Introducing: Cosmo Jarvis
You may have heard the irrepressible Cosmo Jarvis on the radio recently, caught him supporting Muse at their homecoming shows or maybe you’ve read the Music Fix take on his debut double album. Whether you’ve heard of him yet or not, this young man is going to be unavoidable in the coming year. Get in on the action now, settle down, grab some popcorn and enjoy the world of Cosmo Jarvis.
Hi Cosmo, your debut album has rarely strayed far from The Music Fix CD player since it arrived in the office. It seems incredible that such a fully formed body of work could be produced by a man of such tender years. How did you end up making a double album while, I guess, most of your peers were racking up mediocre scores on X-Box live?
I never got too into games, I really enjoyed star wars bounty hunter on ps-2, but after that, the thought of constantly having to upgrade every shiny new games console i ever got really got to me. But in answer to your question, I have always had to be doing something, I like missions and having unrealistic expectations of myself. That way when I fail, I will still have not pissed away too much living time.
I feel shit when I’m doing nothing and just naturally hold making, building, creating and development of ideas much higher than things like playing the x-box. Don't get me wrong though I don't mind it from time to time but after I’m done with my other stuff. Its like I’m my own parent who tells my self I cant play till my homework is done, because even if what I create is total shit, at the very least I stIll will have learnt something about what ever it is I’m trying to do.
You pretty much do everything on the album, writing, performing, recording etc. Are you a natural control freak or did you just realise that you didn’t need anyone else?
I always on some level have been a bossy prick, even at primary school me and some friends put on a stage adaptation of the Phantom Menace. I gave everyone hell if their impersonations of battle droids were too comical, or if their American accents were shit - that was before music.
It came from being in a band when I was a kid, I always had my own idea of what things should have sounded like and didn't like the shambolic mess that the music had become through everyone doing their own thing. This is a problem with bands, everyones ego and the need to be seen playing something cool sounding can be heard in the lines they write for themselves. It is like they no longer have any concern for the song. They still see it as as bass line, a guitar riff and a melody rather than a song. Everything changed for me when I realised this.
I appreciated music production through listening to David Bowie, Lou Reed, Crash Test Dummies and from a young age, I started to develop a narrow, but strong opinion on what methods of presenting music I preferred. I knew I liked (usually) very dry production, and I learned about tracking vocals from Elliot Smith records. Gradually I began to experiment with recording music. At this time though it was just another thing I did, like skateboarding. My old band fell apart because of pussy kids and responsible parents. I started recording my own songs. gradually I became obsessed with it. I developed several O.C.D's about the way I would record. I stopped seeing a song as something a person sings and began to think of a song as a recording. The recording is the piece of artwork as a painter’s painting is his. If someone was to paint their own version of that painting, it is still artwork, but not original. I see music the same way. Then I started to think that if I was going to be a solo artist, the work I put my name on must consist entirely of what was in my head. Other wise it isn't my work and I might as well find a hefty looking artery in my lower arm and slash it to fuck with one of those Japanese knifes.
At the time I was new to guitar but bass followed. I knew piano already (ish) and that was it. The more I made the more anal I got about how they had to sound and what tone they had to project to the listener. The beauty (for me) of working on my own is that I can sit for hours and experiment with my self. rather than If I was musically experimenting with someone else, they might think of something and I might disagree because it doesn't fit the sound im trying to get for my song. When its just me, I know already, so the bass player, the guitarist, mandolinist and pianist in me are all fighting for the same thing and I’m damn sure they'll all do their jobs properly, and they will sit there until their parts have been recorded properly. On the other hand though, sometimes I will let myself do something totally against the grain of the piece myself had initially thought up. This can result in a change I might welcome. For example if I had set out to record a rap song with a funky ass bass line and crude lyrics about rape and then one of me wrote a very irish folk sounding mandolin line over the top consequently convincing my other self that he quite liked it and thought it changed the plan for the better, then yes, I would go with that flow.
I’m always changing the way I produce though. I’ve gone though various phases already and love getting into new ones. But yes, I also realised, despite being very unsure in the beginning, that i didn't need anyone else. Fuck everyone else. While I’m doing this as me I’ll be the only one doing this, other wise what is the point? Other people get in the way, they change your mind, and act like they know better. I’m not saying I know best. People say my recordings drag on sometimes and 'this should be clipped' and 'that’s unnecessary'. Thats o.k, but i'd like to learn that on my own, and besides, their criticism is coming from a place that cant understand what I want to do because I am an asshole. When I say 'Its supposed to be annoyingly long' they don't get it. So why get other people involved? ‘Ive got in a cellist on this album, and my brother played drums on a few tracks and also an old mate of mine played drums too, cos sometimes my drumming skills are definitely not substantial enough to cut the mustard - but I'd never let them write their own parts. Album two I think I’m gonna listen to what my little bro has to say on the drum front (got a lot more live drums) a little more, but music's music and if anyone else fucks with my shit I feel like I’m trying to mix this amazing paint: Light Yellow, and I’m damned if I’m gonna let anyone come along with a strong red and drip it into my paint bucket and turn my music Orange.
So, could you ever see yourself as part of a traditional band set-up now?
Yes, in the future I want to start the greatest rock band the world has ever seen. I’ll stand back and write as a team. Better than tenacious-d. Just have to be careful not to mix me as 'cosmo jarvis' and me as a member of the rock band. Should be cool if it happens. Also want to be in a kill switch type band.
I can understand how you could start writing your own music but actually learning how to record it and then market yourself is another story. Was it a case of necessity being the mother of invention or did the technical expertise precede the artistry?
They both happened in unison (in terms of songs). I played instruments before and composed instrumental music (too scared to sing) but never started writing songs until I knew I could record them as they were written. This was a way of me learning how I sounded as a singer, and if my ideas were listenable by others. I only gave out the stupid songs I started out writing about penguins named larry with no ear drums, and the jokey perverted spunk songs. Then every once in a while I’d do one that meant something more (I’d never show it to anyone) and I would take more pride in the way that was recorded than the others. As i wanted the standard of recording to improve, I learned what it was the recordings lacked and tried my hardest to reach that next time.
A side effect of caring more about the recordings/songs than anything else was that i got better at playing, gradually. 200 takes of the same thing from when I got back from school to 3 in the morning is practice makes perfect, but it was worth it. I never used to compress anything. A big thing for me was when I discovered the program I used could compress what I recorded ,making the way I mixed much more controllable. i learned a lot about production from listening to the records I liked. Tracked vocals are everywhere and tracked guitars, I used to track and pan everything, even bass. Now I have eased off a little, but I still like unrealistic sounding recordings.
We’ve established that you can turn your hand to pretty much anything, and that’s without even mentioning your growing reputation as a filmmaker. Will you be a perpetual renaissance man or can you see yourself focusing on any one part of your game in the future?
I want to get to a stage where I can write and release music currently, rather having stuff lurking around that I’m too scared to throw away and at the same time write and make films and act in both my own and other peoples. I will also score as many of my own that I can. I think I have a lot more to explore in film because its just so freakin' huge. I want to go on to make really cheap features. I want to work with unknowns for a while because I always have and Ii think sometimes their performances can be awesome. Also I’m glad that film taught me that, unlike music, you cant do it all (you can on little shorts). I try all the time and it always ends up being a hack job. Its great to have people in charge of their own departments, people I can leave an idea with and know they will do their best to make it grow and end up perfect for the film. Filmmaking is a medium for giving endless things to endless amounts of people (no one looks at my youtube though) that is why I will always strive to use and understand it as well as I am able. I will always make films and music. unless the scientologists convince me of their ways. In which case, I’ll see you in town.
How has your relationship changed with your mates as your career has taken off? Are they wary that after a night out they might end up as the storyline of your next song?
To some degree, yes. But they’re used to it. I get picked up by people who wouldn't normally pick me up when I’m hitching because they herd ‘Mel's song’ or some shit. That kind of blows because it doesn't mean anything, just cos I wrote a song doesn't mean I wont rape, rob and then kill you . I have started to learn who my real friends are, slowly. All the ones I thought would still be around turned out hating me because they thought I got something handed to me or they hated that I was anal about music or they thought that Ii thought Ii was better than them or whatever. To be honest, I don't give a fuck about friends. I know which of mine I value deeply and if their minds change, then oh well. I learned at a very young age that emotional connections can only weaken a person, they are like a drug, they feel good at the time but they end up making you reliant, thus distancing your self from yourself.
As much as I always bear that in mind, I too at times, lose it and seek companionship as a final act of desperation. But I never forget whose driving. But yeah fuck the ones who left, fuck the ones who spat on my name at school and now have time for me and thank fuck for the ones who stick around, despite my shit, and tell me I look gay in press photos and shit.
How autobiographical is your work? There are some particularly hard hitting songs on Sonofabitch and they appear too raw to be works of complete fiction.
Some of my work is honestly autobiographical, other parts are autobiographical with names and places changed. The sonofabitch songs I think you’re talking about came to be by imagining that these things, in this world, could quite possibly happen. I jjust had to get into character. Some songs are just things I cant stop thinking about until I have arranged my thoughts into the words of the song.
Have you got hold of Jessica Alba’s number yet?
No. But there is a small chance somebody who knows somebody who works for somebody might be able to arrange a 30 minute shoot for me when I make the video. What a day that will be. I will need to bring duct tape. May not happen though.
At what stage did it become apparent that your debut release was going to develop into two quite diverse discs? Were you ever under any pressure to limit your ambition?
Yes and no. People thought 18 songs were too much at first and i wanted more songs on the disc, but my management and Ii agreed that it was necessary to get a lot of those songs out, because they were beginning to haunt me in a way. Many of them were written when I was much younger, but people still liked them so it would have been a shame to throw them out. There are also much more recent songs on there like ‘he only goes out on tuesdays'. in the end we decided to spit them into kind of a 'poppy hum along easier to listen to' group and a much more explorative, deeper and sometimes darker group.
It has been reported that you’ve already clocked up over 250 songs before your debut album reaches the shops. Have you ever considered doing what the Beatles and Stones dallied with and providing songs for other artists?
Yes, and I'd like that very much, only problem is, they always like the ones I want to do. I offered Gabriella Cilmi one of mine called 'they don't build hearts like they used to' I thought that'd be good for her - and she said she liked it, but she’s pretty busy and shit. I'd love to write for rock bands too, puddle of mud. I don't really know who to talk to to be honest… I could write for Calvin Harris, all I'd have to do is take a dump on a synth keyboard .
Ouch! I’m sure there’s many bands who’d kill to be so prolific but, being a one man outfit, how do you quality control your work when you are coming to decide what to release?
I don't, I believe that somebody out there will like even the shitest thing I’ve done more than anything else, because they were in the same mood I was in when I recorded it. 'something for everyone' I guess - like most of the people that like my acoustic folky type stuff, would hate my dance songs. Really hate them.
You recently supported Muse at their homecoming gig. Assuming that you achieve a similar degree of global success in the next few years – which 5 bands/artists would you invite to play your triumphant homecoming festival?
Mad Dog Mcrea, Run Lucky Free, Koala Attack, Kat Marsh, and Penny Death. Local acts from Devon, apart from Run Lucky Free, they are from Scotland.
I hear that you’ve already got your next album in the bag – so how’s the difficult third album coming along?
Done. should be alright. Thank you very much.
And with that – he’s gone! Cosmo's latest single You Got Your Head | Problems was released: 9th November 2009.