Wolf on Wolf

8.25.2009

By Elizabeth Goodman

When I retire, I'll grow the beard and become a bear,' folk-pop star Patrick Wolf muses. 'But right now, I still like wearing Vivienne Westwood hot pants to the local pub.' The 26-year-old British singer is famous for his flamboyant live shows, which include Kabuki-esque makeup, seizure-inducing lighting, and scads of costume changes. But offstage, Wolf is just as committed to the theater of his persona. 'When I was 15, I imagined Bj'rk going to Tesco in a swan dress,' he remembers. 'If I found her in Juicy Couture, I'd have been really disappointed. It's my duty to be Patrick Wolf even in the countryside. What if a kid who knows my work meets me unshaven in a tracksuit? It would be like meeting Santa Claus eating at McDonald's or seeing him beat up his wife.'

Though Wolf also sculpts and paints, music was always the major creative force in his life. As a boy in London, he sang and played the violin; by 12 he was making his own four-track recordings; and by 14 he had joined his first band. Wolf's innate eccentricity made every day at school social war, but the experience taught him to revel in attention, even the negative kind. 'My uniform was my armor,' he says. 'I'd go into school with bright red hair wearing homemade clothes and makeup. I was made to feel like a freak, so I figured I'd fight back by freaking people out even more than they expected.'

At 16, Wolf dropped out of school and went busking around Europe. Eventually, a few small labels noticed his complex but melodic songs, and two albums followed: 2003's Lycanthropy and 2005's Wind in the Wires. But it was on the musician's third record, The Magic Position, that he honed his sound, a blend of brawny orchestral arrangements and electronic fireworks. Finally in possession of his voice and connected to a worshiping audience, Wolf transformed into a rock 'n' roll personality. The tour that followed was a haze of furry outfits, glittery crowds, and lonely hotel rooms. The ensuing emotional hangover was brutal. 'I knew I wouldn't be able to do another album until I developed a real human relationship with someone,' he says. 'And then I fell in love.' Wolf's boyfriend now tours with him.

Of course, Wolf is at his best when he's an ostentatious free agent. Thankfully, his new record couldn't be stranger -- in the best possible way. The two-part concept album consists of The Bachelor (available now on Nylon) and The Conqueror, out in 2010. 'The Bachelor is about the absence of love, and The Conqueror is about giving emotion,' Wolf explains. 'It's like Harry Potter parts one and two. The first album finishes like 'Oh, my God! What's going to happen!?' Then [the protagonist] comes back, and the heart goes on.'

Wolf remains so committed to being an art-damaged glamour boy in part because he realizes it won't last forever. He knows his creative life will have a natural progression, and he doesn't plan to push his decadent youth stage past its sell-by date. 'I'm not going to get liposuction and a face-lift just to battle nature and still be a performer,' Wolf says. 'While I'm doing pop music, I want to do it 100%, but I don't see myself in a catsuit at 50. That's the time to get back to the piano and start composing again.'

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