With an upcoming intimate gig in the Sugar Club and the release of his album Sundark and Riverlight, nurse The Siren catches up with musician and hipster fashion icon Patrick Wolf
British singer-songwriter Patrick Wolf, pop music’s original wunderkind, has never felt confined by the constraints of the music industry – probably to many record labels’ annoyance – and demonstrates this in both his music and attitude. After ten years in the limelight, Wolf released the acoustic album ‘Sundark and Riverlight’, the most “stripped back, musically aware record of his career”. The album consists of new arrangements and re-recordings of songs from his career to date and documents his struggles and euphoric moments on each CD.
“It’s something I’ve done a lot in the last ten years – doing acoustic based tours – and people always asked ‘why don’t you have recordings of your acoustic stuff?’ I love the sound of live recording… my first tour ten years ago I was playing in boat clubs and pubs, playing the accordion – just mics and busking and stuff. In a lot of the songs – the roots are really very simple – folk songs with just one instrument – that’s how they’re written. I thought rather than making another huge production or doing a compilation of ‘the greatest hits’ or whatever it would be much more exciting to make a whole new album and rearrange stuff yet still show people in a way what the original sound sounds like.”
Picking the right compilation of songs wasn’t the easiest endeavor for Wolf. “It was work, yeah, it did take a lot of focus and was slightly draining but it was pretty obvious comparing different songs and hearing what different people thought, it was like survival of the fittest really…”
Many artists write an album to close a certain chapter of their lives and once the hard work is completed they tour, move on to the next record and the cycle continues. Patrick has never been one for any sort of routine or cycle to abide by, as you may have grasped by now. Although he doesn’t really work to a set pattern, he does admit he found it rather strange trawling back through the years in order to produce Sundark and Riverlight. “Yeah… I do move on quite quickly from each record as a project -right down to the visual presentation, I move on quite rapidly from one extreme to the other. That for me was quite odd. It’s not really in my nature but It was a really great thing to do as a writer because I learned so much about my writing patterns, you know, repetitions, It was a very good thing to do before I move onto my next album and my next ten years.”
Wolf hoped the album would open up interpretation and meaning in his songs within an ever-oscillating industry. “I wanted to make it very much like the feeling of a songbook and focus very much on the lyric, as a story. A lot of people are hearing that songs that they had liked as a studio recording and then they hear this new version and they can understand more what the song is about. I think that’s very important. Something like ‘Paris’, for me, that version on ‘the country’ is industrial and adolescent vocal…for me that’s something very specific of it’s time rather than something that is timeless and I wanted to reset the song. I know it’s very important to people. I’ve seen people tattoo the lyrics all over themselves… This version you can listen to for the next 30, 40 years as you get older rather than be stuck in this teenage-bedroom studio production. “
Wolf tells me that he has to be alone to work and that he “ can’t write with anybody in the house or anyone around [him]… I do need a lot of space and solitude definitely. I always have done. It doesn’t mean that the writings lonely, it’s just the only way I can think.”
Though a relative veteran of the music industry, Patrick Wolf is still a young man in most of the world’s eyes. Last year marked the tenth anniversary of the UK singer-songwriter’s recording career, and presents a resolute conclusion to a somewhat turbulent career.
At 28 years of age, he has conquered the morbid notion that is the ‘27 club’, all the while managing to rise above the follies of the oft-rabid British press. In fact, he doesn’t think much of pop culture at all. “I was approached by publishers to do an autobiography and I said they’re fucking crazy, like, 29 years old, I know I’ve had a lot of really exciting things happen but I’m not that news/culture thing where you’ve got a story to tell, but I did realise that I did have to do something to do with the ten years.”
He possesses a similar view to ‘artists’ today, saying that they ought to “be themselves, to not follow what other people want out of them or not to make just to please other people. I really think that’s important. That’s why there are very few people who should truly call themselves artists these days because we’re living in a time where everyone makes to please other people or makes products in order to get money off of people. I think we have to define what an artist is because everybody goes on the x factor and they chuck this word around as if it means something, but it doesn’t really.”
Touring without a full band has allowed Wolf to get back to basics – but at the same time, it is a testament to how far he’s come as an artist. “The tour has been fantastic. It’s been in a way a return of the audience that kind of turned their back on me during Lupercalia which was I guess was more experimental and avant garde side. For them to come back again and join the audience is great – to see old faces and old fans. Then there’s the more mainstream crowd from the last record. It ties together all the different crowds that have come to see my shows.”
Ever reinventing and innovating his sound, Wolf knows all too well the demands of an industry where you are expected to become a mimicry of yourself (queue the auto-tuned Jason Derulo). “I found it very confusing when I went the first time … from Lycanthropy to Into the Wire. I was very shocked to see that a lot of people didn’t seem to have the ability to understand that a human being or a writer can change their perspective on life quite quickly. It was quite shocking for me. …Was it something of the music industry or was it art? My problem is with the way culture is now is unusual…I always felt people don’t ever read your body of work…communication. It’s something I learned very early on – about ten years ago – not to give a fuck about this. I realized you win audiences and you lose audiences as you go along and the right people stick around.”
What’s next in the cards for Mr Wolf? “All I can really see ahead of me is touring this year. I’m going to spend some time in San Francisco and write. Constantly writing, constantly touring and communicating. I haven’t decided what album may happen next but I guess I’m still reaching…”