First published on 10 Aug 2012. Updated on 10 Aug 2012.
Cosmo Jarvis is best known for his music, but the hyper-inventive Briton keeps many other hats in circulation. Filmmaker, actor and self-appointed label-head all feature equally on his résumé, with ‘unconventional’ as the common prefix. A recent promotional tour of Jarvis’s new album Think Bigger saw him play acoustic shows at four aptly unconventional ‘pop-up’ locations in Sydney and one in Melbourne, including a uni bar and a Bondi canteen.
“It’s always weird playing acoustic,” says Jarvis, who goes by his middle name. Indeed, Jarvis’s music has complex instrumental layers, and he usually tours with a band. His acoustic sets also require him to tame his rather wild singing, which, when recorded, traverses the realms of pop, r’n’b, rap and hard rock – frequently in the space of one song. “But I’m getting better at the sensitive shit,” he says.
Early on, he realised the need to stay away from the major labels. If one got a hold of him, he says, there’d be “no eight-minute solos, no multiple genres of music, no gay pirate subject matter, no gang rape.” His biggest Internet success – 2011’s character-driven ditty and clip, ‘Gay Pirates’ – was gleefully guilty of these last two. Many of his new songs – such as the sardonic ‘Good Citizen’, about questions of democracy – continue to broach radio-unfriendly topics.
Jarvis has been rewarded for his integrity, but he’s also copped plenty of flak. Even his mum and his managers have had gripes with his rap songs. Half in compromise, there’s no rap on Think Bigger. On the other hand, Jarvis has new interests he wants to explore. “I’ve kind of gotten into hardcore now so I’ll probably start doing some heavy shit”, he says, not jokingly.
No one of Jarvis’ three albums reflects a moment in time, he says. Think Bigger includes songs written a month before pressing as well as songs written when he was 12 years old. With hundreds of backlogged tunes he’s proud of – often, just for the virtue of their simplicity – he expects his albums to be this way forever. “There’ll always be a song on future albums that represents when I was 12 as well.”
Because Jarvis has his own label, 25th Frame, he can greenlight many of his own ideas that others might deem crazy. The label also allows him the freedom to pursue filmmaking projects, which possess him as much as his musical ideas. For years, he’s experimented with shorts and film clips. His tongue-in-cheek style is all over his new clip for ‘Love This’ (incidentally his catchiest, most radio-friendly song to date) in which he stars as a lycra-clad devil, and his friends as costume-shop angels. And now, he’s set to release his first feature, the Naughty Room, in which he also stars.
The film is a blackly comic coming-of-age tale about apathetic youth – a pronounced phenomenon in his native Devon. “There’s London and there’s the rest of England. London’s like it’s own country. If you don’t live there you’re pretty much fucked,“ he says. “I live in a place called Paignton, which is a tourist shithole full of pregnant teenagers.” But before you call him cynical, know that the film has a happy ending, with the pot-head central figure finding his redemption by doing a good deed for someone else.
For his own reasons, Jarvis is happy where he is. For one, he gets his pick of the local talent. “I cast people in the street I knew had never acted before; they would take risks that I wanted them to take, because they didn’t know any better.” And then there’s the lifestyle. “I live with friends above a shop in an industrial area – I can play drums ‘til two ‘o’clock in the morning.”
With the film newly finished, Jarvis should have enough on his plate. But this is not a man who ever slows down. [Before our interview, he’d walked hard into the wall of his hotel corridor- and we discovered that even a colossal, expanding bump on his head and skin off his nose couldn’t put him off the task at hand.]
“My next movie is called Abandoned Hope,” he says, churning over future plans. “It’s about a metal band. So we’re all growing our hair and turning ourselves into metal-heads.”
The really good news for those who missed him when he was here, or those craving more, is that Jarvis will be back in Australia this summer to play some bigger shows, and maybe a festival spot or two. So watch this space.
Think Bigger is available now.