Three years ago, Paul Marshall released Vultures to a largely delirious fanfare of critical acclaim. Echoing the withdrawn sentiments of a young Nick Drake or Tim Buckley, his subsequent signing to esteemed independent Bella Union seemed to ensure his pathway to a long and successful career in music was mapped out ahead of him.
Since then, however, it's all been a little quiet until now. Marshall is set to return in 2010 under the guise of Lone Wolf, with a single 'Keep Your Eyes On The Road' due in April and an album, The Devil And I, set to follow on 17th May. Although still based in Leeds, the record was actually recorded in Sweden for two months during the summer of 2009 with Jeniferever's Kristofer Jonson. Nevertheless, what makes this venture even more mouthwatering than Marshall's previous exploits are the wealth of collaborators he's assembled. Grammatics' Linsey Wilson, Duels' Jon Foulger and James Kenosha, Metronomy's Anna Prior and James Mabbett (Napoleon iiird) all appear as part of the Lone Wolf live set up, making this a Leeds (via London) supergroup of sorts.
Having made his live debut with the band earlier this month playing alongside Shearwater, Lone Wolf heads out on the road for the first time in support of the mighty Wild Beasts throughout March, and while it's still early days just yet, we advise you get there in good time to witness the advent of something very special indeed.
Last month, DiS headed up to Leeds and managed to get a sneak preview of The Devil And I, as well as an insight into what makes Paul Marshall, the driving force behind Lone Wolf, tick...
DiS: After the critical acclaim bestowed on Vultures, what made you come back under a new guise?
Paul Marshall: I always had a habit of layering, even when I was just knocking out ideas on my 4-track at home. It was only around the time of Vultures that I decided to strip everything back and just be acoustic. For this record I wanted to start playing with Wurlitzers and Rhodes organs and make an electric album, plus it is my first set of recordings with Bella Union, so in a way I see it as making a clean break, a fresh start. Halfway through the recording process I actually thought to myself "You know what? I've got a really shit name!" and I mentioned it to Simon (Raymonde) at the label and we both decided it would be best to change it. I think there's this stigma with a lot of people in the industry - certainly with the media and radio stations - that they don't take singer/songwriters seriously and I look at people like Natasha Khan (Bat For Lashes) for example and realise how differently she's perceived and thought Lone Wolf could have a similar effect for me.
DiS: Why Lone Wolf? Did you know there are several other musical incarnations of the same name including a French heavy metal band from the early 1990s?
PM: James Mabbett (Napoleon iiird) has this book of fables, and I borrowed it off him and found the name in there. In fact, I went to a second-hand book shop recently and found the same book for three pounds! It's a little dictionary of nearly every phrase and fable you've ever heard and where it came from. There are a lot of Lone Wolves out there but none of them are particularly well known.
DiS: Was it a conscious decision to recruit people like Linsey from Grammatics, James and Jon from Duels and Napoleon iiird and do you see any of these people contributing to the songwriting process in the future?
PM: I had to recruit them really. It doesn't mean they're going to play with me at every single show either...I'm going to be doing the majority of the Wild Beasts tour solo, more because I have to than anything, as I'm the first act on out of three every night. I'm definitely up for writing with other people as time goes on but the truth of the matter is I find it very hard to do as it's something I've never done before. On Vultures, the only part that was even remotely collaborative were the string arrangements. I've had a few people coming in at various points while I was writing The Devil And I who've influenced a few changes along the way. For example, Tom (Fleming) from Wild Beasts came in one day and started playing the piano and that made me decide to put that instrument on the record, and Owen (Brinley, Grammatics) has added a few bits and pieces beyond the original structures as well.
Video: 'Keep Your Eyes On The Road'
DiS: Does it worry you that the involvement of people like Owen and co. might end up taking precedence over and usurping their day jobs, as it were?
PM: 100% yeah. This has been the biggest problem so far. I'm finding it very difficult to recruit a band that I can keep, because it isn't very appealing for anybody to come on tour for a month with no money, and obviously with their other projects as well it means they're not always going to be available all of the time. I've already had to cancel a couple of gigs because I couldn't get the whole band together, so I'm busy trying to find members who are based in different parts of the country. Anna (Prior) for example is based in London, and she's offered to help me find musicians who live round that part of the country for if we're ever stuck for band members. It is a bit like flying by the seat of your pants but it's something I'm going to have to get used to if I want to make Lone Wolf work.
DiS: Going back to Vultures, are there any songs off that album which you'd like to record again, perhaps in the style of Lone Wolf rather than Paul Marshall?
PM: I've had nothing but this album running around in my head for the past year and a half, that I'd find it very difficult to even think about doing anything from Vultures at the moment. I've got plans once we do a few more headline shows to perhaps come back out for an encore and do 'Greenfly' or something. At the moment though there are no plans to re-record anything from Vultures. I'm very much one for looking onwards and upwards, and I think revisiting Vultures at this stage would be a step backwards rather than any kind of progression.
DiS: Are you daunted by the prospect of your first tour as Lone Wolf being in front of sell-out crowds in large venues with Wild Beasts to people totally unaware of your material?
PM: I'm just dying to play gigs to be honest! Ever since my last gig as Paul Marshall at the Union Chapel last June I've been itching to take these songs out on the road, and this is the ideal opportunity for me.
DiS: How supportive have Bella Union been as a label bearing in mind the length of time it's taken between Vultures and The Devil And I?
PM: They've been great to be honest. Simon has always said that I can take as long as I need. They've never rushed me at all. If anything the release has been pushed further and further back. Initially we'd discussed releasing something in the summer of 2009 and then that was changed to February 2010 and now it has a definitive date of May 2010. I was nervous about what the label might think, as it is quite a departure from Vultures and some of the tracks are bigger and louder than anything I've recorded before, but as it's turned out one of the heaviest songs on the album, 'Keep Your Eyes On The Road', is going to be released as the first single.
DiS: What influenced the album's title, The Devil And I?
PM: I'm not the most confident person in the world when it comes to life in general and I do tend to worry a lot. I have terrible anxiety issues and even if I have nothing important to worry about I will often worry about that! 'Spectres' off the first album was about that. "The Devil And I were alone in my house"...that's kind of how the song starts and I guess it's just me versus me, and I just felt it was quite a strong title for an album.
DiS: Which artists were you listening to that had an influence on The Devil And I?
PM: To be honest I was listening to a lot of Neil Young. I think the problem with me is that my head isn't always in the same room as I'm sitting in, hence The Devil And I. There is one track on the record called 'Dead River' which has similar feel to his Harvest album for example. I'm not trying to compare myself to Neil Young's level - I mean, the man's a genius - but it was written in that style. I really loved the last Elbow record too, and I think my album reflects that quite a bit. Guy Garvey was a big fan of Vultures and he called me up to do an interview on BBC6, and when I got chatting to him I found out that we both like similar stuff and write about similar topics. I'm not really a fan of verse-chorus-verse-chorus, I prefer to just write part-part-part-part. Grammatics write in a similar way. Me and Owen were discussing this the other day. I listened to a lot of Blue Roses while I was out in Sweden recording the album and also loads of REM. While I was over there Kristofer (Jonson) took me to this wicked record shop and I ended up buying 'Friday On My Mind' by The Easybeats, 'Drums And Wires' by XTC and loads of awesome old school rock'n'roll seven-inch singles.
DiS: How long did it take you to write and record The Devil And I?
PM: The whole process has taken around two years. Simon from the label first approached me in February 2008 about making the record and I wrote 'We Could Use Your Blood' just before I played the Bella Union showcase in March 2008, which would be the first song I wrote for this album.
DiS: Funnily enough, Simon (Raymonde) made a comment about 'We Could Use Your Blood' that it should have been used on the soundtrack of the latest 'Twilight' film 'New Moon'. How would you feel about that or indeed having any of your songs used in such a way?
PM: Do you know what, I'm all for it these days. As long as it wasn't for something really dreadful like a McDonalds' commercial I'd be open to letting one of my songs be used for pretty much anything. I have standards, obviously, but there's one instrumental track on the record for example which I think would work as part of a score for a horror movie for example. It is one of the few ways for artists to receive any kind of income nowadays other than touring, and if it helps me finance the making of another album then it has to be a good thing.
DiS: You've mentioned the first single off the record is going to be 'Keep Your Eyes On The Road' as being a marked departure from anything you've done in the past. What made you choose that as the lead single?
PM: It was my favourite song from the whole writing process, and it's got a big choir in there and its the one song where anyone who came into the studio during the recording sessions always left singing the melody, although I've since had to record another verse, an edit for radio basically, because the album version has the word "fuck" in it. We ended up changing it from "fucked" to "messed", which was a bit bizarre as it's the first time I've ever had to do that as it sounds so much more intense when I say it how the song was meant to sound...
DiS: The video for 'Keep Your Eyes On The Road' has a similar theme to Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer', and I believe there was even talk of the former Genesis frontman making a cameo appearance.
PM: He knows about the concept for the video and he's OK about it. Ashley (Dean, ex-iLiKETRAiNS), who directed the video, has been itching to make something along this kind of theme for some time now so when the opportunity came along, we were both as excited as each other!
DiS: What made you choose that particular concept for the video?
PM: My lyrics are like stories only quite metaphorical and I like to write about a lot of dark things such as murders or car crashes as I guess that satisfies the devil in me. Ashley (Dean) saw 'Keep Your Eyes On The Road' as having a lot of visual metaphors, such as the opening line, which goes "Keep your eyes on the road kid, I don't wanna be the flower on the central reservation", and in a similar way to the 'Sledgehammer' video there will be images of things like a car going round a scalextric track, crashing, and then me stood in the middle with flowers appearing out of my mouth.
DiS: Are you planning to release any more singles, maybe to coincide with the album for example?
PM: Yeah, there are three which spring to mind. The next one will probably be a song called 'Fifteen Letters', which is a massive contrast to 'Keep Your Eyes On The Road' in that it's a really quiet three-minutes long murder ballad. I think 'We Could Use Your Blood' will also come out at some point, probably as the third single.
DiS: If you could choose one song from The Devil And I that's definitive of Lone Wolf what would it be and why?
PM: That's really tough, and the reason it's tough is because I've got this issue with repeating myself. It's nice when an artist has their own sound, so you can instantly tell who it is as soon as you hear them, but with The Devil And I I would honestly say there are no two tracks that sound the same.
DiS: Will be touring the album in its own right?
PM: I hope so yeah! I guess that all depends on how people take to the record really.
DiS: Have you set any dates aside for when that might be?
PM: No not yet. I'm assuming we'll do something relatively close to the album's launch, but then you're approaching festival season so everything's a bit up in the air at present.
DiS: If you had a choice to play any festivals which ones would you do?
PM: I've always been a big fan of Green Man and I'd love to have the opportunity to play at Latitude. End Of The Road is another one that stands out for me, all those three are the festivals music lovers tend to visit rather than the corporate ones like Leeds or Reading. I've watched countless friends' bands play at Leeds and it never looks like the most pleasurable of experiences! A lot of the audience are like Festival Zombies....it almost reminds me of the film 'Dawn Of The Dead' in that there's something other than the music that draws them to that place!
DiS: Finally, are there any songs which didn't quite make The Devil And I that might see the light of day in future, or indeed any brand new compositions in the pipeline?
PM: There are two songs that didn't make it onto the album much to Bella Union's upset...'Cross Stitched Lips', which was originally on the On The Bone Records compilation back in 2008. Its always been a main part of the live set so I re-recorded it with the possible intention of using it on The Devil And I but then when I played the song back it didn't really fit in with the rest of the album. The other track is called 'The Horse Woman Came Home', and again it's already appeared on a compilation. I think both of these will appear as b-sides later this year. There's another piece of music that sounds a little like Blur - its got this big, brass orchestral section in it - but I could never think of a vocal part to go with the music so I'll probably revisit that some time in the future.
Video: 'Cross Stitched Lips'
Lone Wolf can be seen at the following venues:-
15 Norwich Waterfront (w/Wild Beasts)
16 Exeter Phoenix (w/Wild Beasts)
18 Liverpool Academy 2 (w/Wild Beasts)
19 Newcastle Cluny (w/Wild Beasts)
20 Manchester Academy 2 (w/Wild Beasts)
25 Galway Roisin Dubh (w/Wild Beasts)
26 Cork Cyprus Avenue (w/Wild Beasts)
27 Dublin Academy (w/Wild Beasts)
The single 'Keep Your Eyes On The Road' is released on April 26th with the album The Devil And I following on May 17th, both on Bella Union records.
For more information on Lone Wolf visit his MySpace.