Highlights: Patrick Wolf on his standout tracks
As he wins a medal for Outstanding Contribution to Discourse through the Arts, Patrick Wolf has a chat about some of his career highlights.
Published: 2:50 pm, December 11, 2017
Today - Monday, 11th December - Patrick Wolf becomes the first LGBT artist to receive the Burke Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Discourse through the Arts. It’s safe to say that he's delighted.
“I’ve won some funny awards in my time so far, but this feels, after this long sabbatical, a tap on the shoulder to start taking steps back to releasing albums and touring again. I'm just so very grateful such a historic medal is being given to me for my work so far, I hope to honour it with what I'm planning to do in my near future.”
Wolf hasn’t released an album since ‘Sundark and Riverlight’ in 2012, but it’s safe to say his return is eagerly anticipated. Luckily, we here at Dork - with a little help from Patrick himself - have put together a list of seven of his songs to familiarise yourself with ready for his return.
'Together' is a song of heartbreak and acceptance led by Wolf’s vocals soaring over a simple bassline with minimal instrumentals, and is a fan favourite. "I literally wrote the lyrics on Alec’s [Empire, whom Wolf worked with on his previous album ‘The Bachelor’] rooftop in Berlin after we made the bassline which were a homesick phone call to my love," he explains.
Many of Wolf's songs from 2011 album ‘Lupercalia’ were written from a very personal point of view. “It was the only way I was able to write back then. In my engagement year leading up to my marriage, I was in an all-consuming wave of emotion. I had just signed my second major record deal, so suddenly found myself under a strict schedule to finish an album. There's a Joni Mitchell quote I always think about when under pressure: 'Write about what you know,' and so that’s what I did."
The lyrics tell the story of reunited lovers and learning. “I love the lyric, 'I'm sorry I hurt you, I hurt me too'. I think that’s the first time in life I understood the shared responsibility in a relationship to look after yourself as well as your other half.”
The album, ‘Lupercalia’ shares a similar theme of love, with Wolf explaining: “I think it’s a very simple album lyrically... I'm literally saying what I see, the magic realism and metaphor I would normally write with take time. I was also so infatuated with another human being and not well at all, my brain was probably working on minus 5 percent capacity, but I'm happy for what I made. I know the album means a lot to many people.”
Time Of My Life
Despite sharing an album, ‘Time Of My Life’ is the polar opposite to ‘Together’. "The song was originally called ‘Worst Time Of My Life’, and it was bitter and vile. ‘Thanks for the worst time of my life’ just added another pile of passive aggression and loveless on the world.” Despite the negativity, the song eventually found a home on ‘Lupercalia’. “It found some empathy in lyric; there was no room for hate or regret on that album.”
Wolf has used classical instruments at the forefront of his music for his entire career - “the first instrument I ever wanted to play was a Violin” - but he did so against a wave of increasingly landfill indie and carved out his own space in the musical landscape. Did this ever faze him? “There’s always a rejection of classical music, pop music, whatever the format is in what I do, which leaves me the mental space to love the instrument I know how to play in my own language or produce music under my own judgement.”
“I went on a weekend adventure to Broadstairs recently and got hooked on this game in the arcade where you have to hit big plastic piano keys in order to win tickets, exchange them for a prize. I was trying to win as many as possible, so I could win a Minnie Mouse lunch box for my goddaughter. I was winning hundreds of tickets when I was playing on my own, the moment I entered two-player mode with my partner, I made almost no tickets. I'm at my worst when competing or taking time compare work with what other people are doing or making.”
‘Overture’ was many people’s first taste of Wolf’s world as the opening track on his breakthrough album, 2007's ‘The Magic Position’, which catapulted Wolf into the mainstream consciousness. “When I signed the deal for 'The Magic Position' I knew it was going to go out to a lot of people. I had promised myself from age 12 and being bullied into non-existence, I would always check in with that fighter I was and the ones that still are, send messages back to help.
“'Overture' was the last song I wrote for the album. I was sat on the tube in the last week of recording, and someone was reading Anthony Quinn's The Original Sin, and it started a thought process, maybe the original pain I was carrying that had fuelled me to obsess for that pop star fantasy moment in 2007.”
Wolf returned to ‘Overture’ on 2012’s ‘Sundark and Riverlight’ which “was inspired by albums of Judy and Dolly Collins, 'Love Death and the Lady' or again, the field recordings by Alan Lomax, no reverb or digital effects”.
“I took songs like 'Overture' and stripped them of all the samples and production to hear of they could stand up as folk songs; it was a process of trial and error. Some of my songs collapsed under the scrutiny of being stripped like that, but 'Overture' stood strong.”
Wolf also revisited 2005’s ‘Teignmouth’ on ‘Sundark and Riverlight’ and even though, as Wolf explains, “The songwriting is morbid and innocent in a way I just can’t see or think anymore”, he wanted to “record it with the weight I have ten years on”.
“I think the big difference is my voice," he says. "I've grown one octave down and another up since I made that album,” and it certainly shows when you compare the original and the re-recording, but it is the version that Wolf created in 2012 that shines with its delicate instruments working hand in hand with his lovelorn vocals that comes out on top. “Too much has happened in my life to write like that anymore, but for that I'm grateful. I have to embrace and explore how my brain works as I get older or else I'll never write again.”
‘The Libertine’ was the first single from Wolf’s second album, 2005's ‘Wind in the Wires’, and he felt no pressure when it came to its release. “At that time, I was working with a manager and a label that were very nurturing of my best assets, and we were on the same page of documenting a pure and honest communication I was trying to make with the world.
“I don't think we released any single with any pressure or expectation, it all felt very natural as did making that second album. The song has become a rallying cry in its many forms over the years; I was young and angry at how boring the world was, I felt constricted by culture and social construct. I love this song; it will always stay relevant to me.”
2009's ‘Hard Times’ is bursting with magical pop moments even with its almost infamous “two towers” lyric, but Wolf doesn’t recall catching any flack for it at the time. “The song is just a series of statement of fact in poetry form. I've learned from people I love that sometimes some can be quite intimidated by me walking into a room being 6ft4 and a half, while I'm often wondering why people are looking at me strange. I wonder if the same is for my songs, that I'm just opening up a conversation that no one wants to have!”
Some artists may fear going too far, but does he? “No, I only worry that I've never gone far enough!”
The Magic Position
Wolf's first big pop moment came with 2007’s ‘The Magic Position’ from the album of the same name. "Making ‘The Magic Position’, I wanted to conjure up an imaginary best friend that says, 'Enough with your misery, I'm in pain too so shut the fuck up, and let's go dancing'."
As Wolf explains, “some people have the interpretation that 'The Magic Position' means something sexual. Ha! I welcome and encourage interpretation, it’s fascinating, but there was nothing sexual as a writer I was trying to communicate with that whole album, apart from the song 'Secret Garden', which was more of a rejection of sexuality.
“There was often shameful derision in 2007 from the media and insipid homophobia in the music industry that I had to push through and overcome in my own way. Some of the things I was told by my record company, managers and general public I wouldn't wish on anyone, but for how I've grown and what I've learned I'm grateful for the experience. I'll always proud of what I managed to achieve back then as a 24-year-old in the face of it all.”
Did Wolf receive any negativity upon the release of something that was meant “as a conjuring song to fall, stay or celebrate in love”? “Probably the only negative reactions at the time were from people who felt more at home in the words of 'Wind In The Wires' or resonated with 'Lycanthropy' and weren't up for a love parade, which I completely understand.”
Looking back over his career
In a career as long as Wolf’s there are certainly moments that stick out. “I have a happy photographic memory of most of my concerts and big festival moments in 14 years, and I'm so grateful, but the most bizarre moments make me happy; life is best at its most absurd.
“I have really specific memories of things like playing in the car park of the Las Vegas Beauty Bar in 2007, on a stage my band had to make during the day to 40 people as all the under 21s pressed up against the fence to listen because they couldn’t get in. I also loved going on Conan O'Brien and rolling around onstage in hot pants and wailing on live TV in my early 20s.”
Looking back, Wolf wouldn’t change anything about his career, explaining: “As long as I learn from my mistakes I have nothing to regret."
“I did a spooky tour last year for a double single that I never released," he says. "I was a ghost. Ghosts are stuck, don't like doing new things, or singing new songs.”
To celebrate receiving the Burke Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Discourse through the Arts, Wolf will be playing two shows in Dublin and London, which will be his first solo shows in many years. What can fans expect to hear? “I have a story I want to tell through my songs, one for Dublin and one for London. It’s a lovely point, in the final stages of making my album and poetry book, to be ready mentally.”
Patrick Wolf will play The Sugar Club, Dublin on Tuesday 12th December, and Bush Hall, London on Monday 18th December.
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