Sunday, December 3, 2023

How Leonard Cohen transformed the art of songwriting for Jarvis Cocker

Over the last 30 years, Jarvis Cocker has made a name for himself as a pioneer of the Britpop movement and one of the biggest names in indie music. The Sheffield-born frontman began Pulp at the age of just 15, but they weren’t to find success until the 1990s Britpop boom. Between genre-defining hits like ‘Common People’ and ‘Disco 2000’, Pulp secured a place as one of the “big four” of Britpop alongside Blur, Oasis and Suede.

Since then, Cocker has also embarked upon a solo career under various monikers, most recently adopting the name Jarv Is. Along the way, he appeared in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as the singer of the fictional band the Weird Sisters, sang an original song for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, and provided a cover of ‘I Can’t Forget’ to a Leonard Cohen tribute film. For the latter, Cocker abandoned his Britpop roots and the experimental arty pop of Jarv Is in favour of Cohen’s classic sound. His deep voice was accompanied by minimal, soft instrumentation.

Cocker’s love for Cohen goes far beyond a cover contribution to a tribute album. The Pulp frontman has adored Cohen since his youth, as he explained in an interview with The Talks. Cocker stated that the ‘Hallelujah’ singer has always been important to him before recalling the transformative experience of listening to him for the first time. He shared, “My first time listening to Leonard Cohen was quite a mind-blowing experience – I guess because of his use of words.”

He continued to explain how Cohen’s lyricism transformed and matured his own songwriting: “His songs were melodic and accessible, but they weren’t trying to be like a pop song. And they were talking about grown-up relationships. And for me that at the moment I listened to him, it was like music grew up; it moved from being an adolescent thing to being a thing that could talk about what it was like to be an adult.”

Cohen’s lyricism has always been heralded for its range and depth of themes – he explored depression, religion, love, and more with great thought and care. This was a “big revelation” to Cocker: “So, sometimes it’s almost like seeing into the future.” He suggests that a phrase or lyric can stick in your mind seemingly without meaning but can become relevant later in life: “And I think that can also work with your own songs.”

Detailing his own songwriting process now, he shared, “I’ve found when I write lyrics, some of it’s thought out, but a lot of it is kind of spontaneous and something that maybe sounds right or feels right to me at the time. And sometimes I’m not always sure what a song means; I just have to know that it feels right to me and feels genuine.”

Though Pulp’s biting lyrics around class tourism and failed romantic endeavours don’t quite channel the poetry of Cohen’s discography, the legendary lyricist taught Cocker the maturity possible in songwriting.

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