the shit that is usually featured there. And then, if they take an interest in other parts of your life, it's restricting. Having been a marginal person on the dole and all that, you feel you're part of this section of society that is shoved to the sidelines: you can just sign on until you get your pension, and then you can just fucking die. It seemed really important to actually get in there and be heard, so we did that and it was really exciting. But the mainstream dilutes and blands you out. I had to make sure that we didn't lose ourselves, that we were still gonna be ourselves."
Hence the new album, a thunderous tract full of queasy rumbles and grown-up grumbles. It features last November's oddly low-key single 'Help The Aged' and Pulp won't even be touring with it until the autumn. All of which sounds like a deliberate attempt to alienate the two million teenyboppers who bought 'Different Class'.
"Yeah, but I didn't think that was for 12-year-olds either. It's weird being in your 30s with 12-year-old kids coming to see you. It's nice, in a way, but it's not like I set out to write some teenage anthem. Unfortunately I'm in a slightly extended adolescent period. But I'm not a teenager, I have to admit it."
Don't fret about it. Nobody under 25 should be allowed to make records anyway.
"I'll go along with that," nods Grandpa Jarvis, 34 going on 60. "As long as you don't put a ceiling on it."
So 'This Is Hardcore' is a self-consciously 'adult' project after the adolescent rush of 'Different Class'?
"I wanted to do something different, but not so different that people couldn't tell it was us. We had to change because, with 'Different Class', we finally got to say what we'd been trying to say for ages, so repeating ourselves would just be boring. It wasn't that we wanted to show we're really deep and strange, we just wanted to set ourselves a bit of a challenge to not bland out and take the safe route, which often happens with successful bands."
But by coming back with two unlikely singles that your record label, manager and even half your band apparently opposed, aren't you in danger of sabotaging your success for artistic integrity?
"No, I'd be totally done in if 'This Is Hardcore' stiffs out at Number 32 or something. 'Help The Aged' wasn't too bad because I was shitting it before it came out, then I was really pleased when it got to Number Eight. Maybe we overestimated people's willingness to confront their own mortality in a pop record, but I'm proud that we got a record about getting old and dying into the Top Ten."
You seem resigned to the new album selling less than 'Different Class'. But what if it sells no copies at all?
"Well, most of the records that mean a lot to me didn't sell many copies," Jarvis shrugs glumly. "The last one was a fluke in a way - by weird coincidence it got released at a time when people wanted to hear that kind of thing. There's no way I think this record's any worse than the last one, I think it's better and I don't want it to bomb out. But if it doesn't sell quite as many as the last one, I'm not arsed because I know it's good. As long as we don't get dropped, I'm not arsed."
There are, of course, five people in Pulp. While Jarvis has hogged the headlines for two years, the other members have endured ample dramas of their own. During the gap between albums, bassist Steve Mackey and drummer Nick Banks have both sired sons. Guitarist Mark Webber split traumatically from his girlfriend and keyboard player Candida Doyle lost her brother Magnus - a former Pulp member - to a cranky religious sect in India. All of which added to the pressures of recording their most difficult album yet.
The departure of long-serving member Russell Senior in early 1997 was another major blow, coming in the wake of a mindscrambling year-long tour for 'Different Class'. Behind the bullishness, a glum uncertainty now stalks Pulpworld.
"It's only just now that I'm realising what it's like without Russell in the group," nods Candida. "I miss his sense of humour. These things hit you later."
Russell reportedly remains on good terms with his former colleagues, but was the split truly as amicable as everyone claimed at the time?
"I didn't really see eye-to-eye with Russell musically at the end, but he was the person I used to enjoy most being on tour with," says Steve. "The only way I can say it was amicable is that there were no lawyers involved, and we offered him a large sum of money which he accepted. That's a pretty rare thing when someone leaves a band."
But then he made that remark about no longer finding it "cool" to be in Pulp.
Mark: "I don't think he was using the word as a slur on anyone else in Pulp. He meant it in the same sense as when Mick Jagger told people to be 'cool' at Altamont. Heh heh!"
Nick: "You've got to understand Russell's quite a strange person, and maybe Pulp was moving away from what he wanted it to be. I don't think he's got any bitterness towards Pulp in general, but he has always been good with a barbed comment."
What if he rang up tomorrow and asked to rejoin the band?
Steve: "No chance! Times have changed, and this album exists because it was five people making it, not six. You can't turn the clock back, can you?"
Was Chumbawamba's Brits fracas just a shameless attempt to 'do a Jarvis'?
Steve: "I don't approve of New Labour and I didn't vote for them, but I disapprove of Chumbawamba's music more. And I disapproved of them musically ten years ago when they were that sad band from Leeds. So I have no sympathy for them at all, I hope they disappear very quickly and l'm sure they will. I just hate everything they stand for, I don't find any soul or genuine concern for people in their music."
Strangely, Pulp almost never socialise together. Is this an ominous sign of band friction?
Steve: "I see Jarvis a lot, but I don't spend any time with anyone else in the band apart from when we're working. When we were in Sheffield we did because it's a small town, but since we've been in London we've not seen each other socially at all. That's not ominous, it just seems natural. I think the only way you can spend a lot of time together when you have to is by not spending time together when you don't."
There seem to be dissenting voices within Pulp who reckon 'This Is Hardcore' is a bad single choice.
Steve: "I think it's got a place. To me 'This Is Hardcore' is like a challenge in song, it's a gauntlet for the rest of the year. lt's like when Radiohead put out 'Paranoid Android' in 1997: here you are, deal with this."
Mark: "I was never a very big fan of this song. I can appreciate that it's good work, but I never really liked it. From the outset, Jarvis didn't want people to expect an album of 'Common People' and 'Disco 2000', He wanted to redraw the boundaries - and recently it has been a case of Jarvis' will overriding everyone else's common sense."
So it's a commercially suicidal album, then?
Steve "It remains to be seen. I've got more faith in people than simply saying hit singles mean big sales. Portishead proved that to me - Portishead are soul music, I think. They may sound a bit tired now, but to someone with fresh ears in 20 years, those records will sound beautiful. That's the kind of framework in which l'm trying to think of this album. But it's not my job to worry, that's the record company's job."
Mark: "There are two songs on the album that I can't bear to listen to. 'TV Movie' is a good song but it wasn't recorded the way it should have been, and 'A Little Soul' is just terrible. But I do tend to see the bad side of things."
Candida: "My boyfriend, who used to be in the group a long time ago, thinks 'Different Class' is actually the one that stands out from all our LPs, because all our records before then were quite weird and this one is as well. We probably could have done another 'Different Class', but Jarvis didn't want to. There were some songs that could have been instant hits, but we took them off!"
Does Britain still need Pulp in 1998?
Steve: "Yeah, because I think we stand for something different than most of our peers in Britain. We got pigeonholed with Britpop, which we were unlikely people to be in, because it was quite a macho movement really. Last year would have been more our kind of area, with people like Thom Yorke and Richard Ashcroft around."
So 'This is Hardcore' is Pulp stepping into the ring with Thom, Dick and every other neo-prog Harry?
Steve: "They're not the peers that I measure our music by. The people who excite me are doing things on a much more underground level, changing the way music is perceived. lt's hard to do that on a mass level, so l'm not criticising those bands, but I find the Aphex Twin more challenging than The Verve or Radiohead. That's the kind of artist I want to judge myself by."
Can you envisage an end to Pulp?
Nick: "Of course. You never know when it's gonna end. You can't go into the library and take out a book called What To Do When Your Successful Pop Career Comes To A Stuttering Halt - or I haven't seen it, anyway. There has been talk in the past of finishing on December 31, 1999, but who knows?"
Candida: 'I've always seen an ending to Pulp, ha ha! lt's bound to end soon - not next week, but in a couple of years, because it's just gone on so long. I can't imagine writing another LP, but maybe once this one's out and we see people like it, that will change."
Steve: "I do envisage an end to it. I know Jarvis isn't satisfied with just making music, he wants to carry on making films.
We used to make films together. but I don't want to any more. I've built a studio and I want to work there more. So there are natural tensions pulling in different directions. Maybe they can co-exist. I see us making another album and no further, but I never see any further than anyway."
What if 'Different Class' proves to be Pulp's high point?
Nick: "Well, it would be a good high point. We'd like to get to the top of the tree, but if we don't at least we almost made it. That's the Pulp motto: We Almost Made It."
In late 1996, at the height of his post-Jacko, post-tour, post-tabloid breakdown, Jarvis Cocker checked into a New York hotel under a false name and tried to stop being Jarvis Cocker for a few weeks. He'd been caricatured and canonised, feted the world over and sorted for far too much E and wizz. Having been immortalised in Rock Circus and parodied on Stars In Their Eyes he decided there were too many Jarvis Cockers on the market and took one - the somewhat battered original - out of circulation for a while.
He reckoned without one thing, however. New Labour's election team were collecting endorsements from gullible pop stars, and managed to track Jarvis down to his Manhattan bolthole. They woke him at 10am. He told them to piss off.
"l'm really glad I did," he nods. "I've always voted Labour, but I wasn't prepared to use my position in that way. lt's not appropriate, in the same way that it's not appropriate for Tony Blair to give awards at the Brits and stuff like that. To me it just stinks of: 'Come on kids, l'm hip, I can play the guitar, I know the chords to 'Stairway To Heaven'. Don't bother with my policies or anything, just vote for me because I was once in a band and I've met the bassist from Mungo Jerry.' lt's insulting to people's intelligence."
And, as Jarvis indicated in NME's political issue two weeks ago, his suspicions about New Labour have proved depressingly accurate.
"It's amazing what they've done, when you think about it. First they pick on students, then they pick on single mothers, then they pick on the disabled - it's like some kind of horrible bully at school who goes around giving stick to people who are already getting stick anyway. It's just stupidity as far as l'm concerned, to have had all goodwill and thrown it all away."
Pulp seem fairly old-school socialist at heart: they still, after all, split songwriting royalties five ways. But with his newfound wealth and fame, how can Jarvis avoid becoming one of Them instead of one of Us?
"In a way I suppose I have," he admits gloomily. "I dunno, I hope I haven't. If we were content with being Them, we would have turned out another record like that last one. I would hate to conform to people's expectations, so maybe that's why the album took a bit longer. Maybe that's a way of making yourself an outsider again - by taking a bit of a sideways step."
At last November's benefit show for La Monte Young at London's Barbican Centre, Jarvis grudgingly dedicated 'Help The Aged' to his long-lost dad. He recently visited Cocker Senior in Australia after 24 years apart, but the subject is now a closed book.
"I'd rather not talk about it, to be honest. I did see my father but I haven't seen him since I was about eight. It was a weird thing and I don't know what's going to happen and I made a big thing about him going to the papers and saying he'd love to meet up with me. I thought that was the wrong way to go about it and also The Sun offered me a certain amount of money to go out and meet him if they could take pictures, but I really wanted it not to be in the papers. I made him promise he wouldn't tell anybody about it, so I don't want him to find out I've talked about it. lt's a private thing."
As indeed are most of the lyrics on 'This Is Hardcore'. After such a jarringly personal album, can Jarvis imagine ever making another record again?
"No, I don't think you can ever tell that. You always have to think the record you're doing at the time is the last album you're ever going to make, otherwise you couldn't be bothered to dredge all that stuff out of yourself. Obviously it's slightly nervewracking because I don't know whether it's going to sink like a lead balloon, but in another way it's quite good because it's finished - there are references to dark misgivings on there, but having done it you can fuck that off now and get on with something else. l'm quite relieved that some of that stuff is out of my life and things seem to be a bit straighter in my head."
As revealed in NME a few weeks ago, Jarvis is co-directing a Channel 4 series about "outsider artists" that will air next year. Pulp are also making a TV film based around their new album. Is directing Cocker's escape route from music?
"I hope so, yeah. I hope to retain my dignity in later life by switching over to doing that. l'm really glad that I've got something else I can do that is still creative. It could save me from the trout farm."
Jarvis finishes his cider and checks his watch. He's due back home to make pancakes for his flatmates, just around the corner. It's a crazy rock'n'roll world out there but, as the track 'Dishes' on 'This Is Hardcore' argues, sometimes domestic mundanity is preferable to messianic infamy. The Princess Di Of Pop has tasted the fleshy fruits of fame and, well, maybe homemade pancakes are more appetising.
The album climaxes with 'The Day After The Revolution' and its apocalyptic proclamation: "Men are over / Women are over... Sheffield is over... irony is over". Is this Jarvis standing naked before us, finally stripped of his trademark irony?
"Well, not wanting to get hung up on the millennium or anything, but I think there's no room for irony when you're entering a new era. There's a kind of desperate need for people to sort themselves out so they're going into a new era with their lives in place. I think that's a good thing. It always got on my nerves anyway when people said Pulp were ironic, because I see the irony in how far short people's lives fall of their aspirations. That is an ironic thing, but the implication is that you're distancing yourself from your subject matter and I never did that. I've only ever been able to write about things that actually mean something to me.
"Sometimes people think it's funny because I write about bus shelters and stuff, but that's part of my life and it got on my nerves that stuff like that isn't allowed to be in songs because it's not iconic enough or a big enough emotion or whatever. That's why I wrote about it, it wasn't: 'Ho ho isn't it funny, people eat chips and peas in curry sauce'. I never applied that distance to things. That's why it got on my tits."
And with that, the post-tabloid, post-ironic, post-Britpop Jarvis Cocker leaves his homophobic tormenters behind and heads home to make pancakes. The People's Pop Star has got a lot off his chest. Pulp's post-millennium crusade starts now.
1. JARVIS IS ADDICTED TO HARD DRUGS
"That's a nice one. Erm, I hope l'm not. It was an excessive time but I don't think it can account for very much. I wrote a lot of the lyrics drunk and I usually don't hold any truck with that sort of thing because it's like 'the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom', whereas it usually leads to the graveyard or the rehab clinic. Drugs or alcohol are only going to dredge something out of you that's already there. And I haven't been in rehab, no. lt's too expensive and l'm too mean."
2. JARVIS HAS WRITER'S BLOCK
"I found it a bit more difficult to write the words on this record because I wanted to do something different and I felt it would be dishonest of me to try and just write about what I'd written before - but on the other hand I didn't want to write about being famous, which isn't interesting to people. I probably revised the words on this one more, but there was never a point where I couldn't write anything. So it wasn't writer's block, just mild constipation."
3. JARVIS HAS TURNED INTO A TOTAL PRIMA DONNA AND IS IMPOSSIBLE TO WORK WITH
"You're asking the wrong person. I wouldn't like to turn into that sort of person, but I've always been quite hardline about what I want. The way our group works is not like a total democracy, but if somebody feels strongly enough that what you're doing is wrong, they'll say. In the meantime I'll carry on until somebody tells me l'm a knobhead and then I'll decide whether I am a knobhead or whether l'm still alright. I can't say l'm perfect."
4. PULP SIMPLY CAN'T CUT IT WITHOUT RUSSELL
'We did have to get used to Russell leaving, but it didn't really take that much time. The main problem is we don't write when we're touring so we came back from touring with one song. We could have just written 12 pieces of shit and got it out a year earlier, but there wouldn't have been much point."
5. JARVIS IS TOO BUSY WRITING A NOVEL
"That's interesting to know. No, I honestly haven't. Maybe somebody's got the wrong end of the stick, because we're supposed to be doing a book in the same way we're doing a TV programme, maybe that's where it comes from. But no, I haven't written a novel. I only wish it was true."