A butterfly attempts to escape my guts as I climb the stairs to Patrick Wolf's riverside flat. With notoriously difficult (read also: exceptional, eccentric, explorer-like...) artists there's always a chance they'll misinterpret a question before you've finished it and start bashing you in the face, Björk-vs-'ratzi stylee. Or there's the distinct possibility, especially at 11am on a wet Monday morning, you'll be greeted by silent indifference verging on belligerence, especially if you happen to catch one of them before their first caffeine hit of the day. There's also the chance they read something on your site and wanna get their rant on like Ryan-Adams-vs-Pitchfork.
This is before factoring in the smaller fanboy-related matter of Patrick creating landscapes which I've lived and lost myself in for many of my darkest days.
Then there's the tall matter of ringing the door bell and shaking hands with the towering, lightly glittered blonde, musician-cum-otherworldly-popstar. There's the sitting down, drinking tea (without spilling it everywhere), eating biscuits, surveying the loft-space - it has assorted stage wear and distinct spaces for living and recording. Oh and the small matter of opening my gob, pressing record on the dictaphone and beginning the interview about The Bachelor...
DiS: Do you hate doing interviews or do you quite like them?
PW: Oh, I guess it’s second nature now, really.
DiS: I suppose it has to be…?
PW: Well, I’d say maybe more like third nature - after: shows and live… behaviour, performing, videos, artwork and everything. First nature is of course making music but I’ve become very used to it now, on my fourth album. Even before I did my first EP I was around a lot of performance art where you have to constantly – even at music college, doing composition – justify your actions, you know? So it’s a little bit like that for me. And after the end of today it’ll be the third day of this album, and it goes on until 8 o’clock at night, so…towards the end of the day you’ve been asked the same question six times. But it's early and you’re the first of the day!
DiS: Good! When you started making music it was very much in your bedroom, and you’ve now had to adapt to bigger stages, different audiences that do and don’t know who you are. Is that something that you’ve embraced? Because on the one hand you seem to reference classical music and on the other it’s Madonna, and just looking at these [rom-com, Care Bears and art-verging-on-porn] DVDs as well…
PW: Oh no, no don’t! Tilda Swinton was going to come over for tea and I was just like, ‘What the fuck are we going to do about, like, all these’
When I make an album, there’s so much emotional confession going on during the day, and I’m lost in like, string arrangements, and beat programme stuff, which really takes a lot of heart, and a lot of focus – creative focus – I need to lock myself away with the Lady Gaga album or, go through the ‘girls’ night in’ DVD collection from Woolworths…or wherever it is now.
DiS: You mentioned Britney on stage at an album preview show the other night, which always seems to have been slightly there in your music, buried but that side of you has certainly crept out increasingly, especially over these past two albums?
PW: It’s not ironic, at all. I really do enjoy listening to her. With this album, I became really interested in Danja, Timbaland’s protégé, and all the vocal effects he was using – obviously utilising Pro Tools and Ableton to a real extreme within pop music. And that was kind of where, like on album one, it was actually a lot more influenced by all the old records by Planet Mu, Reflex and all the experimental one-offs on FatCat. And I don’t know what’s happened. Maybe on album four I’ve been listening a lot more to Mariah Carey produced by Danja; Britney produced by Danja. There’s been a big American R’n’B influence on this album.
DiS: Is that like the art of mass communication, that art ofpop, something you’ve been quite intrigued by? Like how to communicate with a universal crowd? It seems like you’ve made a transition in the past few year's, with an album not for yourself, but for what someone a bit like yourself might want to listen to? Don’t get me wrong, I don't think you've shifted but perhaps the scale of things has changed?
PW: I don’t think… It’s half and half. When I go ‘okay: it’s time to really make an album, to finish an album, and finish songs’ – say I’ve written a song on the piano or my acoustic stuff here, and then I have to climb up the ladder and start programming it, it’s not changed too much at all. I’m just no longer living in a little hostel, and I’ve managed to sustain a business. Everything’s a lot easier for me now, and I don’t have to panic if I’m spending twelve days in a row working on a song, for example. I’ve got myself in a comfortable position following the touring I’ve done over the years, and owning my back catalogue, and having this business… I can be as selfish with my time as I want, you know? Now it’s all finished – the album got sent off to the factory the other day and it’s almost like ’Oh God! It’s the end of that free time…’ Now you’re onto like, wake up, six hours of interviews, and this is the part where I have a bit more creative license.
I’ve learnt not to lie or make stories up. I remember on my first album I was so ashamed of coming from Wandsworth, that I just started talking about my great-grandfather’s friend who has a lighthouse, and I was just alluding stories that I was born like, on a windswept cliff. And I think I was just really ashamed of being from South London. I just wanted to be international. Or Kate Bush…
DiS: You just didn’t want anyone to think you had any roots, it seemed…
PW: Yeah. I just didn’t want anyone to connect me to anything. I didn’t want to be connected, at all. I almost accidentally created an enigma for myself, and by the time I was on Universal, with that amount of press and that amount of speculation, there’s no room for enigmatic behaviour. You just can’t do it, basically, so I protected a lot of my private life for the first couple of albums, and now it’s like…I don’t know. I’m a rambler, so…
DiS: So you touched a bit on the business side, and obviously this record’s coming out in a different way – which seems different to the way music is currently funded and released. But it doesn’t seem different to the way music was funded when people first started recording music, and it doesn’t seem that different to taxes paying for sculptures or artworks on ceilings…
DiS: Do you feel like people are making a big deal over it, when it feels quite natural, maybe? I know some of it’s obviously people buying the album now and they’re just happening to pay in advance, so you’ve got the money to cashflow things?
PW: I’m in a really lucky position, with the whole Universal fiasco. Basically, I always say to any new musician, have a fantastic lawyer with you, even if you don’t have a record deal – even if you haven’t done your first show – make sure you find an amazing lawyer. Someone that’s passionate about your career, because they will save you. Like, what you think you’re doing at the age of 18, could affect whether you have to give up music at the age of 30, or 80, or have to sign on when you’re 35. And I’m so blessed to have had a lot of good lawyers in my career so far.
The first person I called when Universal turned around and said, ‘this album’s too weird; you’re too much of a troublemaker – you’re not conventional enough for Universal Records, etcetera’ – I was like, ‘thank you, thank you!’ – it was such a compliment. I put the phone down, was like, ‘yes!’ But then I was like…I looked at my flat, looked at my boyfriend, looked at the kitchen cupboard, and was like, ‘Oh shit. What am I going to do?’
My plan was to do-a-Prince and go on tour for two years, release the record for free, which was about 80% finished at that point – and they’d paid for it all. Basically, I’d made a very expensive record – twelve-piece strings, gospel choir, everything recorded in a beautiful studio with the best mics and the best engineers – sort of the opposite of the last three albums in a way. The last time I was recording a drum kit in a nice studio was with one little radio mic, trying to create a garage-y sound, whereas this one is pristine. I’m really, really proud of the way it sounds and the people I’ve worked with...though a lot of people were waiting to be paid. A lot of people had worked on favours, and I’m not one to scam people, you know – I want to be good to people who I worked with on the record. So I thought I’d go on tour and raise money for the record that way, but it was such a shame, as we were up to the last hurdle, and it was just…okay: time to look for another record deal. And there were lots of people who had been interested and excited, but because I’d got to this point where I had this album I could potentially finish with 100% no compromise – and looking at the way the industry is now, where even independents are looking for this 360° deal thing – or, most are – and I’d always owned my merchandise and everything, my whole life had been making sure no-one touches any of these things, I just thought: I’m going to get in real shit now. But then I found out from my lawyer that Universal owed me the album anyway, contractually.
(SNIP! Off the record stuff removed else DiS will need to find a good lawyer...)
I always used to idolise Kate Bush for having all these arguments with her record label yet always managing to get the record out, and I thought I could do the same, but it just…I always think of Pulp as well. I always think they’re fantastic for getting to album seven or eight. I love all their early records, and to keep on going as a band; I think it’s harder for a band, who have so many units to support as they go along. I don’t know how they did that. I think it’s amazing, and really inspiring. But for a solo artist…you can’t split up with yourself, you can only quit.
There was a point two years ago when I was thinking of giving up publicity, there was a point when the thelondonpaper was photographing me and the Daily Star was writing about me in gossip columns, and it was going a bit over the edge of – what’s the name of that girl who was getting her fanny out all the time? Chantelle? Chanelle? I felt like a musical Chanelle, and I just really didn’t like it. And it was getting that way with the media and press in other countries, and I just suddenly thought – this is zapping my energy for what I ought to, what I have to be doing, which is writing songs.
DiS: It detracts from what you are.
PW: Totally. And it’s so easy to get out of a taxi, and your PR person’s called thelondonpaper, and you don’t even know all this shit’s going on. You get out and they’re right in your face, asking if you’re having sex with Agyness Deyn, and you’re like: ‘This is the worst person I wanted to be when I was 18.’ So I wanted to delete the public thing. But then everyone thought I was talking about quitting music forever, and, if you see what I wrote on the internet, it was totally the opposite. I could never quit doing what I do. That was never the idea. When Universal dropped me I was like well, I’ve done one and two without them and even album three was pretty much finished before they picked me up. So why should this stop me? I could still be doing record company negotiations right now, looking at a 2010 release, which would just literally screw me up. I need to stay productive and creative and touring.
DiS: You’ll probably end up writing another four albums in that time…
PW: Exactly. I mean, the fifth album is 60% recorded – it’s the second part of the album – which I plan to finish really soon to come out in the beginning of 2010, so I really have to get my creative rhythm going. Otherwise I’ll sit here eating Krispy Kremes everyday, getting really fat, and probably won’t even be able to get in the studio. It’s not good. I have to keep creative.
Check back later this week for Parts 2 and 3 of this feature where Patrick talks about everything from pop co-writers to Bjork, Bright Eyes, Alec Empire right the way through to lyrics involving chopping off your penis.
The Bachelor is released on June 1st. For more info and to hear some tracks visit myspace.com/officialpatrickwolf.