Patrick: The Boy Cried Wolf

Erstwhile prodigy <b>Patrick Wolf</b> attempts to get to grips with the driving forces and internal demons that have shaped his latest release. <b>Paul Mitchell</b> unravels The Bachelor's enigma

Feature by Paul Mitchell | 01 Jun 2009

It doesn’t take too long to note that Patrick Wolf has a very distinct sense of self. But then, it hardly comes as a shock that the musically prodigious, overtly flamboyant Londoner feels, well, different. Mercifully, that ‘difference’ does not translate as arrogance, but our brief chat does reveal the labyrinthine thought processes and rigorous analysis that attend his every move. A recent biography scripted by colourful music journalist Paul Morley shed some light on the matter. Wolf tells me: “I didn’t want to commission a journalist to do a factual piece; rather I thought it would be more fun to commission a piece of creative writing instead. That’s what we got.”

Quite! The Morley ‘eulogy’ received a staggering amount of flak for what was, essentially, a press release for his latest album. “Watch him work, play and etc in a video you might come across. He. Permits you to watch. He. Studies himself. He. Is assembling himself right in front of you. He. Smashes his way through limited judgements of taste. He. Is detached from everything including detachment. He.” And so on and on. But Wolf, who commissioned what has been dubbed ‘He.gate’, is far from embarrassed, suggesting instead that the piece, and subsequent reaction, typifies his expectations of the world. “I liked the fact it was creative and innovative. Maybe it could have been worked better. Maybe people would have understood it more as say, an Observer Music Monthly article, but as a biography people don’t realise that it can be done in a different way. If I could I would have gotten William Burroughs to do my bio and God knows what that would have sounded like.”

So, a mutual misunderstanding. We don’t get Patrick, and it would appear Patrick doesn’t get us. Or at least, this may have been the case up to now. At the age of 25, there are signs that Wolf is becoming less insular in his perspective, a fact he tacitly acknowledges. “When you’re younger, and you’ve been a bit of an outsider as a teenager, you certainly make an effort not to change anything about yourself. You have to stick up for, and justify your personality and your beliefs. You become extremely defensive and you put up a lot of barriers around you. I guess now, that having a good response to what I’ve done, there’s nothing to prove in terms of being accepted, so I guess I’m coming to terms with the fact I don’t have to be so defensive and spiky the whole time.”

Wolf’s spikiness can be understood in the context of what he concedes was a pretty traumatic childhood. Despite being raised in a creative family environment (his mother an artist, his dad a musician) whereby he was multi-instrumental from a ludicrously early age, he suffered intense bullying at secondary school as a result of his outré persona. It becomes obvious he still carries a mistrust of society at large to cope with issues of difference such as appearance and sexuality. “It takes a lot – particularly if you’re in the public eye – to expose every part of your personality, especially when there is quite a lot of homophobia in the world still. But now I feel, ‘You know what? I can still be an inventive musician, producer and I can still look this way, and I can still sleep with men. This is the way I was born.’ I guess bisexuality, homosexuality and even feminism, are things I’m really interested in. Some people think if you’re a woman, or if you’re gay or bisexual, or look different it means you don’t have the right to be a credible musician or artist. They still think you should be on the Graham Norton show and talking about nail varnish and shit like that. It can be a bit of a fighting process to get respect from people and I realise that it probably will be like that until the day I die, but I’m not going to stop fighting until I’m on the same level as Bob Dylan. If Bob Dylan was gay I think he would have had to fight a lot harder to establish himself in a heterosexual society dominated by a heterosexual media.”

Originally conceived as a double album, the ultimate title for both parts of his recorded output this year – the forthcoming The Bachelor (for which Morley wrote the bio) and The Conqueror (due in the autumn) – is to be Battle. And it appears that this is his entrenched state of mind as he struggles to impose himself, to render his obvious creativity into something meaningful. “People will realise in twenty years that with each album I release I am just exploring, or focussing on a different part of my personality. I think human beings go through phases in life and they experience different mental states. I think in the case of a lot of different bands, when they do their first album they just try and recreate that for thirty years, including the way they look. That’s never been an interest of mine; I just find it creatively stifling to do that. Every album is an honest representation of where I am at that particular time. I’m a real live and let live person. ‘This is me, and this is you. You don’t quite understand me and I’m not going to get angry at you for that, but I’m going to try and help you understand it a bit better that people like me exist and have the same rights that you do.’ I think I touched on that a bit more on this album and feel more confident saying that sort of thing in order to try and inspire and ‘make the world a better place’. At the very least it should make people laugh. If that laughter then inspires people to get into my string arrangements and instrumentation choices, even better for me." And with that, Wolf lets out a laugh before offering in parting: "That’s why I’m here."

The Bachelor is released via Bloody Chamber Music on 1 Jun