John Parish: Lifeling Collaborators

By • Jun 1st, 2009 • Category: Interviews, Popular items

pj-harvey-and-john3It’s been 13 years since John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey unveiled the marginalized Dance Hall at Louse Point. And despite this year’s stellar follow-up — A Woman A Man Walked By — released a decade-and-a-half later, that lo-fi 1996 debut was far from being their first, or only other, collaboration. As one of the U.K.’s most recognizable forces in rock ‘n’ roll, PJ Harvey long has turned to Parish as her sounding board. After all, it was Parish who gave the 39-year-old singer her start, and the multi-instrumentalist has been there through every step of Harvey’s groundbreaking career. Since giving the then-unknown singer a shot in his band Automatic Dlamini in 1988, Parish has held some role (producer, adviser, confidante) on each of Harvey’s recordings since she went solo in 1992.

It’s a partnership rooted in friendship and mutual admiration. They each have served as the other’s muse, through Harvey’s Mercury Prize-winning catalogue and Parish’s solo outputs on Thrill Jockey as well as his studio work with artists ranging from Goldfrapp to Eels to M. Ward. On their latest release, the pair settled into distinct roles. The lyrical duties fell to Harvey — with her recognizable, brooding voice bellowing out the 10 songs. Parish composed the music and the songwriter churned out the lick-laden, gritty numbers before handing over the mostly finished songs to his partner. But when Chicago Innerview tracked down the duo’s senior member in Paris, the soft-spoken Parish was noticeably solo.

Chicago Innerview: Polly puts you on press duty while she gallivants around Paris?
John Parish: It’s okay. I’m used to doing our interviews on tour. For Dance Hall, I did all the press. Before the albums come out, we do interviews together. But once we get on tour, Polly gets — I think — a bit tired. So she doesn’t do interviews because she’s exhausted. And she has to do all the interviews all of the time for her own albums. So this way she can — I don’t know — use me, I guess, to keep some of the stress off of her.

Chicago Innerview: Is it odd to talk about an album that was written and recorded more than a year ago?
John Parish: It was a very slow process to write and record this album. When we do things, it is very meticulous because we want to get it right. It’s nice to read things, now that it’s finally come out, when people say we got it right.

CI: Do you like to read your own press clippings?
JP: I never like anything, even when people give us five stars. But I can’t help it; I get so curious. I’m not complaining that people write about us and our music; it’s flattering. They usually say nice things, and I’d much prefer that they write about us than not. But very rarely do I read anything in which the writer was able to convey the thoughts that were in my head. Like if they try to say what I was thinking during a project, it usually isn’t all the way accurate.

CI: Is there an ‘it’s about damn time’ feel among the crowds because it’s been so long since you two officially released something together?
JP: I think generally people show up to have a good time. Maybe a few of them have wanted to say, ‘When is this damn thing coming out?’ over the years. And maybe they say that afterward, or wonder why it took so long. But for the most part, people are just there to hear some good music.

CI: So why did it take so long?
JP: We always intended to do another record, but we kept coming up with other ideas that got in the way. We always need a catalyst for our collaborations and in this case, that catalyst was an old demo of the song ‘Black Hearted Love.’ It was a song that I had demoed for a solo album years ago, and Polly came across an old tape of it as she was cleaning out her cabinets. It was from an album of mine that I never finished, and that was back in 2005.

CI: Having worked so closely together for years, what stops the criticism that this new album isn’t any different than when you appear on each other’s releases?
JP: That is why we make the distinction that some albums are PJ Harvey albums, some are John Parish albums, and some are John Parish and PJ Harvey albums. By putting both names out front, it gives equal billing. It shows that this project was a dual project.

Chicago Innerview Magazine, June 2009

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