PULP’s Jarvis Cocker talks new band JARV IS…, new album, Wes Anderson & more in BV interview
It's been too long since we've had a proper record from Jarvis Cocker. Eleven years to be specific. Further Complications, which he made with Steve Albini in Chicago, proved the lanky, bespeckled Brit could rock credibly, but that sound never quite suited him. His witty observations and sly come-ons worked best with music that matched his penchant for corduroy suits.
After 10 years spent as a BBC DJ, occasional guest vocalist on other people's records, a PowerPoint lecturer and -- for one glorious year -- once again frontman of Pulp, Jarvis is back with a new band, JARV IS..., and a great new album (Beyond the Pale). It finds him returning to more suave, swaggering territory but also in uncharted waters. As he sings in on "Am I Missing Something?," one of the album's best songs, "Do something new, or do something else."
The seven songs on Beyond the Pale were road tested and whipped into shape on a 2018 tour that had him purposefully playing some of the smallest venues he'd worked since before Pulp became Britpop stars in the mid-'90s. They were also partially recorded live on that tour, and then finessed in the studio, making for a record designed for audience reactions as well as dancing. It's his best since at least his 2006 solo debut, and maybe since Pulp's This is Hardcore.
Jarvis visited NYC back in February to do a little preliminary promo work for Beyond the Pale, which was originally due out in May...before COVID-19 began playing havoc with release schedules and ground touring to a halt. Jarvis and I sat down for a long, pre-pandemic chat at Beggars Group's SoHo HQ about the new album, the benefits of a band over a solo project, caves, Harry Potter, the continued relevance of his 2006 single "Running the World," his role in the new Wes Anderson film, his upcoming book, being a game show contestant, and more.
A lot more. The interview was filmed for the label and parts of it can be seen on Jarvis' socials, but you can read a slightly edited down version below.
You have a new band.
I do, yeah.
It's not a solo project.
Not a solo project.
I know. It is a confusing name. I apologize for that. I was going to call it Jarv. Just the first four letters of my name, but someone pointed out that that was too... I don't know. Somebody whose opinion I take seriously said that that sounded too over-familiar. I thought Jarv sounded like some kind of substance like... I suppose it sounds a little bit like lava or something. So I thought it was a good name. Just four letters. Quite a strong name but I compromised on JARV IS... The dot, dot, dot is very important as well because...
Like the start of a sentence too.
Yeah. Because, well, I just came up with the name because I liked it but since, I've thought it is kind of appropriate because the band has been a work in progress. The band was formed to finish off some songs that I had for quite a while and was working on and not really getting so far with them. So what we did was take those songs out on the road in a... not in a completely unformed state but in a place where they were still in a place of flux. And the idea being that by presenting them to an audience, you kind of have to finish them because if you want people to clap at the end of a song, you have to kind of define it a bit. So it ended up being quite an appropriate name because of that kind of... what do you call it? Is it ellipsis, yeah?
Glad we've got the grammar sorted for a start. Yeah.
That's very important. You already sort of answered one of my first questions, which is did you have songs written ahead of time? There was basically 10 years where you didn't really release anything apart from the record with Chilly Gonzales and a couple of guests spots on electronic records.
It's a bit of a sad story. There was a guy in the band that I had before, at the time of Further Complications, called Tim McCall, and he died in February of 2010. And that was very upsetting, and I just didn't want to carry on. It felt very wrong to say, "Well, let's get a guitarist in and carry on." It just didn't feel right at all. So I kind of stopped for a while and the next thing that came after that really was reforming Pulp and kind of playing some shows to do with that.
Then I started doing a radio show in the UK for the BBC called Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service. And even though that was just a weekly show of two hours, it kind of took up quite a bit of time. At some points, I thought, well, maybe this is kind of a good thing to be doing at my stage of life. I'm still involved in music. I'm playing music. I'm addressing an audience, even though a radio audience is a slightly more kind of abstract concept than an audience stood right in front of you. But then every now and again, a little voice in the back of my head would suggest an idea for a song.
I always felt like I was slightly moonlighting from my proper job. You don't always choose what you do in life. It chooses you in some way. So I knew that I would return to doing music and stuff. And I was working on songs and doing stuff like that, but they'd be never quite... I was monitoring the progress, and some were getting okay, but I just wasn't convinced about them. The tipping point, really, that's led to what I'm doing now is that back in 2017, towards the end of that year, I was invited to play a festival in Reykjavik in Iceland. Sigur Rós were doing this festival, now... It's really hard to pronounce the name of it. I think it was called something like Norður Og Niður or something like that.
Yeah, sounds right. Kevin Shields played too?
Yeah. And I once did know what that meant, but I've kind of forgot now. [For the record: "North and Down."] But anyway, this festival was taking place between Christmas and New Year in Reykjavik, and I got asked if I would play. I didn't have a band at this point. I thought maybe I'm going to have to pass, and then I just kind of thought to myself, "No, don't pass. Say, 'Yes' and then you'll have to get a band together. You'll have to finish those songs you've been promising yourself you're going to finish all this time." And that was the spark that kind of led to what I'm doing now. The performance went well and the people I'd got to play with me gelled well as a band, and we were away, basically.
So as far as the band, who did you call first?
I was going to say Ghostbusters there, but yeah. [Laughter.] Well, so the rhythm section, is Andrew McKinney and Adam Betts. In London, every summer they have these things called the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, and it's classical music based, and the admission is really cheap. You can just turn up on the night, and if they've got room you can get in for like £5. So it's like a way of making classical music accessible to a wider public. And in recent years, they've tried to expand it so it's not just classical repertoire. And so they will have late-night proms which will have more of a link to, for want of a better word, popular music or whatever. And I was asked to contribute to a prom that was playing the music of Scott Walker. The records that he did in the late-60s.
He produced the final Pulp record.
He did, indeed, yeah. And so I jumped at the chance of doing that. It's no secret that I'm a very big admirer of Scott Walker's work, I was kind of thinking, "I wonder if they're going to get the arrangements right and everything?" Particularly the blend between the orchestrations and the more rock elements of it. And anyway, I turned up, and was kind of blown away by the arrangements that they'd come up with and the rhythm section was Andrew and Adam, and so I kind of made a note of that and took their numbers and thought if I ever get to a point where I want to play again that these guys would be good people to work with. And then there were two women in the band, Serafina Steer and Emma Smith. Serafina, I produced a record for her back about six, seven years ago.
The Moths Are Real. Great record.
The Moths Are Real. They really are. Serafina, I'd come across her music through the radio show. When I first started doing it, one of the things that was a new thing for me was that I got sent lots of records. I had a cubby hole in the BBC, and it would be full of CDs and stuff. And when I first started off doing the job, I thought, "I'm going to be very diligent." So I would take sacks of these things home and listen and soon realized there was no way I was going to be able to listen to everything.
But on one particular day, I was just trying to listen to all these CDs and everything I put on seemed to be really bad, and I was starting to get really kind of discouraged. And then Serafina's CD was an album called Change Is Good Change Is Good. And I thought it was great. I loved it. And so that gave me hope that it was possible to discover good new music. And so I went to see her play, and we got to know each other and so that's how I ended up producing her record. And so I just asked if she would be part of it. In the interim, she'd formed her own band and Emma was in that band with her.
Bas Jan, right?
Bas Jan, yeah. You've done great research here. So then they came and they're kind of I guess... Adam and Andrew, they're kind of rhythmic based. Serafina and Emma are really the melodic base of it. And they both come from a background where, they don't improvise all the time, but they've also got kind of a bit of a classical background. They can sight read and stuff like that, but they are used to improvisation. Emma worked on... you know that film Under The Skin with the soundtrack by Mica Levi? So she played some stuff on that. So they turned me on to quite a lot of stuff that I wasn't that aware of before. And they were also able to... It was perfect for what we were doing, because these songs, as I say, weren't completely finished, so they would generally play different things every night. Sometimes I was really confused. I said, "I thought you did that bit at that point?" But that was not the way that they worked. And the last part of the line-up is a guy called Jason Buckle, and he was in a band called Relaxed Muscle with me.
And another band with you. The Weird Sisters.
Ha ha, yes. He was in the band that was a supergroup, we could say, that was formed for the Harry Potter film, Goblet of Fire. [The "group" also included Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway, Pulp's Steve Mackey and Add N to (X)'s Steve Claydon.] And The Weird Sisters... Although we weren't allowed to be called The Weird Sisters. In the book, J.K. Rowling names the band as The Weird Sisters, but when it came down to it, it turned out that there was already, I think, a lesbian folk duo in Canada called The Weird Sisters, and they threatened to sue the film company. So in the film, I think we're just called The Band With No Name or something lame like that.
You would think that J.K. Rowling would have the intellectual property on that from the get-go.
Well, yeah. I mean, we're not going to go into full Harry Potter nerdom thing here now, but... Because the name, The Weird Sisters, as far as I know, comes from Macbeth when Macbeth's wandering through the forest at the start of that, and he comes across some witches, they're The Weird Sisters. So I'm guessing here, but I think Shakespeare's out of copyright. I mean, he's well out of copyright, isn't he? He was publishing in like the 1600s or something, so he's so in the public domain. So I would have thought anybody can call themselves The Weird Sisters if they want to.
I digressed on The Weird Sisters, but Jason Buckle was in Relaxed Muscle with you.
Yes. And he also, before that, was in a band called the All Seeing I which had a global hit with "Beat Goes On." At first, he wasn't on stage with us. He was on the mixing desk, processing the stuff that other people are playing, and adding electronic kind of stuff. But one day we were playing a very small venue in... It was on the west coast of America. Where was it? Santa Cruz. Moe's Alley. I don't know if you know it. It's like kind of a... it isn't a bowling alley. It's a really good club, actually, but it's pretty small. And where the mixing desk was, it was so tiny that only the sound engineer could fit in there. So Jason came on the stage with us, and I think he just liked it so then he asked if he could just be on stage all the time. And we expect him to go to the front of the stage soon and want to be in front of me. It's like he's taking over the band. Very subtly.
So what was the first song that you worked on of the new stuff?
Well, we didn't really start on one specific song because, as I say, we had this show coming up, so I knew we had to work on a bunch of songs to have a set together.
How many songs did you present the band?
I think pretty much what's on the album, apart from the very first track, "Save The Whale." That came later, but the other ones were there. The one I'd been working on for longest, before we got together, was a song called "Am I Missing Something?" Jason and I had started work on that about seven years ago, which is a long time for a song to be gestating. But then things like, say, the last track on the record, "Children Of The Echo," that was really something that I'd written just before we all started rehearsing together. And when I say written, I mean, I had a riff or something.
That was the point, though, that it wasn't like I told people what to play. I'd had all this time to do it my way and, for some reason... I mean, I'd been in a band since the age of 13, so why I didn't think, "Oh, if you want to finish these songs off, get a band." It's the most obvious thing really. Because that's when songs become, well, they become alive because they're not just a concept in your mind. When other people work on them then they suddenly get a life of their own. And that's kind of what you're looking for, I think, when you write music. You want to get to that point where the song comes alive and then you just kind of hang on for dear life and see where it leads you.
So JARV IS... toured for about a year and a half or so, right? From these initial shows...
Yeah, but it was sporadic because children came along. Emma had a child. And then Serafina just had a child at the end of last year. So we would tour for a bit and then had to take some time off. I'm trying to think how we're going to arrange that for this tour in that we're going to have to have some kind of mobile creche [nursery] situation. Not on stage, I don't think. I think that would be kind of maybe stressful for the kids. And distracting for the mothers. It may be amusing for the audience, I don't know.
Some sort of musical Skinner box for them.
I don't know. We'll work it out. But, yeah, so we played very small places. I mean, the first tour we did, we called it A Tour of Tiny Clubs and Caverns. The tiny club part was really because I knew that most of the stuff that we were playing to an audience was unfamiliar, because they wouldn't have heard of it before. So it's quite a big ask, to ask an audience to listen to new stuff. We were playing stuff from my previous two solo albums as well -- so there was some stuff that people would be familiar with -- but I thought, yeah, it was better to keep it like that.
Also, because the idea was that the audience, in some way, were an important part of the equation of finishing these songs. Because the fact that you were presenting them to an audience was making us define them. So it seemed to make sense to play small places where you actually could see the audience very clearly. And some of them, for instance, we played a place... There's a seaside town called Ramsgate, in the UK, and they've got this very cute little music hall, but I think it's about 100 capacity. And the stage is about this high [measures about 18 inches with his hand], no barrier. So I was standing at the front of the stage and I was basically looking straight into the eyes of the first row of the audience.
So we played these places. We got instant feedback. And the cave part of that was really... I've had a bit of an ongoing... not obsession, but interest. I bought a book a while ago. I'd been trying to find some way of entertaining my son when I was visiting my mother up north in England and there's a place called Creswell Crags which is, I think, it's either paleolithic or neolithic. It's an old settlement. Cavemen used to live there. And cave women probably as well. And cave children. Yeah. And I went to visit this... there's a small piece of cave art on one of the walls, and I think I'm right in saying it's probably the only surviving bit of cave art in the UK. There are caves, the famous Lascaux caves in France, like giant big frescoes on these walls, but the UK has, for one reason or another, hasn't got any surviving examples apart from this one.
And it really took me by surprise because, as I say, I was just trying to find some way of filling a family afternoon, and then I looked at this bit of carving on a wall, and I got a really strong image of somebody kind of cramped in some space scratching something on a wall and thinking how amazing that was. This first time that people would find some way of communicating what was inside their minds by externalizing it. Putting it up and then saying, "Come and have a look at this." And someone else could look at it and maybe get that same idea just from looking at it, not by having to talk to someone. So that's the dawn of creativity or whatever. I found it moving. It touched me.
So there was a gift shop as there always are at these places, and there was a book on the shelf and the book's title was The Mind In The Cave. And just that title, I thought, was a fantastic title. It conjured up a lot of ideas straight away. So I bought the book. Unfortunately, it ended up being quite a dry, academic book. I think I still haven't finished it 10 years later, but the guy who's writing the book, is trying to trace the origins of human creativity. His theory, I think, is that something happened to the human mind in those caves which led to creativity. And I just was fascinated by that, of it being... I guess if you are a person who works in a creative field, you're interested about the origin story of that and where it comes from.
So it became something that fed into the record. I actually quote the title of that book in "Must I Evolve?" And therefore, I thought wouldn't it be great to play in a cave. Let's take it back to the source and, luckily, quite near... not the same cave I saw the cave art in, but there is a bigger cave quite near to Sheffield with a very unfortunate name. It's called The Devil's Arse. Yeah. Which is not good. Apparently, this is because there's a river that runs through it, and there's a very deep cave system beyond the kind of open mouth which is where they get people to do concerts. And sometimes a wind will blow out of this thing, and it's really cold, and they thought that was like the devil's flatulence. Which I think is illogical.
Yeah, it would be warm, right?
Exactly. Because hell generally is portrayed as being the fires of hell. Very warm. So surely it would be... anyway, let's not go there. So, yeah, this place, they have concerts, and we did a couple of nights there. And actually, whilst all this was going on we were recording every show that we did because we were working on the songs trying to finish them off, I wanted some way of being able to judge how we were progressing. So I thought we were just doing these recordings as reference recordings, and then we would go into a studio and do them properly. But then it turned out we could use those recordings as the kind of basis of the record. And so the song I mentioned, "Must I Evolve?," was performed on the second night we performed in the cave. So of course, for someone like me who loves it when there's some kind of high concept there, the fact that this song about caves and evolution and the dawn of man, the fact that it was recorded in a cave, that just seemed like the stars have aligned, everything is perfect. So I was very excited by that.
As far as using the live recordings... I think I read that Geoff Barrow from Beak> and Portishead sort of gave you the idea that you could actually use these.
Yeah. Totally. I mean, so Geoff Barrow saw us... Beak> were also playing at a festival called Desert Days in California, and he saw us play that night and enjoyed it. I knew him a little bit, so I said, "Look, can I talk to you about some stuff then?" So I was talking about what we were doing and how we were recording everything, and then we were going to record them properly at some point, and he just said, "Well, why can't you use these recordings that you've done so far?" And I said, "Well, they won't be good enough quality, will they?" Because while I've been involved in music making for a long time, I'm not really so big on that technical side of things. And he said, "Well, I know this guy called Craig Silvey." He mixed, I think, that last Portishead album, the third one. "Why don't you send something to him, and he'll tell you whether it's usable or not." I did and Craig said it was. So that was great because it was like we'd recorded a record without actually realizing it, which never happens. It's pretty impossible.
And for me that was a massive breakthrough, because my experience over the years is sometimes going into a studio can sap the energy out of songs because it's such a different environment to playing live. You become a bit more self-conscious. You maybe become a bit uptight because you're thinking, "Right, we've got to get this right. This is going to be the version of the song that's going to survive forever." You can even get obsessed with, where are we going to record it? What microphones are we going to use? All this kind of stuff, which is important, but it's not the most important thing. I think the most important thing about any song, any recording, is whether you've caught the spirit of what that song is supposed to be. And music that I love, I can forgive a lot of technical imperfections and stuff in it, as long as it's got some heart and some feeling to it. And the fact that we'd managed to do that in an unselfconscious way, I was kind of over the moon about that. Because I've never been able to do that before.
"Must I Evolve?" is the one song where I can hear the audience. At the very end if you turn it up really loud, you can hear some applause at the end. But how much of the actual live recordings-...
It's just that nobody clapped on the other ones. [Laughter] No, it wasn't that. Sorry. I interrupted you.
[Laughs] Well, I was just going to say, take, for example, that song, how much of the actual live recording is on "Must I Evolve"?
On most of them, the main thing we had to redo were all the vocal parts because a microphone on stage is just picking up all the noise as well as the vocal. I think those microphones they have on stage, they're just not great quality. I think for them to work in a loud environment, they have to be pretty kind of rough, which is all right in a live concert, but when you listen to it at home it kind of... I mean, I think that's why, generally speaking, I'm not a fan of live albums. Especially rock live albums. They just always seem to be a bit of an inferior version of the song that you like. There are exceptions, but... So if we take "Must I Evolve?," so all the drums, bass, keyboard, violin, all that is from the live take. We added a bit of stuff like some... I added a bit of mellotron and there's some kind of atmospheric noises, and then the vocals, and that was it. So I would say with that song, 70% was live and 30% was added to it, yeah.
Speaking of this one, and others on the record, I feel like before, if there was one thing that I could say about you, at least lyrically, is your songs are very sort of linear and sort of story based. A lot of it. This time, though, it feels like maybe a little more, I don't know, introspection and less...
No, I think you're right. Yeah. I mean, the one kind of traditional narrative song is probably the song "Swanky Modes" which follows an actual incident. I think, well, as I say, the first song that we started working on was "Am I Missing Something?" and I kind of experimented with trying to write it a bit of a different way. So instead of thinking, "Right. Okay. This song is about this." I kind of worked in smaller units. So I was just kind of looking for two- or three-line clusters of things that I just liked the idea of it. And I think we were just doing one of the first recordings, trying to get a shape for the song, and I'd got all these ideas, so I just thought, "Well, I'll just sing these things. They're not particularly related, but it might help me get a melody or it might help me get somewhere."
And then when I listened back to it, I liked the fact that it jumped from thing to thing. And then because the title was "Am I Missing Something?," it was like, "Well, have I missed anything out?" Or am I missing something as in, is this something in life that would fulfill me? Or am I missing something as in something's going on, but I just can't see it? So I kind of liked that. That it could be, I don't know, it seemed to give the listener a bit more space. I always tend to think the stories always have a narrative element to them. The songs will have the narrative element. You always have to leave some room in the song for the listener to inhabit, otherwise it's just a bit fascist. I don't know.
The other thing that is the strongest differentiating element, just as a listener, is there's a distinct call-and-response aspect to almost all the songs. Is that something that just happened on stage?
Yeah. I think the first song that that started in was "Must I Evolve?" There was all these questions, and I'd played that song to Serafina in a kind of very embryonic state, and I think she kind of semi-jokingly started going, "Yes, yes, yes, yes." I had been thinking of it as a rhetorical question, but once I realized what that could bring to the song I thought, well, let's work with that. I've never really been in that situation before because in Pulp, really, there wasn't anybody else who sang besides me, so it was just me, me, me all the way through.
In this band everybody except Jason can sing, and does sing, onstage so that gives a lot more scope for stuff. And I liked this idea that, especially with Emma and Serafina, they're almost like a chorus commenting on the action. Because I always liked it in Leonard Cohen songs, the way he used female voices there. That there seemed to be an element of that... well, they added a lot of space to his songs, but sometimes they seemed to be kind of floating above the song observing the action and kind of making comments, and I liked that idea.
"Save The Whale" definitely has a little bit of a Leonard Cohen vibe to it.
A lot of people have said that, yeah. I experimented with using the lower end of my range. That was the last song that we finished and that's the only one that we haven't actually played live even though it was recorded live in the studio, but it wasn't road-tested on an audience. Yeah. And actually, I started writing the words for that, I'd been to see that film, Leonard and Marianne, you know that film by Nick Broomfield that came out.
I know of it, but haven't seen it.
Right. Okay. So I'd been to see that and then later that evening I was just writing some ideas down and the kind of "move beyond the pale" part of the song and the "save the whale" bit came out. And maybe because it happened on that evening, when it came to singing it, maybe there was this kind of spirit of Leonard Cohen was kind of floating over the song so maybe it emboldened me to try and sing it in that way.
As you mention, the song also has the line "Beyond The Pale," which is the name of the album. Did you just sort of latch on to that when you wrote the song or did you have that in mind as a title first?
Well, because it's JARV IS... so then it makes a sentence, JARV IS... Beyond The Pale. I don't know. Somebody told me that the origins of that phrase is something to do with when the English were occupying bits of Dublin, I think. So there was a bit of the town that was the pale and then if you went beyond the borders of that, you were beyond the pale and supposedly it was dangerous. So I kind of liked that idea. I think that this record is a movement beyond something. For me, anyway. It's been working in a different way. It's been letting people into that process a bit more as well, as you've mentioned, with the role of other people singing. And I like the idea of it being the start of a journey into, not the unknown, but just going off on some kind of exploration. I think a song is like an adventure that you have inside your own body or inside your own consciousness, and I like going on those kind of adventures.
Let's talk about "House Music All Night Long." Speaking of double meanings, it's a song about house music but also sort of about being housebound, like stuck at home, right?
Yeah. Home Alone. Like Macaulay Culkin all grown up.
Hopefully no home intruders.
No. Yes, that is exactly the thing. It's a fairly obvious play on words, I guess, but it came from the way that the song was written, really. I was alone in a house during the summer and kind of feeling a bit sorry for myself. Some friends had gone to a rave in Wales, and I kind of was a bit jealous of that, and I was just in this house. Everybody I knew was out of town. It was really hot. I was thinking I should be doing something really exciting in this hot weather but there was no one to do anything exciting with, so I felt slightly sorry for myself. And then I remembered that I'd recently bought this kind of old keyboard called an Elka Rhapsody. I'd bought it in a street market, and it was down in the cellar. So I went and got the keyboard and set it up in the living room and started playing and came up with the kind of chord sequence that the song is based round.
So when it came to writing the words... I was very excited when I came up with the first change because that seemed to remind me of one of those kind of house classics like, say, "Promised Land" or whatever. Joe Smooth. A lot of those early house records would be using quite synthetic strings and piano sounds, but they were really going for a kind of an anthemic thing, and I always liked that about those early house records that they're going for big emotions, but they're using really, often, quite low-grade technology. So when I got that first change I thought, that's got that same kind of feeling to it. So immediately I thought of house music, and then I guess just because I was alone in a house at the time, the thing about, okay, house music, but house music like stuck in a house, listening to the sound of water in the pipes or the creak of the floorboards. And once I'd made that connection, then the song was kind of pretty much written.
But it's not really about you trying to make your own rave in your own house by playing some old records....
No, I did! I did kind of make my own rave in a way because I wrote this tune and I got excited about it. Music's full of that a lot of the time. That's the great thing about it, that it can transport you out of a state of mind or it can take you somewhere else. And that's what I love about it. And also, music with vocals, you feel like you have a conversation with the person who's singing and that's... to be in a room and have a conversation in your mind with David Bowie or with Lee Hazlewood or somebody, that's an amazing thing.
And you directed the video, too.
My background in film making is that... it's kind of closely entwined with house music, actually. So I left Sheffield in 1988 to study fine art filmmaking at St. Martin's School of Art, and at that point where I moved to London, that was when the acid house rave scene was getting going. There were places out in abandoned warehouses, and so I started going to those places. That was a really massive, formative experience for me. Also because I was at college and had access to equipment, some friends of mine who had started a label called Warp, for some of the first releases on Warp, they said, "Well, will you make some videos?" So I did a video for Aphex Twin and Nightmares on Wax and Sweet Exorcist. So they're kind of early... they were around '89, '90 or something like that. I have to say, mainly they used me because I was cheap because I was at college, so I could use the equipment for free.
But when it came to this song and making a video, I guess I thought, "Well, why don't I just try and do that again?" Try and make a clip in that same kind of slightly homemade way. And obviously technology has moved on a bit since... I was editing on tape back in those days, now, it's kind of more convenient to do it on a computer. But I tried to approach it in the same way as I would have done back then and hopefully the kind of look of it and the feel of it harks back to that.
Lots of silhouettes.
Lots of silhouettes.
Classic. The dance music element is really strong on this whole album.
That's on purpose, yeah. I think people talk a lot about what is happening in the music world. Streaming surrounds us. Any shop you go in will probably have music, any bar, any restaurant there'll be a playlist going on. But one place where music still has a kind of primary function rather than just providing a kind of background noise, is in a nightclub. And also people react to it in an instinctive way, not a thought-out way. So people either dance to a song or they don't. So there still feels like something kind of pure about that. So I thought it seemed natural to want to work in that field. And I guess, also, because I have spent quite a lot of time during this last decade DJing and a lot of the people that I know in the music business are more from that end of things. So it just felt like a natural thing to do, really.
"Sometimes I Am Pharaoh" feels... I can really imagine that being played live at a rave or something, and it's got those sort of builds and when you do the "jump!" part, that feels very...
The structure of that song, for sure, would never have ended up like that if it hadn't been played live first, because it's kind of structured to catch the audience off-guard. And generally, in the shows that we've done so far, we start with that song and it kinds of frightens some people. But that's good.
That's also sort of what the song's a little bit about, right? I mean, I'm curious about the conception, at least lyrically, of that one. There's a lot going on, statues, God...
Okay. Well, that one... I live sometimes in Paris. My son, his mum is French, and he's educated in Paris and when he was a lot younger... The bit of Paris I live in is quite near to the Sacré-Cœur cathedral. It's up on a hill and sometimes I would push him up there in a stroller. Like in a lot of places in the world, religious places, now, are really tourist attractions. They certainly feel like they're more tourist attractions than they are spiritual places and you get kind of crowds of people hanging around taking pictures of them looking at them. I went into Sacré-Cœur this one time because I like going to churches because they're quiet. Even a church like that which has got a lot of through-traffic of tourists, people generally will be quiet in a church.
So I'll go and sit there, and I like the stained glass especially when the sun is shining through it and you get nice patterns on the floor and stuff. And I was sat in the church this one time and a woman was sitting next to me and she just started talking to me. And that's the incident that's described in the middle of the song. So there's a big sign up in Sacré-Cœur that says no photography and she said, "I took a photograph." And I said, "Oh, okay." And she said, "I'm really worried now. I've sinned in this sacred place." And I said, "Well, I don't think anybody would have seen you do it." And she said, "But God saw me do it, maybe." I wasn't really taking the conversation that seriously, but I said, "Well, He probably had some other things to look at rather than you taking a picture in Sacré-Cœur." And then she said, "Well, maybe it's like a speed camera." And I said, "I don't quite follow you." And she said, "Well, a speed camera, you drive, and the speed camera automatically takes a picture and then you just get a fine in the mail three weeks later. And maybe God's like that. He's not watching actively but if you sin, it's registered somewhere."
So I couldn't deny the logic of what she was saying, so I said, "Okay. Well, if you think that, you're in a church so maybe this would be the place to ask for forgiveness." And then she did start to cry. So then I felt really guilty. She obviously... it was something that was causing her some distress. Anyway, that's what the middle bit of that song is all about. I'm not placing myself above other people by saying churches are tourist places because I go to look at them. Like I say, although I've not got a deep particular faith, I do believe there's a spiritual dimension to life. Or at least I want to believe there's a spiritual dimension to life because I think that enriches life a lot. So I do go and visit places, and I do get something from being in those places.
But you do sometimes come across things like that where people are taking it very literally. Another thing that didn't make it into that song was, I was in a church in Italy and there was this guy and he had this crucifix and he was just holding it up to this statue of Jesus. Just really pointing it at it. And, to me, it looked like he was trying to charge it. You know if you were trying to do contactless charging of your phone? You put them on those things. It was like he was trying to load it up with spiritual energy by holding it up to this giant effigy of Jesus. That was an image that stayed with me, and I was going to maybe put that, but the song was already too long, so I didn't use it.
I wasn't sure whether it was actually statues or like those people in Times Square or on Sunset Strip or maybe Piccadilly Circus...
Well, that's the other element of that song. I don't want to... well, I may as well, we've started discussing it now. So, spoiler alert, the kind of idea of that song is that it's sung from the point of view of one of these human statue guys or women. Because that's the other thing you tend to see when you go to famous buildings, is there'll be somebody dressed as a Pharaoh or dressed as Charlie Chaplin or in some kind of all-silver robe or outfit or something and they'll be in a pose and then suddenly they move, and everybody jumps.
And I don't know, because in the aftermath of some of the attacks that have happened over the last few years, they tend to take place in places where people congregate. Often tourist kind of destinations. So that idea of an entertainment that's based on a sudden surprise, for me, I think it felt like that had taken on a much more sinister edge of it being this playful thing and then everybody kind of screams. But some pretty atrocious things have happened in those places, so I guess it just made some connection in my mind. So I got this idea to write the song from the point of view of the human statue.
I just wonder what goes on in those people's minds because to stand still for a living, that's a strange way to make your living, isn't it? So because we were starting the concerts with this song, I thought wouldn't it be great to get some human statues actually to be onstage with us. But that proved to be quite difficult because I went down to the south bank of The Thames where you get a few of those guys, and I went up this guy, he was like a kind of silver robot with... he kind of cut some water bottles to make bits of his costume. It was quite impressive. And I went up to him, and I said, "I know you can't answer me because you're a statue, but I'd like to see if you were interested in performing with the band that I'm in. I'm going to give you this coin, but I'm also going to give you this piece of paper which has got my phone number on it so please, when you finish work this evening, give me a call." Put the stuff in his box. Didn't hear anything.
So I went down again in another couple of weeks. So silver guy was still there. I tried again. But there was a guy who hadn't been there before who was kind of in this suit with kind of diagonal stripes, but then it carried on onto his face as well. So I did the same spiel to him, and I got an email the next day. And so he's a guy called Kat, with a K, and he has performed with us a couple of times. And he's actually from America. I can't remember which bit of America he's from. But I think he started off in experimental theater and has ended up as a statue. But he's an interesting guy.
In addition to the songs off of your new record, you've been playing a few older Pulp and solo songs live, and one that's been a constant is "Running The World," which seems like it's never going to exit the zeitgeist.
There was a campaign in December in the UK to get it back in the charts and make it the #1 single during Christmas week
Yeah. I was doing an event in London on the 14th of December and a woman came up to me at that and said, "We've started this campaign to try and get 'Running The World' to number one for Christmas." And I kind of thought, well, for a start, it's only 10 days till Christmas, so it's a bit late or whatever. But I didn't, I don't know, I just didn't particularly take it seriously. I said, "Well, thanks. That's a nice idea." I should point out, it was right after there had been an election in the UK so that was the end of any socialist dreams in the UK and Boris Johnson came to power so a lot of people on the left side of politics... or just general people, especially people who I knew were really crestfallen and kind of depressed. Basically, they'd latched onto that song as some way of venting that frustration and anger. So I was touched by that because that song's an old song. It's like 14 years old or something.
And they did pretty well. It gained quite a lot of traction and got in the charts, and we still don't know... I decided that I should donate any money that was raised from that to Shelter which is a homeless charity. Because the thing that I was doing when I first found out about it was for a homeless charity, so it seemed appropriate. So we still don't know how much money has been raised by that, but it will have raised some money. So it did some good. And I say it's kind of sad that that song still seems to be quite appropriate for the times we live in. When we played it here in the States, we changed the words, actually, because it's got a really rude word in it and that rude word that begins with a "C."
It has a different meaning in the UK than over here.
Yes. In the UK that's just a general insult to a man, a woman, anybody you don't like, you use that. It became clear to me when we were playing here in the States, that it is much more gender-specific and aimed at women. So I wasn't comfortable with that, so we changed it to "pricks are still running the world," which is more appropriate. So we probably will continue doing that when we play the song over here.
In other subjects, you cover Christophe's "Aline," in the trailer for The French Dispatch. This is your second time working with Wes Anderson, as you were animated in The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Can you speak to what involvement you may have with this new movie?
I'm probably not allowed to tell you too much about it because all that people know about it is the trailer.
I think most people don't even know it's you.
Well, I think I'm not spoiling things if I tell you that The French Dispatch, it's like a fictional magazine. Something a bit like The New Yorker or The Paris Review or something like that. And the idea is that this film tells the story of the magazine and also focuses on some kind of famous stories that were featured in the magazine over its history. And one of those stories, the one that the song is involved in, is kind of set around the time of the Paris '68 when there were those student riots and stuff like that. So the song, "Aline," was a hit back in the 60s for this French singer called Christophe, and Wes has always liked that song, and he just asked if I would consider doing a version of it. So we did it.
It's all the JARV IS... band playing on that and then we went in one day to AIR Studios in London and added all the kind of orchestral bits and stuff. Wes, I think the way that he makes films is almost like making music. He really maps out... he will kind of edit to a tempo and the way he kind of places dialogue because there's always a lot of voiceover and stuff like that, he really constructs scenes in quite a musical way, and he was very involved in how that song turned out as well.
You're not in the film.
I'm not in the film, physically, but I kind of feature in a certain way. But I've said too much already. Oh, my God.
And he lives in Paris too. Do you guys hang out?
Yeah. I mean, he travels around quite a lot, but when he's in Paris we try to get together, yeah. He's great because he's got kind of an arrangement with a cinema where they'll screen stuff for him, so sometimes he will invite me along, and I've got to see some great movies that I never would have seen without that arrangement.
You had something very exciting happen to you in the last few months. You were a contestant on British game show Catchphrase.
How do you know about that?
Your Instagram. And not only were you a contestant, but you won.
I did. Yeah. Do they have that quiz show over here?
They do not have that exact show, no.
It's weird. See, now that surprises me. So this is a quiz... we should explain for the readers. How it works is that a famous catchphrase is supposed to be suggested through graphic means. So you look at some kind of computer animation and it's supposed to make you think of something like "Sermon on the Mount" or stuff like that. It's a quiz show that's been on TV for a long time. I watched it as a younger person. It used to be on Saturday night. It was hosted by this Irish guy called Roy Walker. And very bad dawn of computer animation. Really bad quality computer graphics, and I was kind of hooked to it. And that's why when I was asked last year if I would be on the celebrity edition of it, I couldn't really turn it down.
Does being a performer and and having a regular gig as a BBC DJ make it easier for you to be a contestant? Or when the camera's on do you still blank out a little bit?
It's like they always say on those quiz shows, it's much harder when you're there with the studio audience and the camera's on. It is harder. Especially with that quiz where you're having to think in a fairly kind of weird free-associated kind of way. You look at these pictures that are supposed to then suggest words. So it was tough. As you say, I did win, but I didn't get right to the end. If you go through to Super Catchphrase, you're then faced with this kind of pyramid thing, and you have to answer one question right to go up to the next row. And I stalled on the next to last row. So I didn't get quite to the top of the pyramid but there you go.
In addition to putting out a record this year, you have a book coming out, titled This Book Is A Song, which, from what I understand, is about the creative process?
Yeah. Well, I've been doing this kind of PowerPoint presentation thing...
Like the one you did at South by Southwest back in 2014?
Yeah. So I've been doing that, I don't know, on and off for 10 years or so now, and it kind of keeps developing, and so I thought, well, maybe I'll try and develop or expand upon certain things within that. So if you saw the thing at South by Southwest, the main contention that I've got is that everyone has that creative potential in them. In fact, everybody's being creative every moment of their life because the way that they see the world... no two people see the world in the same way and that's all due to the different kind of associations that we'll have. So I'm trying to look for, I don't know, all I've got's this mug. [Jarvis holds up his coffee mug.] This isn't really great as a starting point, but...
It's a blank canvas in a way.
Yeah. But what I'm trying to say is, one person might look at this mug and think about their mother. Maybe their mother once was in a real rage with them and threw a mug at the wall and it smashed. Somebody else might have worked in a hotel and had to wash a lot of these mugs or something. Somebody else might be a ceramicist and really look at the mug and think, "Oh, yes, well, this was probably made in a factory in East Germany." Or something like that.
So we'll all look at a simple object, but we'll all have different associations and different stories that we tell ourselves about that object. And that's a creative act. People get in such a flap about creativity. I've sometimes gone and spoken at art colleges, and I attended art school and often the thing people are getting really stressed out about is, how do I find my creative voice? What do I do? Do I need a mentor? Do I need a guru? Whatever. And what I'm trying to say really is, chill, first of all, and you've got it, you've just got to recognize it. You just have to locate it within yourself. So I think it's hopefully a positive message. And the way I try to illustrate that in the book is to pick examples from my own life which I think illustrate it. So it isn't a memoir but just like with the songs, there's always got to be an autobiographical element or there's got to be some incident from my own life that it sparks off some kind of discussion.
Write what you know, as they say.
That's a much pithier and simple way of expressing it. Yes. I tend to waffle. I'm sorry.