Patrick Wolf has somehow managed to tread a fine line between the two, never holding back in his opinions or stories, yet somehow maintaining an air of mysticism that is fascinating. He is a lanky contradiction who has sipped from the cup of commercial success, but has not yet drunk fully from it. It could be said that events have conspired against him in preventing wider recognition of his music, but then again, it could also be argued that he conspires against himself.
Following a very public meltdown in 2007 at the end of the promo of third album ‘The Magic Position’, Patrick backed away from the public eye for 18 months to recover, regroup, and record. He shunned the major label support of Universal to start new label Bloody Chamber Music, an enterprise purely funded through the public via new music business model Bandstocks, and his first album as part of the venture, ‘The Bachelor’, has just come out. (Read our review HERE.)
‘The Bachelor’ is an album which retreats from the bright lights of ‘The Magic Position’ towards the more gothic, noir-ish earlier albums ‘Wind in the Wires’ and ‘Lycanthropy’. The electonica-infused folk is back, with a more assured, glossy production sheen. It is an account of Wolf’s experiences through the ending of his previous relationship, and the trials and tribulations of being on a world tour during a period of drama and dark emotion.
Collaborations with Atari Teenage Riot’s Alec Empire, Eliza McCarthy for the string arrangements, beats from Matthew Herbert and narration from Tilda Swinton mix up Patrick’s introspection, and for all the darkness which pervades in certain tracks, there are moments of euphoria which punctuate throughout.
Despite retreating from the gaze of the public for so long, Wolf hasn’t been resting on his laurels. Rather than recording the usual 12-track album, he has managed to lay down two albums’ worth of material that he originally intended to release as a double LP titled ‘Battle’. As often happens with Wolf, however, plans change…
- - -
Patrick Wolf – ‘The Vulture’ (from ‘The Bachelor’)
- - -
Hi Patrick, how are you doing?
I’m good, I’m really enjoying this time a lot more than ‘The Magic Position’; everything seems to be in a good place right now. I’m so busy that I’m a bit doo-lally at the moment, I’m doing interviews at eight o’clock in the morning sometimes, and I don’t know what they expect to get out of me at that time!
You changed the name of your new album from ‘Battle’ to ‘The Bachelor’ – why?
‘Battle’ was the name of the double album I had planned, and I think ‘Battle’ will still be released at some point with the two discs being brought together. Battle was the place where I was playing and recording, and I guess when I finally reached Battle, I suddenly realised that I’d been through a battle myself, emotionally and professionally. When I was recording in Parkgate there were two separate sets of recordings happening: the love songs, the positive songs, and then these very solipsistic, dark, negative bachelor songs. So I just thought it would be rude to mix them together and make one mess of an album. It was important to keep the two separate, as ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘The Conqueror’.
You recorded two different characters of songs in one long period – did it feel schizophrenic working on them at the same time?
No, I hadn’t been in the studio for such a long time that I had so many songs written, and had been through a real transition in my personal life from being in an extremely happy relationship to suddenly being single, through to being really despairing about everything from finances to would I ever get married, and meeting William, my boyfriend at the moment, and everything just going from wrong to right within one night. It’s been non-stop drama, but I enjoy the drama because it influences a bit of chaos, and I think that chaos is a good start for writing songs, you know, personal chaos. I do believe that a bit of torture and self-destruction does help create a good song.
You just mentioned marriage – there’s references to getting married in ‘The Bachelor’. Is that something that you’re really concerned about?
I think the idea of gay marriage, that’s kind of… I can’t actually marry the man of my dreams legally; I can have a civil partnership but I can’t get married. I guess the idea of marriage is a religious union between two people in the eyes of God, and I was just really fascinated that the whole ceremony was about God rather than about the two people saying that they wanted to be with each other for the rest of their lives. I’m not Catholic, I’m not Hindu, I’m not an atheist, but I’m more of a pagan and I believe in love, and I believe in emotion and romance, and sex and sexuality. I guess with marriage I’m playing with the idea that I would love to be swept off my feet and have someone get down on their hands and knees and tell me that I was theirs forever. I’m a bit of a lady like that.
I think I’d reached the point where I was playing these mad concerts where it was a thousand screaming people, and mad festivals, and I couldn’t go out and socialise really, because that’s not real; that’s not where you’re gonna find your true love, that’s the place to find that stalker. So I really closed myself off from relationships and all that stuff, and closed my heart down.
It took a lot of panic from family and friends when I got really depressed that I should maybe start to get my feet back on the ground and stop being Patrick Wolf for a while, maybe focus on learning how to get on a bus and buy groceries and stuff, and maybe once I’ve got into those things, then a relationship might follow afterwards ‘cos I’d be in a good place to give love to somebody.
This album feels like you’ve left the carnival of ‘The Magic Position’ and moved back to your more traditional musical roots – does that perhaps feel like a backwards step for you?
Well, where could I have gone after the exaggeration and the mania of ‘The Magic Position’? Where does one go after that? Do you keep on going more Boney M, or do you go back to getting drunk on gin and picking up the balalaika and just pour your heart out?
That’s where I wanted to go – I wanted to get genuine again and when it gets too glitzy and showbiz for me, I always feel this punk reaction to fuck things up and get really emotional and raw, and I hit the bottle and started investigating Russian folk songs and misery. I needed something raw: it wasn’t the big city and glitter cannons and stuff, that all seemed like fakery to me, I needed some raw blues again, and I was feeling the blues very much in my personal life.
But I don’t know where I could have moved on, apart from becoming the male Kylie after ‘The Magic Position’. I could only have gone more over-produced and commercial, which is the opposite of what I ever wanted, and I think that’s a big reason why I parted ways with Universal. What ‘The Magic Position’ was and the potential it showed around the world, they wanted me to get even more commercial and mainstream, and I just didn’t have the stupidity in me to want to compromise that much.
So you’ve said that going more commercial and pop and doing the whole male Kylie thing wasn’t how you saw yourself. How do you see yourself?
I know that a lot of people, if they think of Patrick Wolf, speaking in the third person, I’m sure they think of that boy with the videos, that annoying person who’s a loudmouth in interviews, and that’s always looking different from everyone else, but I’m a singer-songwriter, I just happen to look differently to other people, it’s just that I can’t help that.
I don’t like stylists, and I decided very early on that I wasn’t going to have media training and I wasn’t going to be a conservative person and try and play a game whereby more people will hear my music.
I’m socially and politically aware, and I want to rock the status quo in a way; I want to change things around me as well as being respected as a singer-songwriter and a producer, but if I see myself as anything, I think I’d like to be remembered as a Bob Dylan or a Leonard Cohen or a Joni Mitchell. But I guess I realise that a big part of what I do, when it comes to publicity and stuff, is that I have a very strong visual to go with the music, and it takes people a while to get their head around it.
The people that get it, they really get it; and the people that don’t get it, don’t get it. I don’t know… I just wish that people would just close their eyes and listen to the music and see the stuff that they seek in other singer-songwriters. I see myself as a singer-songwriter, but I spend 90 per cent of the year touring and doing interviews and making videos and doing the pop star thing as well. Maybe when I’m 80 I’ll get the recognition that I deserve.
You just said that you wished people would listen to the music and not pay attention to your image – are you ever tempted to tone your image down at all?
During ‘Wind in the Wires’, I decided to do that, and I felt really compromised after about a year. I felt really stifled and like I was in the wrong job. I felt like I had almost gone into work as a temporary secretary. I was like a model at night and then during the day I was putting on the most horrendous Primark outfit and I didn’t feel like myself, I felt like a fake.
It’s dyed in the wool that I was 6’4” when I was 12 years old, I have 700 moles on my body; I just wasn’t made like other people, and I guess I’m a freak of nature, but that’s fine, I embrace that. But when I use that as a visual as well, people become inspired by it. And if people are inspired by it, then I thought: well, fuck the rest of the world. If I can inspire people to be themselves as well as inspire people musically, then that’s a two-headed beast, and that’s great, I’m happy to embrace both now. I understand that it closes doors: Jools Holland still hasn’t booked me, I’m now on album four and I’ve been after that show for four years, but I understand that I might be too challenging for a lot of mainstream TV and that’s fine. I just think it might be a bit too dangerous to compromise, as where does that end? It becomes like Hitler and chucking all the Jewish people out of Germany.
I am who I am, and I shouldn’t be afraid of being myself, you know? If it means I don’t have as much commercial success, then so be it, but maybe I’ll be understood in 100 years and celebrated for being myself during a time when I could have sold out and been somebody else just to make money.
- - -
Patrick Wolf – ‘The Magic Position’ (from ‘The Magic Position’)
- - -
With Universal, it sounds like their vision of where they wanted you to go next was very different from yours… is that the main reason that you parted company?
Yeah, I think it was stipulated within the contract that they couldn’t do anything that I didn’t like, and it came to a point where when I did decide to make quite a brave departure with this album, in terms of choices with collaborators and the way things were recorded with the timescale and who was gonna mix the album, then they started to realise that… Anyway, I think that was more of an acceptable thing in the late ‘70s and ‘60s where artists were given a free reign to produce themselves and to be a producer and a songwriter. It’s something which has just slipped away, it’s not such a conventional thing anymore.
I walk away with a positive mind frame on the whole experience, and I’m not too upset about what happened, because we just weren’t right for each other, it was a total horses for courses situation. I just wasn’t right for that world, because I’m just too aware of what I wanna do, and you have to understand that a lot of bands have absolutely no idea how they want their records to sound – they come up with a few chords and some lyrics, and that’s as far as they take it. But for me it’s the opposite: I know how the record’s going to sound, I know where it’s going to be recorded, and who I want to work with and engineer it; it goes into the visual after that, and the marketing, ‘cos I’ve spent many, many years working behind the scenes to know every detail of how a record was made, which I guess was very intimidating for Universal. I think it’s a lot better that I run my own label, because I have the knowledge to do that.
It’s amazing that you have such strong ideas of how things are going to sound beforehand. Why do you think that is?
I think it just developed in my head, as I’d be one of those people at a dinner party who will be staring at a spot on the wall, but in my head there’s six cellos going off and I’m writing a song. I’ve always had this extra… I think it was from being the outsider at school or being really bored in physics lessons, I was just sat there composing in my head and writing, and had my own little world in my head. I hear music in my head as loud as an iPod. Maybe I’d have had electric shock therapy for it 80 years ago, but I use it as my songwriting tool. I hear voices in my head! (Laughs).
How’s your new label going now that you’re a few months in?
I’m smiling when I wake up in the morning, because working for yourself is really empowering, and working for your own interests… I don’t think anything can beat it. To be the underdog for somebody and to work for somebody else’s best interests, if that’s what you want from life that’s great, but I think if you’ve got something you truly believe in and you’re working hard for it and things are working, then it doesn’t get any better than that.
Things are working out for me now: I’m being accepted and embraced by people who over the last three albums haven’t really picked up on it, I just seem to be finally getting some kind of respect from people. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit older now, and people are just kind of: Hey, Patrick’s been around for such a long time that we’re starting to listen and engage a bit more, and it’s lovely that it’s on my own label so that if success does happen with it, then you know exactly where all the pennies are going, and I know that I can make enough money to reinvest it in another artistic project. That’s all I really want from doing this.
You’re no longer just a young upstart.
Exactly, yeah. And I feel it from the interviews as well: I’m finally over that period of ‘What are your influences’, or ‘Where do you come from’, or blah blah blah. It’s all those really strange questions and suddenly it’s just straight into questions about the album and ‘How have you been recently?’, and I’m really enjoying it now. There’s not so much justification because there’s nothing to justify.
- - -
Part two of this interview can be found HERE.
‘The Bachelor’ is out now and reviewed HERE; find Patrick Wolf on MySpace HERE. See him live at Underage Festival and Reading/Leeds.
Big Chill Festival 2010
Patrick Wolf is performing at this year's Big Chill festival. Join Clash on the road to the Big Chill Festival with news, interviews and features. Visit ClashMusic's Big Chill hub for all the latest news on the festival HERE.
Buy tickets for the Big Chill Festival on ClashMusic.com