Lead vocal, solo viola, two Bosendorfer grand pianos, Kawai modular synths, baritone and soprano ukeleles, mountain dulcimer, five and fifteen-string kantales, clavichord, clavinet, audio and electronLead vocal, solo viola, two Bosendorfer grand pianos, Kawai modular synths, baritone and soprano ukeleles, mountain dulcimer, five and fifteen-string kantales, clavichord, clavinet, audio and electronic programming, theremin, harmonium, autoharp, locks and keys, bells, gongs, Morris bells and handclaps.
These are just some of Patrick Wolf's credits on "The Magic Position," the album he wrote, produced and arranged that debuted on Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart at No. 42.
The symphonic sound stems partly from Wolf's violin, choir and conservatory training, but mostly from his own experiments with unconventional instruments starting at an early age. The dramatic lyrics, he says, came after.
"I was about 11 years old and I was a violin player in a school of military kids," says Wolf, 23, who recalls being bullied even by those much shorter than he. "I think music is still very much an escape."
Wolf used to hole up in his south London bedroom with his violin and a four-track tape recorder, mixing desk and his mother's Joni Mitchell records. While away on vacation with his parents, he eschewed "the football crowd" for making ambient field recordings. That technique would make its way years later to "The Magic Position," for which Wolf recorded white noise, sirens and people talking on the streets of New York City.
The lyrics on "The Magic Position" reflect the high highs and the low lows of a struggling artist and misfit: "To look back at that boy on his/Way to school with such a heavy heart/Such a heavy jewel/Hiding something that one day he'll sell/But now if no one knows/No one tells…"
Wolf acknowledges being called dramatic, but says his approach is "an honest template, like a photograph of the way I'm feeling."
Having decided at 16 that he didn't want to go to high school or university, Wolf moved to Richmond, England, where he stayed with an acquaintance that had been bequeathed a run-down house by her deceased mother.
The tale gets more whimsical. Wolf took care of the rabbits and cats on the property and occasionally waited tables while composing, before he started busking with a string quartet and then recording a noise-pop album as duo Maison Crimineaux. The group performed in Paris, where Wolf met label owner/musician Capitol K, who eventually released Wolf's solo debut "Lycanthropy."
Polydor liked what it heard and flew Wolf out to Vienna to record with a string quartet, vibraphone and double bass ("for all the grandiose instruments, you want to do those in Vienna," says Wolf). The rest was recorded in London and New York.
One standout tune includes the title track -- a name, Wolf says, isn't sexual, but rather came into his head while choosing the order of the songs on the album, and later applied to a relationship he was in.
One featuring guest on the album is vocalist Marianne Faithfull, courtesy of a hookup from photographer Nan Goldin, who used one of Wolf's songs in an exhibition.
"[Goldin] felt in debt to me because she didn't pay me anything for the rights. She offered a favor instead, so I asked for the number of Marianne Faithfull's manager." (Wolf eventually hired Rob Partridge as his own manager). To convince Faithfull to participate, Wolf made "a big painting with the lyrics and sent it to her." She agreed, lending her gravelly voice to "Magpie."
Wolf is in the midst of his U.S. tour, and will finish off in L.A. for a gig on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." He continues writing music on his laptop while on tour, renting double hotel rooms because "I can't be in a room with anybody else" while composing.
"Touring is like the school bit, and its where I get to create."