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In Conversation and Live Review: Cosmo Jarvis at London Lexington – 20th February 2013

 
By on Friday, 1st March 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Cosmo Jarvis isn’t quite a household name. Yet. The proud author of hundreds of songs, four albums, including a double, and a self-penned, produced and directed feature film, Jarvis’s career trajectory is slowly but surely upwards. Anyone familiar with his work will be aware of the heart-on-sleeve autobiographical nature of many of his songs, along with a powerful ability to tell an engaging and thought-provoking story. TGTF was lucky enough to be able to catch a few words with the man himself before the gig, which we will come to in a moment. But what of the gig itself? There’s no polite way to say this – from his hooded lids to gently shuffling demeanour, Jarvis appears a bit stoned. The band is mostly electric tonight, so the more delicate arrangements are abandoned for a faster, barer approach.

Favourite ‘Love This’ is rushed through in the first couple of songs, and the fear is that some more subtle moments might be lost in the mayhem. But as Jarvis becomes more comfortable with the limelight, things settle down, and the set broadens out into a fine run through of Jarvis’s best moments so far. He’s clearly a fine guitarist, the voice sounds big and powerful, and I’m reliably informed that the man himself is considered to be very attractive to the opposite sex… or to the same sex, for that matter. In a welcome contrast to the modest sets becoming all too commonplace, he kicks on for well over 90 minutes, with little pause. When there is a break in the set, the shout of “Look at the sky!” is rewarded with a rendition of that very song. As a new Jarvis composition, and with the potential to be a true breakthrough track, it bears mention here. A wide-eyed ballad, with a loping, downtempo feel, Jarvis breaks out his finest Transatlantic accent and emotes like his life depended on it, which in a way it does. It’s got great commercial potential, but still contains a gently sardonic lyric, even when it on the surface it’s a love song. Great stuff.

Inevitably the set ends with ‘Gay Pirates’, but there’s few songs which could bring a set to a close so well and with such a final crescendo. There’s such a breadth to the material on offer here tonight, the audience are left with a feeling of tired sufficiency, which of course is a fine excuse to head downstairs to the bar and mull things over with a few pints of imported lager. Milling around in the bar afterwards are Jarvis’s cohorts Dave Egan and Tom Hannaford, co-stars in The Naughty Room, deputising as roadies, merch stand guys, and whatever other tasks they can perform to keep the Cosmo show running. There is the sense that this is a little family business, running on goodwill and a shoestring budget, the absolute opposite of the big corporate shindig going on across town. And all the better for it in terms of credibility.

Before the show, TGTF had a quick chat with Jarvis. He comes across as lucid, easy-going, and utterly candid, with no hesitation in answering some of the more personal questions put to him. This is how it went:

Why do you make the music you do?
I didn’t really try anything else. Music was always the thing. I felt a need to make pieces which were thorough and credible in themselves, and which had to have a good reason to be made in the first place – be that a message, or a story, or a moral argument the audience was supposed to take away from the song. It’s very easy to make a three-minute song that’s just a throwaway description of something. I like proper ideas, fictional stories that are pieced together into a rhyming narrative.

Such as ‘Love This’, where you take on God?
He pisses me off a little bit sometimes. What I find incomprehensible is that some people are incapable of seeing the truth of the point of view expressed within that song. I find the fact that they refuse to consider the fact that their belief may be false more frustrating than the belief in itself. For me it wouldn’t be a lack of faith that would stop me believing, it would be my realising something else; rational thought if you will. Good [not God] isn’t necessary for anything other than our own well-being. Things will still live and die and nobody cares if that happens. We are clearly the ones that need good to be around – to prevent genocide or whatever. So we should be the ones to globalise its necessity, rather than localising it to a God, a God that will limit us in other ways. ‘It was meant to be,’ they always say. Unbelievable.

What’s it like growing up in Devon? You can hear the Southwest influence in your music.
Living in Devon, you’re automatically at a disadvantage if you want to do anything: it’s isolated, and not just geographically. If you’re from there, it doesn’t have a lot going for it. People don’t realise that there are real regular human beings living in the beautiful place of Devon – it’s not all sheep and fields. If you’re skint in Devon, it’s worse than if you’re skint anywhere else. At least in a city there’s things to do, there’s options – all there is in Devon is the pub.

That aspect of Plymouth is pretty well documented in ‘The Naughty Room’.
All the guys in the film, like Dave Egan who plays Subaru, are from Devon; they improvise around the lines that I write, so what you hear is a true reflection of Devon culture. I’m working on next movie with him as well – it’s called Abandonhope, a black comedy about a really vile metal band from Plymouth, who are really skilled at what they do, but they’re making music that doesn’t really need to be made, and that’s what the rest of the world seems to think about them. It’s really about competing with your father’s success, and escaping becoming your father yourself. The character Howard’s father used to be a big metal-head in the ‘80s, but he’s now heavily into drugs, and they play out a stubborn relationship and uncompromising view when it comes to the art of metal, which is their downfall. It’s about realising that you can escape the fate of turning out how your parents wanted you to.

Which brings us to the topic of parents. If I may say, there’s an Oedipal aspect to ‘The Naughty Room’…
I had a very, very weird upbringing. That’s where it comes from, definitely. I try not to let it manifest itself too much in Lars von Trier-like depictions of personal fantasies, but many of the wider viewpoints the story needs to exist, the opinionated philosophies of the film, are because of my background.

But your upbringing doesn’t seem to have held you back – you’re taking inspiration from it…
It’s only bad if you’re very traditional and you go by what society expects your relationship with your parents to be – and I happened to grow up comfortably deviating from that. But at the same time I learned very useful things from people who weren’t my family, and I saw early on that parents are very flawed human beings, with fucked-up heads, agendas, and things they can’t say to you because they’re afraid of how you’ll see them… And to a certain extent you have to take them at face value… until they snuff it! They’re proud of what I’m doing, but it’s still a weird relationship.

Do you feel mainstream?
Fuck, no.

Do you want to be?
No. Definitely not. Not any more, not after I heard Ludacris confirming what I suspected about the music industry, they whole soundvertising thing, where these girls will be sponsored by soft drinks companies to make music. Professor Green’s got his big advert doing the same thing. With that comes the death of artistic integrity, which is the part I’m dreading. All along the way, I was constantly advised to do the right “business” thing, to change my approach and not piss off Radio1, rather than do what I thought was right for my music at the time. [Presumably a reference to the Radio 1 ban on potential breakthrough single ‘Gay Pirates’ for using the phrase “gang rape”.]

It would be good for the mainstream to at least acknowledge my shit. But I don’t want to be ass-kissed like they ass-kiss Ben Howard.

After which TGTF went off on a tangent asking questions about the technicalities of guitar technique which are far too dull to be repeated here. So let’s just let that last, pertinent answer hang in the air for a second: “I don’t want to be ass-kissed like they ass-kiss Ben Howard.” As fate would have it, two important live shows were happening in London that night, and the other one was the Brit Awards. Indeed, it’s quite possible that Ben Howard was collecting his second Brit of the evening just as Cosmo Jarvis was invoking his name. The comparison between the two artists is entirely appropriate. Both are roughly the same age. Both are from pretty much the same place in Devon. Both are acoustic-y singer-songwriters. The figures are entirely in Howard’s favour – his only full-length album reached number four in the UK, whereas none of Jarvis’ four albums have troubled the charts.

Jarvis boasts a decent 1.5-million views of ‘Gay Pirates’, but Howard dwarfs that with 8 million views even of his pointless cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’, and similar figures for his own material. Howard makes music for coffee tables bought from Next, Jarvis’s voice sounds like he’s just about to cough up a coffee table. Howard makes music that’s as inoffensive as a pint of milk, Jarvis releases a single that questions the very existence of God and then offers to take him for a cup of something Fairtrade. Jarvis releases 9-minute epics featuring stream-of-consciousness questionings of his own sanity, Howard releases safe, four-minute dirges which endlessly repeat the same tired platitudes. Howard is a poster-boy for bland, safe, pointless, unit-shifting music for people who know no better, who have never been exposed to anything more exciting than Pinot Grigio and oven chips, and probably don’t want to be.

Jarvis is an unashamed British eccentric-savant, encapsulating the true meaning and heritage of folk music, executed in a range of different musical and visual forms – imagine Bob Dylan brought up in Devon with an always-on internet connection. Howard spent Wednesday night supping champagne and being photographed by the world’s media; Jarvis spent it slightly stoned, in front of a rapt crowd in a north London pub, being photographed by TGTF. Howard has two Brits, Jarvis has none, and even though that’s the way it should be, it says everything you need to know about the cynicism of the pop music machine as expressed through the prism of mainstream media. One final comparison: Jarvis will still be making music in 10 years’ time, and probably for the rest of his life… but Howard? I’m not so sure.

 

Album Review: Cosmo Jarvis – Think Bigger

 
By on Friday, 3rd August 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Is there one word that sums up the Internet? Freedom? Individuality? Sleaze? The true answer is Meme. The speed at which intellectual concepts, especially base ones, can conceive and proliferate within the internet’s hive mind is beyond anything ever seen in the history of mankind. A few hundred years ago, people died before their ideas were well-known, let alone became famous for having them in the first place. The meme is halfway around the world before basic fact has even got its boots on. In its true sense, a meme is a weightless concept, something which exists both in the mind of the observer, and in the unseen, microscopic logic circuits of the boundless technological brain which we have both built and moulded ourselves into its bland conceit.

A freshly-manufactured computer, just like a newborn baby, is a knowledge vacuum. Both contain practically infinite capacity for storage of new information; both have the means to absorb said information via a number of sensory addenda. Both have carers, whose prime motivation is to fill their charges with a steady flow of fresh stimulation. And both can and will react to this new information in subtle ways, unthought of, and often unwelcomed, by their creators.

Cosmo Jarvis is of an age which means he has matured in parallel with the Internet. He has been able to take for granted its capacity for instant receipt and dissemination of information. There is no thought in his mind which cannot be realised, recorded, and immediately distributed to the world using the wonders of cheaply-available technology. There are those, like this author, who are just that little bit old to be able to be motivated by the advantage of today’s instant movement of information. There are those, like Bill Bryson, who choose not to engage at all, supposing correctly that their talent lies in long-form prose and personal charm; more suited to being presented within the quiet dignity of a paper book or face-to-face than in fleeting pixels.

Given the opportunities afforded by the Internet, individuals can propagate themselves via their creative output, and their notoriety will spread, or not, depending on the relevance of their work, and how well it is promoted. In the online world, people themselves, or at least their online doppelganger, become memes – amongst myriad other Twitter and YouTube celebrities, Cosmo Jarvis is one such character. The difference is, rather than being known for propagating controversial, offensive, or simply vacuous pearls of “twit”ter, Jarvis has actually been uploading pretty decent audiovisual art. He’s been releasing YouTube shorts since his early teens, making the break into music with 2009’s sprawling double ‘Humasyouhitch/Sonofabitch’, and 2011’s ‘Is the World Strange or Am I Strange?’, which contained Jarvis’ high-water mark so far, the million hits-worthy video for ‘Gay Pirates’, an impressive single-take amateur production which acts out the song’s themes. Not everyone thought this a worthy song however, with NME perfunctorily dismissing the whole affair with a 1/10 review, leading to a brilliant online spat between creator and reviewer. 2012 sees the release of ‘Think Bigger’, a collection apparently designed to hang together better as a piece, taming the magpie tendencies of previous work; somehow I doubt NME will be listening to it.

First track and lead-off single ‘Love This’ (acoustic version here) is a bullish, one-sided conversation between a religious sceptic and his doubted God. Featuring a number of superb couplets detailing the logical fallacy of a controlling deity (“How come every man ain’t good? / If it happened overnight would you retire if you could?”). A decent piece of investigative philosophy with a downright catchy chorus, some nice strings, and a superbly humourous one-take video, with Jarvis cast as an arrogantly strutting Devil-child. This is a much more thoughtful debate on the religious question than the burgeoning militant anti-religious (particularly anti-Christian) fervour which currently infests large parts of social media.

‘Train Downtown’ is more complex and no less intriguing, with its talk of leaving a package on a train. What could the package be? Classified documents? A bomb? Elsewhere the lyrics dwell on the surveillance society, and the relationship between a working man and his family. Serious stuff. Musically, there’s a string section, and an electric guitar interlude worthy of the finest early-90s funk-metal shredders. Quite the standout track.

‘Tell Me Who to Be’ is a decent concept in a bland wrapper and a mis-step as the all-important third track on an album. Let’s pretend it isn’t there. As if to prove the inextricable link ‘twixt performer and technology, ‘Lacie’ is a beautiful love song… to his desktop hard disk. Possibly not the very first romantic ode to a piece of computer hardware, but surely one of the most well-expressed (“I burden you with dreams / I can’t hold ‘em all so you’re splitting at the seams”), and could almost be mistaken for a song about a human companion.

CP/M
I used to love you CP/M
Screens were small and green back then
I spoke your language
CP/M

Then I found another boss
Who looked like you, our paths did cross
Twixt friends of friends
MS-DOS

But even still one heard of those
Whose brains could not decipher code
Instead they chose
Windows

And that was it, and there I stayed
Through thick and thin, multi-paned
Endlessly upgrade
Thanks, Gates

Figure 1. A demonstration of the difficulty of artfully expressing technological sentiment

Elsewhere, the album touches on country-rock (a cover of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Friend of the Devil’), suicide-tinged balladry (‘Hopeless Bay’), and upbeat optimism (‘Think Bigger’). What’s notable in this collection is that despite the range of themes and musical styles, there is a singular storytelling voice at its heart. Jarvis is a polymath, a talented musician with a parallel love for the moving image, especially if it has him in it. His prolific output inevitably leads some to concentrate on weaker material and dismiss him as a talentless chancer. But he is blessed with a fine ear for a catchy melody, intriguing lyrical content, and excellent musicianship.

Some of the greatest musicians of our time (Bob Dylan, Neil Young) are known for their prolific, variously-styled releases, not all of which are classics. Jarvis shares this attribute. He’s unlikely ever to be a darling of the media – he appears to eschew trends, and espouses an independent worldview largely incompatible with the cosy unwritten agreements between trendy bands and fawning media which all too often value presentation over musical substance. I imagine this suits Jarvis just fine; he has a burgeoning fanbase already, and as this release shows, his musical output is increasing in both quality and consistency, not to mention the imminent release of his oddly-plotted debut feature film The Naughty Room (trailer below). This particular meme has a lot further to run.

7.5/10

Cosmo Jarvis’ ‘Think Bigger’ album is available now from 25the Frame Productions.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjAvrrm4rh4[/youtube]

 

Live Gig Video: Cosmo Jarvis performs an acoustic version of ‘Love This’

 
By on Monday, 2nd July 2012 at 4:00 pm
 

Can’t get enough of the uber talented Cosmo Jarvis? Here is a video of what we’re guessing is his front room (?), playing a stripped back version of his single ‘Love This’, out today. Watch it below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mqQXMbPHNQ[/youtube]

 

Video of the Moment #829: Cosmo Jarvis

 
By on Tuesday, 5th June 2012 at 10:00 am
 

Somehow I don’t think Cosmo Jarvis sleeps. he seems to be constantly writing and putting out new music and videos. The latest from him, in the form of single ‘Love This’, he describes like this:

It’s basically about doing what ever suits you best even if if means alienating yourself from a demographic that is widely recognized as being ‘good’ or ‘normal’. It’s about ‘if it works, use it’.

It’s also about the importance of re-assessing moral values and measurements in a time where older values are not just irrelevant to the way that people operate, but potentially harmful to society. The ideal standard of ‘good’ is no longer achievable and so people should no longer be measured relative to that scale.

Got all that? Good. Then watch the humourous promo video that goes with the song below. The single for ‘Love This’ drops on the 2nd of July.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG-vPi1W_cs[/youtube]

 

Video of the Moment #615: Cosmo Jarvis

 
By on Saturday, 29th October 2011 at 10:00 am
 

Cosmo Jarvis released his new album ‘Is the World Strange or Am I Strange’ earlier this month. Up next for him is ‘She Doesn’t Mind’, a new single out on the 20th of November. There’s always a bit of humour in Cosmo’s videos, and this promo will make you laugh.

You can grab the song for free from this previous MP3 of the Day post.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/30212925[/vimeo]

 

MP3 of the Day #396: Cosmo Jarvis

 
By on Thursday, 8th September 2011 at 10:00 am
 

Cosmo Jarvis‘ new one is called ‘She Doesn’t Mind’. It’s a funky, if slow number and RCRD LBL is giving it away. How great is that? Listen to it and download it below.

His second album, entitled ‘Is the World Strange or Am I Strange’, will be released in early October.

 
 
 

About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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