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Polly Unsaturated

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."

Polly Jean 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?

"(Laughs) Everybody's gonna think that I've got a Take That fetish. Even my drummer bought me a Take That fan book the other day. So I've got loads of pictures of them now. I think they're really good at what they do because there are loads of bands who do that kind of thing and do it appallingly. They do it brilliantly. They write their own songs which I like. They write good songs and they look good. I just think they look like they've put a hell of a lot of work into their show and I admire that too, (adopts deeply earnest male voice) being a workaholic myself."

When she wants to relax, Polly puts the kettle on. Miss Harvey is, by her own admission, "quite a homey sort of person." She detests the social whirl, is uncomfortable meeting new people and deems her health too precious to be imperilled on the gamble of substance abuse.

"The idea of getting out of my head very much appeals to me," she concedes. "It's great, but it's more important for me to work to the best of my ability and you can't do that when you're out of your head, or recovering from being out of your head. I can't anyway. I've tried and it doesn't work. I've tried writing while drunk and that doesn't work either. Maintaining your health when you're on the road is the most crucial thing. Even when I'm not touring, I rarely indulge in late nights. I drink very, very little. Not at all really. I can't. My metabolism can't take it. I really try very hard to look after myself, to stay healthy. Being healthy is a big part of being happy."

Being wealthy, however, means little or nothing to PJ Harvey. The security afforded by an ample bank account is, in her view, one of the least valuable brands of security.

"My understanding and concept of money is not great," she insists. "I find it hard to comprehend what it means when somebody says figures at me. I know that I've been able to buy my own house and a car, and obviously I appreciate that, but that's as far as it goes. I'm not extravagant. I haven't had a holiday for two years and may not be able to take another one for ages. Money isn't something I think about."

The house which PJ purchased a year ago lies amid the hilly and sparsely-populated outskirts of a Dorset town, in her native West Country. More sanctuary than retreat, she spends as much time as possible there, almost always alone, cultivating a devotion to the only craft that comes close to rivalling music in her affections: gardening.

"I love my garden," she trills. "I grow flowers and vegetables, both. I take a lot of pride in the process of growing things and it's so rewarding when it pays off. It's just fascinating, so grounding. It's a miracle seeing things grow. It's an art form. Everything I do, everything I look at, I have to do it in a certain way. Which vegetable will I pull up first? Where will I plant that flower? All the time I'm not working, I'm in the garden. Or else making things with what I grow."

Such as?

"Jam and pickles and things like that."

The thought of PJ Harvey as Gerry Daly in a scarlet dress and faceslap is weird enough, but as an "axe-wielding bitch cow from hell" version of Darina Allen? I don't think so. Nevertheless, Polly is adamant that her preserves are indeed simply delicious.

"I give most of them away to my friends and I've gotten some pretty good reviews," she chuckles. "Some do better than others. I had a good beetroot year last year. I had a lot of compliments on me beetroot. But not so many on my rhubarb marmalade. I put walnuts in it, and I had requests for the same pot but without the walnuts, please."

This plaintive plea came from Boston-born noise terrorist and producer of Polly's Rid Of Me album, Steve Albini, who is apparently also something of a jam connoisseur. "Steve's a good friend and loves everything like that so I send him all my jams," PJ explains. "He didn't like the walnuts and devised a special new recipe for rhubarb marmalade without walnuts which he liked a lot better."

Does Polly Jean invent her own recipes?

"I do for everyday cooking, for eating myself. I just make things up. There have been quite a few failures but I eat them anyway so nobody ever need know. I can never remember how I made the successful things."

So, she won't be publishing her own cookbook then?

"Who knows? I just might well do, someday," she says.

PJ Harvey's music is strewn with emotional wreckage, visceral sexuality and tales of how easily passion can curdle from crystal pure love to white, hot hate. The kind of critics who are fond of comparing lyrics to wounds, lesions and lacerations have at last found an artist worthy of their casualty department hyperbole.

Harvey sings and writes like a woman whose heart has been carpet-bombed back to the Stone Age. Pain, betrayal and neurosis are her primary colours. If she were fifty, you'd be inclined to observe that, for such a short life, she had experienced an unreasonable amount of relationship trauma. However, the shocking truth is that Polly Jean was a late developer. She didn't even start dating until she was twenty, barely five years ago, and two years after she began writing songs.

"I was more interested in working as hard as possible than in dating," she avers. "Other reasons were to do with where I lived, there really weren't that many people around. I looked like a boy until I was fourteen. I was a real tomboy. I was extremely shy. I still am. I thought of myself as very ugly and didn't have a lot of confidence at that kind of level. I didn't think anybody would want to date me. Having said that, I was extremely confident in other areas like the work I was doing because of the sheer amount of work I was putting into it."

The work was self-expression. Encouraged by "hippy" (her word) parents to be vigorously creative from a very young age, Polly was precociously attuned to the purgative and curative qualities of art in all its forms. PJ Harvey grew up, with her brother, in the bucolic environs of Yeovil, Somerset, in the English West Country. Her parents were, and are, farmers. They moved to the region in the '60s when its Druidic past, sombre beauty and surf scene made it a magnet for tuning-in, dropping-out urban dwellers. But before I whip out the oils and canvas to paint a landscape of Edenic bliss, Polly is quick to interject and complain that far too much has already been made in the British music press of her rural origins.

"It get's a bit irritating after a while," she attests. "I just wish that people would concentrate on the music and stop trying to figure out why I wrote certain things and saying it was because I was brought up on a farm. It's all a bit idyllic and twee. Living in the countryside is not idyllic. There are just as many problems as you get among people who live in the city. Some people have a picture of the countryside as being an ideal fairyland where everybody eats healthy food and loves each other and goes out skipping in cornfields. It's just as hard in lots of ways. It's that perception that I'm tired of."

The tight bonds forged between the Harveys senior and junior, and their shared love of all things poetic, meant that there was never more than the narrowest of generation gaps beneath the familial eaves. Even today, Polly regards her parents as her best friends. Tellingly, every new album she records is premiered for Mom and Dad before anyone else.

"We're an extremely close family," she declares proudly. "It makes no difference if we don't see each other for four months, if that's the way it's got to be. We'll be exactly the same when we see each other. Being apart doesn't put a strain on our relationship. The relationships it does put a strain on are with friends, and for the band with girlfriends or if I have a boyfriend at the time. It's hard not seeing those people. When it's someone who is as close to me as my family then it isn't a strain."

Does PJ Harvey like children?

"Love them!" she exclaims. "I want twenty, now. I really do. I'd love to have children but I wouldn't consider it unless I was married. I would have to meet someone that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. That's the only person who I would want to be the father of my children. Maybe that will never happen. I obviously see it in a very rational way but I'd love to have children."

Wouldn't a house-full of kids interfere with her musical ambitions and the work which she feels is so important?

"I would let them interfere with my work. I'd want them to interfere with my work. They would be my work."

And would she recommend her own childhood to her offspring?

"I intend to remain living in Dorset," she asserts with a faint air of defiance. "Obviously I would love any child of mine to want to produce something in a creative way like I was encouraged to do and like I wanted to do. But then again, I'm sure I'd love my children just as much if they wanted to be bank clerks."

Rock music was the preferred style of entertainment in the Harvey household so both PJ and her brother were raised against a permanent backbeat that featured the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Captain Beefheart and all manner of classic blues. Ian Stewart, the late Stones keyboardist, was a family friend and Polly has vivid memories of weekend-long beach parties, and impromptu gigs featuring Stewart, Charlie Watts and assorted other musicians in the local village hall.

Her childhood, she says, was happy, but her teenage years were blighted by the usual complement of confusion, angst and distress. "Music was a release," she recalls. "It was everything to me. It was both the physical and emotional side that I was lacking in other areas, and still is.

"I went through phases. When I was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, I wanted to be like my friends so I was listening to the music that they were listening to. I was listening to Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Tears For Fears, Soft Cell who I still like so there was one good thing about that stuff, and U2 who I also still like. Then, I got out of that again and got back into the music that I had grown up with. I was able to explore my parents' record collection for the first time instead of just having it played at me. I was able to find new things. I'd wanted to sing for a long time but, up to that point, I'd only played a saxophone. I had an opportunity to buy a guitar and that excited me because I wanted to sing and write words too, as a way of expression."

Given her background, a career as an artist of some kind always seemed inevitable for PJ. Music was crucial to her but for a long time she believed that her professional future lay in the visual arts. A lifelong flair for sculpture (in plaster, chicken-wire, stone, brickwork, paper, wood, rope, you name it) was eventually rewarded with an Art College foundation course. And later, in September '91, with an opportunity to study sculpture at degree level in the prestigious St. Martin's College of Art & Design in London.

"All the time I was in college, I was writing and playing music," says Polly. "Music is so much more moving, physically moving. I find that artwork involves too much intellectualising. I'd rather if it just affected me in a way that I don't really have control over than rationalising a painting or a piece of work. That's why I chose to do sculpture. It's more of a physical thing. It affects the space around you. It's a little bit closer to what music does."

Was she any good as a sculptor?

"I think I was pretty good," PJ insists. "I could've been really good if I'd worked hard. Whatever I'd have been doing, I'd be working very, very hard because otherwise I'm just not very satisfied with myself. I can't live with myself like that. If I'm not pushing myself, I'm not happy. It's quite a hard way to be. At college, I overworked all the time, and I still do.

"It's very confusing for me, this perfectionism of mine. Why is anybody like that? Why is anybody driven to choose a very hard way of expressing themselves? There are much easier ways. You're trying to make something that's perfect and that is impossible. You're trying to achieve the impossible the whole time which is not an easy way to go."

Polly started writing songs when she was eighteen. At twenty, she joined a Bristol band called Automatic Dlamini. Within a year, she had teamed up with bass guitarist Steve Vaughan and drummer Rob Ellis to form the skin-flaying trio that was PJ Harvey the band. After only two local gigs in the West Country, they made their London debut at the White Horse pub in Hampstead one night in 1991. On the back of that single show, they were signed to record a debut album (Dry) for the small London label, Too Pure. A deal with Island followed in 1992.

Meanwhile, however, PJ Harvey the person was slowly cracking up. Acclaim for her music was growing at ballistic speed. Perfectionist Polly was trying to balance two exacting careers, as committed student and indie-fave songwriter, but wound up badly singed by both burning ends of her slim candle. St. Martin's refused to hold her college place any longer. The relationship she was in at the time fell apart. And she grew to hate the very sight of the city that was supposed to be her exciting, new home.

Exhausted, tormented and deeply desolate, she became depressed and physically ill. Eventually, clinically unstable, she was liberated from London by her parents in early '92 and taken home. As you might suspect, this whole episode is another of Polly's no-go areas. Any queries about the unhappy period are stealthily diverted towards the safe haven of vague generalisation.

"I don't like London," she affirms with a meek smile of understatement. "I find it very aggressive and don't enjoy being here. You have to walk around on the defensive the whole time. Dublin I loved because it's so relaxed. I just find people so unfriendly here in London and so cold, so blinkered. I don't have happy memories of living here."

Does she feel the need for rural isolation in order to write?

"I don't think so," PJ says. "I felt more isolated when I lived in London actually. I disagree that isolation is good for writing, to cut yourself off and make yourself perfectly miserable which is what isolation makes me think of. I certainly don't purposefully do that to write. I write a lot of my best stuff, my most miserable stuff, when I'm extremely happy and surrounded by great people."

1993's Rid Of Me, the second PJ Harvey album, was as subtle as a hurled brick. But it was the brick that had been kilned in the furnace of Polly's disastrous London sojourn and she was overjoyed to see it hurtling out of her system. Overseen by the aforementioned Steve Albini, it was a mangled, twisted piece of aural carnage but it still made it into the Top 5, proving that people will always respond to honest, raw emotion even if they have to go deaf in the process.

"I do everything for myself primarily, and I was happy with it," says Polly. "I don't really listen when people say good things about my work because I tend not to give myself praise about anything. But I was really pleased with Rid Of Me. For that period of my life, it was perfect. Well, it wasn't perfect but as near to as I could get at that time.

"I think it got rid of my need for that kind of abrasive sound. I loved Steve's production and engineering work because of that sound. I think I've moved through that now. I find I'm a lot more interested in a very much more subtle approach. And I'll probably head in an ever more subtle direction next time. That's how I feel at the moment. I'm in my calming down phase."

Some calming down phase! PJ Harvey was missing but in action throughout 1994. Aside from the Brit Awards at which she performed a duet of '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' with Björk, she made no public appearances during that year. She split her band up and opted to go forward alone. She then began work on To Bring You My Love, her finest album to date, and the collection already expected by many to begin the process of making her a huge star.

Co-produced by U2 and Nick Cave henchman Flood, this is a creation of oceanic beauty, depth and mystery in which all of the themes previously explored in fragments by Harvey are united in a rich and complex whole. By all accounts, however, it was hell to make.

"I wanted to get everything exactly how I wanted it and that takes time," PJ maintains. "It was excruciating and completely draining. The songs themselves were different. They were based on atmospheres and feelings. They had to be done in a very subtle way. The strength of the songs didn't lie in the structure or the strength of the chorus as they did before. The strength lay in creating the correct atmosphere for each one. For each song, I had a very specific idea of how it should sound, down to the tiniest little details of whether a guitar is played with a pastry brush or hit with a hammer. Or how hard or how soft a note should be played on a string."

On To Bring You My Love, PJ uses all the clichés of the blues (the terminology, the phrasing, the chord structures, the rhythm of the words) but only like a golfer uses tees, as humble launching pads, in this case for great arcs of innovation and subversion. But any readers hoping for an effusive discourse by Polly on her quest to deconstruct the blues are headed for a let-down. As with all her music, she says, she just did what felt natural.

"I dunno," she shrugs. "I never thought of it like that. I heard a lot of blues and it's been going into my head since as far back as I can remember. I tend not to sit around and analyse what I'm doing or what a record is doing to me. For me, music is a very spiritual thing. It's physical as well. It's emotive. You get a physical response when you listen to music and I don't try and intellectualise it too much. I didn't sit around and analyse what the bluesmen were doing and think that I could do it differently. It's just the way it came out.

"You could say to me, 'You haven't been to the desert, you haven't walked across the desert, you haven't lain with the Devil, what are you on about, you silly tart'. It doesn't matter if you're a twenty-five year old girl from Dorset or an eighty year old man in the Mississippi delta. If you're searching for something, you haven't got enough and you need more, whether that's love or divine intervention. That need, that longing is universal. It's a need for love and that's universal. I'm just using these words as a way or articulating my need. Sometimes, it helps to articulate that by using imagery that I haven't experienced first hand. It's still a means of expressing that need."

To Bring You My Love was mixed in Dublin's Windmill Lane during October and November of '94. Apart from her appearance at Féile a couple of years back, PJ Harvey had only been to Ireland once before. "I went there when I was younger, to the Self-Aid concert," she says. "I was interested to see that. I used to travel around a lot to see bands when I was younger and I managed to get to Ireland at that point. I wanted to see Boomtown Rats, U2, Van Morrison. It was a miserable day and I'd had quite a long trek of a journey to get there so that kinda spoiled it a little bit but I enjoyed the music."

On the most recent occasion, it was mostly a working visit but there was time for a little R and R. "We didn't work on Sundays," she recalls. "So, on Sundays we went to the coast or to Mr. Pussy's."

I break the news about the closure of The Café Deluxe and, it seems, almost break PJ's heart.

"Oh no!" whimpers Polly. "Why? I thought it was really popular. It was just the best cafe that I've ever been to. What a shame."

The rare intensity and formidable growth evident in the work that PJ Harvey has already delivered offers undeniable promise of both longevity and exceptional achievement. There is a definite feeling among those who care about such things that she is destined to be one of the true rock music greats.

"I certainly feel like that myself," Polly avows with no false modesty. "It's all an ongoing process for me. This is my artwork. So, I'm gonna stick around and do this for as long as I feel I need to. I can't always tell from one day to the next whether that's going to be years or decades. At the moment, I'm already thinking of ideas about where I want to go next. So, yeah, I feel pretty comfortable thinking that I'm going to be around for another five albums, another ten albums, who knows? I'll continue doing it as long as I feel that I'm doing it well and that I'm pushing myself well and continuing to cover new ground."

Nevertheless, Polly Jean nurses a particular pet aversion which, one imagines, could be a bit of an impediment to a long and fruitful recording career. "I physically hate recording studios," she asserts. "When I get to the studio, I immediately have to try and make it better in terms of lighting and making different smells and filling it with personal bits and materials."

What kinds of smells improve the ambience of a recording studio?

"Different aromatherapy smells and oils," replies PJ, with a brief don't-you-know-anything squint. "Candles. Turning the lighting down. Recording studios are so anonymous and have had so much music made in them, different music, which I don't want in there when I'm in there. Rooms and old houses, they carry a certain sort of vibration with them. It's the same in studios. The music that has been made in them during the last ten or twenty years is still around in there. You want to clear the room if you want to get it ready to make your music.

"Very often when I'm writing a song, I'll start off with nothing but a picture in my head. Smells are also important to me. A smell will evoke a feeling which I want to create or a colour. It's very much based on visual things and on my senses, sensations. I carry a lot of stuff with me wherever I go. Photographs, pictures, personal objects that I like, and smells. I take my smells everywhere with me. They're really important to me."

The unfortunate felling of Bill Berry has meant that PJ Harvey is not, as planned, spending these Spring months opening for REM in sports stadia all over Europe. She claims to be both disappointed and relieved. "When I'm not touring, I hate the thought of touring and can't understand how I ever manage to do it," she muses. "When I am actually on tour, I love it, and can't imagine ever living without it."

A modest series of UK and European dates (including a show in the Midnight At The Olympia slot on May 13th) have been arranged to fill the void and have been garnering rave reviews up hill and down dale, which is precisely as you'd expect. Polly herself seems more than content with this adjustment of schedule. She prefers playing to audiences who have come specifically to see her and don't have to be flattered or cajoled into submission.

She's also availing of her increased allotment of free days to reduce her book backlog. Current reading matter includes poetry by WB Yeats, James Joyce's Dubliners and novels by Cormac McCarthy, Michael Ondatjee, Vladimir Nabokov and Mervyn Peake. This week's brief stopover in dreaded London has been somewhat enlivened by trips to see Shellac, Steve Albini's band, in concert, and to catch The Artist Formerly Known As Prince in Wembley Arena ("absolutely wonderful, awe-inspiring," she gushes).

Writing new material is not something that PJ is interested in doing right now. "I would write all the time but I've learned that I don't like working on ideas when they're old," she states. "My next opportunity to record won't be 'til next year. I just formulate little ideas and wait until I can work on them properly and in depth and can record them straight away. I don't like having things sitting around before I can record them because they just get old. It's ongoing and I wouldn't like to put out something that was true to me a year ago and is not true now."

Does she enjoy fame?

"I tend to be able to avoid it quite well. It's not something that I dwell on or am aware of, living where I do. The only time I am aware of it is when I'm touring and then it doesn't feel as if I'm any more famous than I was when I did the first tour. When you tour, there's a lot of people around and I'm the boss woman, and it's always been like that. Twenty people ask you twenty different questions as soon as you arrive at the venue. It's not that different."

As PJ Harvey prepares to launch a touring assault on the US over the coming year, does the treatment meted out to Sinéad O'Connor by America give her any pause for thought?

"No, not really. She's an extremely different person. She handles herself in an extremely different way, a very provocative way, which I don't aim to do and don't go out of my way to do. I feel things very strongly, like she does, but choose to keep them to myself because I don't feel that I know enough, certainly not at the age I am now. I would never feel confident enough to express my views and opinions as the right ones because I just don't think that's possible. There are so many sides to everything that nobody is right or wrong. I don't feel that I've got a great enough understanding to say things like she says. I don't think there would ever be so much of a violent backlash if it was just musically that they felt they'd been let down."

Do politics interest her?

"As much as I can get in which unfortunately at the moment is not too much because I'm so busy," Polly sighs. "When I have time, I do spend a lot of time trying to catch up on what is going on around here. I feel very ignorant in my understanding. I find it very difficult to understand why things are as they are in certain countries. I just feel really thick when it comes to really business-like reasons for why things are going wrong. Why people are starving. I respond on a very emotional level. The political party situation interests me a lot but, like I said, I feel pretty thick."

Are all PJ Harvey's ambitions confined to artistic achievements?

"No, of course not," she scolds. "I want to be happy and I want to feel that I'm using my time here as well as I possibly can. That means working hard and playing hard and loving hard. Doing everything I can to the full. I'm very conscious of not wasting time. There just seems like so little time and so many things I'd love to do with my time here. I might get run over tomorrow. I'm a very impatient person."

As I prepare to take my leave of Polly Jean Harvey, I ask if she has any parting words of wisdom for her Irish devotees.

"Yes," she chirrups, with a sudden burst of animation. "Don't let them close Mr. Pussy's!"

Copyright © 1995 Hot Press Ltd. All rights reserved.