It's late afternoon in Los Angeles, and Polly Jean Harvey is anxiously preparing for an upcoming gig opening for one of her heroes, Bob Dylan. She has, in fact, recorded a version of Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," for her Rid Of Me album. And, she adds, "back in my folky days, I played [Dylan's] `Oh Sister' and `Mozambique.'" She's not so bold-or mischievous-to play one of those on Dylan's stage, but the gig with him has made the usually stolid Harvey a little giddy.
"I'm so excited about it," she gushes. "I can't believe it's happening. I don't know whether he knows of my music or not, but I'd like to think he has some knowledge of what I do."
He just might. Since her fourth album, To Bring You My Love, came out last February, the 27-year-old Harvey has been a ubiquitous presence in the modern rock world, the subject of uniformly rave reviews and myriad magazine covers.
Ironically, all the attention is being lavished on a PJ Harvey who is very different from the guitar-slinging leader of a trio which blew out of rural Yeovil, England, three years ago. For starters, two-thirds of the trio-bassist Stephen Vaughan and drummer Robert Ellis-is gone, washed away by Harvey's determination to "write songs based on atmosphere, that have greater depth."
"During the Rid Of Me tour, I became very tired of the sound that a three-piece rock band can make," Harvey explains. "When it came time to write a new album, I desperately wanted to get away from restricting myself to that lineup."
The guitar also went by the wayside. Harvey composed most of the To Bring You My Love songs on keyboards, and in concert she's put down the axe she once wielded so menacingly and created a new sultry front-woman of herself, complete with flashy dresses and even flashier moves.
"I wanted to place the utmost importance on the vocals," she explains. "I wanted to sing with a capital S, and I like singing with my whole body, which you can't do when you're playing guitar.
"As of yet I haven't missed the guitar at all, because I knew this was absolutely the right route for me to take. I wanted to explore what I have to offer musically, and I hadn't begun to do that. I've still got a long way to go."