- Patrick Wolf »
In part one (here) Patrick Wolf and DiS Editor Sean Adams began discussing Patrick's forthcoming album The Bachelor. In part two Patrick expands on much of this (especially about the fan-funded Bandstocks way he's releasing the album), his contemporaries and much more...
DiS: On the subject of solo artists, every tipped artist this year seems to be another solo artist, and there’s been a few years of Lily Allens and Jamie Ts. Do you think the way in which things are funded - as it's cheaper to be a solo artist - or do you think it’s fundamentally something about our generation, like with an individual sat on a computer who might be playing games, yet still interacting and reaching beyond. Essentially, do you think it’s becoming much more the norm for people to aspire to be solo artists rather than be in a band?
PW: If you actually look at the people that are solo artists here – and I did a bit of research on them…there are so many co-writers, so many producers.
DiS: Ladyhawke had four co-writers on her latest single.
PW: There was a time in the late 90s after Björk and PJ Harvey, when everyone was signing up solo artists, and if you actually looked – you know, I’m a total music nerd for the credits. Even if I don’t like the person I’m straight on Wikipedia looking up all their production credits and finding out if they’re Joni Mitchells – do they write, do they produce…
DiS: Essentially whether they’re real or not.
PW: Yeah exactly, and I get so excited when someone is. Do they come from that ideal, of somebody wanting to create and produce their own world, from their own heart? And it’s not just a collaboration? Collaborations can be fantastic if it’s like the Eurythmics, two people creating as a band. But it seems like a few of these people this year – girls, generally girls – have producers in the background who are maybe a bit too shy for the camera, for one reason or the other. I think there’s a charm to a lot of it, and I – I don’t want to sound bitchy, I always want to say good things and have a positive mental attitude. But I have been looking at all the production credits. I have this thing with my sister where we’re always looking for girls that are like… Björk was great ‘cause even though she was calling people in, she was always the executive, always in charge of her own sound. She was the successor to Kate Bush to me, in that sense.
DiS: They had more of a vision, it seems.
PW: It happens so much with boys! I mean, you look at Reflex or Warp and everyone’s a producer, everyone will get involved with the artwork – they’re all artists in control of their own world. For me, it goes: Buffy Sainte-Marie, then Joni Mitchell, then Kate Bush, then Björk. And I’ve been, kind of…what’s coming next? No-one’s coming through. I mean, PJ Harvey did Uh Huh Her herself, but there’s a lack of girls producing their own work – even writing a whole song themselves. And what’s the difficulty in that? I mean, I‘m sorry, but as a songwriter you CAN do it.
I’ve only ever done two co-writes. One was a total collaboration with Alec Empire, and that, for me, was weird; I came back from Berlin like ‘shit’ – like I’d been cheating on myself. But I learnt so much from that flirtation. It was almost like going back to college again and learning something new. But if I want to be known and remembered for anything it’s for being a great songwriter, definitely.
DiS: You’ve obviously been quite keen to produce everything yourself. Has that been about control, or has it been about wanting to learn and understand the process?
PW: It’s a mixture. I think the control part comes later on, when you’ve finished the song and there are people standing there listening to it and trying to get their opinions in…even when you do clearly experiment with production, there’ll always be someone who says it’s too far out. A lot of complaints about The Magic Position, especially the song, from people on the business side of things – were that it didn’t have enough bass in it, that it sounded too lo-fi. To me it sounded like a real, hi-fi pop song, but they were looking at real Radio One rules, which is the last thing I think about. I was thinking about Pizzicato Five and a lot of Japanese J-Pop music, where they have a really crunchy, 50s radio sound. People want to get in and change things at the last minute. And that’s where the control, the protective mother part comes in. And this sounds really like, ‘earth-woman,’ but you give birth to something, which you see as a perfect thing, and you become really controlling over it.
DiS: It’s like Van Morrisson’s first album, where it was an acoustic record, and they added the bass and drums before it was released without him even hearing it.
PW: Right, yeah. It happens, and people – even on Lycanthropy there were people trying to get me to change the lyrics at the last minute on ‘The Childcatcher’ and ‘Lycanthropy’ about cutting your penis off. I remember a funny story where somebody at the record label was saying ‘I don’t think at 18 you should be singing a song about cutting your penis off.’ And I was saying it’s all about gender exploration…you know, that you should forget about gender – that it’s more important to be yourself and to be human. They were like, ‘could you change it to cut your finger off?’ And I remember trying to do a demo of it [sings], and thinking that this is why, in the future, I’m going to be really severe. And that’s why I’ve got a name as a difficult artist to work with, because I won’t compromise at the last minute, but…I think that’s why a lot of people appreciate what I do, as well. So yeah – I think I’m known as a bit of a…I accept the word ‘diva’, ‘divo’, ‘difficult artist’, ‘temperamental’, ‘nightmare’ – I like accepting all those things because it means I’m one of the last few people that give a shit.
DiS: Indeed. You see so much compromise in music these days...
PW: Even with this album, sequencing it, it’s like 14 tracks – 13 songs – so for me it’s like Lycanthropy two. It’s a long record – a record to get lost in – there’s songs with full strings and choirs that my engineer and I were sat there, 99% but not 100% sure about…if there was one beat that wasn’t right, we’d delete them. But I’ve ended up being able to listen back to all my albums and be proud of every beat – in the same way I listen back to Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, and every single noise should be there.
So it’s not totally about control. The control comes after the really innocent, creative process where you’ve just experimented, got out all your lyrics and made it exactly what you want it to be – but then people come in at the end and fuck it up. My engineer worked with Kelly Rowland last. I’m really bad at repeating quotes, but apparently she turned around to him, and was like, ‘you know what Jonathan? Opinions are like arseholes. Everybody’s got one.’ I thought that was a pretty cool thing. Especially creating records these days – everybody wants their say.
DiS: You’ve said that this is like your own label. I’m guessing to a certain extent, it’s various other people doing a lot of things, but have you learnt a lot while putting this record together? Maybe in terms of the dull, day-to-day business things…
PW: Actually, it’s been a lot less complicated than working with another label. The great thing with Bandstocks is it’s like a separate bank account – it’s there whenever the money goes through. In the past, you talk about ‘making’ the album, after finishing it and all the photoshoots and everything. But I think this is the first album where everyone’s walking away from it having being paid honestly and well. In the past, everybody had been trying to pay people less or get the video director cheaper…
DiS: Obviously people place a value on creativity, and it seems especially in the music industry, where people are also downloading music for free, a sense of value has short-circuited. But when people are investing in your record they’re obviously investing in you, and when you’re paying for other people’s creative input you’re obviously investing in them – paying them for their talent. Do you think that somewhere along the line within the business-art-commerce model, there’s a mismatched appreciation of value for certain things?
PW: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, what I know – which I didn’t when I was 15 – is…I didn’t know how much an album could cost. With Wind In The Wires I literally finished it for £450, favours for a really amazing mixing engineer and a split on the royalty. And I thought that sounded like quite a classy album, and I listen now to an album that has been produced in a studio with a full band…I took my band – who I’d met on the road – into the studio last year, my own little unit of musicians and…
DiS: It costs?
PW: It costs. And you know what? These are people that work really hard for me. The drummer – I don’t like normal rock drummers, I really like Brazilian and English folk drums and stuff like that – he’s Brazilian, this guy Marcelo. I couldn’t have worked with anybody else and I wanted him to be paid properly. All this stuff, it’s just another brain-space to have to develop.
I found out recently how much an album that I consider a lo-fi record cost, and the jaw drops at the expense. And the fees certain producers, big-name producers of the last five years, are asking for. Just to stand behind the glass booth going ‘yeah, that’s great!’ I just thought: I’m not doing that. One of the big bust-ups with the record label involved a certain producer, who I’m sure you can guess – a ‘hot name’ – who is a lovely man but I don’t think we would have made anything good together, and I would literally be homeless right now if he were to have produced one track. I just thought it was crazy – I could have paid for six brass bands rather than the production on one track. And the label thought it was crazy, you know? Like, ‘how can you turn this guy down?’ I was just like, come on – you’re not thinking.
DiS: It’s your money as well, and I think that’s something a lot of people don’t realise in those situations.
PW: I’d rather employ, like, 200 cleaners to do a big, shout-y chorus; at least do something interesting. And it might mean that I never have a hit record, never have a Brit Award, never go to the Grammys, but if at least I can just look back on albums that I’m proud of, then that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I mean, at the beginning with Lycanthropy I was like ‘yeah! I’m gonna be on Top Of The Pops with a wind machine!’ and then a week later it’s, ‘yeah – like that’s ever going to happen with these songs.’ But I’m glad it’s that way.
DiS: What are your aspirations for the record? Do you want to hit No. 69 again, or do you have to hit No. 66 maybe, to validate it…?
PW: Well, 69 is a good number for me! ‘The Libertine’ was No. 69, ‘The Magic Position’ was No. 69…
DiS: Did you find that funny? ‘Cause most people did…
PW: Yeah, I thought it was very funny, very funny. Especially ‘cause not only is it a great, fantastic number, but it’s also…the amount the label spent on trying to get ‘The Magic Position’ to Number One, compared to ‘The Libertine’ where we spent ten pounds trying to get it into the charts. It’s all about – no matter what the marketing is, and even if you have these massive advertising, brainwashing campaigns, which is what so much of the Top Ten is nowadays…there are so many tricks that record labels pay. I like the fact ‘The Libertine’ was No. 69 and cost nothing to get there, it was just on the value of the music. I like to think that my audience is militant, and clever, and they can look through marketing campaigns and they don’t care about cheap ploys or desperate emails from record labels.
DiS: It’s an aside, but Cassadaga by Bright Eyes, which I think also came out on Polydor – despite having a full-page ad in pretty much every newspaper – on the day of release sold exactly the same amount as I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning sold.
PW: That was Number One in America wasn’t it? I think Bright Eyes is amazing. Starting my own label, I was thinking about other people that had done it with their own music. And Alec Empire. Alec’s been a real inspiration as a person. When I was in Berlin and I was a little bit tired and angry about the way things were going then, he gave me a lot of strength. Which shows in the music that we made, definitely.
But his label, it’s a room twice the size of this (about 7 metres square), and he doesn’t live there, but one of the rooms is a soundproof box and that’s the studio, ‘The Hellish Vortex’. And there are all these amazing Russian synthesizers, and an Atari. He’s still making music on an Atari! Which this album’s really influenced by, actually. I had all this fancy equipment from Universal, though I actually went back to all the programmes – and FatCat gave me a Commodore, too – so I just went back to all this stuff I was using when I was 15 and wrote new songs on top of that, which really matched what Alec was doing in Berlin with his Atari. So it was like a real return-to-roots for both of us.
DiS: It’s odd – when we were kids they seemed like such futuristic devices, and now they’re really retro…
PW: They’re retro, but the sounds that they’re making are really like…it’s quite Liquid Sky, that new wave movie – it’s so cold and it’s so un-luscious, the beats that they make. They’re like machines, or construction work – chk chk chk! Really perfect for this album.
But Alec, returning to the record label thing – he has this recording studio, then on the other side of the room he has the merchandise and the office, and he goes between the two. So he runs great business for his work and his back-catalogue and his DHR label, then he goes into the studio and makes good music. Backwards and forwards. It affirmed that you can really do this – you can be really creative, and also be a really good businessman, in order to sustain your creativity and your creative space.
DiS: As long as you can switch headspaces it’s fine…
PW: Yeah, you don’t want to go crazy. I’ve now employed someone as head of merchandising, and given certain things over to people that I really trust. We do all the weblog stuff from here now – the stuff that if I was on Universal I’d be getting billed for, like, £10,000 – could have done so much better with just one camera and iMovie. It’s exciting to return to everything being in my control, and in the control of people I really trust.
If you missed it click here for Part 1
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- In Photos: Patrick Wolf @ Reading Festival 2011