Q&A: PJ Harvey on Acid, the Bible, and Singing the Blues

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So it was nothing intrinsic to the city that caused you to nearly break down when you were living here in 1992?
It was a time when I'd been trying to come to terms with what was happening very fast for me musically in terms of starting to have recognition. And it was also that I had moved away from home for the first time, into a place like Tottenham. It's a pretty rough area. It's a very poor, mostly black area, and there were a few scary times down there. I was followed a couple of times at night. Once, I made the mistake of walking home with a friend when we weren't really sure which streets were OK to walk after a certain time. I ended up walking down a few streets that I obviously shouldn't have, and you get people coming up to you and bumping into you on purpose and following you around.

And people think of you as a tough role model.
I think that in general people think of me as some kind of very hard woman to get along with, and maybe that is drawn from the music. I would presume it is. I don't usually make interviews difficult for people or anything like that or storm out or chuck things out of hotel windows. But it's just strange that very often people's idea of me is almost the opposite of what I am like. We have a joke about it being the bitch-from-hell syndrome. It doesn't bother me at all There's nothing I can do about it, and in some ways it helps me maintain my own privacy.

It's funny because the Polly Jean Harvey you see onstage is very strong, but the Polly Jean Harvey in the lyrics can be a very needy person.
Like everyone, I can have very weak moments as well, and I've had a lot of struggles with myself. But I think, even on the stage, there are some very . . . well, maybe not. I think I have a very vulnerable side but not in performance at this moment. I haven't been strong enough to be that open. It's exposing yourself in a very naked way to be vulnerable in front of a lot of people that you don't know. So there is very much a cutoff point, and I can sing a very, very gentle and tender song and do it in a very strong way. But I would like to not have to do that in the future. I think that is something that is going to come quite soon – in the next three years because of the way I've gained strength in my day-to-day life as a person.

When I watch you perform, it sometimes seems like you are detached from your body, like a marionette pulling your own strings. Do you feel disembodied?
It varies night by night. The special times for me are when you do lose your body. But I don't get an actual out-of-body experience onstage. At other times when I'm on my own, I do. I'm very interested in that whole side of life, and, yes, I can take myself away and go where I want to go. I think that's very important for the imagination. It's very healthy. I often wonder, "Why do we reach a certain age and stop using our imaginations?" When you're a child, you can make anything happen. You can create a friend if you haven't got one to play with, and you can be Superwoman, and you can fly to the moon. And then you get older and you kind of think, no, you can't do that anymore. There are no rules that say you can't. You need to constantly exercise your imagination, which I do every day. It's particularly good if you're involved in creating things yourself. I practice meditation as well, whether that's spending time in a quiet room and closing your eyes or just going for a walk and looking really looking with a clear eye, with nothing clouding your vision.

Do you ever get scared of losing control of your mind?
That's happened to me. I know the first time that I felt that, I did really panic. "Oh, God, am I going to get back again? But I think that once that's happened once or twice, you then know there's nothing to panic about. You realize that you're in this body and that you carry it around until you die, and so there isn't really that danger of losing it.

Did you ever need drugs to take you there?
No, never. I mean, it's a way to get there, certainly. I learned how to do it just through myself. Drug-taking does take you there as well, but it gets you there in a very different way and not a route that I'd prefer.

Are you ever scared of somebody slipping you acid while you're on tour?
It's something that I would like to experience before I park my clogs, someone slipping me acid, yes.

Really? Wouldn't you want to choose the time and place?
It's not something I'd be frightened of It's a necessary part of learning. So, come on. Want to slip me something?

I already did, in your water.

What's written on your hand, by the way?
Serum. I'm not going to explain that for you.

Maybe I don't want to know.
It's my personal note pad. Everything I have to remember goes there. This way, when I see that person, I have to talk about serum.

Will you tell me what you're reading at the moment?
At the moment I'm reading a Nick Cave biography. It hasn't come out yet, but I've been asked to make a comment on it, so I got a proof copy. It's quite funny, and it's fascinating to see how some, body else evolved.

And someday, somebody is probably going to want to write your biography. Would you let them?
This is something I've thought about. I'd never have this done about me. I've known Nick and the other guys in his band for quite a while, and yet I'm reading about things that they never would've told me. I thought, "I'd never want somebody to read about things that I wouldn't tell them myself, face to face." So I don't like it. I wouldn't want it done.

Aren't you a big Bible reader as well?
Not every day. I go through phases. I read it as much as I can. There's just so much in there. I don't know the answers to anything. Everything is possible as far as I'm concerned, and nothing is impossible. I enjoy reading it for that. It's, like, if you want to let your imagination run wild, dip into a few Bible stories. It's pretty amazing stuff. Why take a trip on acid when you can read the Bible?

This story is from the December 28th, 1995 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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