My interview with Patrick Wolf on Hunger TV. Read it here:
Eclectic musician Patrick Wolf has never felt confined by the constraints of the music industry – much to many record labels’ annoyance – and demonstrates this in both his music and attitude. This year marks his tenth anniversary in the spotlight and to celebrate Patrick released ‘Sundark and Riverlight’, the most stripped back, musically aware record of his career. We sit down with him to talk openly about his thoughts on the state of the music industry and why he will never fall into the stereotype of ‘what a gay man should be’.
In part two of his frank interview with Hunger TV Patrick Wolf opens up about his grievances with Great Britain, calling it a dystopian reality nightmare, and tells us why he’s hungry for real musicians.
YOUR LATEST ALBUM ‘SUNDARK AND RIVERLIGHT’ CELEBRATES TEN YEARS OF YOUR ARTISTIC CAREER. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THIS JOURNEY?
It is a moment of discipline to me, I am always hungry to move forward to the next project but it has been useful as a writer to look back at my body of work from an outside perspective, from a place of criticism in order to realise mistakes, strengths and what I could do better. It is a good thing to do and I have learnt a lot about myself and the patterns I need to break. “Sundark And Riverlight” was about choosing the strongest bits and messages out of my songs and applying them to this acoustic and classical formula in a way to purify the music and making it bare essential. I wanted to see if they would be intact without all the decorations. I feel like I have done a full circle really, I had international fame, moments of artistic fulfillment, and some real periods of emotional struggles. To me right now is about getting ready for the next ten year cycle, I am taking time, I have got writings on the go but I am working out the story and the kind of artist I want to be to the world in the future and the message I need to share.
YOUR ALBUM IS NOT A GREATEST HITS BUT A SORT OF MUSICAL BIOGRAPHY. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS?
It is like a self-portrait using all ingredients from the past and how I would like to see myself as a writer and musician. I am slightly allergic to how music sounds at the moment, I am still waiting to hear something that thrills me. Pop music is fun but it’s music to dance to while you burn your calories. I could listen to Nicki Minaj but only to help me lose weight. This is why I needed to do something pure, stripped down, and this is how I respond to pop culture at the moment. I knew I was on the right path after I attended Edward Munch’s exhibition at the Tate Modern. I was just finishing the album and questioning the project when in a little room there was the same picture painted and re-explored over a period of sixty years, one in ink, the second in charcoal, then watercolor and oil. My mother is a painter and she explained that some artists have an idea and then feel to tell it in a different way, as a different story. I am not comparing myself to him but he painted and was rejected a lot. I always like stories like that where people don’t care about what everybody else is telling you.
THE ALBUM IS CLEARLY DIVIDED INTO TWO OPPOSITE MOODS. SUNDARK IS MELANCHOLIC WHEREAS RIVERLIGHT IS MORE JOYOUS AND FULL OF LOVE. HOW DO THESE TWO DIFFERENT KIND OF INSPIRATIONS AFFECT YOUR CREATIVITY?
I think that songs always come out from something so overwhelming that I can’t do anything but write about it. Back at those angry days at school, I felt like writing songs was a way to extract all this internal fear and self hatred from my body. It was the same when I fell deeply in love, you feel something so deep that you don’t know how to cope with it, or express it. It is so intense to live with so, making it external it becomes something that once I pass it on to the audience I feel like I have passed this sorrow or happiness. I have always been attracted to songs that even if they were the most depressingly, they had some offer of hope in them. Any of my song like “The City” or “The Magic Position”, have a sense of loss and sadness. I fucking hate one sided songs on happiness and joy. My album is not about sunshine and darkness, Riverlight expresses the river as a vacuum of light but still you are getting reflections from a dark source. Sundark means light, but it is darkness coming from a light source. It is not emotionally one sided
WE SEE A GUSLI ON THE COVER OF THE ALBUM, AN INSTRUMENT GIVEN TO YOU BY A RUSSIAN FAN. “BERMONDSEY STREET” ALSO FEATURES A SPOKEN INTRO IN RUSSIAN. HOW DO YOU NURTURE THIS RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR FANS?
When I go to Poland or Russia I am aware that what is irrelevant to England and Western countries, becomes very used to the development of civil rights and equal politics elsewhere. Poland is coming out of the communist era, it never had the 60s, punk, rock and roll, or Madonna doing “Like a Virgin” so they really need to have a rebellious experience through music. The new version of the song may be kind of irrelevant here but I know that with the internet and people listening to it, it means a lot to my Russian and Polish young fans. Messages I have written, like in “Hard Times” and “The Libertines” are relevant to them and when I go there they need to see someone on stage that is openly gay and does not give a fuck about being arrested or fined. Someone that inspires to have a bit of courage every now and then. I was not here for the 60s and 70s in England or America but I am here now and it is exciting because I used to think that I was not made for the music industry right now as it developed into a generic, commercial, and conservative industry. A part of the country still needs a rebellious character pushing things forward for them.
HOW DIFFERENT IS THIS ACOUSTIC TOUR COMPARED TO YOUR PAST SHOWS?
I miss the movements of my body working big stages and getting people moving, that is something I’ve leant to do pretty well in the last ten years and it is like a second nature to me. What I lost as a sacrifice is my instruments and my training as a musician. This tour for me is hectic on a different scale. I use a lot my hands and my articulation with the instruments is very intense from the grand piano to the ukelele, viola, and harp. I am really working the instruments in a more skilled and crafted way. Some people find touring troublesome but for me it is addictive and full of thrills. You realise the difference in passion, culture, and in the way people react to music, how it is very connected a lot of times with national identity and the way they are raised and taught to experience music. I would have loved to take on the road the show I put on at the London Palladium if I had the funds. It was very visual and choreographed but nowadays theater has become primary in pop music and music is second. I want to make sure that this does not happen to me, I am having a period where the visual communication is secondary and I want to make a honest and really well played music that comes from the heart. Big productions take a lot of rehearsal and I find it quite hard to find originality in it every night. Still there are some wonderful things you could do combining music and theatre, but not like Andrew Lloyd Webber does.
TELL US ABOUT THE VISUAL AND FASHION ELEMENTS IN YOUR WORK AND HOW YOU RELATE TO THEM.
I feel very uncomfortable releasing music, naked into the world even though it is in my blood and DNA. My mother used to take me to galleries and I grew with this vocabulary as well as contemporary art and videos. I realised that the opportunity to make an artwork means to have a concept and a reason behind it. It is infuriating for record labels to work with me and I moved on from some of them sometimes because they are not used to deal with someone with such an attention to details, who cares so much about the font, the CD, and the videos. It is an opportunity to communicate for me and I don’t want to do it in a “pop” way. Fashion wise I have taken a lot from Isabella Blow and I am looking for people who just graduated or are about to, people who make fashion not for the industry and according to what colour will be more popular on Grazia, but for their body of work. It is a lot more exciting to commission stuff to young artist, to support them and have something that nobody else can get. I stopped working with stylists and I am working with David Motta, he is not just a stylist but a true visual artist with a clear vision.
IN A WORLD WHERE WE’VE SEEN IT AL BEFORE DOES ART STILL MANAGE TO SHOCK IN YOUR OPINION?
I think the media power aims to pretend that we are not shocked by anything and that it is uncool to look shocked by things right now in these countries but in reality they are ignoring things. Secretly, they are scared by what they see and hear and I am myself a very hard whole package to swallow. What I do is unpredictable and I don’t mean to please them to get any press and it is scary because I am playing my own game. They pretend to not care and ignore artists that they find challenging. There is still a lot of homophobia in the music industry and a very limited idea of what a gay man can be, or a strong woman can be, what a lesbian can be, what a transgender can be. It is a commodity thing and it is hard to understand a powerful and successful woman who performs and produces music without a man behind her or a gay man who is tough, business minded and serious about his art and work. There are still very limited stereotypes for people to fit in and to be turned into a caricature, it is shocking but I don’t give a fuck, I can go on for the next 50 years with this great audience and one day people and culture will be open-minded.
LONDON IS A MUSIC, FASHION AND ART HUB. WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS REGARDING THE VIBE OF THE CITY?
For 29 years I have been based in London but England is in a real cultural and economic recession, music is focused on the past and in the last hundred years, from a huge empire it is becoming like a small island with a very big ego. The media doesn’t actually have any power and it is beating itself up. Luckily I get to travel and tour but I love my audience here, I would never confuse them or their level of intelligence with the one of the industry. Television is odd, there is no film industry, and everything is based on reality shows. No more scriptwriters or costume people, everything is a dystopian reality nightmare. At this moment it is falling back into a very conservative decisions making country instead of taking risks and being brave. Before punk, there was a very depressing period in music and films but suddenly an urgency appeared. It has to get worst before it gets better, the culturally plane crash needs to happen and people need to realise that we are really fucked. I have so much faith and love that I think a new cycle and a new movement will happen for England, I have been raised here but I feel that it is relying on the fact that it is Great Britain but it is not so great anymore. It needs to find that greatness again and it doesn’t come from the government or the TV but it comes from the youth and people being pissed off by this country. I definitely want to be a part of it
IN YOUR TRACK ‘LONDON’ YOU SAY ‘I WASH MYSELF IN YOUR GREY RIVERLIGHT’…
I am a Londoner in my blood, I remember wandering the streets at night or in the morning when people got up for work and nobody was out. I was thinking by the river and there are these constantly grey washes of colour that I find quite hard to find anywhere else in the world. The river is grey, the sky is grey, so you are washing yourself in this constant sadness, London is a very sad city. I think the song contemplates suicide but metaphorically is more about rebirth. I wanted to travel and leave London so much and the idea of jumping in the river is like being swept out to sea, somewhere else, to be baptised in this river full of history. It is a song about a point on Waterloo Bridge where you can see both sides and the place where I was born and I want to reborn.
ONCE YOU SAID ‘I AM NOT ABOUT BEING MYSTERIOUS’. HOW DO YOU BALANCE CELEBRITY WITH YOUR PRIVATE LIFE?
I am comfortable with my level of celebrity, if you start being honest about everything it can be overwhelming for a lot of people. There is a lot of fear that someone is gonna find out something about you in a reality obsessed era. It is nice being enigmatic if you choose to be honest with your emotions but not giving everything away. What is not enigmatic is talking about what you had for breakfast and all these things I find boring in celebrities but that people think it is honest. Twitter for example, I will never get into this thing. People prefer to relate to all the personal failures, drama and talk about boring things. I have a very respectful fan base in regards of my relationship with William, he works in the merchandise on tour and they realize that what brings me happiness is something to respect.
IS THERE A CONTEMPORARY BRITISH ARTIST THAT YOU ADMIRE?
There is an artist, Sarah Maple, who really blew me away five years ago. She is a muslim and she lifted the veil to express women’s sexuality through amazing art. There was a lot of controversy but she is brave and makes radical stuff, something that needs to be done, said, and created in art not just for the sake of being controversial. I really like her.
WHO WOULD YOU HAVE DINNER WITH IF YOU COULD CHOOSE ARTISTS FROM THE PAST AS GUESTS?
Quentin Crisp, he is endearing and I would be fascinated to meet him, he was a writer, a dreamer, and a true character. John Cocteau, I am really obsessed with everything he made. Clark Gable, I could be his Scarlett O’Hara for the night as I recently discovered the film Gone with the Wind, I have been told to watch it for years and I will definitely take this beautiful film even on a deserted island. Also Orlando, I love that film, the protagonist goes through period of changes in gender, in time, and the message is that you can be all these people within a lifetime. Masculine, feminine, war, and love, I think it is a very good metaphor for life. Back to the guests, Lucia Pamela, an amazing blues and jazz singer who told the world through an insane sounding album about a journey to the moon on a pink Cadillac. I would definitely like to ask her questions. Then Joni Mitchell of course.
WHAT KIND OF ART INSPIRES YOU NOW?
I always liked paintings by Peter Doig, I think I relate to those moments of solitude within nature. His characters are always alone and lost in nature but his work also brings to life a lot of fantasies. I would love, love, love to buy one of his paintings. When I was young I had to leave my school very quickly as things were getting violent and the only other place available was in the country. I was escaping to the countryside, in the middle of nowhere and that is where I found I was alone but not lonely in nature. I started to learn how to play the harp and in this solitude I could think, learn, and dream about things.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YOUR NEXT CHAPTER?
It is going to be an apocalypse, a total restart. No one will recognise it or even recognise me. I need to explore and come back with a total regeneration for it. From 29 to 39 is a very exciting period to turn everything I have learnt into practice. This comes from the overview I took of my work and realizing all the things I have explored and all the ones I need to explore.
WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?
I am hungry for a new wave of artists and musicians. I really want to see a wonderful five, ten years movement of art, music, and fashion coming together. I am not talking about a successful band but artists that feel revolutionary. Everything is ready, the technology is ready, the politics are bad enough so I am sure something amazing will happen to change our generation. I am waiting for the next happy movement and I would be really happy if something meaningful that would make history will happen. I am optimistic and I can see that all the signs are right.