The new film about Pulp documents the final day of the 2011-12 reunion tour, as the band prepares to play their home town at Sheffield Motorpoint Arena.
You seemed nervous.
Oh god, yeah. Throughout Pulp's history, the concerts in Sheffield have been the ones you get really worked up about. It's partly to do with that Sheffield attitude: "Ah it's all right" is about the best you can hope for in terms of enthusiasm. People there are not going to be impressed by flashing lights – they're just going to say: "Come on, what are you about really?"
Not all of your Sheffield gigs have gone well.
We've had some disasters. Back in the supposed Britpop glory days, in 1995, after Common People had been a hit, we did a concert in City Hall. It was all set up to be a glorious homecoming, but the sound went bad, and we were DJing at this party afterwards and the records kept skipping. I remember hiding underneath the decks because I couldn't bear it. Yes, Sheffield's always nerve-racking, but luckily on this occasion it worked out OK.
You've been out of Sheffield for 25 years – half your life. Is it still a big part of who you are?
I wonder about this with my own son, because he's [growing up] a bit in France and a bit in England. For me, Sheffield is very important: it's the soil that I grew out of. Even though I've been transplanted to London and other places, Sheffield's where I come from. It can be frustrating sometimes, but it colours the way I view the world. One of the amazing things about the film was seeing all these Sheffield characters I thought had disappeared. The director spent a lot of time in the Castle Market, where I worked as a fishmonger when I was a teenager, and he spoke to some great characters. I didn't know there were still people like that in Sheffield.
Were you happy with how the Pulp reunion turned out?
I think so. It was quite good because we had some distance from the songs and we weren't trying to flog them to people. We spent a lot of time standing in horrible dirty rooms with no heating trying to write songs, flailing around in the dark basically, and somehow in that process we wrote some stuff that still sounds all right. So it was good to realise that we hadn't wasted all our youth – that we'd done something that had a bit of life and energy in it.
In the past few years, as well as making music, you've been presenting a radio show, curating Meltdown, publishing a book of lyrics – and now you're an editor-at-large at Faber. Are many hats better than one?
There's that phrase, isn't there: jack of all trades, master of none. That's one way of putting it. Then other people are like, oh yeah, renaissance man. I don't know, but I do think it can help to vary what you do.
Also, making music can be quite lonely. The great thing about the radio show [Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service on BBC 6 Music] is that it's sociable. You can get people to respond straight away. You have office parties. It's difficult to have an office party when you're writing songs on your own.
Have you actually been to an office party?
Yeah, 6 Music have parties at Christmas and I've been to them. They're good.
In the film, you say that one reason you formed Pulp was because you were shy and wanted to be successful with women. Have your motivations evolved much over the years?
I do think that's a legitimate reason, but I'd like to think that some more noble artistic impulses have come into play in the interim. I was lucky to have David Attenborough on the radio show last year, and doing a bit of research beforehand I came across a really good programme he did called Song of the Earth, which was looking for the roots of music-making in the animal kingdom. He came to the conclusion that all music-making was some form of sexual display for getting a mate. So you can't really get away from that – especially when you're prancing around on a stage. Even though I'm not actively looking for a mate at the moment – I'm happy in a relationship – I think that if you get too far away from that sexual element, you end up with Genesis. Or something. When music becomes completely sexless, that's a sad day for everyone.
What does your role at Faber entail?
I just look for interesting writing and bring it to them, the idea being that I might find things that other people aren't going to know about. One book has come out so far, an oral history of folk culture by JP Bean.
Would you like to write a book?
I would love to, but … It's a mixture of being too lazy and also having been spoilt by writing lyrics. In songs, you can write something that's only a page long and yet it's the whole song. I'm reading the new Dave Eggers book [The Circle] at the moment, which is about 490 pages long. The idea of sustaining something over that length, well, I'm in awe of people who can do it. I'm more like a short-sharp-bursts kind of person.
Has presenting a radio show changed the way you look at music?
That's something I've thought about. The radio show is great because, number one, I've got all these records lying around in the house which in general are considered to be clutter by the people I share my life with. Also, it's great to be sent new music. But there's a danger to it. You get impatient, don't you – you put something on …
And if it doesn't grab you within 20 seconds …
… you skip to the next one. Although it's amazing how many times you can tell if something's good within 20 seconds. Somebody's got a four-bar intro that just goes, dunka-dun-dun, dunka-dun-dun, dunka-dun-dun … You're thinking, why the fuck are you playing that four times, just get on with the song. Hopefully, in my music now, I'm going to avoid that and cut to the chase.
Strip it right back.
I hope so. That's something that always frustrated us in Pulp. We'd write what we thought was a fantastic, concise, witty pop song, and then you'd time it, and it'd be like four minutes 30 seconds. How could that be? We thought we were being really to-the-point. And then you listen to a song like In the Ghetto by Elvis Presley. In my mind that song is 10 minutes long – he paints a picture of a whole world – and when you check it, it's like two minutes 45 seconds. It's mind-blowing. I still don't know how people do that.
With all your different projects, how much energy are you putting into music?
Oh, 100%; 110%. Whether it's to impress girls, or whatever, music is the thing that has become my means of self-expression, so this year I'm taking a break from the radio show to find out if I've got any interesting songs left to write or whether I've written them all.
Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets is out on 6 June. A special live event via satellite link up is in cinemas nationwide 7 June
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