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Russell Senior: Freaking Out The Squares

Released almost two decades after he left Pulp and over four years since the reunion back in 2011, Freak Out The Squares: Life In A Band Called Pulp is Russell Senior's honest and witty depiction of his life in Pulp, which details various encounters throughout his time in the band, through uphill struggles and the dizzy heights of stardom. "It probably reads as if it was written very quickly, but it took a long time to write. I mean, it's a bit like writing a pop song. You know, those effortless, three-minute, naturally seamless songs. It takes a lot of craft to make things sound effortless," says Russell in between taking sips from his pint. What was the initial driving force behind your decision to publicly release such personal, intimate thoughts in the form of an autobiography? And why now? It was a book I always felt I should write, but it was too close to the events and I suppose I had too much baggage at certain points. I kind of thought somebody ought to write it and that I'd probably be the best person to write it. However, the thing that really spurred it was the reunion tour in 2011. I was keeping a diary over the course of that, and so throughout that journey it prompted quite a lot of reflection on the whole shebang. So I had my structure - my diary - and I got transported into that other world when I was writing about it. It was such a natural thing. And y'know, the story of Pulp is this big - the chronicle would be an incredibly tedious thing - and the other thing was, try not to say anything to horrible. The story of Pulp is a rambling, epic tale. I've been pressed at various point to 'expose'. Expose what? I'd have to be hyping it up, certainly in terms of shagging groupies. This was not going on to any extent. I mean, Pulp were quite prudish, not prudish but perhaps more respectful towards women. I mean, the women around were our friends, not prey. People always want that reveal, like shagging groupies and crocodiles at the same time. In a way I wish we had. One of my great regrets is getting to the age of 30 and having a partner before any offers really came my way. The reality is, we weren't shagging groupies, we were doing our ironing. How crazy did the prospect of a reunion seem after 14 years? It was an alien intrusion on my life, as my life had very firmly put that behind. I mean, the first time I typed 'Pulp' into the internet was when I was researching this book, after I'd written it, to get some of my facts straight. I'd had no idea if they'd split up or not, so I'd really switched off from it. I also coincidentally lost my filofax shortly after leaving, so all the people that I might have been in contact with, you know the guys from Suede that I got on with or whatever, I didn't. I kind of fell off a cliff completely, and then all of a sudden there's this guy saying come back to this thing. On the one hand it's very frightening, but on the other hand it's like, 'Oh, but what if?' I miss the buzz of going on stage. It's frightening - simultaneous panic and temptation. You discovered Pulp through reviewing one of their shows back in 1980 for your fanzine and ended up joining three years later in '83. Did you envisage becoming a part of the group back then? What were your initial thoughts of Pulp? They weren't the group I wanted to join, to be honest. They weren't my favourite group in Sheffield. In a way, I didn't join the band, as they had actually split up. I did a play that had Jarvis in it and started doing music again, which is how it all started. So in a way, to me there's a complete separation between those two incarnations of Pulp. Obviously, to someone else it doesn't seem like that, but for me it does. There were ten other groups in Sheffield that if they'd asked me to join them, I would have bitten their arm off. As for Pulp at the time, I thought they were sort of a pleasing, entertaining comedy band and then they went all windy and po-faced, and I didn't like that at all. In short, I didn't really take them very seriously. You famously left Pulp back in 1997, at the height of the band's newly found fame and mainstream success. Would you do things differently second time around? No. It was like a weight was lifted from me. I was no longer defined by being in this band and was able do other stuff, have a family life. I really don't regret it, and I suppose nowadays, I might not have had the courage to do that. I think it was a brave thing to do, like that cartoon, Roadrunner. He walks off the end of a cliff without realising, then he looks down and sees this drop. In a way it feels like I was doing that, walking off the end of a cliff, but it was okay in the end. Back in 2012, you co-wrote Two Tribes with Ralph Razor, a musical about the miners' strike of '84. You also became heavily involved in industrial action yourself on the frontline at the time. How have your political interests influenced your music? That's a good one, a difficult one and one that I'm not sure exactly how to answer. I think in Pulp, I was probably the most politically active and was sort of bringing that in. However - and, I think, rightly - we didn't become an issue-based band. Even when I was at my most active, I would like to think that I appreciated the separation of art and politics. Otherwise it becomes propaganda. The irony is, after I left, Jarvis became political and started writing songs about the miners' strike and I encouraged him to go on a demo for the first time in his life. I've got less left wing as he's become more left wing, 20 years too late. I wonder what we'll be up to in 20 years' time. Despite rejoining Pulp for the reunion tour back in 2011, you chose not to continue with the band after that. What were your reasons for bowing out? First off, it was a romantic idea. The idea of resuming a career, that was kind of on the cards. There were a lot more offers than I'd accepted, but I like the poetic beauty of having every show special. In a way that seems kind of prissy, as it ended up with me not playing Sheffield Arena, as I don't enjoy it as a venue. In fact, I was trying to organise something up at Park Hill, but the timings were off. This is not about being a precious artiste. In that book we did an arena tour and I can't remember a thing about it, solely due to the fact it wasn't at all memorable. Whereas those little connections, like that guy in Strasburg, some schnapps after the show - that's what it's all about. It's very human stuff. Pulp was all about the human stuff, the smaller details. I will turn down more money than I've ever made in my life - and have - to maintain that purity. There you go, fuck it. I'm still poor! What is the one thing that you want readers to take away from the book? I'd like them to feel that they got lost. I hate flashback stuff. There are also points where I don't remember where I was at a certain time. So I want people to get lost and feel like they're in it. I wanted people to walk in my shoes. I lead a normal life. I don't have a helicopter landing pad, I live in a three bedroom house, yet this massive thing happened. Imagine if it's you. You're about to go onstage. You're this middle-aged bloke and you've done this thing, used to be kind of glamorous. I also (and probably didn't succeed in this) didn't want the book to rely on too much 'hip inside knowledge', so that someone in 100 years time from now in Japan can get a sense of it, because it's sort of universal. Freak Out The Squares is out now via Aurum Press. )

Next article in issue 94

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