Patrick Wolf

When I do a show, I do an honest portrait

Patrick Wolf gets nose bleeds when he’s worried or tired – just like his dad, apparently – and right now, as he meets Clash in the bar of a rather posh London hotel he’s feeling weary. This is the first of many interviews and photo-shoots of the day, but he’s already had to delay it slightly due to unplanned nasal seepage.

The press wheel has begun to turn yet again for the young Mr Wolf, on the cusp of the release of his third, and most accomplished album, ‘The Magic Position’. So, nose bleeds aside, how’s it all going? “I guess I feel a bit blind at the moment. I’ve done two albums before, with lots of anticipation, and then the public reaction is half confused and half excited, so I guess I take everything with a pinch of salt these days. Part of me just wants to go back into the studio, and the other half wants to promote all the hard work I did for my record.” He speaks softly yet comfortably, with an appealing amount of shyness, countered by a wariness that comes with experience of dealing with the hype machine. Does he have high hopes for the reception of ‘The Magic Position’? “I don’t expect anything. I did the first time round, and the second one, and by this one, I try to think ‘what will happen will happen’.”

‘The Magic Position’ is certainly not an album to ignore. Mixing dream-like bleeps with strings, piano and ukulele, the songs are child-like, with tinges of darkness. The title track in particular summons images of innocence and rainbows, whilst feeling just that little bit sinister. He insists it is intended to be ridiculously happy, and, note to parents, a ‘magic position’ is nothing dirty, so feel free to play this song to your kids.

But how does Patrick describe his musical style? I ask him to provide a hybrid definition of his music, you know, the sort we lazy music journos like to use. He suggests “The Shangri-Las meet Stockhausen – if that’s OK.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

While we’re at it, how would Patrick describe a typical Patrick Wolf fan? Have his experiences meeting fans led him to create an image of one? Apparently it’s not that easy. “The most exciting thing is that they’re so many different kinds of people, and that’s how I’ve always wanted it. If I were to feel I was communicating to just one type of person, I wouldn’t be doing my job. Recently I’ve been doing interviews for The Sun, then obscure electronic music magazines, and then American emo-rock magazines.” None of which, incidentally, he reads. “I used to, but then I started reading interviews about me and I didn’t know what the truth was any more,” he says with a sudden laugh.

Clearly, it’s all about the music for Patrick, and everything else – press, fans, criticism, praise – is a by-product, a necessary and accepted side effect. Just one listen to ‘The Magic Position’ will reveal music that is compelling, dramatic, theatrical even, with a strong emphasis on the power of storytelling. To Patrick, “the lyrics are more important than the actual music in some of the songs. I remember I woke up when I was 16 and realised I’d been writing bad lyrics for 6 years, and wasn’t focusing on completing a story. I’ve always wanted my lyrics to stand up on their own as pieces of writing when set apart from the music, and I’ve always wanted the music as an instrumental to stand up on its own, away from the lyrics. I think the most powerful thing is when you put two things, which you think are perfect, together into one song. It becomes an invincible communication.”

I ask how the songs translate to his live performances, and how the drama that is so evident in the album is portrayed. “I don’t really see it [the live show] as theatre, I see it as an honest portrait of myself and my emotions, which can be quite dramatic. I’m just being honest with my emotions and my life, and all the stories I tell are true stories put into song, so for me there’s no theatre. When I do a show, I do an honest portrait of how I’m feeling that day.”

I’m just being honest with my emotions and my life, and all the stories I tell are true stories put into song… When I do a show, I do an honest portrait of how I’m feeling that day.

It seems like a natural transition from studio to stage for him, although he is aware that motionless, stagnant performances just don’t cut it: the audience, and indeed the music, deserves more. “For me, my whole body has to be telling the song as well. I feel quite limited to just sitting behind the piano or a ukulele or a viola. I like to be a vehicle for the song, whether that means rolling around on the floor, or standing in the spotlight and giving a straight performance – whatever the song needs.”

Patrick has experience as a performer, whether it’s in the collective Minty at the tender age of 14 – when most of us spent our free time downing cheap cider, or learning to puff on Marlboro Lights without choking – or as white-noise-meets-pop (what was I saying about lazy journo descriptions?) movement, Maison Crimineaux. One of these gigs, in Paris, was witnessed by Kristian Robinson, better known to most as Capitol K, who went on to release Patrick’s debut album, ‘Lycanthropy’, in 2003. Patrick has also played with Chicks On Speed and The Hidden Cameras, and collaborates with the likes of Marianne Faithfull and Edward Larrikin in ‘The Magic Position’.

Before signing to Loog, a subsidiary of Polydor, for the third album, Patrick was with German label Tomlab. Working for a German record label, with a German booking agent, he distanced himself from England, spending most of 2005 on the road. During this time he wrote ‘The Magic Position’, and describes the album as “postcards home, and reminiscences of being in London with my friends and people that I love.”

Location is an important contributing factor to the song-writing process, with South London and Paris influencing ‘Lycanthropy’, and Cornwall, one of Patrick’s favourite places in the U.K featuring prominently in the second album, ‘Wind In The Wires’. The whimsical fragments and movements of ‘The Magic Position’ are explained by Patrick’s lifestyle while writing it: “I basically ignored England for a year, sitting in the back of a car going around Europe and America. I saw the world, and it was lovely. You kind of forget name places and just look at landscapes.”

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