Interview Patrick Wolf: Time For Mr Wolf

Patrick talks rocky relationships, Lady Gaga and being banned by the Catholic Church.

Patrick Wolf is a master of vivid and provocative imagery. His early work was dark and relentless before he saucily suggested he could put us in the Magic Position and took a striking turn for the upbeat. Latest album ‘Lupercalia’ promises to be his happiest yet. Branded as a “festival of love”, Patrick’s newest efforts see the iconic artist explore his more romantic side. We caught up with Patrick to talk about rocky relationships, Lady Gaga and being banned by the Catholic Church.

Your new album ‘Lupercalia’ is out at the end of May (or was at the time of this interview - Ed). What might people expect from it?
It’s a very honest, confessional album. Lyrically, it’s meant to be the words that you would say to your lover on your wedding day or before they fall asleep. It has a very protective energy to it. There are moments of saying ‘this was what I was like before I met you, this is how I’ve changed’.

Sonically, as a producer, I wanted to use instruments that were like all of those emotions of falling in love for the first time and surrendering to joy, happiness and optimism, so big brass sections and big string octet moments.

It also has an Arabic influence because I wanted to document London, so there’s Armenian flute, duduk.

Has London played a part in previous records?
I think that ‘Lycanthropy’ was an album that had London in it. It was a time that I was very stuck in London and wanted to escape the city that I was born in. But this is about, after all the touring and all those hard moments of feeling lonely and away from home, not wanting to run away anymore.

London has returned to this album but in a different way. I’m happy to be here now. I’m happy to be in love and grateful for the things that I’ve achieved.

Lupercalia is an old festival, isn’t it?
It was a fertility festival about bringing love to the city of Rome, into adverse, hard times. It was banned by the Pope and by the Catholic Church. Researching it, it was like, “This is me! This is me! This is my life. This is this album!” It’s Romulus and Remus suckling off the wolf, which is kind of like me and my fiancée living off Patrick Wolf for the last few years. Patrick Wolf provides for us, in a way. It’s a festival of love about a wolf in a city – it’s perfect.

Your last album was going to be a double album, and then it was going to be in two parts; is this the second half that you promised?
There are parts that are. It started off with ‘The Conquerer’ as the second album but I felt that I was stuck again in a quite rebellious, aggressive place as a writer. I didn’t want be that person anymore and I didn’t really feel I was making any development. Turning 27 and growing up, I felt like I was still stuck as a teenager, in a way. I wanted to make sure that I was growing so it was time to really get rid of a lot of the work I was writing.

Some of the best songs from that album I’ve used as vinyl B-sides so people can still hear the best work. It was just time to start a clean slate.

So you don’t think you’ll ever go back to that album?
No. I’m constantly writing, and a lot of the time, the songs just have to be thrown away so you can write better stuff.

With ‘The Bachelor’, you did some fan-fundraising after you left your label. Do you think that’s something that you might explore more in the future?
The fan-funding thing was amazing - that was the most genius part of that - but doing Bandstock was just raising the money. What happened after that was having to do all of the label aspects of it, and that’s when I really appreciated what labels do. They take a lot of weight off your shoulders so that you can really focus on performance, being a musician, writing, being in that world, that quite protected world, where you can just create.

I would never write it off in the future, and hopefully it serves as inspiration for young bands starting and established bands that want to keep on releasing, but right now I’m very happy to have the weight taken off my shoulders.

You’ve had a relatively rocky relationship with some of your labels in the past, haven’t you?
I think that with Polydor it was tricky because I was on a subsidiary and the subsidiary basically folded. I’d already started to demo quite a tough record with ‘The Bachelor’ and I wasn’t going to change my vision and they weren’t happy with it. I never change what I do just to be safe with a record label. I’ve always wanted to have a label that trusted me and believed in what I do, even if it might not be commercially viable.

Your sound has changed quite a bit over the years. Is it important to keep evolving?
It just happens quite naturally, I think. I have quite a short attention span. The moment that I’ve done something, I hate repeating it. Even with the tours, I change the arrangements constantly.

Which style of song is your favourite to play live?
I don’t know. My tours have been everything from ‘Wind In The Wires’, where it was just me and a drummer totally live, to ‘Lycanthropy’, which was just me and a laptop. My band has grown with each record, and now it’s going to be a small, brass woodwind section and string quartet. I’ll never forget that I can go back to just one instrument and vocal. I think it’s important to remember, as a performer, that you don’t need a twenty-piece band; but if you are going to use it, use it well and use it for a reason.

Your new video for ‘This City’ is a bit different to some of your others.
A lot of my work hasn’t always been so extreme, visually. It just so happens that my last few albums have been quite provocative.

It was important that the song really speaks for itself. It becomes boring to me that everything should be so conceptual. Sometimes it’s alright to show joy and happiness, and just the simplicity that comes with falling in love.

There is a young lady in the sea with not many clothes on…
The video reminded me of a day with a group of your best friends on the sea. The politics of whether somebody is naked or clothed to me is just irrelevant. Everything is so highly sexed in music videos, but nudity can be very innocent. Working with Ryan McGinley on the artwork really made me think of how oversexed most imagery is now, and in quite a cheap and nasty way. I don’t think the video is particularly heterosexual or homosexual; it’s just a very innocent exploration of love and friendship.

Lady Gaga is quite a big fan of yours?
Yeah, she has been known to say that.

Would you ever think about collaborating with her?
I wouldn’t say no! Of course not! I think if any artists approach me, I’m always up for some form of collaboration. I don’t get asked much. Maybe I come across as someone who’s quite hard to reach or talk to.

Talking of collaborations, you worked with Patti Smith recently on her tour?
It’s the fourth time I’ve played a show with Patti. She asked me to play the viola and the harp but to improvise. That’s a lot of how her original shows were with the Patti Smith Group. She’d get a four or five musicians together and not rehearse and just play – just keep it spontaneous.

People don’t normally approach me for collaborations but there have been a few really great ones. Marianne Faithful, Tilda Swinton, Patti and Nan Golding were my four most memorable. It’s nice to be asked. It can be quite lonely being a solo musician and going out there and being a bit of an island, so when someone like Patti comes along and believes in your work and believes in you like that, it means a lot.

Patrick Wolf’s new album ‘Lupercalia’ will be released on 20th June via Mercury Records.

Taken from the April 2011 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.

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