POP MUSIC : CHECKING IN WITH . . . POLLY JEAN HARVEY : Rid of Trio, On With the Emotional Purge

<i> Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic. </i>

When she spoke to Calendar last December, Polly Jean Harvey loomed as one of the great young talents in rock--and she has done much since then to fulfill the promise.

In both “Rid of Me,” a contender for 1993 album of the year, and a spectacular concert in July at the Hollywood Palladium, Harvey and the trio that carried her name assaulted the listener with songs that chronicle intimately the competing demons and desires that energize and often destroy relationships.

In a pair of surprising new moves, the restless English singer-writer-guitarist, who is in her mid-20s, has disbanded her PJ Harvey trio and released a new album that consists of solo demo versions of her material, including some of the songs from “Rid of Me.” (See accompanying review.)

During an interview over dinner in the Fairfax District, Harvey--whose quiet, reflective offstage manner contrasted sharply with her bold, aggressive stage persona--spoke about her music, her acclaim and her manner:


The Trio

“I think I knew from the start that I would eventually want to change the lineup, which is why I used my own name as the band name. By the time of the last tour, I was really ready to hear new instruments and hear new people. I was so tired of just guitar, bass and drums.

“The new band will be a five-piece: a couple of guitar players, including one maybe who can double up on playing organ, plus drums. Steve Vaughan will still be on bass. I don’t want to play guitar so much live, so that I can concentrate on singing and performing.”

The New Demo Album

“For me, it is probably the most important album because I think it is the closest to how I feel. The atmosphere is very clear and very intense on every song because it was recorded alone and you don’t have any of the inhibitions you run into when you work with other people.”

The ‘Rid of Me’ Album

“I like it. I think it is a very good document of the band. But as a songwriter, (I’d say) it doesn’t translate what I do very well.”

Future Projects


“If my next (demo) recordings turn out well, I won’t bother re-recording it with a band. I’ll just put the tapes out as is.”

Influences as a Writer

“Willie Dixon lyrically. He’s astonishing. Certainly, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. People often mention Patti Smith in reviews, but I only started listening to her after all the comparisons. I see some similarities in terms of her vocal delivery, the way she sang, but not lyrically. I think what she was saying was very different. Musically, I found her band very dull--just very safe.”

The Early Acclaim


“When the reviews started coming in, I found it very intimidating. I wondered if I would be able to write anything again--and that was frightening because writing is the most important thing to me. But I’ve learned to cope with it.

“One thing that is important is to know what to allow into your head and what to block out. One thing I definitely block out is the acclaim. I pay more attention to the criticisms.”

Valid Criticism

“In one review in Britain, it said, ‘All she does is use dynamics. . . . One minute she’s wailing, then she’s quiet, then she is wailing her head off again, and then she is quiet.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, you are dead right.’ It had become a sort of a cliche--here’s the loud thing, here’s the quiet bit. I’m very aware of that now, and I don’t want to do that again.”


Her Personality

“When I am onstage or when I’m writing, sometimes I feel that is more true to myself than when I am sitting and talking to someone. The music is the only time I feel I let go and allow myself to be myself without restrictions. I think a lot of artists tend to be very quiet and suppress a lot of things. In my case, I find it hard to confront someone--whether it is in an emotional relationship or in a working situation.

“I suppress that angry side of myself, so the only outlet I have for that is through music. If I learned to express that anger every time something went wrong or that I got upset about what someone had done, then the music would probably be completely different, a lot less angry than it is.”