Patrick Wolf stays true to his roots, which for him of course means constant change. The five albums he has released at the age of 28 are like a tale of an incredible journey beginning with the raw and adolescent beauty of 2003’s Lycanthropy with its mixture of strings, ukulele, electronica and riot. Next came the escapist storytelling of Wind in the Wires only to be followed by the technicolour realms of the empowering record that is The Magic Position. The dark and battling The Bachelor had him pack heavy gear but now he can celebrate Lupercalia, the “wolf fest”, his lightest, poppiest, most joyful work to date.
For every record you’ve made, you’ve created a very distinct and different character or version of yourself. Who’s the character behind “Lupercalia”?
Well I think this album doesn’t really have a character. For the first time I think I’m actually exposing to the world a really confident, natural Patrick. I’m proud of everything I’ve done, trust me, and I’m sure that in the future there will be more character in terms of third person, writing and theatricality, but these new songs were so much about just documenting intimate moments with my partner, my home and the relationship with my city. Before, I’ve maybe been a bit guarded and I really didn’t want to let people in too far, especially with my lyrics – I’ve always been very honest and everything is a true story, but told through metaphore and fairytale and mythology. With this album the character is the person I was born.
So no need for a mask to hide yourself behind.
Yeah, it’s the idea that when love comes it sees the true you and reveals a beauty of you, which gives you the confidence to be yourself every day.
Does the music, the process of writing, create the per-sona, or does the emerging character create the music?
When I was younger, everybody knew me as erratic, I think. Week by week at school I would have a different favourite band, different favourite hair colour. I looked like a girl on Monday and on Saturday I would be a skater. I’m just on a constant mission of exploring all the different ways of identity and I don’t like to exist within a genre or a stereotype and that inspires me to keep on creating and experimenting.
In “The Bachelor” you showed this Amazonian-warrior type of character – in couture. Fashion as armour? Does glamour make you stronger?
Yes. And with The Bachelor I went almost one step further with it and said to the designer Ada Zanditon, I only want to wear metal, wood and leather. Like Iron Age when it was survival of the fittest, who could cut down the most wood, get the leather of the animal, make the first weapon. Because I felt I was in such turmoil as a person and coming through in the lyrics there was this unrest with myself and with the world. And this idea of fighting with the loneliness on top could visually only be translated as a caveman or an Iron Age kind of warrior. So the suitcases were very heavy. The new album is like dropping the armour.
You’ve always been known for your unique eclectic fashion style and yet with 2007’s Burberry Campaign shot by Mario Testino it seemed you dove into mainstream High Fashion. Has that been something you’ve always aspired to be part of?
When I was younger, I liked industries and parts of society in the world that are opulent in a sense of inner beauty and dignity. Being from South London and being very thin and young I was constantly invited to High Fashion events and soon I went to model for Bernhard Willhelm and Commes des Garçons and that was fun. But I was only 17 years old and I got very sick of it immediately.
Because of the scene, the people?
More because I couldn’t really connect. I could visually enjoy it but I wasn’t finding any fulfillment from it, because I wasn’t a fashion creator, I wasn’t a model, I was a musician. I was in the wrong world. But then, Opera, Performance Art, Punk Music – it’s all about otherness from the world, creating your own paradise, your own language and so anything that does that in the world I’m a big fan of and I think that High Fashion is like a very rare animal in the same way that finding a great techno night that the police can’t even find. So when it comes along and I have the opportunity to do it I just enjoy it. As with the Mario Testino thing, well, that’s something I’d like to tell my grandchildren.
You never thought about doing fashion design yourself?
On the last three albums I went from actually making my own stage clothes to – rather than being in front of the sewing machine – spending a day with a designer in the studio and talking about my lyrics, my album, the sense and the emotion and then they make pieces around that. In a way I feel like an old muse and I like it to be that way.
You consider Derek Jarman as one of your influences. If I’m not mistaken, Tilda Swinton once said about him that all his films are in a way autobiographical, that he is Caravaggio aswell as the Soldier or St. Sebastian. So life and art are one. Would you say there’s a similarity to your work?
Yes. Take songs like Tristan or Augustine, although Augustine never existed. Augustine was four different moments with two different people and you’re taking all these moments and try to make something other people can understand. With Derek Jarman though, I think he’s one of my top 5 favourite people and I always keep his book Chroma, a book that I’ve been reading on and off. It is beautiful and there’s this chapter called The Sleep of Colour.
On the last song on the album is a lyric about waking the sleep of colour. He was talking about the depression of colour and this was me feeling I wanted to wake up colour like it is time to start living again.
A kind of resurrection of his legacy, as this was at the end of his life when he was loosing his eye-sight and trying to remember, or hold on.
Yeah, exactly. And then I worked with Tilda which was very amazing. And it felt like it was a nod from her to say you’re part of the family, you know. That was really cool.
What was your first encounter with Jarman’s work?
When I was about eight years old, my mother took us on a day-trip to Dungeness. He was still alive at the time. I remember really well, I had no idea who we were going to visit, but Mum’s an artist and a paintor and she was always taking us to see things she’d think are important. So I’ve seen a lot of interesting things, but nothing compares to seeing Derek Jarman’s house. My Mum says he was in there but I hear from Tilda that his biggest hate was people coming down to see if he was in his house. So I feel awful. (laughs) I’m very worried we were one of those people, this annoying middle class familiy.
Poking around in his garden.
Exactly, yeah. That was my first mental introduction. And then my first boyfriend when I was 16 thought it very important that I was introduced to Sally Potter, Peter Greenaway, Derek Jarman. He wanted to open my mind to all these filmmakers. I think he saw me as a young Orlando in a way: ginger hair, no eyebrows, only wearing Tartan in the streets of London. And he started educating me so I could feel belonging to something. Art and Film and Music.
A few years back there was this moment in your career where you pronounced you’d stop touring. What happened and what made you change your mind?
I’ve been an exhibitionist but actually I’m quite shy away from Patrick Wolf. I am quiet and people sometimes mistake me as arrogant but I just don’t start conversation too well. And when that personal part of you starts calling for you to return to the shyness, the introverted, the writing and the not seeing anybody for a couple of weeks it was outweighing the touring. I was very young and it wasn’t three years ago it was more like 2005 when it happend.
Wind in the Wires?
Yeah, it was the end of Wind in the Wires and the beginning of Magic Position and I was not mentally prepared at all for what it meant to go from playing in front of ten people a day to 500 in international cities. I just made music and then suddenly there was this demand – it was amazing and bewildering. So I was actually a bit crazy because all I wanted to do was get back home and draw the curtains. Now I see the studio as my break. I’ve luckily struck the right balance between the two in the last couple of years and I think that comes with getting older, but it’s trial and error and being young, not being trained as a traditional pop star and being naturally very overemotional with my music, of course there’s gonna be moments of chaos. And I kind of don’t care. I think it’s also exciting for other people when there are moments of drama. The last thing the world needs are boring pop stars.
Yeah, cheers for that. (laughs)
You’ve had many collaborations in the last couple of years – with Nan Goldin, Marianne Faithful, Patti Smith, etc. Who do you desire to work with in the future?
Kate Bush. I actually got, and maybe I shouldn’t ... it’s something really amazing ... she is releasing this new album with re-recordings of her last two albums. I sent a tweet out saying, loving the new deeper understanding, it’s the brave rendition of one of my favourite songs. It was sent on to Kate and she sent a message back saying, thank you so much, that’s so lovely and kind of him. That she even knows my name is so crazy for me. (laughs) It sounds like, oh Kate Bush read my tweet, but it’s bizarre, that these people who for you are up in the clouds should know you. I met PJ Harvey recently. I was on the red carpet at the NME-Awards and she was next to me. I thought, oh no! oh god! and just wanted to run away but I turned around and she gave me a big smile and I was like, what?! And then she walked up to talk to me and said, oh I saw you playing with Patti Smith, you were a great Viola player, well done! I don’t remember what happened after that. I was absolutely blown away for a week and still am when I think about it. But it only started in the last couple of years really. For a long time I felt like I didn’t have any peers. I wasn’t acknowledged by the people above me and younger artists were never acknowledging any kind of influence that I’ve had, even when they told me in private and it was just a bit like, well, come on, somebody’s gonna say at least, I actually quite like Patrick Wolf’s music. So when Patti comes, the queen of Rock’n’Roll and songwriting and poetry, my backbone just went straight up and I felt alive again, because somebody really believes in my work. I’m not saying that my audience is not enough but every now and again it’s like working in an office and you’re doing good work but nobody’s talking to.
Birds have always been a major part of your lyrics’ symbolism. What’s the story behind the falcons on “Lupercalia”?
The Falcons is the most metaphorical song on the album. It’s about a holiday, an escape that I made with Will last year. It was one of those fuck-the-world moments. We rented a Gipsy caravan with no power, just one solar panel. We totally pulled the plug on modern world. We crossed the border from England to Wales, walked through the mountains, slept under the stars – it was a return to love, a return to romance and silence and intimacy, and I simply had to write about it. And when I was living next to the Tate Modern, there were two falcons at the top of it. They came when William and I had broken up and when we came back together they started to roost. They’re really rare birds and in the whole of London they came to the top of this tower. I do find that if a big flock of birds go by the window and you’ll just be talking of something, it’s a sign. I’ve developed my own fortune telling through different kinds of birds and the symbols that they mean to me. I didn’t have a name for the song yet and the chorus is “looking up” which would just be a horrible title. So I was getting sleepless nights and when I got the final master back from the studio William ran into my landlord who told him that a peregrine falcon had come down into the garden and killed a blackbird. I love blackbirds, but they harbour darkness and sadness; they’re lonely-birds. So for me this symbolized the birds of love coming down to kill the bird of sorrow. And I thought, fuck yes, this is The Falcons! (laughs)