Jarvis Interview
Words: Ann Scanlon, Photographers: Phil Ward, Steve Double and Tony Mottram
Taken from Volume Ten, June 1994

Throughout the 80's, a small but loyal band of fans and journalists frequently insisted that Jarvis Cocker was Britain's most natural pop star. It's taken 13 years, several line-ups, various record labels, a long legal battle and a move from Sheffield to London, but Pulp are now ready to convince the world that they are Britain's greatest pop band and that Jarvis Cocker is its only true star.

Luxuriating a "sumptuous" Swedish hotel room, where he's currently waiting for the locals "to get drunk enough to go down the road singing 'Dancing Queen'", Jarvis Cocker reflects on the things that shaped Pulp.


"My mother shaped me a lot. I used to eaves drop on her and her friend talking in the kitchen when I came home from school every afternoon, and their conversations provided me with a lot of material for Pulp. I got all my information on sex from hearing the two of them talking. My father wasn't there [he left when Jarvis was seven] so everything had to come from my Mum - I can even remember her trying to teach me how to shave, which obviously she'd never done herself. It was quite sweet really because she was telling me to do it in the way she thought it should be done, but then she told me to put aftershave on. I've never understood why aftershave was invented - I mean you've got all those open pores and then you suddenly put alcohol into them and it burns to death and brings you up in horrible little white spots. It's just the most disgusting thing ever. My shaving tip, for anyone's who's interested, is: as soon as you've shaved, rinse your face with cold water, which closed the pores and puts paid to shaving rash."


"My mother's other big influence on my career is that she went out with a scuba diving instructor in Majorca. He was called Horst Hohenstein and he knew that I was interested in music, so he said that he would give me an electric guitar, because I didn't have one. He was a musician but he was a bit heavy for my taste - he was into Pink Floyd and acid rock, which is fair enough, I suppose. But anyway, he bought me an electric guitar one Christmas when I was about twelve and it's still the same guitar I use nowadays. It's the only guitar I've ever owned and Pulp would never have existed without it."


"I wasn't any good at sports, and I suppose I just wanted someone to notice me. Forming a band is just something that most sad losers do. They're inadequate, so they get their own back by being in a group - it's the sand-kicked-in-the-face syndrone. Now that we've actually got some fans after a decade, I realise that girls like you because of the way they've seen you on stage and in videos, and I think that it's very difficult to live up to that image."

"It's like a distilled image and it's hard to be as concentrated and intense as that in real life so you're always going to let people down. They're going to think that you'll be really good in bed, but you'll probably end up coming after 30 seconds and shattering their illusions. But maybe it's good to have your illusions shattered, I don't know. A friend of mine said, that if he ever got famous, he'd be really bad at sex just to dissolution people."


"When I was growing up, I thought that I could have been born anywhere. I assumed that the whole world was one big Sheffield, which thank the Lord - it isn't. It was only when I moved away from Sheffield that I realised how much it had shaped me, and that's when I started writing about it. The main thing that I remember about Sheffield is the grinding boredom of the place, which means that you have to use your imagination to make it interesting. Whereas in London, you've got it all laid on, like a finger buffet every night of the week, in Sheffield, you might occasionally get a bag of chips, so you have to just use your imagination and invent a little world for yourself."


"The dole certainly had an effect on shaping Pulp. In Sheffield, in the early '80s, anybody who wanted to do something vaguely creative, or just pretended that they wanted to do something vaguely creative but really wanted to doss, would just go straight on the dole after school. It was quite interesting for a bit, but then when the YTS (Youth Training Scheme) came on it cut off all the young blood and that made it a bit sadder, because then you had this block of people just getting older, still having these crazy schemes of what they were going to do, but going no further. But when it was good, everyone used to doll-stroll on Fargate, which was the pedestrian precinct. It could take you a whole afternoon to walk the length of a street that's only 100 yards long, because you might bump into other doll-strollers, or you could just sit down on a bench and watch people walk past, or maybe go and have a cup of tea somewhere, or watch the girl hairdressers coming out of the salon at the top of the road and decide whether you fancied them or not, or just sit next to the fountain. It was good - or at least on a sunny day it was good. In winter, it was only for the hardcore."


"We've never had anybody in Pulp who could play. The main reason for having people in the group has always been that we could get on with them and that they seemed to be the right kind of person. I've never been into this muso business, but you do have to be able to get on with each other. Otherwise, you'd be in the middle of a tour and you'd suddenly get to hate the guitarist or something and you'd fight and that would be the end of the group. Plus, a lot of the time, people who are too musicianly are very boring. So Pulp has always been just a succession of friends, with varying degrees of musical ability - I mean Simon Hinkler (early Pulp and subsequent Mission guitarist), could play a bit, but our very first bass player used to play the songs twice as fast as everybody else so that he could get to the end quicker and go and have a lie down and something to eat. He couldn't get rid of that competitive spirit - he thought it was like a sport or a race, where the first one to the end was the best. He couldn't really grasp the concept of all playing at the same time. People often hide behind musical virtuosity, but if you haven't got a fantastic, ballsy guitar sound and all that kind of rubbish then you have to use your imagination. It's the same thing as Sheffield - you have to make it interesting in other ways, and that's usually through the words or the sound."


"In 1981 we were just a daft group of kids, I suppose, but we were trying to get things together. We saved up money for ages to do a demo at this man's house in Sheffield. It was quite funny because he'd set up the studio in his house and you did all the recording in the bedroom, but he wouldn't let you use the drumkit because his wife didn't like the noise, so he had one of those electronic drum kits. His wife was also worried about people messing the bedroom up, so he'd installed a closed circuit TV camera in there and he used to watch you from down in the dining room to make sure you weren't getting up to any funny business."

"Anyway, we recorded this demo there and then John Peel did a Roadshow in Sheffield and I gave him a tape. He said he'd listen to it, but I didn't think he really would, but then he gave us a session, which was a very big thing for us. I mean, John Peel was one of the reasons that I got into music, because I used to listen to his programme all the time. It was the first time anyone had taken any notice of us so I thought, this is it then, this is what I'll do with my life. Up to then, I suppose, I would have just gone to university after I'd left school, but doing a John Peel session made the group seem real. Of course, there are many times in the years since that I cursed him because things weren't going so well. But I met him again when we were making our film, Do You Remember The First Time?, and I was able to tell him that. I suppose everybody says that he's very nice, but he is. He's one of the nicest people I've ever met."


"We all know the story of me trying to do a stunt to impress a girlfriend, but falling out of a window, breaking me leg, and getting laid up in hospital for two months instead. I hated being in hospital at first, but then I actually got into it, because it's not very often that you get the opportunity to step back from your life and just lie there and think about it for two months. Up until that point, I thought that I wanted to lead an aesthetic life. I thought that only things like art and stuff was important. I'd kind of been ignoring the everyday realities of life, thinking that they didn't matter, because I wouldn't be living that life for very long - I was going to be a famous artist and so I wouldn't have to deal with the drab, mundane things."

"But while I was laid up, I realised that you could spend 15 years of your life thinking that and never actually do anything. It's a bit like being a rocket getting ready to take off, but never actually taking off. The countdown might never stop. So I changed all my feelings about things like that. Plus, being in a hospital ward with lots of ordinary people, rather than mixing with the kind of bohemian rag bag that used to accumulate around our flat, just made me realise that there was a lot more to the world that I'd been seeing. It changed my outlook, and if I hadn't broken my leg I don't know what would have happened to me. I used the wheelchair on stage while I was recovering, but I'd like to make it clear that I never used the wheelchair as a stage prop - as soon as I was well enough to get out of it, I didn't use it. I've never believed in exploiting disability."


"Crimplenism is another fallacy that needs exploding, because I don't wear crimplene. I will allow poly-cottons and natural mixes of man made fibres, like wool and acrylic, but I don't like 100 per cent things. I must admit that I've got one or two items now that are man made, but they're only for stage use - I wouldn't use them for everyday wear. But clothes are very important to me. I suppose I first became interested in them when punk happened. Up till that point I'd kind of wanted to fit in with other people but had just failed miserably and I was quite upset about it. But punk said, 'don't follow the crowd, don't be a sheep' and all that kind of thing, and suddenly I realised that it was an advantage rather than a disadvantage not to fit in, and I started to play it up."

"It was quite an important decision to make in Sheffield, because people would beat you up if they didn't like your clothes. Leigh Bowery can walk around with his bollocks hanging out in London but, in Sheffield, somebody'll hit you for having a lime green shirt on. So my wardrobe was quite a serious thing - it wasn't like a flippant, foppish thing to do, you had to be prepared to take the consequences. But it was a good way of meeting like-minded people. You'd probably meet like-minded people while you were running away from a gang of skinheads. I've still got the first shirt that I ever bought from a second-hand shop - it's orange with white spots on it. I suppose if you wear clothes you want people to take notice of them, so becoming more widely known just makes me try harder. It's just like being in a band, I suppose - when you think that people have taken notice of you, then you try harder. It's just a cry for attention really."


"They've had a very big influence on Pulp. For a start, they meant that I could move on stage, because when I used to wear my glasses on stage they always fell off - I'd kind of shake my head and then they'd be gone or, if they didn't fall off, they'd slip down and look really stupid. It was terrible. Once we played at The Library Theatre in Sheffield and I kind of jumped and my glasses went flying off and I couldn't find them. So there was a ten minute gap in the concert while I looked for my glasses because, when I haven't got them on, I can't see a thing. Nobody knew where they were, and eventually I found them inside the bass drum, but obviously it destroyed the whole atmosphere of the concert. You're trying to create some sort of atmosphere and then suddenly you've got this big gap while the lead singer's crawling around on is hands and knees trying to find his glasses."

"So contact lenses were a very liberating experience. It's a bit like turning into Superman or Mr. Hyde, you take your glasses off and put your contact lenses in and you look completely different. I only ever wear contacts on stage now. It's all part of that thing of getting ready to go on - it's like a ceremony that you go through. Contact lenses have probably added to my sex appeal - girls seldom make passes at boys who wear glasses. But the way you look with contact lenses is obviously the way nature intended you to look. I mean, you weren't born with glasses on. I always find it very traumatic when you have to pick a new pair of glasses - it's like picking a new nose."


"In a very twisted horrible way, I suppose Fire Records helped shape Pulp. They've taken many years from my life, and time is the worst thing that somebody can take from you. I think it's well documented that they haven't exactly got a glowing reputation in the eyes of many artists. 'Idiot Bother' by The Auteurs is very strongly rumoured to be about Fire Records."


"Acid house definitely sidetracked Pulp for a bit. The first time I went to a rave I couldn't believe it. It was like how I dreamed musical events might be like when I was a child, but never thought they could actually be like in real life. They seemed to be completely hedonistic things, using technology but also being very primitive. Acid house seemed to make rock music redundant for a few months, because it had so much energy. It was nothing to do with personalities - people didn't even know who made the records - it was just something you went to. It was really friendly but, after a while, I realised that was probably because everyone was on drugs. They were all going up and saying hello to one another , but the conversation stopped very soon afterwards. It was, 'Nice one. Top one. Sorted. Alright then, geezer', and that was the end of it."

"But I think Acid house made a lot of people in bands re-evaluate what they were doing. I think that rock had become very complacent - it thought that it had a divine right to exist when it doesn't, it's got to remain interesting to retain people's interest. Acid house made me think, 'Do I really still want to be in a band and if I do what do I want it to do?' It was a bit of a prod, a little bit of a kick up the arse."


"Obviously, the amount of time it's taken for people to notice us had definitely had an effect. I mean, now I can look at it in a more rosy light and say that it's maybe had a beneficial effect, when in reality it hasn't. The only thing I can liken it to is as if you were locked in a room for a year - you would get to know everything about that room and you would pick up all the details. And I think that's why our songs have often got a lot of detail in them, because I've had a lot of time on my hands to pick up on details. I do think that details are important in songs, I think that details reveal more that attempting to paint a massive broad canvas or trying to settle the problems in Bosnia in a song, which I don't think is very possible. But waiting around for our time to come definitely had an effect on Pulp."


"Going to film college has probably shaped the way that Pulp's songs are written, because it helps you to visualise things and sometimes, in the more spoken songs, I'm just trying to describe something in a way that will really conjure it up in someone's mind. Usually, when you listen to music, all you can picture is amplifiers or someone stood there with jeans on shaking their heads slightly in the studio. Like the Gerry Rafferty video, there's someone with headphones on nodding slightly while they push a few knobs on the desk. I think it's nice if you can conjure up something a little more poetic or a little more interesting."


"What's shaping Pulp now? The gym. I enrolled in a fitness centre in Sheffield called Silhouettes about two months ago to do weight-training, so that's shaping me very literally right now. Both Steve (Mackey) and I enrolled - I can show you my membership card if you like. they also have sun beds, so I'll be up there with Henry Rollins soon - although he looks like he's been on the sun bed a bit too long. I decided that I'd had enough of this pale, aesthetic look and I'm gonna go for a tanned, healthy look now. I want to improve my biceps and pecs and I should imagine that when we go on tour next, it'll be a bit like looking at those Masters Of The Universe figures onstage."

Jarvis has the last word on the collected works of Pulp...

IT (1983)

"I remember this record as though it was only yesterday. I'd just left school and Tony Perrin, who later went on to manage The Mission, decided to put up the money for recording it. We did it in a very strange studio in Sheffield that only had about three microphones, but the man who owned the studio told us that one of the microphones used to belong to Cliff Richard and insisted on recording everything with the Cliff Richard microphone. I listened to it recently, because I got a copy of this CD thing that was released by Cherry Red, and I think it's quite a decent record - although I must admit that it does embarrass me slightly. I was still a virgin when I did it, and I think that you can really tell because I've got a very idealised view of love and romance which was to change rather radically over the course of the next few years."

FREAKS (1986)

"This has got to be the darkest and most depressing record we ever made. It was recorded and mixed in one week, in June 1986. I find the change from It to Freaks quite sad when I listen to it, because you can see a man who's been disillusioned. I think there are some good songs on it, but it also irritates me because the songs could have been done a lot better if we'd had a bit more time to do them. There aren't many laughs on this record - it's a trip to the heart of darkness, a one-way ticket. I'm just glad that I'm not such a depressive character as I was then. At the time, I was living on the top floor of a factory in the centre of Sheffield which used to attract all the misfits, and I was worried that I was going to end up being a weirdo. I thought we were getting cut off from society, and so it's quite a paranoid record."


"At the time, I thought that unless we actually did a record the band wouldn't carry on, and seeing as we didn't have any other option, we did it with Fire. Steve and I had been going to lots of raves at the beginning of 1989, and so our brains were slightly scrambled. We were trying to use lots of technology but we didn't really know how to work it properly, and so it ended up being quite a strange album. It was a mixture of some old songs, rearranged quite radically in some senses to try and embrace modern technology, except we didn't know how to operate it, so it all came out sounding a bit weird. I think it's a very patchy album, but at least it's got My Legendary Girlfriend on it, which was a bit of a turning point for us. Separations is kind of the halfway point, I suppose, between what we used to be like and what we're like now."

INTRO (1993)

"Intro isn't really a proper album. It's just a compilation of the Gift recordings, which were done as a stop gap while we were involved in legal negotiations with Fire. We didn't want to just disappear for two years seeing as we'd had so many stops and starts in our career up to then anyway. It was never really meant to be an album, but I think it hangs together reasonably. It's got quite an up and down quality, because some of the tracks were done with Ed Buller and some were done with ourselves. We're not exactly the Phil Spectors of Sheffield when it comes to producing, so some of it is slightly raggy, but it's got good spirit. It's got Inside Susan: A Story In Three Parts, and I was quite pleased when we did that because it was something different. I hate concept albums, but it was quite interesting to have a theme that ran through three songs and told a bit of a story."

HIS 'N' HERS (1994)

"This was just a great big sigh of relief really, because for the first time ever in our long tortuous history we had enough time and money to do a record as we wanted to do it. It was really good because, having waited so long for that kind of opportunity, we weren't going to mess it up. The only real trauma was that we thought we'd summoned up the devil on the synthesiser that we were using. We had one of those old late '60s synthesisers that you can only get a sound on by plugging loads of leads in, like a telephone exchange or something. I was just messing around with it one day, and I got this strange sound that just played itself without touching the keyboard. It started off as a bit of a joke, but then even Ed Buller and the engineer believed it was evil and we all agreed that we couldn't put it on the record because it would doom it to failure. It's put me off using synthesisers a bit - I think we might go acoustic from now on."

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