Workhorse | Image: Chelsea Farquhar

Love Letter to a Record: Workhorse on PJ Harvey’s ‘Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea’

Music Feeds’ Love Letter To A Record series asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share stories about how the music they love has influenced their lives. Here, Adelaide artist Harriet Fraser-Barbour, aka Workhorse, shares her affection for PJ Harvey’s Mercury Prize-winning fifth album, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (2000).

Workhorse is the project of Adelaide-based multi-instrumentalist Harriet Fraser-Barbour. Fraser-Barbour has played in Wireheads, Fair Maiden and Ripple Effect Band, but conceived Workhorse in 2016 as a loose collective with herself at the centre. The project’s debut album, No Photographs, infuses alt-rock classicism with influences of Lynchian dream-pop and queer western films. The album is out now via Dinosaur City records.

Workhorse’s love letter to ‘Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea’

I feel very lucky and grateful to have had parents with impeccably wise music tastes. It could have easily been AC/DC or Bee Gees or something, but instead it was country, folk and Americana.

My dad in particular was always finding new music to listen to, which wasn’t as easy to do as it is now – no Spotify – and his CD collection was something I loved to secretly plunder. I would sneak out of my room when I stayed at his house on weekends to creep into the kitchen where the stereo was and choose CDs to listen to on my Discman later in bed.

My dad and I had a pretty fractured relationship, but music was always something we bonded over. I think it helped create a language between us, sharing mixed CDs between one another. And sometimes while exploring this CD collection, an album would just strike some natural resonance, feeling instantly familiar and deeply comforting. Bill Callahan, Cat Power, Lucinda Williams, Hope Sandoval, early Wilco.

But there is one particularly significant memory I have of a deeply personal, transformative moment, where one album potentially changed the course of my life entirely. I would consider this the peak of my adolescent angst. I must have been about 16, full of such turbulence, anger and unease. I remember lying flat on the floor in the living room at my mum’s house. She was away so I was home alone and free to fall into the depths of teen despair.

*Mental health trigger warning*

Without going into too much detail I will just say that I was very seriously considering ending my life. But then I put on PJ Harvey’s album, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, and it was like a weight immediately lifted. Especially the song ‘Horses in my Dreams’ – it was like a balm.

PJ Harvey – ‘Horses in my Dreams’

I’m constantly amazed at this power that music has to reach deep down into your being, bypassing rationale and logic. I don’t know how to explain this force. It’s beyond any language that I know, both subliminal and subconscious. I wouldn’t have been able to explain why this album resonated so much then, and I still can’t now.

It’s one of those albums – one of those artists maybe – that is so of its time. It was released in the year 2000 when I was 9 years old and I don’t know that it would translate now if you listened with fresh ears and without nostalgia. But PJ Harvey has been such a huge influence and source of inspiration to me growing up.

Powerful, fierce performer, writer, musician, and I like to think that this album, Stories From City, Stories From the Sea, saved my life – and probably helped to shape some of my guitar style today too.

Workhorse – ‘No Photographs’

Further Reading

PJ Harvey Reveals Her First New Album Since 2016 Is On The Way

Love Letter To A Record: Seeker Lover Keeper’s Holly Throsby On Lucinda Williams’ ‘Happy Woman Blues’

PJ Harvey Announces ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’ Reissue

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