Candida Doyle Hides Under The Bright Lights
It's been mentioned before in almost every magazine, probably excluding Ice Fishing Illustrated and Fluid Mechanics Monthly, but Pulp became a household name with Jarvis Cocker's wiggly butt dance during Michael Jackson's production number at the Brit Awards. Unlike Pulp's lead singer, keyboardist Candida Doyle is too skittish to make such a statement, yet is dumbfounded by the sudden publicity craze. "I think it's quite bizarre, really." says Candida, "because it was a thought that lasted maybe 30 seconds at most, and then Jarvis went and did it and Pete (Candida's boyfriend and former Pulp bass player) went and did it with him. You would never have guessed what would come out of it. It was stupid, because it was nothing really. It could have easily been ignored, but it was good that it wasn't."
Considering that all North American May/June dates sold out in less than two hours, with Toronto's Opera House selling out in three minutes, the publicity wasn't too detrimental for Pulp's reputation. After more than a decade of anonymity, Pulp has finally pricked the ears of Britpop lovers and drowning-in-beer frat boys alike.
Candida joined the group in '84, recruited by her brother Magnus, ex-drummer/percussionist. After 12 years with the band, she speculates about why she's still with Pulp: "God knows. I think the main thing is that I knew our music was good, and if we played in concert to people who had no idea who we were, we would always win the crowd over by the end of the evening. We were on a crap record label. No one knew who we were. So I think we just knew that we liked what we did. If it was music that meant nothing to us, we probably wouldn't have carried on."
When she was eight years old, Candida sat down to her first piano lesson. "I quite liked playing piano, but I wasn't practising at all." Somehow she made it through ten years of music theory: "They would say, 'You'll be glad one day, " and I thought, 'Well, I'm not really bothered." She didn't bother foreseeing life-size cut-outs of herself and the other band members propped up in music megastores around the world either. Candida enjoys life in the background. When she first played keyboards for Pulp, she sang backup vocals. Eventually, her shyness overcame her will to harmonize, even during soundcheck. "It's just horrible. I can't bear it. I'd love to sing - I really would - but it's too much pressure."
Fortunately, Jarvis has no qualms about hamming it up in the front of the stage. Every song is a theatrical monologue, and every lyric is mimed as well as sung. The themes of Jarvis's stories include revenge, class difference, a fondly remembered junior high crush, a distaste for rave culture, and sex. On Different Class's "Pencil skirt", he half-states, "now you can tell some lies about the good times that you've had, but I've kissed your mother twice, and now I'm working on your dad." Then there's "Sorted For E's & Wizz," a song about the lacklustre life of the rave/drug scene. Like the British tabloids, some people have missed the point about Jarvis' intent. Those who deem jarvis a villain rather than a role-model may have missed the ironic humour of his late-night speed and ecstasy misadventure: "Tell me when the spaceship lands, 'cause all this has just got to mean something....I lost my friends, I dance alone. It's six o'clock. I want to go home... and this hollow feeling grows and grows and grows and grows, and you want to call your mother and say, 'Mother, I can never come home again, 'cause I seem to have left an important part of my brain somewhere, somewhere in a field in Hampshire.'"
With six members in the band, Pulp has an unconventional way of writing their material. To get the basis of a song, they work in shifts of three people at a time in the studio. Then they all congregate in one room and fit the pieces together. The last addition to each song is the lyrics: "They come the night before (Jarvis) sings them," says Candida, "and the reason is that, say of 50 songs we write, only 25 will be used, maybe even less, so he doesn't see the point in writing lyrics to every song."
Of all the vintage synths, organs, and electric pianos used in the studio, only a select few are used to perfom live. On Candida's side of the stage are a Farfisa Compact Professional and a Roland XP-10 synth. She dumps her samples into two Akai S3000s and runs them through a Samson rack-mount mixer. "I used to have five keyboards and a xylophone. It was a nightmare. But now Mark's got two on his side." Mark Webber plays a Fender Rhodes and an Ensniq ASR-10 controlling an Akai S3000 sampler, in addition to sharing guitar parts with long-time Pulp member Russell Senior.
Candida gets some grief for her uninvolved keyboard parts. But with the two samples and six people contributing sounds to the live show, Pulp assembles each song like a child's puzzle : with big cardboard pieces that couldn't accidentally be choked on. To avoid dissonance, Pulp keeps it simple : "You've got a gun sound on the B flat, and you've got a whole chord, like a Dm7 on a C (bass) note. And it took a long time to get around that. A lot of people say, "Why do you play songs with two fingers?' Cause it's less to concentrate on, but the sound is much, much better."
There's another factor in the band's simplicity. Jarvis is a story teller, not a run-of-the-mill "Ohhh, baby" love song writer. The music follows the plot of each story with a crescendo running up to each lyrical apex. Obviously, the members of Pulp don't need to shake their butts at the world for people to notice that something unusual is going on in their part of the Britpop spotlight.