No other artist commands attention quite like PJ Harvey. Both daring and soft, her visceral yowls leave men lusting after her and women wanting to be her. But rather than some boring romance, she’s talking about fire and brimstone, murder and regret.
Twenty years after her biggest hits, PJ Harvey’s fans still adore the star. So what’s the secret to her enduring appeal, and what’s she up to today?
We’re taking a look at her long career to find out.
Let’s get into it!
The Story of Polly Jean Harvey
Polly Jean “PJ” Harvey is a solo musician known for her distinctive vocals and prolific musicianship. Born and raised on a farm in England, this Generation X singer had a pretty great childhood filled with inspiration. She loved music, plays, and puppets from an early age. And somehow found time to squeeze in sculpting, a hobby her mother loved.
By her teen years, PJ Harvey played piano, saxophone, and guitar. After playing in several local bands, she released her 1992 debut album, Dry. And musicians like Kurt Cobain loved it. Disc jockey John Peel’s radio shows played her single, Dress, on heavy rotation. So Harvey was already an underground legend when she released her 1993 album Rid of Me.
To Bring You My Love, PJ Harvey’s 3rd album, felt like her declaration of independence from anything that held her back. The sound was guttural, dark, and utterly empowering. Interestingly, this masterpiece came from when she dated fellow dark songwriter Nick Cave, and any Cave fan can hear his influence on her. Both artists released astounding albums born of their short, volatile affair.
Throughout her career, she’s collaborated with countless artists, such as Thom Yorke, Tricky, and Mark Lanegan. Her current releases include 2022’s The Hope Six Demolition Project and Is This Desire. Additionally, she completed a spoken word tour in November 2022.
PJ Harvey is the only artist awarded the British Mercury Prize twice. She has 70 nominations under her belt, with multiple wins from the Rober Awards Music poll.
PJ Harvey’s Best-Known Songs
This artist has released 33 singles from her nine albums, but only two cracked the top ten charts. Here are some of the best-known hits from her extensive career.
Down by The Water
PJ Harvey is a storyteller. And like many great fiction writers, it might be best to leave the meaning of her songs untouched. But we know that’s a tall order when it comes to lyrics.
Down by The Water describes someone filled with regret, asking for something by the water. The words are vague, and the music is sinister. It has a bluesy, dirty feel until you hear Harvey’s voice begging for mercy. Harvey wrote the song about a woman who drowns her daughter.
Luckily, there’s no truth to Harvey’s story. In fact, some might call it an old-fashioned murder ballad. And for years, Harvey regretted revealing its meaning in fear of what tall tales people might conjure up.
In 1995, Down by The Water reached #2 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks.
Rid of Me
Rid of Me is a desperately bitter revenge song. Anyone who’s been jilted can relate. One minute the girl is begging her cheating boyfriend to stay. And the next, she wants to torture him. Producer Steve Albini kept the song from being too polished in order to maintain its sense of raw pain. In fact, some might find the sound a little ugly.
But either way, PJ Harvey got the world’s attention. We especially love these lyrics…
I beg you, my darling Don't leave me, I'm hurting. Lick my legs, I'm on fire. Lick my legs of desire.
Harvey established herself as a risk-taker with this single. Sheela-na-gigs are ancient statues of women pulling open their exaggerated vulvae. Some figures look like the women have two mouths. And theories behind what they stand for are equally double-sided. Some say the Sheela-na-gigs represent Celtic creator goddesses. Others say it’s the patriarchy, showing women as deceptive monsters intending to destroy men by lust.
Either way, PJ Harvey chose the title precisely because her song meant many things. It’s about different moments between lovers, and it’s both funny and angry. Harvey compiled inspiration from old movies, statues, and books and made her own musical soup. You’ll probably have a blast if you’re open to dancing and singing along to the song without understanding its meaning.
Is PJ Harvey a Good Guitar Player?
PJ Harvey is a guitar virtuoso. Guitar lessons from Steve Knightley started for Harvey in elementary school. From there, her love for the instrument only grew deeper. Today she owns dozens of different kinds, keen to use each depending on the music texture she desires.
Harvey’s 1970 hollow body Gretsch Broadkaster was vital for her 90s sound. It has a big, heavy, low tone. Next came the Gibson Firebird. This solid-body guitar has a brighter sound and reminds listeners of classic rock. It suited her well for her 2000 album Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea.
From there, Harvey likes to mess around with her low-cost Airline 3P Res-O-Glass for her punk hits. She sometimes surprises guitar nerds at live gigs by relying on a standard Fender Jaguar.
What Is PJ Harvey Doing Now?
Journalists go mad for a chance to interview PJ Harvey, but she’s not really into it. However, Harvey gave some time to the British magazine The Guardian. While talking about her spoken word book, Orlan, she casually mentioned a new album release for 2023. But beyond that little tease, we can only speculate.
In the meantime, Harvey has been busy writing and touring for her spoken word projects. She composed the soundtrack to the 2022 TV series Bad Sister and appeared as a guest speaking at several music festivals that same year. In fact, Harvey has been so busy it’s hard to keep up!
The best way to stay up to date is to check her website, pjharvey.net
Rock’s Leading Lady is Still Rolling!
PJ Harvey is so busy that the best question isn’t where is she now, but where is she not? Has she ever even taken a day off? Although Harvey’s legacy remains relatively underground, her artistic contributions are undeniably robust.
Most of all, she’s the personification of cool. Her art, in all its forms, speaks to a part of her fans many other artists don’t dare to address. Darkness, depth, and depravity all wrapped up in one alluring bow.