Trovo questa intervista particolarmente interessante perché è una delle poche che fornisce informazioni un po’ più dettagliate riguardo al nuovo album in arrivo,”The Conqueror”.
Patrick Wolf goes it alone
Patrick Wolf puts down his cider and absent-mindedly picks the glitter from under his fingernails. “I have a huge instinct to destroy any label that’s put on me,” he says softly. “Maybe people thought I was difficult when I was 18. I’d make electronic music and get labelled electroclash and then suddenly change to make folk music, shave my head, get back to nature, then change again into a Technicolor pop thing.”
This prodigiously talented and restless young performer has accumulated more labels than should be possible in his 25 years: a veteran of London’s performance art scene, an accomplished singer/songwriter, violinist, pianist, guitarist, producer, video director, stylist, model (his elfin features were captured by Mario Testino for a Burberry campaign) and party-boy tabloid fodder. Now he is a record label manager and internet entrepreneur, having raised £100,000 through the website Bandstock from fans keen to ensure that they get more of his music and that he retains control over it. His music is experimental, deeply emotional, intimate yet brilliantly overblown and constantly surprising.
His four critically lauded, original and complex albums feature collaborators such as Marianne Faithfull and Tilda Swinton. While utterly his own, his music would sit comfortably on your shelves alongside Kate Bush, Bat For Lashes and La Roux. His current album The Bachelor is baroque and noir-ish, spawned by the painful end of a relationship. It mixes Celtic and electronic instrumentation with piano, strings, beats and Wolf’s rich, masculine baritone. It features a beautiful piano ballad, a love song to his father, from whom he had been estranged but later reconciled when his father had cancer ( he has recovered).
This month he will be playing an acoustic gig as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s Gay Icons exhibition, with a performance of The Bachelor in its entirety to follow at the London Palladium in November featuring a string section, gospel choir and guest performances.
His mother is an artist, his father a musician who encouraged and nurtured his creativity. His face lights up at the memory of his mother taking him to a windswept Dungeness to find the director Derek Jarman’s famous hut. “We peered through the windows and could see him sitting in there, writing.” he says. He cites Orlando, the film of shifting historical and gender identities by Jarman’s collaborator Sally Potter as a profound influence. “I saw it when I was 16 and it changed my life. It gave me such a sense of identity, left me feeling confident in my sexuality and my ability to change and evolve as an artist.”
“When I was 10 I stopped making friends at school and started to go to car boot sales to buy instruments,” he says. When he was 14 he began to work with the pop art collective Minty: “They gave me an awakening as an artist; never dilute yourself to be accepted or to be more understood. To be misunderstood was almost the goal. It was my Sylvia Young time.”
Indeed, the only time he seemed at all diluted was on his third album, The Magic Position which, while still eccentric and individual, was crammed with shinier, seemingly more commercial, pop stylings and a million miles from the folk and electro of his earlier offerings. Major-label life did not suit him. He is fiercely protective of his music and had unusually strong creative control clauses on his contract. “I was experimenting with new music and they were terrified about a new direction.” It can’t have helped the relationship that when label representatives visited him in the studio to see how work was coming along, rather than show them what he was up to he let off a siren for three minutes.
The label dropped him, his fans put their money where their mouths were and he has released his finest, most polished record yet. “People took a big leap of faith and I ended up with more than the marketing budget on a major. And I’ve got no one coming in and telling me ‘Patrick, this is the market right now, La Roux are at No 4; can you do something a bit more like Erasure?’ I’m not having the conversations I did two years ago and which drove me mad. It’s why I’ve still got a BlackBerry this month, because I used to just throw it at people.”
As well as playing the major label game, Wolf experimented with the other side of fame. There was a period in 2007 when he was in the papers playing the paparazzi party boy, falling out of nightclubs and into the tabloids. “I thought it would be funny; I could be the male Paris Hilton and make techno music on the side, but you cannot have one and the other — you lose your … I lost sight of my integrity for a while.”
At the time his flat was, by his own admission, squalid. He was drinking too much, not taking care of himself and lost. “It was terrifying. I needed to clean up. The journalists know when you put your rubbish out. And for someone like me, well, you should see what I wear to buy a pint of milk; like a walking car crash in hot pants,” he laughs.
In 2008 he calmed down his lifestyle and now shares his home and life with his boyfriend William (for whom his next album The Conqueror is named). Last year, Wolf says, “I returned to my roots, to my folk music, to my intimacy with a partner, to cooking and learning how to get rid of the fruit flies in the flat rather than worry about how drunk I was last night.” William tours with Wolf and works on the merchandise stall so that they can be together.
The Bachelor and The Conqueror were conceived as a double album, representing both sides of the same coin. “The Bachelor focused on the lonely and depressed — ‘Leave me alone, I’ve lost hope in love’ — a solipsistic, aggressive character with the romance of the hermit. It portrayed a masturbatory way of living,” he says.
The new album came from the start of a happier life. “The lyrics are very erotic and romantic. I’m more interested in sensuality. This is going to be filled with a waking-up and making love three times on a rainy day kind of love.” But then he also describes it as “gay, bum-faced music. You know, like too much Botox, plucked eyebrows and a perma-tan”.
To achieve this he’s working with some big dance producers — Groove Armada and some of Britney Spears’s team — and is trying to produce three-minute ecstatic pop songs of love and domesticity referencing Motown and disco. “It’s not cheese, it’s happy, pornographic music. You can be quite experimental but produce anthems that people want to get married to, you know, have that first dance at a wedding thing. Music for your first kiss.”
Like his music and image, conversation with Wolf twists and turns breathlessly. We are discussing icons and, when asked for his take on Michael Jackson’s life and death, he tells a story about trying to meet Jackson by gatecrashing the Dorchester. Accompanied by the photographer Nan Goldin’s assistant, he blagged his way into the bar. “But it was Margaret Thatcher’s husband Denis’s birthday, and I ended up at the piano, singing My Funny Valentine to him.” They were asked to leave.
He continues with a discussion that involves Daniella Westbrook, Jackson’s nose, a toilet attendant, mortician’s wax and how he suspects that perhaps Jackson isn’t dead but had had enough and fled to a monastery. Given the arc of his career and life, perhaps Wolf too will experiment with monastic living at some point?