Love Letter To A Record: Killing Heidi’s Ella Hooper On “Chameleonic Banshee” PJ Harvey

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this new series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Here are their love letters to records that forever changed their lives.

Ella Hooper, Killing Heidi: PJ Harvey – ‘Rid Of Me’

Dear Rid Of Me,

I grew up listening to a broad range of music, thanks to my parents’ record collection which gave me a great many gifts and pushed me in the right direction. My ear is tuned to enjoy the classics, I like well-constructed songs, meaningful lyrics, catchy but original melodies and some snap, crackle and pop in the production. As a child, I mainly associated rock with male voices and folk or singer-songwriter music with female ones, likely because of what was on offer in that collection. Of course, there were a few exceptions, Janis, Grace Slick and Lucinda Williams’ rockier moments.

When I was 12, maybe 13, my world opened up in a big way when I was gifted a copy of Rid Of Me by a friend of my dad’s. PJ Harvey’s howling, searing second album, released in 1993, nearly tore my head off. I loved it. It stirred my emotions deeply, raised questions within me and connected with my pre-teen angst. It also had a distinct affect on me in the if you can see it – you can be it sense, lighting an illuminating fire in my sense of self, asking me to imagine myself as a fully grown wild woman. Wild women were cool, wild women were real and out there and releasing music. Wild, raw, rocking banshee women with both swagger and class, dripping with creativity, experimental, challenging yet wholly engaging. I so love how rock can do that, push you to the limits of your taste, make you ask “am I actually enjoying this?” then reveal to you almost to your own surprise and by the goosebumps on your arms, that yes, you really are.

It’s the humanity in this wild weird rock ‘pop’ music that I love. The ugly beauty. The power and electricity we can access in our wounded, vulnerable places. Getting something good out of upset and instability – a big theme in my own solo work.

Anyway. Rid Of Me.

Even the artwork is seared into my brain. PJ’s mane of bouncy black curls, heavy with water, caught mid-fling by Maria Mochnaczs’ lens, in grainy black and white (oh Maria.. she was to feature in the liner notes of many favourites to come. Another Shero of mine). The image is so effortless. So confident and fleeting. It encapsulates how in the moment the music is. A great fit.

Then there’s the team. Rob Ellis, Steve Vaughn as the band and, in no small way, Steve Albini in his producer role, created with PJ a roomy, sensory experience, almost demo-like in parts. It definitely isn’t overworked. Not overcooked, like so much of what I had been listening to as a tween was.

Then there’s the content. Rid is often regarded as feminist in theme. Songs like ’50 ft Queenie’, ‘Man-Size’, ‘Dry’ and the title track, which is one of those tracks you just cannot f*** with, don’t pull any punches. It’s far from polite. It employs the soft-loud-soft formula favoured in the late nineties to full effect, in a gripping, visceral way. Some did it with pop and polish, some did it in a kind of predictable, not very exciting way (nu-metal, I’m looking at you) and Killing Heidi certainly did it, all over Reflector and the albums that followed. Soft intimate verse, hushed emotional vocal, perhaps use a filter effect, then let it rip into a bracing power chorus, harder chords, higher notes, sustained drama.

But when PJ uses that device here on Rid Of Me, the track and the album, it feels to me like a completely original move. Actually terrifying. As fresh and relevant as the day it was recorded.

Lightning captured in a bottle, as they say, at a moment when myself and many others were ready for it but not suspecting this kind of entrance. For this assured, diminutive, chameleonic banshee to take to the stage with such gusto and take up room in our inner lives. Residing there in our creative consciences, for the next 25 years. Rid Of Me was a slap in the face and the sting was oh so sweet.

Killing Heidi kick off their 20th-anniversary national tour this June. See dates and details here.

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