As Patrick Wolf shows his darker side just in time for Halloween, Kate Rothwell speaks to him about the highs and lows of his near-ten year career
Many musicians change with the times, altering their sound depending on varying musical influences and yearly trends, but few releases are as timely as that of Patrick Wolf, whose upcoming EP matches its winter release to perfection. Brumalia began as a few songs that had a “December, November kind of feeling” and features “about six songs written without any light or sunshine … I just wanted to go back to a place of, nocturnal, spontaneous, dark material.” Wolf describes Brumalia as the “shadow” to his last release, Lupercalia’s, “light”, but the inspiration behind the EP’s solemn tone does not just stem from a convenient release date.
Brumalia is in the final stages of its recording in London, although when Otwo talks to Wolf he has just arrived in Spain for a quick mini-tour before returning to add the final touches to the record. The electronic folk-pop enigma did not choose to record in the city simply because it is a musical hub however; London is his home town, which he admits gives him a different perspective of the city than artists who choose to move to the cultural capital. “It’s a kind of deeper understanding of the turbulence of it and I’ve said to myself ‘right, either I’m going to live right in the heart of it or I’m going to move out into isolation and become a different type of writer’ but for now, in my twenties, I’m very much attached, like an umbilical cord, to the centre of London.”
Even when he is in the midst of recording, Wolf still finds time to dedicate to his fanbase. He organises numerous meet and greet sessions, describing these as a grounding experience; “it takes away the red carpet in between the audience and the performer … It’s nice to hear the little stories of why people are there,” and expresses great excitement about a competition where he will select submitted remixes of his track ‘Time of my life’ to post on his website and perform his favourite reworking on tour. “I kind of want to celebrate the stuff that is really breaking all the rules and is almost so chaotic that it’s unplayable to most people … It’s great there’s so much imagination out there.”
While Wolf praises the social media that allows him to interact directly with fans and organise face-to-face meetings and competitions, he has also experienced the drawbacks of being so accessible online; some of his admirers become excessively enthusiastic. “I can cope with people making random negative comments because that’s just part of being a human being, but when people are being over-obsessive and over-fanatical that can sometimes be more negative than a throwaway comment.” Yet Wolf freely admits that he too is prone to extreme behaviour. “I’m really a big fan of obsessive behaviour, passionate behaviour in life, and manic behaviour, but when it borders on slightly unhealthy it can be a little bit confusing and you’ve just got to ignore that.”
Wolf is intimately involved with all aspects of his material; he works closely with the video directors, photographers and graphic designers who produce the visual accompaniment to his music. The people who design his clothes are often not firmly established in the fashion industry but instead are students. “I work with a lot of undergraduates, people in second year and third year design, Bachelors and Masters, because they’re the kind of people that are still hungry to collaborate on stuff and not obsessed with commercialism.”
Giving a young artist a chance to show their potential is an opportunity that Wolf endeavours never to miss, as he appreciates even after almost ten years of performing and recording that lucky breaks are often what define a career. Although immensely proud of his five albums to date, Wolf describes the high points of his career so far as “the work that has happened as kind of accidents of the albums”. These “accidents” include playing with Patti Smith and being asked by photographer Nan Goldin to compose a forty-five minute soundtrack to her celebrated work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, which Wolf performed in the Tate Modern in 2008. “The things you write about in your biography, it’s probably not going to be going on The Charlotte Church Show and singing ‘When Doves Cry’, it’s going to be that moment I worked with Patti and Nan. There have just been so many great moments, creatively, and those are the moments I would tell my grandchildren about.”
Wolf has just finished a pared-down tour in America, a set up that he feels is worth repeating in future. “You lay your heart down on the line and it’s just you and your songs and your stories, no fancy stuff, then you sometimes feel more vulnerable … I really stripped myself bare and the payoff was worth it.”
The current tour however, will be at the other end of the dramatic scale that his fans know and love so well, with a six-piece band, a specially crafted stage and a designer accompanying the songwriter. This is no doubt a costly endeavour, but Wolf is adamant that it is money well spent. “While the money’s still there we’re just going to try and create a kind of utopia onstage.” Winter may be creeping into his music, but it seems that Wolf’s admirable ambition and encouraging attitude will shine through even the darkest of seasons.
Patrick Wolf plays the Academy on the 24th October. Tickets are priced at €20