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A Quietus Interview

Patrick Wolf On Considering Porn & Making Britney Pop With Alec Empire
Luke Turner , January 28th, 2009 11:39

Patrick Wolf tells Luke Turner about choosing Alec Empire over Mark Ronson as he leaves Universal to go it alone with new album Battle

"I'm looking around flats as we speak," says Patrick Wolf down the telephone line. "This one's got a galleried study area with a spiral staircase. It's the top floor of an old building in London Bridge. I'm always moving. I don't know why, I'm a gypsy." The past year has certainly been a time of change for Wolf. His last album The Magic Position was an attempt to use the big budgets available at Universal subsidiary Loog but arguably offered less of a reward than the urgency of his debut Lycanthropy, or the folk-tinged, pastoral escapism of its follow-up Wind In The Wires. It didn't make Patrick Wolf the pop star he seemed to want to be, and at some point last year he ended up parting company with Universal, something he says he unfortunately can't discuss for legal reasons. It has been, Wolf says, "chaotic", but adds that "positive things have come out of all the changes. Chaos is always good and bad isn't it? I suddenly found myself setting up my own label."

How have you found this move from the kindly bosom of Universal Records to the realm of independence?

"During my last album there were people around me were stealing my energy without me even realising. It got to the point where I was so tired and exhausted. That there were people above me who I had to get approval from, and I forgot what it was like when I was with Tomlab or Faith & Industry, where I'd make a record and they'd release it, and it was just really innocent. I was trusted to do my job well and I trusted them to do theirs. So I'm creative director again – I was with Universal, but obviously you have to prove yourself."

Are there less pressures now?

"It just reminds me of how it was during the process for Lycanthropy where I didn't have an audience or anything to distract me, or to worry about once the album had come out and who it was going to go to, who would end up listening to it, and judging it or criticising it. I thought right well I don't have a label for this one, so I thought I'd make an album for the point of creating something. I thought what am I doing this for? Well, I'm not doing it for a release schedule, or because I have to get to number one, I'm doing it because I have to else I won't be able to sleep well at night, I have to get these songs out of my system, and explore these different sounds, and different instrumentation, and different production.

"I produced the last three albums, and this was the only one where at first people were asking ‘have you thought about working with this producer, or this producer'. But I know how to produce my work better than how other people do."

So you went off to Berlin to work with one-time Atari Teenage Riot and Digital Hardcore man Alec Empire?

"When I went to work with Alec Empire I was like this is amazing, this is pop, but obviously the label were freaking out that I was working with a noise terrorist. That was what I had wanted from him, I had wanted to write a noise piece, and what I actually came out with was a more like a long, abstract 'Blackout' by Britney Spears. He had decided to go the other way. Nic Endo was involved too, and I had this folk song that she covered in white noise. It was amazing, because ever since I was 17 I had wanted to do that, you know? So after I went to Berlin for two months, the label were freaking out. I went to Paris to work with a man called Thomas Bloch, who's a cristal baschet player. It's an instrument made of crystals and water, and he's one of the only three players in the world. Because I had this budget with Universal and I thought, well, I can spend it on working with Mark Ronson, or I can spend it on finding one of the rarest instruments in the world, and have one of the best people in the world to play it. I wanted to take the budget and spend it on the best people in the world. I thought I was doing my job, I was going to be the producer, and I wasn't going to work with Mark Ronson."

The album is going to be called Battle, but it's going to be released in two halves, one called ‘The Bachelor' and the other called ‘Conqueror', and funded by the Bandstocks fan investment website. Why did you decide to release a double piece?

"I was extremely lonely and coping with a melancholy state that comes and goes in my life. I was working through that state of mind, and I wanted to escape. I ended up working through a lot of negative issues, and at the end of that I had about 14 or 15 songs, and after finishing the touring from the last album that's when I wanted to work with Alec and deal with that dark period. Then I met my boyfriend, and love changes everything, and I realised I wanted to make an album from a more positive frame of mind. What I didn't want to do was another album where it was three tracks of three misery and three tracks of happiness and backwards and forwards, and maybe instead just do two pure and distinct pieces of work. I wanted to do that with Universal, where I would have had the financial ability to do that, but now I'm doing it with my own label I'm going to release one early this year, and then release the second disc. Next year they'll come out repackaged as the double album."

Have you found the lack of financial support to be a problem?

"I'm trying to do an album on a Mariah Carey or Kanye West scale but on my own label. I don't want to drop my standards just because I don't have Universal behind me. I've done the low budget thing in the past, using £400 quid MCPS money from Sweden or whatever. I've been there. I always try to go one step higher with each album, and when Universal pulled out their finances I spent two days thinking ‘shit, am I going to have to start taking webcam pictures of myself for artwork and mix it on an old four track'. But I thought no, I'm going to do exactly what I was going to do, but make it better. I'm going to show them that this isn't about money, it's about ambition and setting standards for myself and my work. I'm still going to do it, I'll get money from somewhere, maybe I'll have to whore myself or be a porn model on the side, but I want my music to be the best quality it can be. I want to be able to look back on my life when I'm 80 and just see 20 records that I'm proud of and didn't compromise my vision on the way."

Find out more about how to invest in Patrick Wolf via the Bandstocks website. Grumble lords need not apply