PATRICK WOLF INTERVIEW (FROM THE FUNKY MOFO ARCHIVES)
Patrick Wolf is truly in a league of his own in the music world. We caught up with the musical wizard still in his night attire one December morning via telephone…
Céline: I visited your website last night and found out that someone has released ‘Wind in the Wires’ before the actual release date in February. That’s not nice!
Patrick: I know! For me I can understand why people would want to do it. They want to hear all the music now and if you have access to Broadband it’s a really easy thing to do. They need to be a bit clever, you know, have more control over yourself! I put a lot of passion into the artwork as well. There’s really little things like on the CD body itself, on the finished copy, there’s two birds so when you put it on the CD player the birds start flying. Things like that, for me, makes the whole album really back to front, cover to back, really special things for people.
Céline: You mention the artwork there. You’ve been working with Ingrid Z…
Patrick: We did the video for ‘The Lighthouse’ together. We met through the Hidden Cameras, she’s from Canada. She’s the only one left in London that’s a really close friend of mine right now. We live in a house together in Hackney! It was a friendship that turned into collaboration. She’s like another extension of my visual brain, I suppose I’m kind of hers now! When I first started out I was working by myself with mixing the album and mastering the album and it was a real solitary experience. I never really wanted it to be like that but then I’ve been really careful as to people I work with rather than just work with people for the sake of it. They’ve got to be the right people, we have to share the same universe.
Céline: Your influences include Joni Mitchell, PJ Harvey, Meredith Monk and Angela Carter…
Patrick:With all these people like PJ Harvey, Joni Mitchell and Meredith Monk… Meredith Monk is the one who has influenced me the most musically. She’s somebody that when I heard her record I actually wanted to call her up wherever she was in the world and say “please teach me something! I have something to learn from you!” I’d listen to her records obsessively and realise there was something from her music that a lot of the world couldn’t understand. Maybe, with a bit of translation, other people might be able to understand and really feel something from the way she sings, the way she puts her music together.
Joni and PJ have also been great inspirations musically. “Is This Desire” really gave me confidence to use my passion for the dark English winters and Thomas Hardy wild West country storylines and communicate that in song. “…Desire” is a real masterpiece, a very rare British one too. Joni was a realisation that a musical communication could be just as strong with one instrument and a vocal… there didn’t have to be a symphony orchestra in order for the song and recording to be powerful and her lyrical magic is nothing but totally inspiring… “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter” comes highly recommended to those that see her as the hippy blonde girl with an acoustic guitar, that lady has balls.
Céline: I read somewhere that you lived in Paris for sometime. How long did you stay?
Patrick:It was in my 18th year. It felt like I visited Paris about 12 times that year… How many times I can’t remember exactly. Kind of going backwards and forwards the whole time, sometimes maybe a long weekend and then sometimes a week… it felt like a long time but maybe it wasn’t!
Céline: Why Paris?
Patrick:It was a really natural thing. I was asked to play a show over there with this band ‘Maison Crimineaux’. We just turned up with a CD player and a suitcase full of bad outfits and rolled about on the floor and made a couple of friends there! Had a really beautiful experience. I think I had this idea that I wanted to move there but things started happening in London. I spent a lot of time just walking around, more of a solitary experience rather than getting involved with any culture. All cities are a complicated beast, street to street it’s very different.
The most magic time was turning 18, two weeks alone in a friend’s empty apartment in Place de Clichy with a bedroom view to the Eiffel tower. I put on my best home-made clothes and gate-crashed a load of high society parties… taking a white horse driven carriage from outside the Tuilleries to an out of town polo field sipping free champagne and slipping fancy chocolates into my pockets. Special times.
Céline: You met a spirit medium in Paris who told you to change your name to Wolf. Is that true?
Patrick:Yeah! It is true! [Laughs] It was at the ‘Montmartre’ cemetery. I was just walking around, it was the first time I’d visited with the band and it was raining… this person just appeared. There was no one else in the cemetery! I’d been to look for the grave of Hector Berlioz. The story is all in the song ‘Paris’ from the first album.
Céline: I’m going to stay on a French theme… ‘The Libertine’, which is the first single and the first song of the new album, does it refer to the Marquis De Sade? What is it about? Is it about the Libertines??
Patrick:It kind of does. There’s a reference point there but it’s not really about them. The reason why I called it ‘The Libertine’… some people call it “The Hitchhiker”… there’s a different character in each line of that song. I was reading the newspaper, I don’t know [The Libertines’] music that much really at all, there was something about someone from the group who was in jail. I thought this was a real contradiction and that really summed up a lot of what’s wrong with the people right now. A Libertine in jail, it’s the ultimate contradiction! These are really weird times for me. It’s a stagnant age, I don’t really see any multiple progressions artistically or creatively right now.
Céline: It seems the media are trying to make a newcoming of the Britpop like we had 10 years ago…
Patrick: I think with the English press what I’ve always had this idea since Britpop is that England is obsessed with the fact that it had punk or it had the 60’s. Ever since then they’re obsessed with trying to do something else, like the other great British thing will happen. It’s some bizarre English mentality and I think what happens is – they will find a band or two bands that will both have saxophone in it and they will be like “Whoa! There’s a saxophone movement!”. Then they’ll write 10 pieces about great British saxophone movements, then everyone will call these bands saxophone movement, then they’ll hate it and the bands will break up! They just keep on killing things! Won’t let anything develop and grow into what it could be because they sensationalise everything so quickly. Then again there’s not actually anything great to sensationalise right now anyway. [Laughs] I sound like I really hate everything!
Céline: You’re a multi-instrumentalist aren’t you?
Patrick: I’ve never been somebody who’s been attracted to groups. I work as a single entity, I’ve always been attracted to and inspired by single entities that’s why I can’t imagine ever being part of a band. The sort of artists I like are the solitary mad geniuses sitting in a log cabin communicating to the world.
Céline: You’ve managed to get your father and your sister on your album!
Patrick:Yes I did! That was a really special thing for me because ‘Lycanthropy’ lyrically was dealing with… I left home when I was 16 and I didn’t speak to my parents for about a year, my sister I didn’t speak for a year as well. I’ve always had a really loving family it was quite a traumatic thing back then. In the last couple of years getting back to a family unit again, it’s a really important thing for me. ‘Lycanthropy’ was really like leaving home, being this care free, quite dangerous liberty. ‘Wind In The Wires’ is more like appreciating family again, what it feels like to belong somewhere, this desire to drop the anchor somehow. To get my father and my sister on the record was really… it wasn’t just superfluous, it was definitely for a reason.
Céline: ‘Tristan’, I’m very intrigued by that song… what does it refer to?
Patrick:A complicated one! ‘Tristan’ in a way relates to ‘Teignmouth’. When I first wrote that song [Teignmouth] I was 17 and it was a train journey down to Devon. I’d just been to see Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’, it was in German so I didn’t really understand what was going on in the opera but then I found it in a book, the actual story line. It was about Tristan who was from Cornwall, those myths are always so complicated. The name Tristan means ‘born of sorrow’. When I did this journey down to Devon I had Tristan on the brain then I wrote the song. It came about last October 2003 in Cornwall, I went down to write songs, to concrete ‘Wind In The Wires’ and open my lyric book, really go through everything with a fine tooth comb. I went on this really amazing walk along, there’s a 10 mile beach, it was out of season, no one around out there, just storms. There were very offensive and dark sand dunes. This character just popped up and the song was written in 5 minutes! It was almost like I had a visitation or something!
Céline: Your music is very well produced. Jo, my partner in crime, actually blew the dust off her violin and started playing again because of you!
Patrick:That’s really good! [Laughs] I think more people should pick up… I always meet people who go “Aww, I used to play violin!” Yea! More violins! I always think it’s weird when these high budget bands come in with these horrible fake strings. I once made this rule to myself, if you can have the real instrument, have the real instrument! Synthesisers are there for synthesising totally new sounds, not for synthesising real instruments.
Céline: I know we were talking about recent bands and the lack of talent, is there anyone that you like or anyone contemporary that you like?
Patrick:I’m not really an active record shopper, I’m normally somebody that the music kind of finds me somehow. Then I go out searching for it. I like the recent PJ Harvey album. I think I may appreciate it in two years!
Patrick asks us if we have any favourite bands or artists from 2004. Jo mentions The Futureheads, Patrick dislikes the ‘Hounds of Love’ cover version, the discussion quickly moves onto Kate Bush…
Patrick:When I was growing up my Mum really played Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush. I totally forgot about Kate Bush until I was about 20 so it was only in the last year after Lycanthropy came out. People started saying Kate Bush this, Kate Bush that so I bought ‘Hounds of Love’. Then a lot of people were saying about how she was the same age as me when she released her first album. She’s somebody in the last year that’s really given me confidence that there are ears out there for my work.
We end the interview with talk of kittens, hand-eating terrapins and a homesick pigeon (“which I had for about 2 hours on my 21st birthday”). Patrick will certainly be in great demand throughout 2005, catch him while you can.
Céline Lux & Jo Whitby