The word “icon” gets thrown around a lot in the music world, but few artists of our time warrant the praise more than PJ Harvey.
Since her 1992 debut album, Dry, the vocalist and guitarist (who is also proficient on many other instruments) has explored innumerable musical styles including punk, bluesy hard rock, folk, pop, and chamber music, among others, never shying away from an artistic risk and often baring her soul in the process.
With Harvey’s ninth studio album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, coming out on April 15 through Island Records, She Shreds is celebrating her music by asking a number of guitarists who have been captivated by her work about their favorite song from across her catalog. Check out our PJ Harvey playlist below and soak in the inspo.
Chelsea Wolfe – “Man-Size” (Rid of Me)
“I love the raw-energy guitar on this song and I also love how the drums sound. And the lyrics are badass. I remember watching this video and wanting to feel that free!”
Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes – “That Was My Veil” (Dance Hall at Louse Point, collaborative album with John Parish)
“This song is a movie of sounds that resonate from the first listen to the 200th time listening to it. The production on this song feels minimal but strikingly holds firm through the times.
The first time I heard this song I was feeling alone in a bus in Guadalajaran traffic and there was a woman in front of me on the right aisle, looking down at her hands. Her wrinkles were dry. She seemed lost inside an old memory. That was my veil was playing in my head set and the storytelling went in like butter, capturing that moment perfectly. A woman looking for closure, resigned yet convicted to go on.”
Mackenzie Scott of Torres – “Plants and Rags” (Dry)
“It’s very hard to choose any one thing PJ Harvey has done. She’s one of my biggest heroes. But if I had to, I would choose the opening riff of “Missed” from Rid Of Me, one of my favorite records of all time. I like the subtle complexity of her picking into a strum and the slightly offset time – 3 bars of 3 and a bar of 2 – or however you want to count it. I feel like that little section really illustrates her genius and ability to slip less obvious playing and timing into her compositions in a way the listener can’t always put their finger on. It’s a theme in all of her work. Long live Polly Jean.”
Kim Talon of Kino Kimino – “Plants and Rags” (Dry)
“One of my favorite PJ Harvey songs has always been “Plants and Rags” from her first album Dry. Within the first two bars of the song we understand the heart of it, with its hypnotic acoustic guitar and her foot tapping in the background. It’s the definition of “rhythm guitar” – the guitar acts as the kick drum holding down the tempo and momentum for the whole band, chugging from start to end. For someone we usually think of as the queen of wailing electric guitar, it is exciting to hear PJ Harvey play basic rhythm guitar on an acoustic. It’s the first step we all take in playing this instrument and there’s something more intimate about acoustic versus electric. We can feel the player more. It’s exciting to get closer to PJ Harvey in this way.
Dry was the first chance PJ Harvey had to make a record, and she thought it would be her last. The passion, desperation and eagerness to express it all can be heard on this one song. There is a gorgeous rawness that comes across in this unfiltered and unselfconscious track. The simple guitar parts in this song are better appreciated when one has an understanding of Harvey’s range. She is better known for her cutting and tortured electric guitar style which can actually be heard in the violin parts of this song’s chorus. The abrasive razors of the violin contrasted with the warmth of the acoustic guitar is what makes this song heartbreakingly beautiful.”
Kristin Kontrol (a.k.a. Ms. Dee Dee of Dum Dum Girls) – “Down By The Water” (To Bring You My Love)
“The rollout of this song is perfect, from the vocal pickup at its start right into the repetitive fuzz bass, to the chiming backups and shaker, and then maybe ultimately the creepy whispered section.”
Amy Gore of Gore Gore Girls – “Desperate Kingdom of Love” (Uh Huh Her)
“PJ Harvey’s lyrics depict the existence of a person exposed to all the elements of love in its most brutal state. The simple, driving and sometimes discordant guitar work weave around the raw emotion brought to the surface in her songs.”
Ceci Gomez of Crater – “Glorious Land” (Let England Shake)
“The song that inspired me to start a punk band in college was “Joe” off of Dry. All I wanted to do was sing and play guitar that fast. The raw brutal nature of the record was something I truly aligned with at 21 while living in New York City. Now at 26 and living in Seattle, I still listen to 90s PJ but her record Let England Shake and particularly “The Glorious Land” resonates with me most because of it’s hypnotic washy guitar and vocal arrangement.