from Hot Press Ltd., 1995
After a career barely spanning five years, there is a definite feeling amongst those who know about such things that POLLY JEAN HARVEY is destined to be one of the true rock music greats. Her darkly visceral, sexual and lacerating work has struck a raw chord, and made her the object of passionate adoration. But it has also cast her in the eyes of some as an "axe-wielding bitch cow from Hell."
LIAM FAY travels to meet ze monsta, but instead finds a home-loving Yeovil lass who likes nothing better than gardening and whipping up pots of rhubarb marmalade.
"I have massive dreams, dream extravaganzas every night," announces Polly Jean Harvey. "It's very enjoyable. Sometimes they seem so real that I'm not really sure which is my real life. Is this my day life or my night life? I don't always know."
Perhaps fortunately for her sanity, PJ Harvey doesn't sleep that much. Three or four hours a night, tops. When she awakes from her mini-slumbers, she writes down what she remembers of her dreams, which is usually quite a lot. Hardly any of these reveries end up in songs. They're recorded purely for her own personal use. They are, she explains, fuel for her imagination.
"I always think it's so sad that when we get older we tend to stop playing with our imagination like we do when we're young," she says. "When you're a child, you can make anything happen. You can make people happen, just conjure them out of thin air if you want someone to play with. I love dreaming because that's my child side just running rampant every night. It might be my subconscious trying to tell me something about myself or about other people. I think of the most incredulous things in my dreams and that's a very healthy thing to do if you're in a creative mode like I am. It's all part of keeping your imagination going."
What's all this then? Surely, this polite, wistful, shire-voiced young lady talking about dreams and her child side is not the PJ Harvey. What happened to all the profanity, lust and bloody vengeance? Where's the screeching psychotic who wanted to 'Rub It 'Til It Bleeds'? Or the snickering B-movie monster of '50-Ft Queenie'? Or the voodoo vamp of 'Down By The Water'? Or, to use PJ's own description of the alter ego with which she's been saddled: the axe-wielding bitch cow from hell?
"All of that stuff surprised me," admits the real Polly Harvey softly. "It certainly made me learn a lot about how people interpret things. I learnt very quickly that you cannot control how people take what you give them. It's at the point that it goes on sale in the shops that you have to relinquish control, and I'm quite happy to do that now. Rock music does a lot of things. I know what it does inside of me. It's a turn on. It's physical. But it can also be funny. At the start, I was surprised that people were taking things very seriously that I'd been singing with my tongue in my cheek. I find this stuff about me being the ultimate ball-breaker quite funny now, quite amusing."
There are no ball-breakers, just breakable balls?
"Exactly," she assents, a smile the size of a billboard invading her face.
There is a discernible iciness midst the amiability, however, a hoar-frost beneath the gleam of Polly Harvey's sunny personality. I can even sense it in the defiant way she wears a denim jacket over her ankle-length, black lace dress. We meet in the oak-panelled Green Room of The Gore Hotel, near London's Kensington High Street. As she sits tensely sipping tea on the edge of a leather couch, she looks petite, wary and impossibly coy. She has the uncomfortable demeanour of a person not naturally inclined towards being in a room with someone else. The moment she speaks though, you hear steel sliding from a scabbard.
In interview terms, there aren't simply a few dodgy areas that are completely out of bounds for discussion with PJ Harvey. There are dodgy continents, great expanses of secluded territory onto which journalistic trespass is not permitted. Her personal life is strictly taboo. Her opinions on sex, feminism, gender roles and much else are cloistered behind concrete walls of evasion. Her feelings about religion are a Fort Knox of impenetrability. And don't bother even trying to coax her into explaining what this or that song is about or from where the inspiration sprang. A pair of tightly pursed lips is all you'll get for your trouble.
Sometimes, you can stumble onto prohibited terrain and not even know you're there. When PJ feels she has gone far enough on a particular topic, she'll stop you in your tracks with a brusque, "That's a thought that never occurred to me," and then go eerily silent. You get the distinct impression she will stay like this all month if that's what it takes to make you change the subject.
PJ is an intensely private and, she insists, intensely shy individual. Many of her lyrics certainly confirm that she is not unfamiliar with the flushes and sweats of the chronically diffident and insecure. But perhaps there is another, more forceful reason why Polly Harvey is loath to open up in public.
"I've had a lot of strange mail and a lot of strange people," she admits, but then instantly seems to regret the admission. "Take That probably get a lot of weirdoes too. No matter what kind of music you make, you're gonna draw people to you because people relate to what you're saying. In a situation like Take That, if young girls feel that they're in love with these boys, men, then they're gonna let them know in some way.
"With me, it's people relating to what I've tried to express in songs, who feel like I'm the only person in the world that understands them. They feel these things but haven't been able to express it to anybody. They feel a special relationship with me."
And then, rather than any further elaboration, there's a minute's silence. Time to move on. Polly has mentioned Take That before in interviews. Is she something of an admirer?