by Chris Familton
Jarvis Cocker, that postmodern man for all seasons, is on the line from his apartment in Paris where a pneumatic drill is piercing the early morning calm. Seemingly shutting out the distraction, Cocker maintains his dry and considered Sheffield drawl and proceeds to discuss the merits of what makes a great song and dispel the impact his recent divorce had on his new album Further Complications.
The album in question sees Cocker approaching mid life with his trademark wit and wordplay that cuts to the essence of his songs more directly than you first realise. Employing Steve Albini to engineer and produce the record raised a few eyebrows but his influence on the rockier sound of the songs is a misguided one refutes Cocker. “Its kind of ironic because his whole ethos is a very hands off attitude where he says ‘you set up, you play your song and I’ll record it’. I realised that was the way he worked so I knew that if we went back to record the whole album with him we would have to have the songs worked out because he wasn’t going to help us work them out and he wasn’t going to sprinkle fairy dust on them to make them sound good.”
Rewinding a few months; Cocker and his band had already done a trial session with Albini to test whether the partnership would work. “We’d played the Pitchfork festival in Chicago in July of last year and whilst we were there we did a couple of days in the studio with him. I didn’t know he had a studio there but Steve and Ross in the band who are also our producers did know that and suggested it. We went in and I realised from that I enjoyed working with him,” says Cocker.
Cocker is primarily viewed as a frontman and lyricist yet he is keen to point out that he plays an important part in the music that forms his songs, even though he tends to stick to vocal duties on stage. “I play in the studio and I write on the guitar and the piano but when its live I get too carried away with the performing really, I like the fact I can roam around. I do occasionally play the guitar on stage and when we come down to do the tour I probably will play the guitar on a few songs. Whilst I still have mobility I’d like to make the most of it!” he chuckles.
Alongside Morrissey, Cocker stands as one of England’s strongest lyricists of the past few decades and so it seems prudent to get an insight into who his influence were as he began to pen songs. “One of the earliest ones I was introduced to was Leonard Cohen. In fact the first album that Pulp did was kind of a direct rip off of the way he put songs together,” he admits. “I suppose I always thought Lou Reed was underrated as a lyricist because the Velvet Underground were so influential musically. You take a song like Heroin that 40 years later is still a shockingly stark and matter of fact examination of drug taking and stuff like that. What I realised when I studied what I liked about lyrics was what I term as inappropriate subject matter. By that I mean subject matter for a song that isn’t obvious subject matter for a song,” Cocker says.
Expanding on the role of words in music Cocker opines that “Lyrics aren’t essential to popular music. There are plenty of songs that are very popular and mean a lot to people where the lyrics are mediocre or corny. They still work as songs. When you get great lyrics as well as good music I think that takes the song onto a different level and those songs last longer.”
Themes on Further Complications and the fact that Cocker divorced his wife earlier this year have led many to make the claim that it is a break up album, referencing and resulting from the end of his marriage. Cocker though is quick to dispel these easy conclusions. “The thing is that the break-up in question had happened a year and a half before I made the record, I just didn’t advertise the fact,” he states, before conceding “I don’t know… the songs are always autobiographical. Its a difficult thing because when it is something pretty traumatic and sad like that it feels cheap to use that sort of thing. This is the thing that all people who writes songs have to deal with. How much do you exploit your own life for your subject matter.”
For songs to mean something for me they have to be a bit autobiographical but I don’t think I’ve really delved into that particular event. I suppose it makes a neat story when you do an album thats got those kinds of things and you split up but if any of the stuff to do with that comes out in songs I think it will be quite a few years down the line to be honest,” says Cocker.
He goes on to explain how the break-up theme has tainted what he sees as a a humourous record. “The unfortunate thing is that I think of this record as being quite light and playful record and the fact that that bit of information came out when the record was being released meant that the media people think this is a breakup album, this is serious and that was a bit unfortunate really. I’m not saying it is a joke album but it was conceived with a slightly playful attitude,” he says.
For now Cocker is putting his feet up after a summer of festival appearances and preparing for the premiere of The Fantastic Mr Fox film (in which he voices a character based on himself) before heading down to Australia for a run of dates. It seems that although he has indeed encountered some further complications in recent times he remains positive about the world of Jarvis Cocker, “I cannot complain” he states boldly before heading off into the autumnal streets of Paris.
this interview first appeared on FasterLouder