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(Credit: Far Out / Press / Island)

Music

How PJ Harvey inspired St. Vincent

Polly Jean Harvey, better known as PJ Harvey, is an artist whose pedigree is unrivalled. She is cut from the cloth of the finest quality. Throughout her career, Harvey has been committed to pushing boundaries with a vivid vision, endearing herself to fans and critics in the process. 

Her influences and style are, of course, taken from every corner of the creative realm, confirming PJ as a true polymath. Illustrating this, she cites her six main influences as Bob Dylan, politics, her lieutenant John Parish, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, the arts and the saxophone. If these six varying elements do not clearly draw a fluid outline of Harvey’s artistry, we have a problem.

PJ Harvey’s artistry knows no bounds, and it is a testament to this that she is the only artist to have won the prestigious Mercury Music Award twice. While the award may have lost some of its original power in contemporary times, the fact that she’s won it twice speaks volumes of her consistently evolving and progressive artistry.

Capturing this, Artangel’s Mark Morris described the Dorset native: “She is so rigorous about exposing herself to new experiences and she has a complete view of the way a new piece will enter the world. She is unbelievably careful and thoughtful.”

Given that Harvey has cultivated such an eminence over her career, it’s no surprise that she can count a whole host of legends amongst her fanbase. Whether it be Kurt Cobain or Nick Cave, Harvey’s pioneering artistry has attracted some huge names. One of the most lauded modern icons who owes a lot to PJ is Annie Clark, AKA, St. Vincent. 

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In a June 2021 interview with ABC, Clark discussed her first introduction to Dorset’s favourite daughter and why she was influential. Clark said: “This was my introduction to PJ Harvey, on 120 Minutes on MTV. 120 Minutes was a show where they played rock music, hosted by Matt Pinfield. I saw this video in ’98 or something, and I was just like, ‘What the fuck is this? This is so cool. This scares me’.”

Clark was rapt by Harvey. Only the following day, she was on a hunt for her music in the local stores. She recalled: “I went to the CD store the next day and I bought (Harvey’s 1998 album Is This Desire?), and I bought (Harvey’s 1995 album) To Bring You My Love, because the cover was like a fucked up Ophelia. I was like, ‘What is this?’. At first I listened to Is This Desire? and I was like, ‘I don’t know, this scares me. There’s something that really scares me here’. And then it became one of my absolute favourite records ever.”

Not only was it Harvey’s boundary-pushing that enthralled Clark, but it was also part of a broader trend that had an unforgettable creative impact on her. The music coming out of Britain in the late ’90s was incredibly affecting for Clark, and this set her on her path to becoming the enigmatic artist we all know as St. Vincent.

She revealed: “The late ’90s in England, after the sunny side of the Britpop thing, it was just all this very narcotic music, like Portishead. Just this dark shit. It was really, really exciting. Anyway, this (‘A Perfect Day Elise’) is a great song. PJ Harvey should be knighted, as far as I’m concerned.”

Clark is correct. Harvey’s output in the late ’90s was a tremendous part of this wave of dark, heady music. Incorporating trip-hop and other electronic genres, some of her most emotionally engaging music was released during this period, with the single ‘A Perfect Day Elise’ encapsulating this stylistic chapter. There’s no wonder that St. Vincent is also a master of creating such spirited music; she learnt from the best.

Listen to ‘A Perfect Day Elise’ below.