January 11th, 2003
Polly Harvey Wants A Cracker

When she played at the Big Day Out in 2001, PJ Harvey wasn't just one of the most musically riveting things on the bill, she was a beacon of glamour in a day of black T-shirts, fresh tattoos and goatees. "That's nice to know. I like to make an effort," she chuckles at the observation down the line from her home in Dorset. "I thoroughly enjoy dressing up and enjoy the whole presentation on stage. So that was the plan."
The English singer-songwriter, who takes PJ as her musical trademark from her Christian names Polly Jean, is also a rarity at this year's event: a genuine female left-field rock star. Since releasing her debut album Dry 10 years ago, the now 32-year-old has established herself somewhere interesting - a place above cult appeal and somewhere below wider acceptance.
Her last album, 2000's Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea almost managed something its predecessors hadn't: it was the PJ Harvey album you didn't have to like PJ Harvey to like, with its relatively accessible melodies and production. It also won her the Mercury Prize in Britain - pop's equivalent to the Booker - but the award coincided with September 11 which meant any satisfaction at the honour was lost in the turmoil. She and the band were on tour in the US and saw the devastation at the Pentagon. And with many of the Stories from the City ... tracks inspired by and making reference to New York, where many of them were written, the songs took on a different slant.
"Overnight those songs seemed to take on completely different meanings. But not always doom-laden ones. Some songs become much more hopeful and the hope in the songs became much more important somehow."
Her Auckland Big Day Out date came early in the touring for that album. "As far as Auckland went, we were just trying to get through without being too intimidated and trying to hit the marks and be at the right place at the right time. It was mind-blowing, just the scale of the shows and the warmth of the people and the beauty of being there."

Bernard Zuel