Steve Mackey Interview
Words: Zoe for Rough Trade
Taken from the first incarnation of Pulp's official website, May 1996
When Jarvis arrived in London to study he got in touch with Steve who soon joined Pulp.
"I'd seen them about three times. I liked them. The last time I saw them before I knew Jarvis, in the middle of 'Mark of the Devil', Jarvis had thrown his hand in the air and his glasses had come off and went behind him and he was on his hands and knees looking for them, but he couldn't find them and the rest of the band were playing because they didn't know what was going on. It lasted about fifteen minutes and he was crawling around the stage and I thought it was just a show at first, but it wasn't - they'd gone in the hole of the bass drum and the song just fizzled out, [laughs] that was the first strange thing that I saw."
Did you wish that you'd joined earlier?
"No, not really because they seemed quite self contained, quite aloof and I was in really noisy bands, garage bands, and Pulp were like an art band. It didn't seem very welcoming."
Jarvis himself was far from unwelcoming, Steve recalled their first encounters.
"I knew him a bit because me and a friend of mine, Ian (we were in a band together) used to get stoned on Friday nights and we'd try and find Jarvis. It happened one Friday and then it used to be a thing we'd do every Friday. We were only about twenty and he used to tell us stories. Him and Russell used to have this vast collection of stories so we used to go down really dazed and find them and make them tell us stories about anything and we'd sit there laughing our heads off. Not at them, but they knew lots of really stupid things. That's how I got to know them. At the time he seemed a lot more mature than us. He seemed like an old man in a young man's body [laughs] and not that young either."
Steve had been in other bands (his first was called Trolley Dog Shag!!) but these had quite a different sound to Pulp. At first he was quite shy, being the newest member but there was always a common faith in Pulp that everyone shared. Steve explains:
"Well, there was always this thing where everybody thought we were really good and we deserved to be popular. Everyone was very committed. I suppose that's what makes some bands succeed. Everybody went in with an idea of what Pulp was. It's still the same now. We always wanted to be a pop band and that's what we are. The songs always felt like pop songs and now they are, so I suppose that's an achievement."
At the time, what did you think that you'd be doing now?
"I never thought that we'd even play. I can remember thinking when we got to France for the first time, if nothing else I've been in a band that has toured around Europe or I've experienced what being in a band is supposed to be about. I used to think that something would always go wrong, sometimes it was a defeatist thing 'oh well, at least I've done that'... as if it was like a ladder - but it never stopped."
Pulp have band members willing and able to lend themselves to certain aspects of band life. I asked Steve about the group dynamics within Pulp.
Well, Russell always seems to be the businessman, he was well-known for his tight policy on money. Questioning taxi receipts, making us write the destination on them and checking that they made sense. Because Jarvis and I went to art school, we learnt to make videos and we learnt a bit about graphics and design so we always controlled those things. We tended to mix the records so we had control over that as well. It's not like a role, it's natural that some people do certain things. I don't think we'd have got where we are without Russell keeping it afloat when we didn't have any money. The same with Mark doing the fanclub."
Pulp are now well established pop stars and a lot has changed both personally and professionally for each band member. Do you think the success has changed your perception of yourself within Pulp?
"There comes a point when you realise you are what is perceived to be a pop star. That happens when other people see you as being a pop star and they think you have a certain kind of lifestyle and you have to accept that. You don't have to do anything about it, but people assume certain things of you that they wouldn't if you weren't in a band."
Has this made you act like a pop star?
"I think if you are in a band that are popular then you might as well enjoy it. That's what we always wanted to do and I don't think there is anything wrong with being silly. You'd be throwing away a bit of a golden opportunity - you might as well be a librarian all of your life."
Have you noticed any changes of anybody within the band?
"Everyone is a bit more confident and are veering on little paths in their own lives - everyone is getting older as well, we are developing in little ways away from each other and we don't socialise together very often. Before we used to all see each other a lot. No-one's done anything that I've been shocked by except Candida bought two very expensive rugs from a dodgy man at the Top Of The Pops studio. That was the thing that shocked me the most, that was the most decadent thing that anybody has done."
Do you enjoy the socialising that Pulp do nowadays?
"It's all right at the moment because we're up and coming. When you are coming up people want to know you but I've seen it happen before... when you do something that doesn't go down too well different sorts of people want to know you. Really big celebs want to know you if you are hot and then when you are not as hot the C list want to know you, the B list have moved on to the next band. There is a famous person's club, certain places where you can go and there's a phenomenom where because you are both famous you can just go and talk to them because you both recognise each other. I think it's really rude, that but I do engage in it because it's a chance to see what it's all about."
Have you ever met any heroes?
"I stood near David Bowie at the Brits but I didn't talk to him. I wanted to talk to him but not there. I think it's a bad idea meeting heroes because you can only be let down. If it's someone you admire and you meet them then they can only go downhill. They can't go any higher. It's best to engage in civil chit-chat and then you can't find out if you're going to get let down."
Jarvis is always the focus of the band, I wonder if that ever becomes a problem for the other band members?
"No. We expected that, that's why I always thought that we'd be popular. I couldn't believe that Jarvis wouldn't become a star. Years ago we always used to say that he'd either be a star or he'd be sweeping the streets in ten years time. But it comes with all the attendant problems. Everywhere he goes people recognise him. I just think that would be so boring because you just can't get anything done."
Do you get that?"Yeah, fairly often but from fans not from people who don't know the band. Jarvis gets it from taxi drivers and milkmen and post office staff. He hasn't got as much spontaneity in his life. I can just get drunk in a public place and do something silly and it doesn't matter whereas with Jarvis it would be in the papers the next day."
Steve has recently had a baby, the very sweet Marley. Were you really excited at the prospect of being a dad?
"I was excited but it's one of those things that you can't really know about until it's happened. You're excited about something but you don't know what it is. You've seen other children but you don't know what it's like to have one. It's a bit like waiting for your Christmas present - you know something is going to happen but you're really not sure what's in the package and when it's unwrapped you're really excited because it's what you've always wanted. You do adjust, you're life doesn't change that much. You just get less sleep, you don't have to stay in and watch EastEnders. We take him out all of the time, he sits under the table at the restaurant."
Do you still have time to go and see bands?
"I try to. It's harder but there are some bands that I will always try and see - Oasis, The Stones Roses, Stereolab, Black Grape and Cast. I go out of my way to see those bands. I don't really go and see smaller bands because I don't usually know they are playing. I'm a bit out of touch. I don't follow music much any more."
Pulp have been touring for ages. Do you enjoy the touring?
"Not really. I've never really enjoyed it that much but I'm going to enjoy this one [to America] because Marley has been keeping me awake every night for three weeks. It'll probably be the best sleep I'll have had! It sounds really horrible, wanting to get away from a new born baby [laughs] but the next tour is going to be like a rest. Some bits are good, it's good when you go somewhere for the first time. The second time is a bit more like you are doing a job. If you go to a town or country for the first time it's like going on holiday and it's like you've got to do a gig as well to pay for the holiday."
Where's your favourite place that you've been on tour?
San Francisco. I don't really like America too much but in New York the people take the piss out of you. I think people are over-polite in America whereas in New York they are a bit more brash. It's a bit more like Sheffield."
Have you ever lost anything on tour that you've been really sick about?
"I've lost lots of things. I always lose clothing and shoes. I've lost wardrobes full of clothes over the years but if I was presented with them all now I'd be quite horrified with some of the things I've worn and that they wouldn't fit me any more!!"
Steve is, of course, always impeccably dressed. I ask him if free clothes are one of the things that he is enjoying.
"Yeah I think that's one of the best things. I think our management negotiate as much time on getting free clothes as record deals. I once said to Jarvis you'd better not start wearing designer clothes when we get some money but he said if I get them for free then it's just the same as getting them from a charity shop. If people are willing to give you really nice clothes for nothing then I don't see any hypocrisy. If you went out and spend £300 on every shirt and pair of trousers you wore and looked a tit then you would be a tit. But if people are soft enough to give us the clothes we want for nothing or next to nothing then I think we should take great advantage of it."
Do you have any outstanding memories of Pulp life that you won't forget?
"Glastonbury, because that was the first time that we realised that more than a few people liked us. It was a turning point when we were doing "Common People" and everybody was singing along and it was quite deafening and emotional. It seemed like we'd arrived at some point that I never thought we'd ever get to.
Is the audience reaction still exciting?
"Yeah, I used to always think that good music wasn't made for large venues. I still think that really but I thought that our last shows just worked. And for Oasis [at Maine Road] it worked also. It depends on the bands, some bands seems to grow and work better at big venues and others don't. It's a cultural thing as well because these are quite optimistic times. The '80s were all a bit depressing really. The stadium bands were like Simple Minds, all their songs were about quite facile things they didn't really mean much about life. I think now the songs are a bit more relevant to people's lives and so it engages the audience a bit more. Also there are just better bands. They are bands that will be remembered in 20-30 years unlike the ones of the '80s."
Do you have anything outside of music that you'd like to achieve?
"I try not to think about it yet because I consider our career to have some legs in it for a few years yet! Today Jarvis and I have been doing the music for a Damien Hirst film. I like doing music for films because it's different to Pulp - Damien's a good laugh and there's not many constraints to it. I wouldn't like to work in the music business - it would be like a fall from grace."
And so ends our chat, Steve has to rush off and check the potatoes... Tonight he and Zoe (Steve's girlfriend) are cooking for a bunch of pop stars, the American tour starts next week and Marley needs attention.