By Kimberly Chun
Jarvis Cocker -- an endless source of compelling ruminations. Did you ever imagine it to be any different? More from a talk with the ex-Pulp pasha (for the other choice tidbits, see this week’s Sonic Reducer), right before he was about to get on a train and embark on a holiday with his young son -- and while I was being driven very speedily through the streets of San Francisco.
SFBG: So your new record, Further Complications [(Rough Trade)] -- how was the making of it different from your first solo album [Jarvis (Rough Trade, 2007)]?
Jarvis Cocker: Well I felt fairly prepared for this record -- we played the songs to other human beings. We played them live. There were only two songs that were recorded that we hadn’t played live, so I really wanted to capture the songs.
SFBG: Are the songs particularly personal, reflect your life?
JC: They are reflective of that. I write songs about personal things and songs that I use to make sense of what’s going on in life. I use parts of my experience in them, which is kind of a dangerous thing to do. But I hope to make something that can be amusing but still have some emotional content. For me songs have to have emotional content.
SFBG: Some songwriters say that’s dangerous -- that they can become emotional detached after performing a song night after night.
JC: You have to be careful -- that can be disturbing, yeah. It’s like there’s an element of performance always when you do songs. It’s weird when you’re in the studio as well -- sometimes you can go in and sing the song and say. “Yeah, I nailed that. I sang that with such honesty and emotion.” And you go back into control room and listen to it and think, that’s awful, Jesus Christ.
That’s the most frustrating thing about it -- it’s very slippery. You can never establish a modus operandi when you do it. You can record something and then listen to it and think, Jesus Christ, that’s a pile of shit. It can really do your head in.
But then there are also the moments when you hear a song you really like and you have to park your car by the side of the road. When it works, it gets you. It’s kind of what makes it by nature slippery -- the uncertainty -- worth going for, when by chance you get it right. That magic. And we all need a bit of magic in our lives, don’t we?
SFBG: There’s a line in the song, “Further Complications,” that goes, “You wanna suffer, go to a rock show” -- is that how you feel about rock shows at this point?
JC: We’re a generation that didn’t have to go and fight in a war and because of things like that people, in some ways, invent problems for themselves. Human beings need challenges. So it’s not “How do I stay alive in the killing fields of Cambodia?” but “How do I survive Lollapalooza?”
SFBG: So I have to ask about Michael Jackson and your interaction with him at the BRIT Awards way back when  ...?
JC: I didn’t want it to be the defining moment of my career -- that I once went on the same stage as Michael Jackson. I got all these requests to say something after he died. I avoided them because -- I don’t know -- I’d think that if, as soon as he died, I leapt on it and shot my mouth off, it would be a bit hypocritical of me.
SFBG: Well, speaking of the King of Pop, people do look to you as a representative of the Britpop movement -- do you have any feelings or thoughts now about pop?
JC: I think the way pop music, in the way, existed when I was younger, doesn’t anymore. I spoke to Steve Albini [who recorded Further Complications] quite a lot about it when we were recording the record. He couldn’t understand the British obsession with pop music. He’d put on a strange Cockney accent whenever he’d talk about it.
I guess the whole idea of being in a pop band in the states is ridiculous because in America for such a long time it’s been Miley Cyrus, while for a long time the pop scene in the UK was quite interesting. You’d get off-the-wall records on the charts because it was a small country, and the pop charts was something to take interest in. Punk records got onto charts, whereas in America maybe because the mainstream is so commercialized, things need to go underground to survive. So you’ve got a much stronger, more seasoned alternative culture. I can see why it exists.
We were in Chicago for three weeks recording the record -- and I guess the analogy is with food: if you ate in mainstream food outlets, you’d just become very ill, very quickly. You can’t survive in the mainstream. It’s almost like it’s toxic. So it’s a necessary thing to have this underground grow up in the states.
I guess that’s what’s interesting about the Britpop explosion -- that was what was considered indie music and it started getting onto the national charts, and that for whatever reason it was a big deal. It seemed like a big deal, like a cultural change would happen -- and it didn’t really happen. And I think the idea of pop music being interesting and challenging has kind of disappeared, so I guess we’re closer to American thing.
I’ve kind of mourned the passing of that. Rather than things being ghettoized, I think it’s better to make things better for everyone rather than the few. I like the fact that pop music was unashamedly commercial -- but because it was national, it could have quite profound effects of society on the whole.
SFBG: On another note, what is your songwriting process like, I wonder?
JC: I don’t know -- I have no idea. I try to write about the distasteful thoughts that go through my head, but I hope... I’m a human being, so I hope that somebody can recognize something of themselves in it. It’s my attempt to communicate with people, I suppose. Which is difficult -- you can’t, really. You chuck stuff off out there. But with this record, I wanted it to be entertaining, not just me using it as a cathartic way of getting things off my chest. i did want it to be something for people to jump around to.
I don’t know, it’s all a bit random. But I like the random aspect of it. You do your thing and you hope it strikes chord.
SFBG: Why Further Complications?
JC: For me it’s a fairly light-hearted title. You might think you’ve got life worked out, but there will always be a further complication. But really you should just kind of accept that. I think if you’ve got everything worked out totally, then life becomes incredibly dull or you would just die.
In a nice way life is about the struggle. It doesn’t have to be a negative thing. I think it has to do with people being hung up on destinations, but rather than being hung up on destinations, you have to appreciate the journey bit of it, which sounds like a hippie thing to say. Everyone says, “If I get this or get this job, everything will fall into place.” I don’t think it has to get you down.
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