Harvey's happy to be outsider, going own way


May 10, 2001


In 1995, iconoclastic rocker P.J. Harvey toured the arenas as the opening act for Live and vowed she'd never do anything like it again. "But I ended up here," she says with a sigh.

"Here" is the much-coveted support slot on U2's "Elevation Tour," which comes to the United Center for four sold-out shows starting Saturday. It's a gig that any musician in search of fame and fortune would kill for. But Harvey has never been just any musician, and she isn't circumspect in voicing her complaints.

"It's a challenge for me to be playing in front of a U2 audience, and some nights, it goes better than others," Harvey says. "In some places, people have really been quite ambivalent about it, and they're just waiting for U2 to come on.

"In other places, people seem to really love it, and there are actually a lot of people that have come out to see me.

"U2 is in such a great position now. They could go out onstage, and they could be playing shows that are really pushing things forward, and I don't think they are, and I think that's a shame.

"Things have got to change. Music is in a dire position at the moment. The quality of the music that we're getting to hear is just so mind-numbingly boring. It's all the same thing regurgitated over and over again, but it sells millions.

"I get quite despairing about it when I think, `Well, is this what people want to hear?' " Harvey says. "And it must be, because it wouldn't sell otherwise. From my own point of view, I feel I can just go on following my heart and hope that it will touch something in people. I live in faith and hope that things will change, but I have to say, it's been looking pretty bleak for a long time now."

This attitude stands in sharp contrast to the more optimistic sentiments expressed on Harvey's sixth album, last year's "Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea."

In fact, the disc may be the British songwriter's most upbeat effort--a fact that's been widely attributed to a successful love affair. "This is love, this is love that I'm feeling!" she howls in the disc's most memorable line.

As always, the enigmatic singer has no intention of discussing her personal life. But she's happy to talk about the musical progression from the stark, minimalist blues of earlier discs to the current lush and cinematic sound.

"Whenever I've finished any record and I'm starting another one, I always try to move into some area that I haven't explored enough yet, and I don't think I'd really explored the richness and complexity of melody and what it can bring to a song," Harvey says. "I was really diving into that on this record, and not only the richness in the melodies and the voice, but also in the production. I wanted to create a very rich record full of lush sounds and a lot going on on a lot of different levels."

The first step down this path was "Dance Hall at Louse Point," the 1996 album that Harvey made with guitarist John Parrish. "People don't even count that, yet that's the record I'm really proud of," she says.

"It was an enormous turning point. Lyrically, it moved me into areas I'd never been to before. Faced with John's music, which is so different to my own, it just made me write lyrics in a very different way and structure songs in a different way."

As for where she's going next, Harvey says she's been listening to a lot of old Rolling Stones records, the Queens of the Stone Age and punk rock. "I'm really into loud guitars, grunge and quite violent music at the moment," she says.

If that puts her out of step with current trends, she doesn't mind at all.

"I'm totally happy being on the outside of things and just going my own way and trying different things," Harvey says. "I don't think I fit into a lot of molds, but I don't want to, anyway."