Max Jury and Fenne Lily write a love letter to PJ Harvey
Ellis van der Does
Fenne Lily used to listen to Max Jury's earliest records on the bus to school in Bristol. It was the same school that Polly (AKA PJ) Harvey went to, which is why it is somewhat fitting that she has ended up collaborating with Jury on a cover of Harvey's track 'The Desperate Kingdom of Love'. The song is the first release from the Iowa born artist's The Shade & The Grass project, and to mark the occasion, both artists wrote to Hook about what PJ Harvey means to them.
My introduction to the world of PJ Harvey was To Bring You My Love. I was 18 and in London for the first time working on some music of my own. My host had given me a hefty list of British classics as a little homework assignment to broaden my horizons, and I was dutifully making my way through. To Bring You My Love immediately set itself apart because it completely shattered my expectations. I was braced for something 90’s alternative/indie adjacent, which is all well and good, but what I heard from the speakers sounded more like Howlin’ Wolf. Raw, urgent, necessary and timeless. It had the magic, transcendent quality of mid-century American blues recordings (and you could sense her appreciation for such artists) but it was filtered through a style, attitude, and energy of her own design.
It goes without saying that T'he Desperate Kingdom of Love' is my favorite PJ song - hence the cover version! It's one of, if not THE most beautiful lyric ever written. Like all great songs, it transports you to a different world, void of space and time, and makes you homesick for a place you've never been (to steal a phrase from Judith Thurman). That's what we're all aiming for. And it's a great feeling to sing a song that has accomplished it, even if it's not your own.
I first became aware of PJ Harvey after I got White Chalk in my stocking when I was 9. Truthfully I did not like it at all, it spooked me out. Then I hit puberty and wanted weirdness and introspection, and I got it — thank you mum thank you puberty. PJ used to come into the record store I worked at while I was in secondary school. She’d order big piles of albums to collect and I’d flick through them and copy what she listened to. I remember wanting to be like "YOU’RE COOL YOU’RE REALLY COOL" but I never did, just went pink and watched her float away. She also did some recording in the house I grew up in so whenever I listen to her stuff now I feel like I’m little and barefoot again, it’s nice.
I really admire how varied her records are without doing anything by halves. She fully commits to a sound and then moves on, and does everything believably. There’s zero bullshit. There’s an anger running through a lot of what she makes, at least the way I hear it, but it never feels retaliatory or impulsive, it’s more examined than that. It’s thoughtful rage. Her lyrics are intelligent and empathetic but never ‘I’m a victim’ or ‘You’re a bastard’ — there’s consideration and care put into building stories without necessarily needing heroes and villains. I’m in awe of that.
If you haven't yet explored her music, I'd suggest listening to ‘Who The Fuck?’ and ‘The Pocket Knife’ first — they're both next to each other on Uh Huh Her. Huge guitars followed by a tambourine dream, I think that’s a good jumping off point. “Mummy put your needle down / How did you feel when you were young / Coz I feel like I’ve just been born / Even though I’m getting on” … such a fucking good line.