A Woman A Man Walked By may be the first collaboration credited to PJ Harvey & John Parish in more than a decade—the pair issued Dance Hall At Louse Point in 1996—but it’s hardly an occasional partnership. Parish and Harvey began working together in Somerset, England, band Automatic Dlamini in the late ’80s, when the latter was 18 years old; Parish continued to work with Harvey on several of her solo albums as a producer and multi-instrumentalist. Their close musical relationship comes to full fruition on A Woman A Man Walked By (released last month on Island), a wide-ranging album that matches Parish’s music with Harvey’s lyrics and vocals, with assistance from bassist Eric Drew Feldman (Captain Beefheart, Frank Black), drummer Carla Azar (Autolux) and Italian guitarist Giovanni Ferrario. MAGNET spoke to Parish and Harvey (read yesterday’s interview with him) about their long-distance collaboration, the process behind the album and a curious mermaid suit.
“A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go”:
MAGNET: You and John have been collaborating for 20 years. What keeps you two coming back to each other? It’s an unusual partnership that can last 20 years and still be fresh, relevant and functional.
Harvey: It is an unusual partnership, and the relationship we have is very rare, I realize that more and more as I get older. That’s why we keep coming back to each other; it’s a special working relationship but also friendship as well. John’s always been, from the first time I met him, someone I respected enormously, and his judgment, I think, is very keen. I trust him implicitly. He has extraordinarily good ear for judging what’s good and bad with music. I value his opinion and judgments just on the stuff of life, really—he’s a remarkable human being and I realize that more as I get older. But throughout our friendship, even if I’m not working with him on a particular project, he’s always one of the first people I’ll send my new songs to in order to get feedback and to help me gauge what’s good and what isn’t. John, Flood and Mick Harvey—those are my three people I’ll send songs to before anybody else because I know them so well and they know me so well, we have this relationship where they can be completely, honestly critical of my work and I can return that and it’s all done in the right spirit, if you know what I mean.
If it makes you feel even better, he uses almost exactly the same words to describe how he feels about working with you. He said, “It’s a delicate thing to deliver really honest feedback to somebody without damaging their confidence”—there’s a balance to how it’s done. He told me a funny story about touring with you—that on the To Bring You My Love tour you went on one night in a mermaid’s costume, and it freaked him out, and he told you backstage afterward it freaked him out. And …
And I never wore it again. [Laughs] That’s true … my extravagant creation that had been made months beforehand. Well, we had a good laugh about it, and I never wore it again. On a more serious note, very often I might send John demos of my own new songs, and there may be songs that he doesn’t think are good. And it doesn’t mean I’ll always go with that—he’s usually right, unfortunately—but I might go ahead and record it anyway, because it’s something that I just need to do. And he’ll do the same; work that he might feel he believes in and has to do, so we can also critique each other’s work but then ignore it, take it on board but then carry on the way we were going anyway. We’ve both done that in the past, too. That’s another important part of this equation; we’re not at each other’s beck and call. We value each other enormously and take each other’s opinion on board as we go.