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Q&A - PJ Harvey pairs again with composer Parish

NEW YORK (Billboard) - PJ Harvey stormed onto the music scene in 1992 with “Dry,” and over the past 17 years she has released one critically acclaimed album after another.

In this file photo PJ Harvey performs at Glastonbury in Somerset, June 25, 2004. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty

She has never had a commercial hit -- her biggest-selling album, 2000’s “Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea,” sold 299,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- but she remains a formidable creative force.

Now Harvey is back with a new album, her second collaboration with composer John Parish. As they did with their previous effort, 1996’s “Dance Hall at Louse Point,” Parish wrote all the music and then gave it to Harvey to write the lyrics. The product of this musical experiment can be heard on “A Woman a Man Walked By,” due March 31 on Island Def Jam.

Billboard: What were your thoughts when you first heard the music Parish sent to you?

PJ Harvey: I thought it was very challenging. You can sort the songs into two groups -- a batch of eight and another batch of eight. I immediately had thoughts for some, but others I thought, “What on earth am I going to do with that?” For instance, the music he sent me for “Pig Will Not” and “A Woman a Man Walked By” seemed particularly impenetrable.

Billboard: How long did it take to write the lyrics?

Harvey: I suppose after he had sent me the music, I would play it a lot, over and over again, without trying to think of anything other than how it made me feel. And then I began to find the melodies, looking to make a good marriage of the music with the voice. I felt like the way the voice presented itself, it had to not only enhance the atmosphere that was already there, but hopefully make it stronger. I find that the pieces of music that he gave me already had a very strong feeling of atmosphere and emotion going on in them.

Billboard: Is this style of composing more difficult than your other work?

Harvey: Not really. In fact, it’s less difficult, because I don’t have to write the music. In that sense, it’s quite freeing, because I only have to think about words, which I love. That’s all I do anyway -- play with words, write words, put words on pages, poems and prose -- all day, every day. That’s something I thrive on, that I love. And singing, that’s a joy, so in a way it’s much easier than writing my own solo work. Also, John gives music that I would never come up with, so I find that inspiring.

Billboard: Had you and Parish wanted to do another album like this?

Harvey: We had always intended to, but it was nothing ever set in stone. But it’s a very natural process for us. We’re friends anyway and speak all the time. I’ve always valued his opinion in my work enormously. Our relationship is ongoing, and it felt natural that we wanted to make another one.

Billboard: Did any lyrical themes emerge?

Harvey: I had no specific concept for this record, other than John and I passionately wanting to find new ground, for both of us. It’s a very varied record.

Billboard: Have you started working on a follow-up to your last album, 2007’s “White Chalk?”

Harvey: I’ve written it all, actually. I’m just going to wait until the spring of next year before I start recording it. I’m not sure how eventually it will turn out; I didn’t write on piano, but I can’t really say at this stage. All I can say is that I did try to write something that I felt was challenging and very different than what I’ve done before.

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