Patrick Wolf Q&A: On 'Lupercalia' Inspiration, Getting Engaged & More
English multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and producer Patrick Wolf started his career nearly 10 years ago, releasing a pair of critically acclaimed albums on indie label Tomlab before moving to Universal for third set "The Magic Position" (2007). A year later, Wolf took the unorthodox step of leaving the major and turning to his fans to help finance the dark Gothic pop confection "The Bachelor," through the website Bandstocks.com.
Now signed to Mercury, Wolf, 28, will release his fifth album, "Lupercalia," a raucous, joyful mix of Motown, disco and his own unique and dramatic sounds, Monday (June 20) in the U.K. and later this year in the States.
Billboard.com How did you hit upon the name "Lupercalia"?
Patrick Wolf: When I was looking for a title that was trying to sum the record up, and sum up true love in the middle of the city, there was this festival called the Lupercalia festival, which was in [ancient] Rome. Valentine's Day came from this festival, where people were running around naked through the city and wearing goatskins and throwing goat's blood on each other, and it was a ritual. This metaphorically sums up my last few years-it was a festival of love for all.
Video: Patrick Wolf, "House"
In December, you and your partner became engaged. Has that affected how you've thought about love?
I really have started to discover the complexity of love-the balance of responsibility and spontaneity, protection [and] looking after somebody. I'm always surprised that I don't hear many songs about how complex love can be. I can hear it from Joni Mitchell and I can hear it from Leonard Cohen, but in terms of pop I very rarely hear messages that [reflect] the reality of the human experience and how complicated things are. I feel like I've only just begun a very long journey of discovering about love.
Do you have issues with being pigeonholed as a gay artist?
In terms of my work, my art, my music, it defies boundaries-in its very nature it's anti-establishment and anti-stereotype. I'm comfortable breaking down preconceptions of me as an artist as I'm exploring and moving out of being marginalized. I create a character and it's done, and then I kill it and move onto the next phase of my life. But then, as a human being and someone who is in the media, I find it very important, because there are people out there that need to look for somebody comfortable in their sexuality, who might inspire them to be brave in their choices in life no matter what family or religion they're from. The more suicides that there have been, the more homophobia that there is in society and the industry, the more it is important that I'm very proud to be a gay man and present myself to any [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] cause.
There's a distinct sound to this album. What was the production process like?
It's the first time I've recorded from beginning to end in the studio environment. I'd been working in the home studio and then doing the last 20% in the studio. Everything's gone into the computer and more digital, and with things like GarageBand that are accessible to everybody, so I thought it was time to go into this almost extinct studio world. I spent a lot of the money on all the best orchestras, arrangers, engineers and microphones. It's got quite a classic feeling because it's done all in the studios that a lot of people aren't really using at the moment.
For some artists, the music they're listening to while recording makes a huge impact. Is that the case for you?
I really don't listen to music when I'm making or producing-I'm very prone to influence. What will never be an influence on me is what is on the charts, and so when I went to L.A. to work on some of the album I listened to a lot of what was on the radio, Britney Spears or Ke$ha. It's just entertainment, it doesn't enter my brain at all. But when I turn over the radio and there's a mariachi band on Mexican radio, I immediately thought I'd like to make the album as a mariachi album. When there's something that inspires me, it really gets into my DNA, so I have to stay away from radio and CDs.
You worked with actress Tilda Swinton on "The Bachelor." Did you work with her again on this album?
She meant to. But when I was working, I really felt like it was connecting the album too much [to] the last one, and I wanted to make a break from the last album. I know it sounds crazy, when you've got these monologues from Tilda Swinton on your hard drive not to use them, but I wanted to open up a different path.