Songwriter Jarvis Cocker turned 50 last year, but he hasn’t lost his mojo
I must, before I go any further, declare an interest. I’m a huge Pulp fan. I’m one of those obsessive Cockerites who can recite every lyric penned by pop’s most erudite commentator.
There are plenty of fans like me featured in Florian Habicht’s documentary, Pulp. The film follows the band’s last ever gig, at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield in 2012, and shows Jarvis thrusting and pouting onstage as if it were still the ’90s. Except, to quote the man himself, something’s changed. For a start, Cocker’s lived in Paris since 2003.
And in the 20 years since he wrote Different Class – still the quintessential outsiders’ album – he’s become a kind of elder statesmen of the British music scene.
Let’s talk about that last gig. Why did Pulp get back together? ‘Part of the reason was us thinking: Let’s do it while we still can. There was the issue of whether Candida [Doyle, Pulp’s keyboard player, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis] would be able to play, which was more serious than my concerns, which were, “How high can these heels be before I fall off them?” and, “Will I get too out of breath?”
The film’s about Sheffield as much as it is about Pulp. But now you’re more associated with Paris and London. Have you deserted the North? ‘Yeah, I’m a traitor. I’m an absolute traitor to my class and my background.’
Are you being sarcastic? ‘The thing is that I don’t think you can get away from it. Where you’re brought up, it’s the soil you’ve grown from and even if you’re transplanted – I’m following this plant metaphor as far as it’ll go – even if you’re transplanted to the hothouses of London, your worldview is formed by that place. Maybe that’s not great if you’re in Buenos Aires, say, and you’re looking for a chip shop.’
You’ve always written great lyrics that reflect on the little things closest to you. Does that get harder as your horizons become broader? ‘Well for me it’s not so hard. Just physically: my eyesight’s very bad. Every morning when I wake up I can’t see anything that’s more than a foot away. If I haven’t paid attention the night before there’ll be a little comedy hour of me trying to find my glasses. ‘You’ve got to find your own creativity and you’ve got to find it in your immediate surroundings. If you’re going to become an artist it’s there in you already; you’ve just got to awaken it from its dormancy. So I still believe that and I still preach that gospel to other people.’
But do you find it more difficult to mine those same observations out of your life as it is now? ‘It’s a difficult time to ask that, because I’m in the middle of trying to write some songs. I think in the end you just have to do it and see how it turns out. So I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that one.’
What about the film? Have you watched it back? ‘Yes, but it’s never pleasurable. I never like looking at myself, for sure. I noticed that I should have my teeth whitened.’
But you’re very well presented. ‘Am I? Well, they did a lot of work in post. I don’t think much about what I put on in the morning. Just don’t buy [bad] clothes. Don’t go to rubbish shops.’
You said you were a ‘traitor to your class’. Do you feel any pressure to represent the common people? ‘No, I don’t. I don’t agree with that. I think life’s about trying to find out who you are and what you’re about. It all comes from the personal. The fact that I’ve written songs with a political dimension horrifies me to a certain extent. I never set out to be a political writer, because when I was growing up and people made political statements in songs it would make my flesh crawl. You can’t find a much worse song than Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins. Ignoring politics is a political statement.’
But it’s a very fine line between that and apathetic hand-washing, is it not? ‘I don’t know, because I’m not a young person. I’d prefer to believe that people younger than myself are living in a different way, have a different way of looking at things and will work something out.
Do you think that you’ll be playing some more gigs again soon? ‘I have to feel that it’s worthwhile. There’s a lot going on in London, so I’m only going to do something if I think it’s good. Otherwise, just let people do something else more interesting instead.’ Pulp the film is now available on DVD. See www.pulpthefilm.com for details.