Interview: Patrick Wolf "I'll be like the cockroach with a greater lifespan..."
- Jun 01, 2009
Patrick Wolf (who has just released his latest album - The Bachelor) has never been one for convention. Three minutes before a scheduled interview time, he's still on the motorway skirting around the sprawling Bristol outskirts. When his blacked-out, ramshackle vehicle finally arrives, he tumbles out and shoots off, later revealing he needed to purchase a guitar for the show. Extravagant? Perhaps. Diva-esque? Certainly. But as he talks of split personas, "the best sex ever" and Little Boots, holding a grudge is utterly implausible.
Josh Holliday: Bandstocks. You've just signed for the remaining money to make up Â£100,000. Has that money gone solely into the production of The Bachelor?
Patrick Wolf: Predominantly, yes. We were about 70% done with the album but it's been really expensive to make but a load of stuff had been paid for by Universal up until that point and then they cut their ties with us so we needed about forty grand plus to finish the album. We were just in the middle of recording a twelve-piece string section, the gospel choir were coming the next day and there was still all the mixing to do. It's a huge process. But on top of that, we used the money to fund my UK label Bloody Chamber Music as well as singles, videos, artwork and all of that.
JH: Has it been more expensive than The Magic Position for example?
PW: A load more, yes. The Magic Position was recording mainly in a home studio I set up in Hackney. I lived on the ground floor and then the whole top floor housed my instruments so it was done incredibly cheaply. It was almost finished by the time it came to Universal so it was a very economic album to make which is fortunate because it was almost entirely self-funded really. Having done three albums however that were quite D.I.Y., with this one I wanted to work with great engineers and great studios and do a real Hi-fi, professional record.
JH: Have you found a huge difference in the quality of the album? Do you prefer it?
PW: To be honest, whatever money I have or whatever I do or don't have at the time I always try my best, making it sound exactly how I want it to so all I know is that it's a lot more Hi-fi.
JH: In terms of the influences that run through The Bachelor, as every one of your records seems diverse to its predecessor, what was it that inspired this one? Having given it a spin, 'Battle' seems dark enough for an Alec Empire record...
PW: I'd never done co-write before, nor a collaboration as deep as it went with Alec really. I really wanted to refresh my brain and my heart and Alec was the perfect person. In a way it was almost like going back to school so he was certainly a great educator in the studio. There are only two songs I've ever co-written with anyone and they're 'Vulture' and 'Battle' so the heavier, darker side of things. I needed to channel some of my aggression.
JH: An aspect that perhaps has been largely absent from previous Patrick Wolf outings is your Celtic heritage which seems to be pretty evident, particularly in the violin parts throughout The Bachelor. Would you say that's been more of an influence than previously?
PW: Yeah, maybe because I've got such strong Irish roots and I really didn't want to explore them too much in the first three albums. I was maybe obsessed with England.
JH: Would you say this album's more open whereas previously you'd been quite protective?
PW: No, I'd say I'm better at articulating myself than I was when I was younger and lyrically I'm more interested in realistic situations rather than the fantasy element that I explored when I was eighteen and nineteen as a writer so it's not so much unicorns and werewolves any more and it's more about heartbreak and human reaction.
JH: In terms of the difference between The Bachelor and The Conqueror, where's the line been drawn between heartbreak and discovering love?
PW: The Bachelor is about a time when there's no romance either through total loss of love or for instance 'Damaris' where you're going so far beyond romance you can't even begin to feel anything and I guess it's all the depression and the dark side of being alone. The Conqueror is about the thickening of skin through being alone for so long and then that reluctance to warm to people and new relationships when they do come along. It's about breaking down the attitude of "I can do everything on my own" and "I don't care about romance or dating" and so I had really thick skin that somebody else needed to come and knock down to get me to feel again and I guess that's the struggle on the second album. It doesn't open with "I love you so much la la la" but it does get to that point by the closing moments. This relationship with William has been the most major commitment of my whole life and it took a real, brave person to come into my life and see the absolute mess that I was and just try and get me back on my feet again. It's not an easy ride, the second record.
JH: Yet the Heaven show wasn't exactly the image of an entirely content self...
PW: The whole point of performance is that you're channelling the songs and so when I'm playing songs from The Bachelor, even if I'm offstage having the best sex in my life and I'm really happy waking up every morning with a smile on my face, I'm not going to do that on stage when singing those songs. It's important to me to channel everything, from the outset to the lighting so it'll never look like I'm walking on sunshine.
JH: There seems to be a fairly dramatic split between you as a person and Patrick Wolf. Do you feel as though you've purposefully created 'Patrick Wolf' or is it a natural product?
PW: I love the whole idea of the performer. So when we're sat here doing an interview speaking about life in general, there's no specific subject matter but when I'm onstage I've got to re-enact songs written when I was sixteen up until the last six months and if there's a song about suicide I have to channel that onstage whereas for 'The Magic Position' I have to suddenly flip to that so I guess it can look schizophrenic, especially if you know me offstage. It's not acting as I'm confessing things that have happened in my life. It's more channelling rather than acting. I've been there, done that with acting but I view my performance as regression therapy.
JH: Can it become quite difficult to channel such emotions? Of course you can pick and choose with setlists but Heaven certainly seemed as though it was the darkest side of Patrick Wolf...
PW: Without blowing my own trumpet, that's why I'm good at doing what I do because I've now spent my whole life learning how to do that. I feel if I couldn't channel the precise emotion contained within my songs then I shouldn't really be performing them in the first instance.
JH: Could it be compared with the absorption you experience when reading an enthralling book and what's contained within fiction affects you? When working on a new record, do you feel that the emotions of those songs transfer onto your personality outside of music?
PW: It certainly does happen that I sometimes become someone else and my personality is altered. Last night I was meant to do this meet and greet thing that had been organised by my management and it was a dark set last night. We'd chosen quite a few heavy songs so afterwards I didn't really know what to do with myself. I sat down and thought I'm not really in a good place to meet people so I think subconsciously it had affected me. It does affect you every now and again but you do learn how to cope with it without hitting the bottle.
JH: Are the hair extensions here with you tonight?
PW: No, not tonight. My hairdresser's not with me.
JH: Regarding your billing within the Dot to Dot Festival, how do you feel about being billed beneath the likes of Friendly Fires and Ladyhawke, both of whom have a single album to their name?
PW: I don't know who they are! The thing is I'm going to be doing this until I'm ninety. These things come and go. Have you seen Little Boots? She's basically The Magic Position reincarnated by Polydor. I mean it's just ridiculous but people come and go, it's flotsam and jetsam. There's a great Joni Mitchell lyric about how she's on her sixth or seventh album and she's watching all these new bands come up and grasp the limelight and she says "there's too much confetti on my TV set" so these bands are like confetti, just passing through. I'll be like the cockroach with a greater lifespan and I'll go up and down bills and that's fine.
JH: So you're not looking forward to seeing anyone after your set...
PW: I think I'll spend time with my boyfriend, William. He comes everywhere on tour with me now.
JH: There was a time when you wouldn't even share his name with the public! You went on to claim that you didn't know whether you're destined to live your life with "a horse, a woman or a man".
PW: Oh God- that old chestnut! My mum still asks me when I'm bringing the horse home! I've actually become very interested in equal rights but we don't do that whole OK thing and we avoid the paparazzi in London but I think it's very clear, especially with an album coming out about him, how I feel about him.
And on that hopeful note, the van door slides open, tour managers poke their heads through the blacked-out windows and Wolf departs for the nimble fingers of his make-up artist.