Patrick Wolf: I've grown up and found inner peace
Where to begin with Patrick Wolf? Born Patrick Denis Apps, he built his own theremin aged 11, and began recording songs aged 12. At 14 he began performing with Leigh Bowery's art collective Minty. At 16 he left school, moved out of home, and, aged 18, recorded his debut album Lycanthropy. And now, aged 27, Wolf's fifth album, Lupercalia is his strongest yet.
A mix of awe and anxiety, Lupercalia is the sound of a man coming to terms with who he is, and who he wants to be. Tracks such as The City, Armistice and current single House blend soaring melodies and heartfelt lyrics with a pop sensibility, that's as happy being performed stripped down (check out the Guardian live version of Armistice) as it is with a big band.
Emotionally, it's a calmer record than its predecessor, Battle, which dealt with darker themes such as suicide (The Sun is Often Out) and mental breakdown (Vulture). On Battle, Patrick's home town of London came across as murky and threatening -- somewhere to run away from, rather than to live in.
Lupercalia is polar opposite. With titles such as Bermondsey Street, it's a celebration of the city, and of the opportunities it holds.
Speaking down the phone from London, Wolf agrees: "I think that it was really important that I had to grow into an environment, rather than run away from anything.
"I think a big theme of a lot of my albums was running away from -- the invisible, the things that you fear. I've really made a home for myself -- you know, let's buy a saucepan and do the spice cupboard, rather than go out and buy two bottles of whiskey and forget where I was and kind of blackout.
To turn it around, to grow up and be more responsible with my time and my energy. Through a lot of introspection, I found an inner peace that I've not really had my whole life. So it really shows on this album -- my development as a person."
In part, this inner peace is due to Patrick's fiancé -- William Pollock. Wolf announced on New Year's Eve this year that the pair are set to enter a civil partnership, and it's clear that Pollock has changed Wolf's life. If The Magic Position -- about a previous relationship -- was, in Wolf's words "a Boney M kind of love", and Battle was a "Bob Dylan kind of love", then Lupercalia is "a Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell kind of love. Something that's wiser, and more knowledgeable".
"It's in awe of the complexities of love -- love isn't simple, and as you get older you become more aware of the complex emotions, you have more sorrow and you have more happiness and you have more knowledge about yourself. You need a more complex type of love.
"I think the The Magic Position was quite juvenile as a record -- it was my first big love affair, sharing a house with somebody. I was very young at the time, and it was a very young album.
"My voice has dropped since, my life has changed, and my needs in life have changed. And I think that reflects the person that you share your life with. Your needs change as you grow older."
Joni Mitchell has played a large part in Wolf's maturing process -- although not as large a part as he'd have liked, he admits. "Even though I feel that I grew up with Joni Mitchell, I didn't do it at the same time as her. I grew up album by album, but not at the same time as her. It sounds stupid, but Britney Spears -- we kind of released music at the same time.
"I feel like I've grown up with Britney. When she had her mental breakdown, I was kind of having one as well. It's nice to be in parallel with someone publicly and then privately. I'd like to have had that connection with a singer-songwriter, but Britney it is."
As well as releasing the album, a slot is confirmed for Oxegen this year, and Wolf's revisited his touring setlist. "This will be my third time playing Oxegen. I'm really excited about it," he explains. "The thing I like is that you never know who's going to be there. It's not the closed door of your own audience.
"The nature of my work is that it can be open to many different age groups and walks of life. I try and cut down on the ballads and acoustic stuff, because you do have the opportunity to throw a huge ball of energy into the crowd in that 30-minute segment."
With such a broad range of material to choose from, how does he whittle things down to a 30-minute set? "Within each album there's a spectrum of emotion -- there's pain, and there's euphoria -- so I can look back at Wind in the Wires, and I can choose Railway House and I can choose songs about relationships from different albums.
"People think you can just choose The Magic Position, but it's a different type of love affair, so it's harder to choose songs that are relevant to this album."
It seems that Wolf has made peace with his mottled past, so much so that it's not a time he wants to revisit ever again -- either mentally or musically. He continues calmly: "There are some tracks that I have no emotional connection to any more, through going through a lot of psychotherapy, I've learnt to move on from certain subject matters in my life. It's too painful to open up that door anymore from early albums.
"It would be very inappropriate to sing some of the songs any more, because I've made the decision to cut the cord to a certain part of my life. But there are songs from other albums that are very hopeful, and they're not wallowing in pain. So it's important that I celebrate those -- that's what I want to share.
"But a song like The Child Catcher, I can't foresee singing that for the rest of my life. I've learned not to open certain doors emotionally, so you can continue growing as a human being."
Five albums on, it seems that the Wolf's become a man.
Lupercalia is released on June 17 Patrick Wolf plays Oxegen on Sunday July 10.
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