Dorset born singer / songwriter PJ Harvey announced earlier this year that she would be inviting fans to come and watch her record her 9th studio album in an exhibition at Somerset House. Tickets were snapped up fast but luckily new dates were added and I managed to grab a ticket and make it down to a Wednesday afternoon session.
Upon arrival, phones and any other potential recording devices are taken away from me and I’m led downstairs to a room with a huge glass showcase in it. Polly and her band are on the other side of the one way glass (it’s one way glass so that they’re not distracted by spectators and things are kept as natural as possible) recording some drums. These are not just any drums however; one of the drums is a snare drum, with a smaller drum skin held loosely into place to create an incredible ringing sound when struck whilst the other guy (presumably Jean-Marc Butty) plays marching band-esque drum roll, which has a sort of sacrilegious / ceremonial feel to it. Sonically, we are fed exactly what the band are hearing which is the barebones of a track with some impressive guide vocals. The track itself has an incredibly hypnotic feel to it whilst also containing some classic PJH style “oooo”s.
The band are all seemingly very relaxed despite the fact that they’re in a glass display cabinet being watched and the floor is white, the walls are white (bar a PJ Harvey line drawn crest) and the sofa is also extremely white. This is far from your moth eaten rug and cigarette stained walls environment that most artists are offered when it comes to recording an album. Even when they reach the ‘dilemma’ of which organ sound they should use in order to give the song a “pulse” they seem calm and collected and simply flick through the organ sounds unfazed until deciding on what they consider to be the perfect tool for the job at hand.
Another treat that we’re given are handwritten lyrics to the tracks from the new album that are nailed onto the wall; this is an eyeopener as to what theme the new album will be on. Again, this album seems to be about conflict and injustice, however, rather than being about a particular war or place, it has an international feel. Polly’s moved away from landscapes and tapped into the mindset of those at the hands of injustice all over the world. It going to be a sad but beautiful, and of course creative album for sure whilst also being heartbreakingly relevant to bad state that the world is in right now.
Words: Katie Wilkinson