Patrick Wolf may call London his home, but the young virtuoso is taking the U.S. by glittery storm with his new album, The Magic Position. Wolf had so much to say when we caught up with him the day the record dropped that we had to include outtakes from the interview here.
Your first major label record, The Magic Position, dropped in the U.S. today. How do you feel?
Good. It took a lot of time. The album finished about a year ago, and I think being on a major label made it take a while to get through the machine. It has been quite exhausting, quite frustrating, but I finally got second wind. America is my second burst of energy. I was very close to giving up on the whole record, and then I remembered what it means to me. I thought, Its time to dye the hair red, get the shorts out, and start singing.
Well, it was platinum blond for the first record, which went along with my idea of a platinum blond superstarbut without any hits. Then I decided to go back with my natural sensibility for the second album, which was extremely personal and quite sad. I felt the need to be sober. I wanted to remain invisible for a year. Then I realized Ive always been an extremely extroverted dresser and performer since I was about 11. I wanted to be pop again. I think of my favorite ginger pop starslike Geri Halliwell. It seemed perfect for The Magic Position. Its almost like being a Hans Christian Andersen character.
Have the dramatic changes in the music industry been helpful to you?
Its helpful and humanistic in that its built up very intimate families across the worldthe kids that are stuck in front of their computers, outcasts, introverted people who spend their whole time on MySpace and found my music. I have that audience of kids in Michigan, outcasts from school. A lot of my fan base is outside major cities, places where my music is quite hard to get a hold of in record stores. That fan base is very close to who I was when I was in school, when the only thing that got me through was swapping tapes with pen friends. Its a modern form of sharing music.
Youre not concerned about attaining Top 40 status?
I used to be. I thought it would be very interesting and exciting. Its not my responsibility to worry about that. If it happens, great, but I dont have a commercial focus on my work. I just create and see what happens. Then I get on with the next record.
Do you think the audience response here in the States has been different from the audience reaction in Europe?
Yes, its a lot more accepting here. In England theyre still asking after seven years, Why do you dress like this? Ive just released an album with videos with bright colors and celebration. Im doing shows where its meant to be one big party, and the press is still taking the piss out of the way I look. In England, Im just the crazy person. Ive worked as a DIY, self-sufficient musician for a long time, and no one every really gets that. They think Im just some kid in crazy outfits that dropped out of St. Martins College of Fashion. Its nice to come over here, where the journalists say, Oh, I like your outfit, lets talk about your music.
This surprises me. I think of other campy, flamboyant artists like Mika, Scissor Scissors, and Robbie Williams, and they seem to be more successful in Europe.
I know, but thats because their music is entertainment. My music isnt really entertainment. Lyrically, its very hard and extremely honest and emotional. Its not about partying or superficiality. It has a colorful exterior, but the interior hits me very hard. In England and Europe, Im still quite hard to swallow. When I think about the bands from Europe that have been held close to Americans hearts, its been the Cure, the Smiths, David Bowie. I think my music belongs more to that than anything like Scissor Sisters or Mika, just because I may have had a boyfriend or I may dress up in bright colors. It doesnt mean I have to be a cabaret act.
So youre not going for a cabaret feel?
No, my visuals are a way to communicate me as a person and what Im trying to inspire in people. Im trying to liberate people a bit, but its not the focus of my work. I think David Bowie is a lot more understood over here than he is in England, where everyone still thinks hes a guy with two different-colored eyes who sang a song about space travel in the 70s. There seems to be this invisible thing in America. Theres a great artistic, intelligent, creative community. I tend to discover that a lot more than the right-wing, conservative groups. I think theres a misconception about America. Its like us thinking about Israels bad politics and not its punk-rock and electronica scenes.
The Magic Position is about the excitement of love.
Its based on my relationship with an industrial goth-obsessed visual artist, Ingrid Z. We shared the same vision, created it in everyday lives, and lived in bright colors. Shes a big Cure fan. I was definitely somebody who was happiest sitting behind my piano, writing songs about werewolves and midnight and the wind and the storms. And suddenly, it was like two blacknesses collided to make a spectrum. It was suddenly bright colors everywhere. At the end of the relationship, Ive turned that whole period into inspiration for this album, and she turned their old house into a gallery filled with her art. We both came out from the other side with this great jewel we want to share with the world.
I read your blog and found your scathing response to an interview you did with Attitude. You claimed the story was total fictionalization. What happened?
Before I was doing videos, journalists would just get my record, listen, call me up on the phone, and go Whats going on? By the second album, there was this enigma around who I was as a person. Most people thought I lived in a cave, that I didnt engage with anything in the world. If people saw me out at a club, theyd be like Is that Patrick Wolf? Why is he drunk? It made it look I was hiding something, so I wanted to put everything out there with the third record. I did this interview with Attitude, but it made it look like I was doing the traditional coming-out thing, which is ridiculous. Ive been confident since I grew my first hair when I was 11 or 12 about exactly who I fancied. I like to celebrate that confidence in people. This word ambiguous always came up. Im not being ambiguous about anything. Just ask me some questions, and we can talk about everything. Theres not private and personal with me. What you see is what you get, and the answer I give is the truth.
So you shared your sexual interests with people in high school?
Yeah, I used my sexuality in a punk-rock sense, as a way of upsetting everyone. Its one of the last taboos within education: to chose to be feminine in a masculine society. In an all-boys school, it was fun to dye my hair pink, and if someone tried to beat me up, instead of fighting back Id say If you come any closer, Im gonna give you a kiss. I dont even like the word bisexual. Its more like Im just free to do what I wanna do with my life. In the same way musically, I dont like to belong to any genre.
How do you feel about rock and pop musicians avoiding the topic by not discussing their sexuality? Mika, for example, doesnt want to label himself, and he remains ambiguous.
In a way, I find it slightly cowardly. Were living in more liberated times than we were 10 or 20 years ago, but its still very tough in many parts of the world. There are still kids being beaten up, committing suicide. In Egypt, if a boy kisses another boy, they get hanged. [Sexual orientation] is still a very important thing to speak about. You make the choice whether you want to be a political artist or an entertainer, or somebody whos very aware. Obviously, [Mika] belongs to a canon of musicians that are entertainers. Thats fineits fine to be the clown and make people happy. But Ive been that before. I feel now the more aware Ive become of the world, the more I want to be inspiring to kids in awkward situations in life, being somebody that suffered a lot of hardship for being an individual and not ever conforming to what people wanted me to become. I cant let it overshadow my artistic vision, but when Im doing press and publicity, Id rather not treat it as a vanity project now and just use the page to talk about issues that I feel can inspire other people. The more I get to know about the world, I dont feel were very far ahead of where we were 20 years ago, or that its slipping back a little bit.
Youre touring with Amy Winehouse. What do you think of this new wave of young musicians like you, Mika, Lily Allen, and Winehouse coming over here from the U.K. and appealing to both pop listeners and DIY indie rockers? Do you think there's a reason for this, some sort of trend?
Theyre all gutsy people. I read something on Lily where she said our generation is angry. Were living in a time of war, a war that has nothing to do with us. Were living in our parents choicethis is a war that is beyond us, and were powerless. And its shocking to see how intrusive the paparazzi can be. Theres a lot to be angry about in England. But whats great is that [none of these musicians] music is angry. You dont have to be the Sex Pistols and constantly be like Fuck the government, fuck the Queen, because weve seen already that doesnt work very well. Personally, Id rather make a great record that inspires people and then whisper in their ears Hey, theres something a bit wrong in the world at the moment. I wouldnt say Im a political artist, but in my own little way Im trying to change things. Its time not to walk barefoot and grow long hair and have a beard because it belongs to a different generation.
For the full story on Patrick Wolf, pick up the July issue of Out.