Tim Whitby, Getty Images The speculation is all over. PJ Harvey has won the…
- Posted on Mar 28th 2011 3:30PM by Steve Baltin
You referred to the writing on this album as being more "outward" than your previous work. What prompted that shift?
To start, the record took quite a different shape to how I usually write. I concentrated early on writing the words, for maybe one and a half, two years and didn't approach music in any way, shape or form. I just wanted to make the words work on the page like poetry and that took a long time. There were many, many songs that I threw away and many words that I threw away. I knew that to approach such weighty subject matter, the words, at the very root, had to be right and had to have the right balance and that took a long time. I can't remember exactly which was the first word that came into completion because I tend to work on maybe five, six or more pieces at the same time. But I do know that it was a choice to start addressing some of these huge issues that I have always been profoundly moved and affected by, but I'd never felt confident as a writer in my ability to discuss such things and do it well, up until this point in time when I have a little more experience now.
Watch PJ Harvey's 'England' Video
A lot of people get more comfortable with themselves and their abilities as they get older. You're 41 now. Did age play any part in you now feeling confident enough to write about this subject matter?
I reached the point of feeling able to approach writing about the world we live in at this stage because I'd finally found the language with which to do that. That comes about from many, many years of writing and study. I work very hard at my writing and I study it every day to try and get better at what I do. It's really a matter of the work that I've put into it that has finally got me to this place. I really didn't feel I had the craft or the ability to use language well in this way when dealing with such subject matter until now.
You've said you didn't want to be preachy on this album and that's not an easy thing to do. Were there writers or artists that inspired you with with the way they write about social and political themes without coming on too strong?
There were some artists I paid close attention to. One of them was the Pogues. Shane McGowan is a great writer, a great lyricist and also the Pogues perform a lot of very traditional, very ancient folk music. A lot of folk music is very political and wonderfully balanced, wonderfully poised in the way it delivers the words that it's saying, so that would be one person I would cite. Neil Young, throughout his career, has dealt with political issues and often done it very, very well within song, Ohio' being a prime example or 'Southern Man.' I can name many more. Then I looked to the poetry of Harold Pinter. I really admire his work as a writer and an essay writer, as well as a playwright, but particularly his poetry. I was very drawn to his work at this time.
There is a lot of juxtaposition of older sounds with current themes.
I wanted the music to be very insightful, very communal. I knew it had to be full of energy and uplifting because I wanted to offset the weight of the words in particular. I thought that the best way the words could be heard was to be heard in that environment musically. So yes, that was a conscious decision to make music that was offsetting the weight in the words.
You mentioned Harold Pinter. Who are some of the other authors that have shaped you as a writer?
Well, I certainly come back to certain writers again and again. We tend to explore and look at a lot of different writers and we always find ourselves reaching for something a number of times. People that always stayed with me that I've needed to reach for again and again would be T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Harold Pinter, James Joyce, Ted Hughes, and more contemporary writers as well. I've been very interested in the work of a playwright called Jez Butterworth. He's an English playwright who I really think has something quite special, and a journalist called Anthony Lloyd, whose books I've been reading lately.
Are there any songs in particular from 'Let England Shake' you're excited to see how they come alive and change in front of an audience?
We rehearsed for two weeks and then played one show here in Dorset and I was very uplifted by the way all of the songs on 'Let England Shake' came to life. I couldn't just pull one song out in particular. I was surprised in a wonderful way by how well they inhabited the room and how well they communicated with the people in that room. None of those people had heard those songs before and yet they were very engaged with them and they felt very strong. They filled the room and they looked after themselves. It seemed very important to be there singing and playing those songs for people at this particular time. It seemed to be quite meaningful in a way that I haven't felt so strongly before.
Does playing it for an English audience feel more meaningful?
I don't know. I would say that although I'm an English woman and I refer to England in the lyrics, the emotional qualities that I'm dealing with are something that are much more universal than that. We all feel these feelings towards the country that we live in no matter what country that is. We all feel great love, great disappointment, that push and pull that you wrestle with of the country that you live in. I'm hoping that it's a record that can mean much for many people, not just specifically to England.
Are there older songs of yours that you have a different appreciation for now?
As songs get older, they do seem to take on their own life and seem quite different from me and those are always a joy to play. A song like 'Angelene' for instance has its own life way beyond me. Or a song like 'The Desperate Kingdom of Love,' they're always a joy to play because they're strong enough that they hold their own and they're the kind of songs that I feel will still be going long after I'm dead and gone.