“Lyrics Are Optional”: Jarvis Cocker Teaches Songwriting at SXSW

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker hosted a songwriting seminar on March 15th at this year’s South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, titled “Saying the Unsayable.”


Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker hosted a songwriting seminar on March 15th at this year’s South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, titled “Saying the Unsayable.” His thesis? That lyrics aren’t the most important part of songwriting. Cocker, who’s memorable songs include “Common People” and “Party Hard,” used the near-unintelligible 1960s hit “Louie Louie” to illustrate his point.

“Lyrics are an optional extra like a sunroof on a car,” Cocker told the audience, while conceding that exceptionally strong lyrics still carry a lot of weight. “Words, music and delivery are major factors in the success of a song.” He picked apart the weak lyrics of Des’ree’s “Life,” (“I’m afraid of a ghost/ It’s the thing I fear the most / I’d rather have a piece of toast”) and used Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake as counter-examples.

“What really turns me on is inappropriate subject matter,” said Cocker, giving a shout out to Lee Hazelwood, who “tells it like it is.”

The British rocker also treated the crowd to acoustic version of Pulp’s hit single “Babies,” and “Shakespeare Rock,” the first song he ever wrote, which dates back to 1978.

Thanks to the NME for the wrap-up.


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