For someone who has just described himself as a lazy person, Jarvis Cocker is doing a very good impersonation of a busy one. He is in Rankin’s London studio for a special shoot for Dazed & Confused’s 20th anniversary, and in a couple of hours will be on Radio 6Music, presenting his weekly show. The previous night, he was on stage at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, talking about his book, an annotated collection of his lyrics called Mother, Brother, Lover. Folding himself onto a chair, Jarvis observes that is because when he was putting the book together, he realised that he used that rhyming scheme all the time, “which is kind of lazy.” A couple of days before that, he visited his old comprehensive school in Sheffield to talk to the pupils.
“The questions there were quite interesting,” he smiles. “There was a good one, ‘Now that you’re getting a bit old, isn’t it time you stopped writing songs and did something else?’” And of course, his band Pulp reformed this year, playing a series of adoringly received gigs and festivals all over the world for the first time in almost a decade – but first, let’s take it back to the early days, both of the magazine, and of his band’s success.
Dazed & Confused: You were on the cover of the 16th issue of Dazed back in 1995, which was a key year for Pulp, and for our magazine. What do you remember about that feature?
Jarvis Cocker: Rankin had worked on the sleeve for Different Class, so we were taking those cutouts of us around – I believe there is still one in a chip shop. Often, when you’re in magazines, you’re dreading what’s going to happen. But because we had worked with him before, it was more like a collaborative thing.
D&C: I watched you play in 1995, when you replaced the Stone Roses at Glastonbury… I remember you walking out on to the stage and taking a photograph of the crowd – do you still have that photo?
Jarvis Cocker: I don’t even remember taking it. When we played there, we were added to the bill very last-minute so we had to camp on site. The night before, I had real trouble sleeping because I was so nervous… and there are these photographs of me there with this haunted look. So, I wish I did have that photograph. There are certain things of that night that are burned into my memory, I can remember going on and I can remember the end, but the middle bit has just been erased.
D&C: There were a lot of those fisherman hats in the crowd … John Squire had broken his arm… and there was a kind of “impress me” atmosphere – but you won them over. Was that gig an affirmation? You had been together for almost 15 years as a band at that point.
Jarvis Cocker: Yeah it definitely was, especially that particular concert, because the thing that changed things for Pulp was that ‘Common People’ was a big hit – that had happened in May, and we played Glastonbury in June. So, I think it was the first show we’d done since we had become popular… and it was quite a moment because everybody sang along, and you realized that you’d crossed over into a different kind of world. As you say, they weren’t throwing the Reni hats at us. Or stones, or roses… I think they threw more roses than stones.
D&C: I saw you again at Glastonbury, 1998, when you headlined the main stage on the Sunday night.
Jarvis Cocker: Yeah… very wet.
D&C: Absolutely mud-soaked. And you congratulated everyone for staying, shouting “You… Are… Hardcore!” And got pretty much the biggest cheer from any audience ever.
Jarvis Cocker: I’m always impressed by audiences… I’m such a poof I would just go home. Especially on Sunday, you know what Glastonbury can be like, it’s a psychic obstacle course – and if you’re wasted and wet and been there for three days and haven’t slept very much, you would be well in your rights to go home. So, the fact that people were still there, I was just grateful.
D&C: Things had changed a lot for you by that point…
Jarvis Cocker: Well, we were kind of in a dark phase at that point, so I don’t know if I was aware of anything (laughs). Yeah… 98, that wasn’t my favorite year.
D&C: The third gig in this trilogy is Hyde Park, this year – how did it feel to reform the band and play those songs all this time later to a massive crowd?
Jarvis Cocker: Well, we got asked a lot to play again and never really felt like it, I’ve always been slightly suspicious about bands getting back together. But for a number of reasons it felt like it might be ok, so we decided to play some shows, and the one in Hyde Park was the first one to be announced. So that was a big deal, because obviously the people that came to that show were the people who were interested straight off. I think I said on the day – it felt that even though the band are from Sheffield, it felt like a hometown show because a lot of the songs that Pulp became known for were written in London, and about the kind of thing that happens when you come from your hometown. And so, the best thing about Pulp getting back together was that people were bothered. Because you can’t guarantee that, can you? Although it’s a big part of your life, other people might just think, ‘Yeah, whatevs.’
D&C: You are saying many of your songs have a particular relevance to London, so was it good to find crowds around the world also still interested?
Jarvis Cocker: Yeah, because we got to play some places we never played first time round – Serbia and places like that. Actually, you mentioned that show in Glastonbury in 1998. This year, we played in Poland for the first time, and that took the biscuit for the wettest concert ever. It was raining horizontally, and all the equipment had to be wrapped up in see-through plastic. I had to have this big rubber thing on the end of the microphone. I can’t believe we played that, actually! Within about 20 seconds of going on stage, you were soaked through. I was always taught that electricity and water don’t mix very well, so I was thinking, ‘Any minute now, I’m just going to get electrocuted and die.’ We actually got to the end of the show, and at the end I picked up this keyboard and all this water was pouring out.
D&C: Ah, Eastern Europe, and your famously relaxed approach to health and safety legislation. Do you ever wonder how people in Serbia or Poland relate to your songs?
Jarvis Cocker: I do, but the business of songs is that you have to make them personal, and if you manage to nail a personal thing then I think you have a better chance of communicating with people than if you try to write a global thing… like if you’re trying to write about the state of the world, that comes across pretty badly.
D&C: In compiling your book about your lyrics, have you discovered anything about yourself or your songs that you didn’t previously know?
Jarvis Cocker: I was horrified to a certain extent, because the ones that are most entertaining are the ones that are slightly unsavoury. Like there’s a song called ‘I Spy’ that’s quite mean-spirited and horrible, but it’s funny. So, I found that side of myself which probably, as a person, isn’t so great, but for entertainment purposes it’s all right. And I was talking to somebody about the book last night, and he pointed out that many of the songs are written from the point of view of somebody lying in bed. I mean, being in bed is my favourite place to be, but I didn’t realize that a lot of the songs feature people lying in bed, or sleeping or having it off or whatever…
D&C: Is there anything symbolic about the bed?
Jarvis Cocker: No, I just like lying down.
D&C: At the Hyde Park gig this year, you were talking scathingly about ‘the people in the palace down the road’. Should musicians be political?
Jarvis Cocker: I never intended to have any real social comment in the songs I wrote – I used to hate songs that tried to be all political and ‘smash the system’. But occasionally there’ll be things that happen, or things occur to you that get you worked up, and you’ll write about it… but I do think it’s important that it comes from personal experience, so it’s not just like ‘Oh, the Guardian said it’s really bad that sweatshirts are made for 40 pence in Indonesia.’ Although that could be a great song… it’s a good title, for a start.
D&C: Pulp will primarily be associated with that boom-time period in the 90s, but the band has its roots in a more divided time, arguably more like now. Do you think that has kept your band relevant now in a way some other bands from that era aren’t?
Jarvis Cocker: This is a bit of a tangent but there was the Royal Wedding earlier this year and I think generally people are kind of into the Royal Family now. There was a bit of bling about it, they were driving in the Aston Martin. I think that there is more of an aspirational feeling in society now. The thing in Common People, which is the kind of trustafarian type from a privileged background… ‘I’m gonna slum it, because there’s more going on there’… well, I think it’s just getting a bit too dangerous now. If you go down and try to get your kicks in a rough part of town now, you’ll just get battered. That’s the soil Pulp music came from, and things have changed. If I go to the place I was brought up, it’s pretty rough now so I can’t imagine living there any more, which makes me sad.
D&C: What was it like going back there recently?
Jarvis Cocker: Well, I had my bodyguard and the armoured car. No, actually the school’s ok, and you have to be careful, otherwise you do slip in to generalising. If you drove past the school I went to, you would think inner city, estate, comprehensive, but if you go there, it’s like any school – it’s never as cut and dry as people like to present it. The trouble now with the things that are being done to education, is that one of the few routes to get away from whatever has been cut off. So, its just saying to a certain lot of people, ‘You’re fucked,’ or ‘You’re gonna have to find another way now.’ It’s a pretty major thing that’s happened this year, I think.
D&C: You were saying that people seemed to be getting into the Royal Wedding. But you’ve got young people trying to smash their way into Charles and Camilla’s car, and splashing paint over it – don’t you think there’s a real anger coming from young people at the moment?
Jarvis Cocker: You had the student protest – which I would say I broadly supported – but then the riots that came after that, that was a weird one… It’s like people from our background that actively become the sensible ones… because you can’t really condone that can you, because it wasn’t really rioting. There wasn’t really an agenda, it was just like extreme shopping.
D&C: It strikes me it could be fertile material for you to write about, have you found yourself inspired by any of this?
Jarvis Cocker: No, as I would have to go and hang around on their streets. You know, it might be a bit dangerous (laughs).
D&C: In terms of writing and recording, what do you see for the future? You’ve done this massive tour, played lots of places you haven’t played before, it’s gone really well… don’t you want to carry this on?
Jarvis Cocker: There might be one or two things before we’ve said what we wanted to say. But I think the reason why it was good was that everybody involved – and you’d have to speak to the other people in the band, really – knew that we were only going to do it for a limited amount of time, and do it while we were still capable of doing it. And I think that gave it a feeling… I don’t think we will. I mean, it’s something we might, but I don’t know. I can’t imagine that we’re going to do some more songs. But I suppose you don’t know, do you?
D&C: You’ve used you position as a successful musician to do different things, from books to talks, curation of festivals and so on. Is there any of these that you would like to return to?
Jarvis Cocker: Sheffield has a music-based festival, and I’m hoping to maybe do some work with them, probably not this next year but maybe the next. And I studied film for three years at St Martins, and I would like to do something with that, so I’m trying to make that a bit more of a reality. I keep myself busy, the radio thing I really like because it’s nice to have something you do every week.
D&C: In your 1995 interview in Dazed, there’s a bit at the end …
Jarvis Cocker: Hold on, is this where you ask me about something I said years ago and I don’t remember saying it?
Jarvis Cocker: OK.
D&C: There’s a bit where you talk about being invited to celebrity parties, and that you were invited to the Rolling Stones tour…
Jarvis Cocker: The Voodoo Lounge.
D&C: And when you went, you found yourselves only at the first tier of the VIP party, and there was another velvet rope, and you were trying to work your way up to level five or whatever there was. What level do you think you would go in at now, on a Rolling Stones tour?
Jarvis Cocker: Hmm, maybe I would be able to hang around with Ronnie Wood. The point I realised, though I haven’t been to one of those dos for a while, is that generally speaking it’s a good metaphor for life… because often the best party is the first one. Because the people there are excited to be there, and the further you go up, people just get blasé because it’s just a status thing. It’s like the Wizard of Oz, isn’t it? You have all these ideas of what lies behind the velvet rope. And it’s often people just thinking, ‘Where does that next velvet rope lead to?’
All clothes Jarvis's own