Wednesday, 25 May 2011
The sun-dappled roof garden of Camden’s Koko feels like an apt location in which to chat with Patrick Wolf about his latest album. Named Lupercalia after a pagan fertility festival held to purify the city, Patrick’s fifth release sees him at his most optimistic, dealing largely with themes of love and contentment. Fittingly for a pop star promoting a record titled after a seasonal celebration, much in Patrick’s life seems to have come full circle; as we meet he is excitedly preparing to perform songs written about his boyfriend William in the venue where they first met at a party three years ago, and while his last album saw him lamenting that “I'm not gonna marry in the fall, and I'm not gonna marry in the spring, I'll never marry, no one will wear my silver ring”; today he is engaged. To see the stark contrast between the moods of this album and his last, you only need look as far as the videos for their prospective lead singles. Vulture saw Patrick trussed up in leather bondage imploring the listener to ‘take my dead meat’, while new single The City features him frolicking in the Santa Monica surf, surrounded by a similarly jubilant cast. Break out the bunting: Patrick Wolf is happy.
It hasn’t always been so. If Lupercalia is about romantic hopefulness, the inspirations for Patrick’s previous albums have been darker. He’s sung about everything from pedophilia to Satanism, and his follow-up to 2009’s The Bachelor was originally conceived as a concept album about conquering personal demons, ‘but I didn’t want to do that because Lycanthropy was about that, and Wind In The Wires and The Bachelor were also about struggle. It was like, Patrick, what are you doing repeating yourself again and again? There’s a certain point that you have to let go and become a new person.’ It is this new Patrick who greets us today.
What’s influenced this new optimism?
I think that it’s a mixture of being in love and turning 27 and being more secure within myself and knowing a bit more about the world. I actually met William, my fiancé, here at Koko. We met on the first balcony and it was love at first sight. I think 27 is an age where you really do have to take a look at your life and then readdress what you want to do with your future. It’s a real sea-change moment. I was very happy at the same time that I had someone with me who also wanted to go forward and create a future together.
What are you like as a boyfriend?
I don’t stop working, I never stop writing. It’s like that great Hidden camera song music is my boyfriend – they might get jealous of the other half of me, which is my music. I spend so much time with it. I barely sleep if I’m writing, so that might be hard work. But I’m better now. I brush my teeth now!
Was William aware of you as a pop star when you met? In the past has your persona meant that boys have preconceived notions of what it would be like to go out with Patrick Wolf?
He’s definitely not sycophantic at all. A lot of my friends are either people I went to school with of people who I met when I was thirteen or fourteen and was doing gigs. I find it quite hard to make friends, because I prefer it when people almost hate my music. Then I can just be a human and talk about life. Then again, I do like it when my friends like my music!
A lot of your lyrics in the past have been very fantastical, but this album feels more domestic. Why do you think that is?
All my other albums are very much about travelling and escapism and running away from yourself, running away from other people, and this is just very much ‘I’m home, lets look at the world around me, us, and the future.’ I haven’t felt this way since I was 10-years-old in terms of having roots and having a house and a home. I’m through with being solipsistic and lonely. I’ve decided that that’s not where I want to be. For now I’m going to be surrounded by the world around me. It’s an interesting moment in my life – but it’s all about to change because now I’m on tour.
Is it right that some of the darkness on the last album came about as a result of some of the difficulties you had touring with the Magic Position album beforehand?
I think it came about through being single and gay on tour. I’m quite shy and I don’t go out really, I party with my band and stuff, but I felt like I would never meet anybody. Also, being a different type of gay man, a lot of the time I felt marginalized as being the weirdo anyway. I wrote The Bachelor for anybody that feels they are unloved in the world, that’s how I felt.
This album sees you with a new perspective, because you’re getting married – what can we expect from Patrick Wolf’s wedding? We’re guessing not a registry office with matching three-piece suits.
We grow up with a traditional idea of a marriage in a church, but I can’t do it in a church. I definitely want something very nature orientated. We want to make our own church somewhere. We have plans but I don’t want to give them away. I’ve put everything off for a while because I need to focus on my album and I think that marriage and a record at the same time are two big responsibilities, so it would be unfair if I was fitting it in around festivals. It might be a very long engagement.
You’ve spoken about how you were quite badly bullied at school, what did you make of the It Gets Better campaign?
Unfortunately I was at school while section 28 was really very powerful, so nobody would talk about being gay other than as part of a joke or something to be bullied about. I turned 18 just as the age of consent was lowered to 16, so I seem to have grown up through some of the workings of liberation. It’s a real shame that there was no-one there to help me. I thought those videos were amazing. If I had had the internet when I was younger I probably would have been able to talk to people about these things. When I was growing up there weren’t any messages of support in the media, even Queer As Folk happened when I was seventeen. Anything like that is amazing. For me it’s not just about the UK, it gets way darker and deeper into the Middle East. That really breaks my heart, and the internet is wonderful that you can get a message out to anybody anywhere in the world that they’re OK.
You notoriously refused the record company’s wish to have your third album produced by Mark Ronson – what happened there?
I ran into him on the street with friend of a friend and invited him down to my studio. It was then that the label went mental and were like ‘OK, you should work together.’ We both actually really wanted to work with each other, but my relationship with the label was on the rocks anyway at that time so it was just a nuts time. I was on the rocks with myself, I was a bit mental. It was just bad timing.
How were you a bit mental?
I was self-medicating, drinking, partying. I didn’t have grip with normality. It was classic pop star syndrome – get off the tour bus, back to your two-bedroom flat, one of them is filled with boxes from the flat you never moved out of because you were on tour. All your friends have forgotten you, exist because you’ve been on the road for four years, you don’t have a partner, you haven’t had sex for a year and you’re kind of going mental.
Lots of the theatrical elements of your previous albums have extended to your costumes, but it feels like as your lyrics have become less whimsical so have your outfits. Is that a conscious decision?
I always want to feel like I’m adding something new. I think the whole theatre within music is not new right now, it’s not really the future for me. The future is what hasn’t happened. I think that what Lady Gaga is doing is fantastic. It’s there, it’s part of culture now. It’s like ‘bread’ ‘eggs’ ‘Lady Gaga’. It’s now totally establishment and that’s wonderful, but I’m anti-establishment in a way and I feel like I need to be doing something new and different. For me right now I would like people to maybe be focusing again on my music again.
You’ve spoken before about your relationships with men and women, do you feel like there’s a lot of gay people who are suspicious of bisexuality?
I can understand why they get upset by it. I’m so confused by a lot of gay culture. Within LGBT there’s this sort of hatred towards lesbians or rivalry between all the different tribes of gay. A sense of unity needs to come back into the LGBT community, the idea that we should all support and like each other. Open-mindedness about sexuality would be really wonderful. When I lived with [Patrick’s last partner] Ingrid it was an art affair, it was a love affair. Love and sex are two very different things and I think you can have a love affair with a woman as a gay man. I have experimented with all types of sexuality, but I would say that, getting to know myself, I’m definitely a gay man. But I wouldn’t rule out falling in love with anything in the world. You have to have that wonder for life. Life can be complex and exciting, and I think it always should be.
Which song are you most looking forward to performing later?
Slow Motion. I’m going to play it for William. It’s the most romantic song on the album, and the most musically complex and experimental. It sums up the last few years. The slow motion of depression and this idea of life slowing down and not being as fast as it used to be, and then halfway through the song I got out of the house and got dressed properly, came to this party and fell in love. And falling in love is the most wonderful drug in the world. It feels like slow motion, like you’re tumbling down a rabbit hole into a beautiful place. Two slow motions in one song.