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PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2020 4:30 pm 
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I’m on a PJ Harvey nostalgia trip this weekend and I dug out a newspaper clipping from 2008 that I saved after seeing her live for the first time. It features a (stellar) review of her solo concert in Warsaw, as well as a short interview - no new information, really, but I thought I’d translate it and share it here for posterity (plus a faded photo from the gig).



PJ Harvey: I Didn’t Drown My Daughter

ROBERT SANKOWSKI: White Chalk has received many great reviews. But weren’t you afraid of the critics’ and fans’ reaction before releasing an album that showed such a drastic departure from your previous style?

PJ HARVEY: I had mixed feelings. On one hand I was excited exactly because it’s such a different record. With this album I really wanted to leave behind everything I had been associated with earlier.

I was disappointed in myself and in what I’d done on the previous album Uh Huh Her. I felt as if for the first time I didn’t have anything new to say. It’s probably my biggest fear - that I will end up repeating myself. That’s why White Chalk was supposed to be the exact opposite of Uh Huh Her. And I succeeded in that.

But at the same time it’s a very difficult and unusual record. Even when I play it for myself I feel a little bit confused.

It’s just human nature - we like to assign certain experiences to particular emotions, put them in order, to know what we associate them with, or what they evoke in us.

I’m still slightly unsure and perplexed by White Chalk. It’s almost as if the album came from a different world. Whenever I make a record - and I think many artists do the same - I start with an idea of a direction I want to pursue. But then the music takes over and leads me towards something totally unexpected. You need to have the courage to let it carry you there. With White Chalk I had that courage.

Is it true that you started learning the piano just a few months before recording this album?

Yes. Someone had given me a piano so I started learning. I’m not a virtuoso, I’m not going to pretend that I can play or compose well on this instrument. But the contact with it turned out to be fruitful - because I hadn’t played it before, the piano opened a vast array of possibilities for me. I suddenly started singing and writing lyrics differently.

Many musicians composing on guitar claim that playing the piano completely changes the way they think about writing songs.

I totally agree. I can’t believe it took me about 15 years to learn this.

Playing the piano has also taught me something else - that it’s worth reaching for instruments you can’t really play. It makes your almost childlike naivety come back. And naivety is such a valuable thing in music for me - just look at how many artists record their best work at the beginning of their careers, on the first or second album, when they still have a very naive approach to playing. It’s only later that certain habits kick in.

You seem to be a very calm and serene person. How much of the true PJ Harvey is there in the expressive, emotional, extraordinarily dressed character that we know from the stage or music videos?

It’s all me! When I come out on stage, I never put on a mask. Which doesn’t mean I’m the same all the time. Like every person, I have different sides to my personality that I show in different situations. I’m very typical when it comes to that.

The thing that perhaps makes me different is the passion with which I sing. But it’s not exactly an expression of myself - more an expression of how I perceive reality and what I would like to convey to my listeners.

You strongly disagree with fans equating you with your lyrics and taking them too literally. For instance, “Down by the Water”...

There used to be a few people who actually believed that - as I sing in this song - I really had a daughter and I drowned her in a river. [laughter] It’s surprising, sometimes even scary. It makes me wonder.

There aren’t that many artists whose lyrics are taken that literally. For sure Nick Cave, maybe also Marianne Faithfull, and me. A particular type of musicians. Maybe it’s a question of how we look, maybe it’s a question of other people’s ideas of our lives. I don’t know. I can’t really understand it, especially since the music that moves me - for instance Neil Young, or Nina Simone - is important to me because I apply it to my own life, and not the lives of the people who wrote it.

You went to an art school and you’ve had your sculptures exhibited. Do you still sculpt?

Yes. All my artistic activity is in a way interconnected. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing songs or sculpting - the goal is the same: to discover and express the same emotions. And to keep my hands busy somehow.

Image

source: Gazeta Wyborcza, 23 May 2008


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2020 5:32 pm 
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Never read this one before, thank you!


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2020 9:00 pm 
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Thanks so much. Love reading interviews I hadn’t come across before. Really appreciate the translation!


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2020 9:21 pm 
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Thank you, that's really interesting. I hadn't read her being so disparaging about Uh Huh Her as opposed to individual songs on it.

In fact ... is there anything worthwhile in the live review? It's especially interesting to read opinions that come from non-English speaking sources.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2020 12:21 pm 
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AineteEkaterini wrote:
In fact ... is there anything worthwhile in the live review? It's especially interesting to read opinions that come from non-English speaking sources.


Here’s the review:

Quote:
The beginning of the concert: “I will be playing many different instruments tonight. I don’t play any of them particularly well.” These two sentences sum her up perfectly. On one hand, PJ Harvey is a restless artistic spirit. She has had at least a few artistic incarnations - a rebellious girl with a distorted electric guitar and a provocateur breaking taboos in her lyrics. On the other hand, she has also been an intimate, inspired balladeer drawing from traditional blues, folk, and country. She has played with her image in her music videos and on tour, taking an appearance of a sweet country girl or a big pop star; she has recorded excellent solo albums but has also enchanted listeners with a verse or two sung on another artist’s LP. She has collaborated with musicians as diverse as Nick Cave and Tricky. She has even managed to leave an imprint on an artist as distinctive as Marianne Faithfull - half of the compositions on her last album Before the Poison were penned by Harvey.

Numerous fans and critics would like to portray PJ Harvey as a spirited musical faerie or a gloomy diva of alternative rock. But Harvey cleverly dodges these images - on stage she intertwines her songs with playful comments, she banters with the audience, and she doesn’t shy away from self-irony. When some stubborn fan in Sala Kongresowa repeatedly requests one of the songs, she reacts: “I haven’t played it in ages! Wait, how did it go?” she asks and sings a few verses accompanying herself on the guitar, pausing to remember the lyric. “See, I forgot it. I need to practise it and we’ll try again sometime.”

She came out on stage in a white, almost 19th-century gown, splattered with paint forming not fully legible inscriptions. The venue itself has seen many spectacular concerts - with sophisticated stage setting and carefully thought-out dramaturgy. In comparison, Polly gave an unusually modest show - she was alone on stage for the whole time, surrounded with just a few instruments decorated with sets of Christmas lights. Just the artist, her music and a couple thousand fans focused on what was going on on stage. Intensely focused because - despite the simple staging - Harvey, half-drowning in shadows, was hypnotizing the audience for the whole duration of the show with what she said, what she sang, and how she moved. This petite, modest girl has a particular magnetism that you can’t help but succumb to.

She started with two fan favourites from To Bring You My Love, released 13 years ago, opening with the title track and following it with a great rendition of “Send His Love to Me”. But soon after that she put away her electric guitar, sat down at the piano, and sang “When Under Ether,” a song from her latest album White Chalk - a surprising release, very different to what she had recorded earlier, dominated by the moody sounds of the piano, sung in a high, ethereal voice, completely unlike PJ’s usual rock expression.

In fact, the whole concert was built on such contrasts. Harvey would reach for more dynamic tracks and then interweave them with serene songs; she would assault the audience with rock or electronic sounds, only to soothe them with a dreamy ballad. She performed on acoustic and electric guitars, piano, synthesizers, even on an autoharp and a harmonica. She brought back old favourites such as “Man-Size,” “Angelene,” “Down by the Water,” and - for the encore - “C’mon Billy.” Besides them, she sung seven songs from White Chalk. “Thank you for this wonderful welcome in your country,” she said, as she was waving goodbye to the audience. “I’m sure I will return here.”

Perhaps it’s just common courtesy, typical for such moments. But coming from PJ’s mouth - as everything else over the course of the evening - it sounded exceptionally convincing.


(Some context: Polly is fairly well-known in Poland, and this was her first concert here, so the review and the interview got a full page spread in the country’s biggest newspaper. The requested song that she couldn’t quite remember was “Lying in the Sun”.)


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2020 9:02 pm 
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That's so kind of you, Nightingale, thank you very much indeed.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2020 9:34 pm 
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Yes, many thanks for the additional translation! I’d have loved to hear that “Lying In The Sun”, even if it was aborted. Has she ever done it outside the TBYML tour?


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2020 5:46 am 
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BobSimms wrote:
Yes, many thanks for the additional translation! I’d have loved to hear that “Lying In The Sun”, even if it was aborted. Has she ever done it outside the TBYML tour?

No, according to the gigography she's only ever played it 11 times, all during the TBYML tour in 1995.

She opened the 1995-05-11 Kentish Town Forum with it. I've always thought it was a stunning way to open the show.

Joe Gore's feedback work and the lighting on Polly are spectacularly effective.

She opened with it 7 days later at the 1995-05-18 Mayan club gig (the "Blue Girl" bootleg). For the remaining 9 gigs in 1995 she buried it further down in the setlist. Perhaps it was too much?

That brings up an interesting question. What album tracks has she never played live? Until 2016 she had never played White Chalk's "To Talk To You", but as far as I know she's never played White Chalk's "Before Departure". White Chalk is not one of her albums that I play all that much and those two tracks in particular are almost unbearably sad.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:21 am 
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BobSimms wrote:
I’d have loved to hear that “Lying In The Sun”, even if it was aborted.


Here's a 10-second snippet, right at the beginning -- it wasn't really much longer:



IRRC the guy who requested it started asking for it after she played "Down by the Water" and she said that "Lying in the Sun" would actually work very well on the autoharp -- he then reminded her of it during the encore and she caved in, hence the acoustic guitar.

DrDark wrote:
That brings up an interesting question. What album tracks has she never played live?


From the main albums I think "Happy and Bleeding", "The Slow Drug", "No Child of Mine", "Broken Harp" and "Before Departure" are the only ones that have never been performed live. "We Float" was only performed once, I think? "The River" hadn't been played until 2008 but it's been a staple of her two past tours.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:49 am 
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Thank you so much for sharing the article - great read :smile:


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