Truly a prodigious talent, a 20 year old Patrick Wolf first burst onto the music scene back in 2003 with Lycanthropy, a highly accomplished debut that mixed folktronica with art rock. Since then the talented multi-instrumentalist has delighted us by dipping his toes in everything from baroque-pop to industrial new wave, all the while reinventing his image for his spectacular live shows.
Now readying himself to release his fifth long player, we caught up with the flamboyant frontman about the inspirations behind Lupercalia, how love saved him and why we might need to prepare ourselves for a reggae-influenced sixth album...
Hi Patrick, can you tell us a little bit more about the inspiration behind Lupercalia and what we can expect from it sonically?
There’s a consistent story on Lupercalia that really sums up the last three years of my relationship and my love for somebody. I also really wanted to make an album that was rooted to a location – like Wind in the Wires was, but in a city environment. Sonically, it’s my biggest production to date and the most high fidelity recording I’ve done so far, all recorded in really great, legendary studios like Air Studios. It was a time to move away from the heavy, electronic, industrial sounds of The Bachelor and produce an album that evoked the intimacy and empathy within love. Everything had to be warm and analogue and human, so I chose brass bands, string sections and vibraphone over nocturnal instruments like harpsichord. And I'm really excited because I think I’ve finally delivered an album that sounds from beginning to end like it was all made from the same ingredients.
Can you explain the title?
Lupercalia is an old Roman holiday that happened in February and was said to be the origin of Valentine’s Day. It’s a festival of love in honour of a wolf so in a way it’s saying the last three years have been like a non-stop celebration and exploration of love for Patrick Wolf.
Speaking of which... congratulations on your engagement! How are the wedding plans going?
Thank you! Well, since the diary has been confirmed for this year we’ve had to postpone it because I didn’t want to just slot it in like, you know, three days in-between a festival: I want a two-week ceremony, a hen party, a stag do, a honeymoon… But yeah, I’ve got the next summer planned for it right now. It’s a long engagement!
You’ve been quite frank about the fact you were suffering from depression during the recording of the last album. Now you’re in a much more positive mindset, does that have an impact on your writing process? A lot of people assume that the darkest work is the greatest art, do you agree with that?
No, I really don’t agree that your greatest work has to come from turmoil and anguish. Depression can really cloud your judgement on life and numb you from your emotions, from wisdom, from having clarity. I think that although some of the songwriters I’ve always loved have known depression or sorrow, their best work comes from the clarity they get when they start to become aware of their problems. I’ve been through a real awakening process over the past two/three years, away from being at war with myself, and I really feel these experiences have made for a much more mature record.
Is there a particular moment or song on the album of which you’re most proud?
On a song like 'Bermondsey Street' I feel like I’m looking at the world and trying to tell a story about other people: so in a way, it’s my most unselfish song! I’m proud of that one lyrically, definitely.
You independently funded your last album through the Bandstocks scheme – why have you now signed with a label again?
I felt I was talking to the press so much about Bandstocks/the business model of how the album was made, that I was never even able to talk about the music. You know, there’s a reason why I never went to university – I’m 100% focused on my art and my songwriting. And I’m not ashamed of saying I don’t give a toss about money or taxes – I’m too lost in my own musical world. So it made sense that I went back into a traditional record label/artist situation, and have full creative control, just like I’ve always done. But, I really hope my work with Bandstocks gave some inspiration to artists to be self-sufficient, because with technology and the internet there are so many different ways of releasing an album these days.
Having started making music at such a young age, do you still identify with the themes and preoccupations on Lycanthropy?
There’s still the same spirit inside of me that was there on my debut; I’m exactly the same rebel and anti-establishment person. But where on Lycanthropy I was at unease with the world and at odds with myself, and wanted to run and create my own world, I think that Lupercalia shows the spiritual growth and the progression I’ve made on this journey. After retreating to a point of self-hatred on The Bachelor, there was a point on this album where I suddenly felt through all the travelling and through this relationship I really had nothing to run away from anymore. I started to love the world, love my life and love myself again, regaining that confidence and courage I had when I was 16/17 and really didn’t give a f*ck what the world thought about me.
Was there ever any possibility of you having a career outside of music? And if so, what do you think you might have done instead?
I think the only other option was to be a painter or an artist of some kind. I really felt that academia was not my passion; it was almost like my nemesis. I really never wanted to go to school or go to university and I did everything I possibly could to make sure that I could leave school at 16. I got an A* in Spanish, French, Art and Music at GCSE, so I think the only qualifications I have are to make music and travel. I made sure I really didn’t have a Plan B.
You’re renowned for reinventing yourself from release to release: is there a musical area that you’d still like to explore that you haven’t already?
Yeah, there are so many corners of the world to explore so now I’m going outside of my own experience, throwing myself into Mexican and Latin music, listening to reggae and trying to find new things I’ve really never heard before. I feel I’ve created a very solid journey from track one of Lycanthropy to the last song on Lupercalia, drawing a line under who I’ve been and who I am, and I’m ready to totally reinvent myself for the next album.
Might that include more collaborations perhaps?
Yeah, I think Lupercalia was very much me trying to say no to collaboration, going back into that mindset from when I was younger and I wanted to do it all by myself. But I think there’s a lot of scope over the festival season and during the next couple of years of touring to collaborate live and get remixes from different artists. I seem to be bumping into really fascinating musical characters recently, like Marina and the Diamonds, Hurts and people like that. So we’ll see what happens…
Are there any new artists that you could tip for our customers?
I’m really championing an artist called Rowdy Superstar who’s been a wonderful friend of mine for many years. I really feel there’s been a complacency in urban music and rapping in the UK, where it’s all become very boring. This guy is beyond urban music; he’s a true artist and inventor. His first single was called ‘Get Ur Shizzit Riiiight’ and he’s releasing his debut album this year – I think he’s the one to follow.
Ok, a hypothetical question: as a multi-instrumentalist, if you had to give up all but one instrument what would you keep?
I think if my house was burning down I’d have to definitely save my viola because it’s been with me since I was 8 years old and it’s really like my longest friend musically – we’ve been through a lot together! But I guess as a songwriter it would probably be the piano because I’ve found more and more that I return to the piano to flesh out all my ideas and write all the string arrangements. It’s a tricky one!
Can you pick out some of the highlights of your career so far?
I was commissioned by the Tate Modern and Nan Goldin to score an original composition for her 45 minute slide show ‘The Ballad of the Sexual Dependency’ – that took me back to my days as a composition student and really brought out the best in me as a musician. Also, the five shows I’ve done with Patti Smith. And after that, I think probably reaching album five. I feel that if I croaked it tomorrow I’ve really left behind a body of work that I’d be proud of if I were a ghost, you know?
What are your hopes personally for the next 12 months?
It’s going to be one really long journey around the world, touring as much as I can, 'til I’m exhausted and want to collapse! America on its own takes three months or more and I want to go to places like China and Albania. For me, it’s just about doing the things I’ve never done before and really developing as an artist and a performer. There’s a lot to do but I’m very excited.